A Kingdom Parable

 

Introduction and Background

 

We have traveled together so far this year together, studying the bible chronologically.   From the creation of man and the fall from Eden, to God’s promises to Abraham to make him a great nation.   Jacob moved his family to Egypt after a famine, then the Israelites grew to over 2 million people and then escaped from Egypt through the Red Sea to the promised land. From the first king of Israel to the many kings that led to the divided kingdom.

Through it all, God is faithful. When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land like God promised He would, God gave warned them not to get complacent. God tells them in Deuteronomy 6:10-19 and 8:11-20 about the dangers of ingratitude and taking credit for their own prosperity. God has provided a land of milk and honey, and the Israelites are not to say, “we did this ourselves; we don’t need God.”

God’s next promises to the Israelites are conditional – if you do these good things, I will bless you. If you do those bad things, I will curse you. Through these blessings and curses, God will guide Israel. But the most dire curse God gives to the Israelites is in Deuteronomy 28:58 & 63 –

If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God …

…Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

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God is not to be trifled with. He provides blessings, and He is owed thanks and praise. All too often, His gifts are met with a dismissal from us – as if we don’t need God. And in every instance I could think of in the bible, God provides His blessings first, and then only removes those blessings when His people say they don’t need Him.

God’s Kingdom was supposed to consist of His covenant people, the nation of Israel, following Him as God and King. But the people of Israel basically told God they didn’t need Him, and each generation repeated the blasphemy.

In 722 BC, the Assyrians arrive in Israel and drive the Israelites out. Then a few decades later, King Hezekiah, one of the good kings of Judah, brought the people back to worship the Lord, and God rescued Judah by killing 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in 2 Kings 19:35.

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The Assyrian empire began to weaken and retreated from Jerusalem. Their strongest rival was the Babylonian empire, and King Hezekiah foolishly invited the Babylonians to come and visit, to see King Hezekiah’s weaponry and wealth in Jerusalem. Perhaps Hezekiah wanted to show off, or perhaps he was trying to gain favor with the Babylonians and make an alliance with them. Either way, God was unhappy with Hezekiah for making political alliances based on his own wisdom. God’s expectation was that a king in Israel or Judah would follow the Lord and rely on Him for protection.

1 Kings 20 tells us that God sent the prophet Isaiah to explain to Hezekiah that at some time in the future, his descendants would be taken into Babylonian exile along with all the valuable items from the temple. Years later when Jehoiakim was the king of Judah, the Babylonians forced Judah to make an alliance with Babylon, and the Babylonians took hostages from the nobility of Judah. In 598 BC, Jehoiakim tried to rebel against the Babylonians, but he was killed and his son Jehoiachin became king of Judah.

I pause here for a moment to remind all of you that pronouncing bible names isn’t easy, and Hebrew is not my native language. Here is how the name of Jehoiakim’s son is spelled:

Jehoachin

And here is how it is pronounced apparently:

https://biblespeak.org/jehoiachin-pronunciation/

I don’t get it, but I’ll pronounce it “Jeh HO ash” even if it doesn’t look like that to me.   Which is confusing, because there is a completely different king in the kingdom of Israel named Jehoash who has nothing to do with our study today.

Where was I?   Oh yes.

So Jehoiachin, “sorry Jeh HO ash”, did not listen to the prophet Jeremiah nor trust in the Lord, so he tried to make an alliance with Egypt to fight against the Babylonians.   That alliance did not work, and after three months Jehoiachin and many other people from Judah were taken into exile to Babylon along with many of the treasures of the temple. Within 10 years, the city of Jerusalem was torn down and burned, and almost all of Judah’s remaining inhabitants were taken into exile to Babylon in accordance with Isaiah’s prophecies.

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So now in our scripture for today, it’s 605 BC, and what’s left of Judah has been banished to the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon. A young priest named Ezekiel who was taken in the second wave of exiles under king Jehoiachin, “sorry Jeh HO ash”, is preaching the word.

This young priest, Ezekiel, who has obviously a much easier name to pronounce, sees a vision of God and all His glory. He sees clouds of lightning, living creatures with four faces and four wings, he sees wheels within wheels. And God called Ezekiel to be a prophet and speak the word of God.

