Monday, March 30, 2015

3 action steps in Crisis

Read Joel 1.

This is  not merely a prophet's message.  It is "the word of the LORD" (v.1).

Joel's target audience was the southern kingdom of Judah.  What was happening and about to take place had never been experienced in the nation's history.

A devastating locust attack on all the agriculture is described in four waves.  Each wave of infestation destroyed the land to a new low.  Apparently, the locust plague was accompanied by a severe drought (v.20).  The condition of the land was so bad that there was not enough for the grain and drink offerings to the LORD at the Temple.  This is a thinly disguised comparison to what the Babylonians would do in their multi-phased invasion of Judah.  Everything will be stripped away; everything will be lost.  The people are compared to drunkards (v.4).  The innumerable Babylonians are compared to attacking lions (v.6).

In brokenness, the nation is urged to go into a state of mourning.  They are told to put on sackcloth and lament (v.13).  But those were only outward signs of grief.  God wanted more from them.  His desire was for them to acknowledge that they brought this on themselves due to their sin and to express grief from their hearts.  In verse 14, He issued the following instructions to seek Him.

1. Consecrate a fast.
Fasting indicates there is a priority greater than food.  Most often, a truly grief-stricken person loses their appetite.  This is a time when the spirit needs more attention than the body.  The sense of hunger serves as the trigger for a superseding hunger for God.

2. Call a solemn assembly.
Since this was a national dilemma, all the people were called to gather together.  The New Testament reminds us that we are not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25).  We need one another for regular encouragement, instruction, and worship.  How much more when we are faced with overwhelming circumstances!

3. Cry out to the LORD.
The purpose of the gathering was specifically for prayer.  The Hebrew word for "cry" in this verse means "to shriek" as someone would do loudly who is in severe pain or terrorized.  Together, as a nation, they were to shriek to the LORD, confessing their sin, and pleading for mercy.

"The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God." (Psalm 9:17)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Life at the Crossroads

Read Hosea 14.

God's judgment upon Israel's rebellion was sure, but it would not be permanent.  Even at that this point, He issued a call for them to repent of their sin and turn back to Him.

In the prophetic plan of God, He announced that one day the Jews would return to Him.  At that time, "I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them" (v.4).  But that day of spiritual restoration for the nation has yet to come.  The Apostle Paul looked forward to it in Romans 9-11.

In the LORD's call for repentance, He even instructed the people step by step in what to do.
1. Confessing of sin. (v.2b)
"Take away all iniquity."  The first step is to admit the sin to God and agree with Him of its wrong.  More than that, it is seeking His forgiveness and cleansing from the sin.
"If we confess out sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

2. Offering for sin. (v.2c)
Under the Old Testament Law, the sinner offered to God the blood of sacrificed animals as an atoning payment.  But the blood of animals only covered the sin; it never took it away.  That is why the words of John the Baptist concerning Jesus in John 1:29 are so spiritually earth-shattering.  "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"  Since the crucifixion, there are no more offerings for sin.  The debt has been paid.  Accepting Christ's death as the full and final payment for one's personal sin is the sinner's prayer.

3. Forsaking the sin. (v.3)
Words and rituals may be only a pretense of repentance.  The real proof is in a changed life.  God's call for Israel to demonstrate a new direction included giving up their dependence upon Assyria to protect them and riding their lives of their spiritual allegiance to anything else.  God demands exclusive worship and obedience to Him.

The result?  Those who are totally dependent upon the LORD will find mercy (v.3c).  God answers prayer and cares for us (v.8a).  It is God who is the source of the provisions we need (v.8b).

Like Israel, every life comes to a crossroads and must decide which way they will go.   The closing verse of Hosea issues a clear invitation for a decision.  Those who are wise and understand will choose to turn to the LORD and live in ways that please Him.  Those who turn away from Him will continue to stumble through life and experience the painful consequences.

Choose Him.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sin, death and the Resurrection

Read Hosea 13.

Judah had been chosen to be tribe of the royal line.  However, when the kingdom divided, Jeroboam became king in the north from the tribe of Ephraim.  Separated from Jerusalem and the Temple, the northern kingdom gave itself to idol worship.

Craftsmen made images of calves out of silver to which the people ascribed spiritual power.  Incredibly, grown men worship-fully kissed the inanimate object and in their delusion offered human sacrifices to appease it (v.2).  They did this despite their heritage of faith in God, not acknowledging all that God had done for them, and ignoring the prophets He sent to call them to turn back to Him.

In order to bring some reality to their thinking, the LORD reminded them that He alone is God "and their is no savior" apart from Him.  All the religious philosophies and rituals of this world can never take away sin!  There is only one cure for sin, only one source of forgiveness, and only one way to heaven.  Jesus claimed, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

God's judgment on the sin of Israel was pre-announced and sure.  The time had come and He would not relent.  In verse 14, God asked four questions about holding back the punishment, but "compassion is hidden from my eyes."  The Assyrians were used to historically implement God's plan.

When the Apostle Paul wrote so vigorously concerning the resurrection of Christ as the proof of eternal life for every believer, he first referred to a verse from Isaiah and then quoted two of the questions from verse 14.
"He will swallow up death forever..." (Isaiah 25:8)
"O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Jesus paid the price for the sin of the world, once for all, when He was crucified.  Therefore, for the believer in Jesus there is no fear of death or uncertainty of what will take place afterwards.  His resurrection is our guarantee.  "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Learning lessons from History

Read Hosea 12.

The LORD continued to make His legal case against Israel for their disobedience.  Here, He gave an historical review of their heritage from Jacob.  The covenant with Abraham passed to his only son Isaac.  Isaac had two sons: Esau and Jacob.  The birthright and covenant went to Jacob.  Jacob's name was changed to Israel.  At the time of Hosea's writing, over a thousand years had gone by.  Jacob's story would have been a familiar one to them, but step by step God reminded them of their roots.

Jacob wrestled with his brother in the womb.
Jacob wrestled with God as an adult.
Jacob wrestled with the angel until he received a blessing.
(For the full story, read Genesis 25-35)

By the end of Genesis, the man had a dozen sons and lived in honor and treated as royalty by the Egyptian government.  At the opening of Exodus, Jacob's family had become a nation of millions who were enslaved.  With a series of miracles, God delivered the Jews and led them back to the land He promised to Abraham.

In Israel's prosperity, they forgot the LORD and claimed credit for what they had.  Even worse, they thought they had done no wrong.  "Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin" (v.8).  Self-made?  Righteous?  Hardly!

God's call to them was simple.  Like Jacob, who made some bad decisions and resolved them, the nation needed to finally come to the place where they dealt with the real problem.
"So you..." (v.6)
1. "...with the help of your God..."
The first step is to recognize you need help.  The second is to realize that only God can truly help with the forgiveness of sin.  When dealing with sin, self-help is useless.

2. "...return..."
The definition of repentance is "to turn."  This is an admission that one has been going in the wrong direction, away from God.

3. "...hold fast to love and justice..."
True repentance is seen in a changed behavior.  Instead of doing wrong and mistreating people, a person in right relationship with God loves God, loves people, and acts accordingly.

4. "...wait continually for your God."
Another sign of true repentance is the good riddance of the wrong sort of independence.  Waiting on God is a lifestyle of dependence upon Him.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Words from a grieving Parent

Read Hosea 11.

This is for every parent whose child did not turn out the way they desired.  God knows all about it.
Like a brokenhearted father of a wayward son, the LORD recounted all that He did to raise the nation Israel.  This chapter contains some of the most emotional, loving and compassionate statements from God.  He was and is personally involved in human life.  Notice the eight personal statements in verses 1-4.
-I loved him
-I called my son
-I who taught Ephraim to walk
-I took them them up by their arms
-I healed them
-I led them
-I became to them as one who eases the yoke
-I bent down to them and fed them

Yet, "the more they were called,  the more they went a way."  The prodigal took what the father had provided and chased after the Baals to worship them.  "They refused to return to me" (v.5b).

The LORD asked four rhetorical questions in verse 8.  Every loving father can identify with the parental angst when there is a need to discipline a disobedient child.  As regrettable as it may seem, failing to act in an effective manner demonstrates a lack of love.  The Bible does NOT say, "Spare the rod, spoil the child."  Rather, "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." (Proverbs 13:24)

Too often, well-meaning books have been written using Scripture to present ideal parenting.  While those principles are true, they are principles not promises.  If the perfect parent (God) had disappointments with His children, why are we surprised that we may feel the same way?  There comes a time in every life that the individual is responsible for their own behavior and cannot blame the parent.