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And so he did.   And the elders of what remained of Jerusalem found Ezekiel’s message to be religious entertainment and paid no heed.

Which brings us to today’s scriptures. The Lord God gave Ezekiel parables of actions to motivate Jerusalem to think about God’s truth. In 3 messages, Ezekiel speaks about a vine, an unfaithful wife, and a tree to convey God’s truth to those who truly wanted to understand. The people, sitting in banishment on the shores of a river in Babylon, were claiming that God had rejected His own people and God was breaking His own covenant. But through God’s parables, Ezekiel tells the people of Jerusalem how God sees them, and we’re going to focus just on the second parable, God sees Judah as God’s own adulterous wife.   Here’s our outline for today –

        • Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5
        • Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14
        • Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52
        • Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63

 

Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5

 

In God’s eyes, He sees the people of Israel as helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5 –

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.

(Ezekiel 16:3-5, Chronological Bible, August 19, p.1088)

Ezekiel reminds Jerusalem where they came from. Their history is ugly. Instead of being God’s pure people after the flood, Noah’s son Ham intermingled and became father of the Canaanites. Intermarrying with the Canaanites and worshiping their gods has corrupted Israel.   Israel has proved, by their immorality and idol worship, that they are no different from the Canaanites.   Nothing about Jerusalem as a city or the people that live there is attractive to God.

If I am going to be honest, nothing about me was attractive to God before I came to know Christ. I was the product of a broken home when my parents divorced when I was 17. Later, despite my good intentions, I myself went through divorce. In my college years I was maybe agnostic, thinking that if God existed he probably gave the world a spin and then sat back to watch what happened. It wasn’t until I was 40 that I realized how involved God had always been in my life.

Even before I was born, my family history isn’t pretty. I grew up as a Roman Catholic, yet I have a German last name. Germans aren’t Catholic, why was my family?   Turns out my Great Grandmother is Irish and a Roman Catholic. She married a German boy who may have been Lutheran, and I don’t know because his brother was so mad that his brother had married a Roman Catholic that he killed my Great Grandfather. So my Great Grandmother emigrated to the United States as a pregnant Irish widow and gave birth to my grandfather with the German surname.

My history is ugly.   I don’t know each and every one of you, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t sordid stories in your family.   It’s just who we are. We are helpless, and we are ugly in God’s eye.   Our umbilical cord with our family history was not cut, there was no reason to show us compassion, and if we are honest, because we were born with a sin nature that traces all the way back to Adam and Eve, on the day that we were born, we, too, were helpless and despised.

 

Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14

 

And yet, God loved us anyway. Not because we were free of blemish, or because we were such great people, or had great potential. Not because of anything we did or anything we were. God loved us because of who He is. He loved us, despite the fact we were unlovable. God felt the same way about Jerusalem.

Jerusalem had soiled herself with disobedience, yet God loved her and put her in a position of honor. Verse 6-8 –

“‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.

 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.’”

God chose her.   God cared for her, dressed her, adorned her, loved her. Look at all the ways God describes Jerusalem and her people in Ezekiel 16:6-14 –

      • Vs. 7, “I made you thrive like a plant of the field.”
      • Vs. 8, “Yes, I … entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,”
      • Vs. 9, “I washed you with water, washed off the blood from you and I anointed you with oil.”
      • Vs. 10, “I also clothed you….wrapped you….covered you….”
      • Vs. 11, “I adorned you with ornaments and jewelry.”
      • Vs. 12, “I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head,”
      • Vs. 13, “You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.”
      • Vs. 14, “Because of the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect.”

God saw the good in Jerusalem despite her helplessness. He removed her helplessness and replaced it with honor.   Jerusalem was blessed and lacked nothing.

Ezekiel preaches that the people of Israel and Judah were completely dependent on God for their protection and provision. Every good and perfect thing that they experienced was the result of God’s generosity.

And I look at our great nation where we live in more comfort, prosperity, and wealth than any other population in the history of the world. And yet, we as a nation assume that our success and our comfort comes from our hard work, our intelligence, our character. But James 1:17 reminds us that

“every good and perfect gift is from above”

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Our very lives are dependent upon the generosity of God. We are called to live in a state of thankfulness and reverent worship toward God because He has provided us with every good thing in our lives. On top of that, every one of us was in the same situation as the baby in Ezekiel’s metaphor. We were left on the side of the road, cared for by no one, wallowing in our own blood and filth because of our sin.