Many fear what God may do in response to their sin, instead of understanding what sin does to Him.  After all He has done, including Jesus dying on the cross for us, it breaks His heart.  "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)

In verses 10-11, the LORD looks forward to that future day when the damaged relationship will be restored and the children come home.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What is the danger in having extra Resources?

Read Hosea 10.

Israel enjoyed prosperity and the blessings of the LORD.  What happened next brought their downfall.

Proverbs 30:8-10 provides the warning.  "Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."

When things were going well in the nation, the leaders and the people relaxed their spiritual commitments.  They mistook financial prosperity to mean they could live however they wished.  Some of their wealth was used to build altars to false gods.  After a while they no longer felt any obligation nor need for the LORD.  The rebelliousness of their hearts and independent spirits led them to reject all authority and accountability over them.  "We have no king, for we do not fear the LORD; and a king--what could he do for us?" (v.3)

The natural law of sowing and reaping came upon them (vv.12-13).  Sowing sin always produces a crop of hurt and loss.  God called them to practice righteousness in their lives and show Him steadfast love in their worship.  Through the prophets, God implored them, "it is time to seek the LORD."  But they refused to listen.  Judgment was on its way (vv.14-15).

This is a good reminder why we are blessed.  Scripture is clear on God's expectations of our use of money.  The first tenth belongs to Him.  "Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;" (Proverbs 3:9).  After that, the LORD provides for our needs and, perhaps,  some extra to enjoy.  But we should be asking what more God wants us to do in generosity.

The Apostle Paul wrote: "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The 3 lessons of Stewardship

Read Hosea 9.

Israel celebrated the harvest by giving thanks and worshiping Baal.  The theme of this spiritual adultery towards the God of heaven runs through the entire book of Hosea.  Meanwhile, the One who owns the land, who provided the seed, who sent the rain and the sun to nourish the crops, who gave them life and strength to work the fields, remained ignored.

The Owner's judgment upon them for this misuse of His properties included that they would be taken from "the land of the LORD" (v.3) and that they would experience the invasion of the brutal Assyrian Empire.  The Assyrian strategy was to slaughter any opposition, destroy the cities it conquered, and scatter those who remained.  The ten northern tribes, therefore, "shall be wanderers among the nations" (v.10).

This put an end to their pretense of worshiping of the LORD.  They would be forced to eat unclean foods and, as a result, be ceremonially unclean according to the Law (vv.3-5).  Instead of feast days, "the days of punishment have come" (v.7).  These were God's chosen people but, because of their rebellion against Him, He now would withdraw His love and blessings from them for a time.

They failed the stewardship test!
1. The first lesson of stewardship is that God owns it all.  
"The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein." (Psalm 24:1)

2. The second lesson is that humans are individually responsible to manage God's possessions in a manner that pleases Him.
"Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful." (1 Corinthians 4:2)

3. The third lesson is that each of us will give an account to the Owner of what we did with His time, His abilities, and His resources He gave us during this life.
Jesus compared it this way in a story: "For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property....Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them." (Matthew 25:14-30)

Those who understand and are faithful look forward to one day hearing those wonderful words of commendation: "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21)  

Friday, March 20, 2015

What did I do to deserve This?

Read Hosea 8.

Sound the alarm!  Blow the trumpet!  With those words, the LORD announced the certainty of the coming judgment upon Israel and Judah.  What did they do to deserve this punishment?

1. They violated the commitment. (v.1b, 12)
After the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and before the Jews entered the land, God laid out His expectations of their national behavior.  In Deuteronomy 28, there were to be blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience to God's law.  Moses said, "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil" (Deuteronomy 29:15).  In Hosea's day, God's word no longer had any influence in their lives. They brought this judgment on themselves.

2. They made leadership decisions without consulting the LORD. (v.4a)
Of the nineteen kings in the northern kingdom of Israel, not one of them was a godly man.  In Judah, only eight of the twenty kings honored God and His word.

3. They worshiped made up gods. (v.4b-6, 11)
With their mouths they said to the LORD of heaven, "My God."  But, their money and their hearts were given to objects they crafted with their own hands.

4. They were independent and stubborn. (v.9-10)
God compared them to a wild donkey, wandering alone.  Yet, for protection they hired mercenary allies.  The cost of their actions bankrupted them both spiritually and financially.

5. They put they put their hope in material possessions. (v.14)
Israel built palaces as outward signs of prosperity.  Judah constructed fortified cities thinking they would provide protection.

As a result of their own sinful choices, there is no good news here.  "For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." (v.7)  Instead of planting their lives in the good soil of godliness that would produce good results, they lived life wildly wasting what God had given them.  "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8)  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

5 comparisons of a rebellious Heart

Read Hosea 7.

Foolishly, the people believed they could go on rebelling against God and, in time, He would not remember!  The deceitfulness of the human heart causes many to think that the LORD will overlook their sin ("it is not that bad") or the consequences will simply go away.

There are five comparative statements regarding Israel's sad and sinful condition.
1. Like an unattended fire. (vv.4-7)
The baker busied herself waiting for the dough to rise and forgot without a hot oven her efforts would be wasted.  Israel's love for God had waned and grown cold.  The only passion they showed was for more sin.

2. Like an unturned cake. (v.8)
A pancake that is not flipped will burn on one side and remain uncooked on the other.  The product will not be fit to eat and must be tossed out.  Israel's duplicity of saying they know God and, yet, engaging in the sinful alliances and practices of the ungodly made them useless to either.

3. Like aging man. (vv.9-10)
In addition to the internal spiritual problems, the nation aligned themselves with other nations, hoping for protection.  They did that instead of relying on God.  It was pride that kept them from repenting and seeking God's help.  Such behavior is compared to a man who is losing the strength of his youth but refuses to admit it.

4. Like a dove. (v.11)
The LORD called a dove silly and senseless.  The actions of Israel were just like that.  Egypt was no longer the world power it once was and Assyria would brutally turn on them as an enemy.

5. Like a bad bow. (v.16)
A weapon that cannot shoot straight is unreliable and worthless.  This leaves the person defenseless in battle and people will be killed.  Israel's sin kept them from realizing how much danger awaited them.

God's response would be to use the Assyrians for discipline, but His heart was to redeem them (vv.12-13).  It was the heart of Jesus.  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37).

God, give us willing hearts today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Proving sincerity toward God

Read Hosea 6.

God's discipline is not designed merely to make us feel bad but to help us turn back to Him.  There we find healing, wholeness, and blessing.

In verses 1 through 3, we read the words of the repentance.
1. "Let us return to the LORD."
The definition of the word repent is to turn.  This is a humble admission that one has been going in the wrong direction.  Notice what God does when a person comes to Him in such a way:
-He may heal us.
-He will bind us up.
-He will revive us.
-He will raise us up.
Why?  So "that we may live before him."

2. "Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD."
The sincerity of true repentance is seen in what happens next.  A heart that desires a relationship with God wants to know Him more.  This is not a class or a church meeting but knowing God and the Scriptures become a way of life.  Such a person experiences the trustworthiness of the LORD ("as sure as the dawn") and seeks His blessings on their lives like the "spring rains."

A part of God's indictment against Israel and Judah was that there love for Him proved to be like the morning dew.  It disappeared during the day.  Oh, they went through the motions of required rituals of worship but as long as they harbored unconfessed sin their sacrifices had no value.  What He desired from them was a consistent, committed, faithful love from them (vv.4-6).  Then, their offerings would demonstrate true worship.

This is not an either or proposition.  The LORD wants both our love and our tithe.  Jesus said, "But woe to you, Pharisees!  For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.  These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Luke 11:42)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Pain with a Purpose

Read Hosea 5.

The LORD continued to pre-announce His punishment of the northern kingdom of Israel.  In addition, Judah is mentioned here.  Though all the people stood guilty before Him, God again singled out the priests for their failure to spiritual teach and provide godly leadership for the nation.  Instead, the "revolters" (v.2), led the people deeper and deeper into sin.

Though the people went through the rituals of worshiping the LORD, their lives and practices proved otherwise.  Claiming to know God, they practiced sexual immorality for the fertility deities.  They looked to the planets for guidance and celebrated things like the New Moon.  They were raising a generation of children in spiritual and physical adultery.  God would no longer tolerate such sinful disobedience.

At the initial pain, Israel turned to Assyria for help (v.13).  This wicked and brutal empire was the very instrument God prepared to punish them!  Don't miss the multiple "I will" statements from God in verses 14 and 15.  Though the Assyrians would invade, it was God Himself delivering the judgment blows upon Israel.

What was God's purpose and His desire?
According to verse 15, His discipline of them would one day come to an end.  He removed His presence and His blessings "until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face."  The Apostle Paul wrote, "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret..." (2 Corinthians 7:10a)  Sometimes pain is the only teacher that causes people to stop what they are doing and listen to God.

"For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)

Monday, March 16, 2015

What happens when God's word is Ignored?

Read Hosea 4.

God indicted Israel.  The "controversy" refers to a legal case against them.  The charges included unfaithfulness, lack of love, and "no knowledge of God in the land."  And, that is just the first verse.  In the second verse, He named five of the ten commandments that they were violating.

What was the source of the problem?
The spiritual leaders of the nation were not godly men.  The northern kingdom separated itself from the south, where Jerusalem and the Temple were located.  As a result, they made up their own religious practices in an effort to mimic what God had ordered.

Priestly responsibilities included leading the people in worship and teaching them God's word.  Instead, the priests of the north had moral problems of their own, "you stumble by day" (v.5a).  The priests shared in the meat, grain, and financial offerings.  Their greed became their shame.  Their reasoning was the more people sinned, the more they personally benefited.  This prompted God's announced punishment (vv.7-9).

Prophets were specially called to deliver targeted messages from God to the people.  But, they too were corrupt, having been bought and paid for by the king and not called by God at all.

Meanwhile, the people suffered.  "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge..." (v.6a)  The nation even began praying to pieces of wood they had carved into idols (v.12).  Without knowing the truth, false religions, drunkenness, and sexual immorality were rampant.

People do not naturally know the truth and how to put it into practice.  They must be taught and learn what God expects of them.  Today, Christians have no excuse.  We have our own copies of the Bible to know the truth and if others are speaking the truth about God.  While it is the primary job of the pulpit to communicate the word of God, the responsibility does not end there.  Every believer in Jesus has a personal responsibility to study the Scriptures for themselves and live accordingly.  Failure to do so will inevitably lead to sin.

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)

Friday, March 13, 2015

4 elements required to heal a broken Relationship

Read Hosea 3.

God's great power is seen in what seems to us to be an impossible circumstance.  "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh.  Is anything too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:27)

Not only was Gomer unfaithful to Hosea, it appears that she sold herself into a kind of sexual slavery.  Her worship of false gods, including a fertility cult, drove her deeper and deeper to the point of being trapped and unable to help herself.  God ordered Hosea to go and buy his wife out of that predicament and bring her home.  The total price of thirty shekels of silver was the price of a slave according to Exodus 21:32. This required an act of supreme love and commitment to his wife.

What took place in Hosea's home became the basis of the prophet's message.  Verse one states: "...even as the LORD loves the children of Israel."

After all the LORD had done for Israel, they rejected Him and chased after the false gods of the surrounding cultures until they reached a point of enslavement to sin.  The northern tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, had rejected the house of David as their king to form their own kingdom.  Not one of the nineteen kings in the north were godly men.

God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants was and is unconditional.  Though the Jews rejected Him and His leadership over them, God continues to be committed to them.  The prophecy here is that there is coming a day, "in the latter days", when the children of Israel will return, seek God, and positively respond to a Davidic rule again.  There has not been such a one over the nation since it divided around 931 B.C.

Here are four required elements Hosea used with Gomer, God will use with Israel, Jesus has used with us, and we can use to heal broken relationships.
1. Return. (v.1)
"Go again..."  This requires a willingness on the part of the offended to take action to heal the broken relationship.

2. Redeem. (v.2)
"I bought..."  This requires a willingness and ability to pay the necessary price.

3. Recommit. (vv.3-4)
"You must dwell as mine for many days."  This requires a willingness to stay for the long haul.

4. Restore. (v.5)
"...they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness..."  This requires a plan to fulfill all promises.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

6 steps for healing a broken Relationship

Read Hosea 2.

The LORD used the heartbreak of Hosea's marriage to illustrate His relationship with Israel.  A decisive separation was about to take place.  However, it was not to end the marriage but to bring healing to it.

Like Gomer, the nation of Israel left their exclusive love of God and turned to other spiritual relationships.  The motive was for what they could get.  Gomer chased other lovers for support, clothes, and luxuries her husband did not give her.  Israel took part in the worship of false gods and practices for their own pleasure and personal gain.

It came time to put an end to this shameful behavior.  Hosea (and God) would put a stop to it (v.6-7).  The wife (Israel) would lose everything (vv.9-12).  For Israel this meant that the brutal empire of the Assyrians would invade the northern kingdom, kill and destroy any opposition, and scatter the people throughout their realm.  This design of this punishment would be for her to come to her senses and repent of her sin.  "I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now." (v.7b).

What is God's plan for renewing this broken relationship with Israel as a nation?
Yes, about 200 years later there was a return of the Jews to the land under the Persian Empire.  But, that generation and subsequent generations did not fulfill the prophecy here.  "In that day" (vv.16, 21) is a reference to the Millennial Kingdom when the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31) will be in full effect.  As the Apostle Paul declared concerning that time, "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26).
-The Jews will occupy all of the land God promised to Abraham. (v.23)
-"No Mercy" will be changed to God having mercy upon His chosen people.
-"Not My People" will become God's people again.
-The wayward nation will return and say, "You are my God."

What principles apply to healing a broken relationship?
1. "I will allure her."  The separation and the losses will be replaced with steps to "entice" and "persuade" her to come back.
2. "I will bring her into the wilderness."  In other words, they will get away together.  The LORD did this for the nation in the 40 years of wilderness wanderings.  There the nation had to learn to be fully dependent upon God.
3. "I will speak tenderly to her."  These are words of encouragement and gentleness.
4. "I will give her her vineyards."  What was taken from her in brokenness will be restored.
5. "I will make...a door of hope."  There must be a path to restoring the marriage.  Achor means "trouble."  But the LORD will lead Israel through the troubled times (the Great Tribulation) back to the Promised Land.
6. "There she shall answer as in the days of her youth."  This takes the relationship back to when they first met and the love first blossomed.  The outcome is that the wayward comes home and falls in love again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Disobedience carries Consequences

Read Hosea 1.

The LORD chose to use Hosea and his family to picture His relationship with the northern kingdom of Israel.  Due to consistent disobedience, God would intervene with judgment against Israel.

1. His wife-Gomer (vv.2-3)
She proved to be an adulterous woman.  The prophet's message from God was his wife's behavior is how Israel treated Him.  The nation was guilty of spiritual adultery, seeking relationships outside the covenant and commit they had with the living God.

2. His first son-Jezreel (vv.4-5)
It was in the Valley of Jezreel where King Jehu slaughtered Israel's King Ahab (2 Kings 9-10).  While it was God's will to rid the nation of Ahab and Jezebel, Jehu also killed several leaders of Judah from the lineage of David.  That seems to be the cause of this pronouncement of judgment here.  The LORD stated that it would be the place of Israel's defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.

3. His daughter-No Mercy (vv.6-7)
Her name, Lo-Ruhamah, means "she is not loved."  Part of the judgment to come against Israel would be that the love of the LORD and His mercy toward them will be withheld for a time.  While the Assyrians conquered Israel and scattered the people in 722 B.C., God continued to show mercy to the southern kingdom of Judah.

4. His second son-Not My People (vv.8-9)
The relationship had been broken.  This judgment from God is based upon the covenant of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience found in Deuteronomy 28.  "And the LORD will scatter you among all the peoples..." (Deuteronomy 28:64) which is exactly what Assyria did to Israel.

"Yet" (v.10) their future hope remains!  God's covenant promises to Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17) is unconditional.  His discipline will last for a time, but restoration of the relationship and the LORD's blessings in the future are assured.  One day, the scattered will be "gathered" and they will be called "Children of the living God."  At that time, there will be "one head" (v.11) of God's people in the land. As the prophets predicted, Messiah will reign from David's throne over Israel.

The principle for us is unmistakable.  Obedience is a choice we make.  God's blessings come as we  maintain a personal, loving relationship with Him.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A purpose of prophecy is personal Purity

Read Daniel 12.

Is our future uncertain?  The answer is yes and no.  Yes, we do not know what a day may bring our way (James 5:13-14).  But our ultimate future is as sure as the promises of God.

In chapter 10, God revealed to Daniel a vision of the future hope for Israel.  What he saw confused him and caused him to go into a period mourning.  After three weeks, the LORD sent an angel to explain the vision.  In chapter 11, the interpretation matched the previous dreams in this book concerning the future rise and fall of world empires.  God's plans will be fulfilled right on schedule.  In this chapter, the angel revealed even more of things that are yet to come.

The prophecy foretells of a double dose of suffering for Israel.  As presented in the previous chapter, Anitochus Epiphanes did desecrate the Temple and thousands of Jews died.  However, Jesus quoted from this section in Daniel to say the that this prophecy has not been fulfilled.  The Antichrist will do even more evil in the future (Matthew 24:15).  In the New Testament, this time of unparalleled trouble (12:1) is called the Great Tribulation.  With all the terrible suffering in Jewish history, unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.  The good news is that Michael, the archangel, is assigned to watch over God's chosen people (v.1).  And, there is a comforting hope for Israel.

1. God has promised a national restoration for Israel.
Jeremiah 31:31: "Behold the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah."  Hebrews 8 quotes Jeremiah and describes this even further.  The Apostle Paul explained in Romans 11 that currently we are in a time of the Gentiles with the birth and development of the Church.  A day is coming, however, when "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:26).

2. God has promised a personal resurrection for everyone.
Everyone will be present in eternity but with two very different destinies.  Verse 2:"...some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."  This chapter in Daniel mentions that God has books with individual names written down.  He knows who is His and who is not.  The Apostle John saw this same vision with even more clarity.  "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened.  Then another book was opened, which is the book of life.  And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according what they had done....And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:12-15)  Eternal life or eternal punishment awaits.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6).  Oh, that everyone would choose life through faith in Jesus!

There are two questions posed in Daniel 12.
Question: Another angel asked, "How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?" (v.6)  In other words, how long will the tribulation suffering last?
Answer: "...a time, times, and a half a time." (v.7)  The Tribulation will be a period of seven years.  It is the second half, three and a half years or 1260 days, when the suffering will take place.  Revelation 11:2-3 confirms this.  We are not told why there is an additional 30 days, then a total of 75 days added in verses 11 and 12.  Obviously, there is more detail that is not explained.

Question: Daniel asked, "What shall be the outcome of these things?" (v.8)
Answer: "Many will purify themselves...but the wicked shall act wickedly...those who are wise shall understand." (v.10)  "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he (Jesus) appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." (1 John 3:2-3)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What God decrees shall be Done

Read Daniel 11.

God is never late.  All His plans, including meeting our needs, are always right on time.

Ken Taylor paraphrased Habakkuk 2:3 like this: "But these things I plan won't happen right away.  Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass.  Just be patient!  They will not be overdue a single day."

Daniel chapter 11 falls in the middle of a three chapter explanation from an angel to Daniel of God's plans for the nation of Israel.  There are three aspects of insights here.
1. The Historical Perspective.
Most of the events recorded here were future to Daniel, yet history to us.  The descriptions are incredibly accurate.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirms once and for all that this chapter was written in advance of these developments.  The vision provided further detail of all the previous dreams and visions in this book.  The fourth Persian king (v.2) turned out to be Xerxes, the husband of Queen Esther.  The kingdom of Greece was divided among four generals (v.4).  They were Seleucus in Syria and Mesopotamia, Ptolemy in the Egypt, Lysimacus ruled Thrace and portions of Asia Minor, Cassander took Macedonia and Greece.  The Selecuids and the Ptolemies fought back and forth (vv.5-20).  The wicked Greek ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, desecrated the Temple (v.31).  However, in 164 B.C., a godly priest whose surname was Maccabeus and his family repelled the Greeks and reestablished the true worship of God in Jerusalem (v.32).

2. The Prophetical Perspective.
Antiochus, however, did not fulfill the prophecies concerning the Antichrist.  According to Daniel, the Antichrist will rise from the Roman Empire.  Jesus taught that the fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel was still to come.  "So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place..." (Matthew 24:15)  Jesus went on to say, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no and never will be." (Matthew 24:21)  According to Daniel 11:36-45, the Antichrist will outdo Antiochus in his evil deeds.

3. The Practical Perspective.
-The word of God is accurate in every single detail and may be fully trusted completely. (v.37b)
-God will fulfill all His future plans for the world and for us right on time.  Note how often the phrase "the appointed time" occurs.
-While we wait for the unfolding of the next movements in the LORD's plans, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to be careful on how we live.
" keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time..." (1 Timothy 6:14-15a)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Winning the spiritual Battle

Read Daniel 10.

How many times have we prayed and waited a long time with no answer?  We may be tempted to think:
-Prayer does not work for me.
-God is not answering.
-Doesn't God care?
-Did I do something wrong?
Or, is something else going on?

Daniel was loved by the LORD (v.11).  Yet, as this chapter describes, the vision that was revealed to him was so awful that he fasted and prayed for three weeks without an answer from God.  Why did not God respond sooner?  The answer is He did (v.12), but Daniel could not see it.  His prayer resulted in a spiritual war in heaven that delayed an angelic response.  This angel provided amazing insight into the spiritual battles that are constantly taking place.

God immediately dispatched this one to give Daniel understanding of what was revealed to him.  However, the heavenly messenger was hindered by an evil angel who was overseeing and exercising demonic influence over Persia.  The spiritual warfare was so strong that God's messenger needed the help of the angel Michael to overcome the opposition (v.13).

If answers to Daniel's prayers experienced such conflict, it stands to reason that ours will also.  So, what can we learn from the prophet's example?
1. Set your heart on understanding. (v.12a)
Train yourself to recognize what God wants, pray according to the will of God, and realize that Satan works every time to oppose what God wants done.  "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)

2. Humble yourself before God. (v.12b)
The disciples of Jesus asked Him why they were powerless in doing what He commissioned them to do.  Jesus replied, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." (Mark 9:29)  Admitting that we cannot live for God in our own strength and ability should drive us to cast our dependence upon Him.

3. Listen to the Word of God. (v.15)
It is a good thing to take in what God has said and then be silent.  Meditate and think about what the Scripture stated.  The Bible is our only offensive weapon in this spiritual war.  Believers are constantly losing because they do not know their Bible.  As Paul instructed believers to put on the whole armor of God, he concluded by saying, "...and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." (Ephesians 6:17-18)

4. Act courageously. (v.19)
Fear freezes us.  Faith frees us.  As soldiers of the cross, there is a holy aggressiveness to the victorious Christian life.  "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Prayer is indispensable in spiritual warfare.  We cannot win without it!

Monday, March 2, 2015

God's plans always exceed our Prayers

Read Daniel 9.

When the Babylonian empire fell, Daniel turned to the Scriptures.  He read again the words of the prophet Jeremiah regarding the time when God would restore Israel.

"For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile."  (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

Daniel realized that the seventy years was coming to a close and now God would act.  God's call to seek Him moved the prophet to pray a prayer of national intercession.  He confessed the sins of the people for not listening to God's word and rebelling against Him.  He plead for mercy, forgiveness, and for the LORD not to delay in acting on behalf of His people.  That is all Daniel could see from the Scriptures he had.  What he could not see was much more that God intended to do in the future.  Therefore, God responded to Daniel's prayer by sending the angel Gabriel.

Gabriel did not speak of the seventy years but seventy sevens (not weeks), or 490 years.  In Hebrew it is a play on words.  469 of those years have been literally fulfilled in history.  It is the 70th week (7 years) that has not happened yet.  Revelation describes the time of Tribulation as a 7 year period.  The descriptions of that time by Jesus and in Revelation confirm those future events as foretold in the book of Daniel.  We are now living in the gap between "an anointed one shall be cut off" (v.26, the crucifixion of Messiah) and when the Tribulation will begin.  The Apostle Paul explained it this way: "...a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in." (Romans 11:25b)

In the meantime, we may be assured of two things:
1. God will keep His promises to His ancient people.
2. He will be faithful to us today and for eternity.