And despite my family history and sordid generations, God gave me everything because He loved me. And I thought He didn’t care, I thought God was absent. Going to college, I relied on my intellect and wisdom to get a degree and a job, never once considering that God had given me the intellect in the first place. All God asked of me was to glorify Him for the gifts He had given, but I thanked myself for where I was in life.

 

Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52

 

Jerusalem did no less. Wallowing on the banks of the river, taking credit for every good thing and blaming God for every bad thing, Jerusalem turned from God, despite all the beautiful ways God felt about her. Jerusalem worshipped other gods, engaged in spiritual idolatry and adultery. Look at verse 15-17, this is how Jerusalem treated God after all His goodness –

“‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him, and he possessed your beauty. You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them.

I think there are some words bible study teachers shouldn’t say in bible study class, and if there was a list of such words, I’m pretty sure “prostitute” and “whore” would be on that list. I’m double sure I’m also not supposed to use any illustrations for this PowerPoint either. But there’s no easy way to avoid these words, and they are, in fact, God’s words, so just bear with me for this section while we discuss the harlotry of Jerusalem.

God is the source of all things good. When we give credit to ourselves or to somebody else other than God, we are not acknowledging God’s provisions. Our entire purpose in life is to know God and make God known. And any credit we give to anything or anyone else but God is spiritual adultery. Here is how Jerusalem treated God after all He had done for her –

      • Vs. 15-19. She takes all that God has given to her and uses those things to make images to other gods for worship.

When I think back at the Ten Commandments with it’s “Thou shall not murder” and “Thou shall not steal,” I think it’s too easy to skip over rule number 1 from Exodus 20:1-6 –

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

      • Vs. 20-22. She offers the fruit of her womb to the deities of pagan nations.

In other words, she raises her children without regard to God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in movies or in person from a young couple, “oh, we don’t raise him/her in any particular religion, we want them to be open-minded and to make their own choice.” I think that’s a form of child abuse, not to tell them that everything they have and everything they are comes from the Lord.

      • Vs. 23-30. She builds idols throughout her land and beckons the nations around her to enter her land.

God responds to this by describing her heart as ‘degenerate’. Jerusalem wasn’t following God’s laws, and she invited nations to bring their gods and their cultures into God’s land, and God considered this another form of adultery.

      • Vs. 31-35. Not only does she give herself away cheaply to the nations around her, but she hires them to come to her as lovers.

In Ezekiel’s metaphor, the young woman, Jerusalem, enjoyed the fame and attention that she received from the rest of the world, and she decided to make herself a prostitute to all the men who gave her attention. God had saved Israel from a life of death and prostitution, He provided for her, He made her beautiful, He chose her as His bride, but she responded by making herself a prostitute. God says that Israel prostituted herself to the Canaanites, Egyptians, Assyrians, and the Babylonians. And not only is she prostituting herself, unlike most prostitutes, Jerusalem is paying her lovers and not the other way around.

What is God talking about in this metaphor? He is talking about the worship of other gods.   God made Himself clear to the people of Israel, but they effectively prostituted themselves to the other nations of the world by worshiping their gods and asking for their approval and protection. The people of Israel showed that they were insecure, impressionable, and unfaithful by rejecting the Lord and worshiping these other gods.   They would pay lip service to the Lord, but then they would completely ignore His commandments and turn their backs on Him by indulging in the worship and recognition of false idols and gods of other nations. Ezekiel’s metaphor tells us that Israel, the dying baby rescued by the Lord, turned into a beautiful woman and then rejected her husband for the favors of much lesser men.

      • Vs. 36-41. She is abused by those whom she paid to protect her.

Jerusalem entered into agreements with other nations for protection instead of relying on the Lord.   Now those nations are abusing Jerusalem which would have never happened if Jerusalem had trusted in the Lord in the first place.

      • Vs. 42-43. She experiences the outpouring of anger from the One who had previously poured out love and blessing.

God’s love for Jerusalem has been taken for granted. Like any jealous lover, God’s patience for His adulterous wife leads to anger. God permits the Assyrians to take Israel into captivity, Judah is taken captive by the Babylonians, and still, Jerusalem participates in sexual sin, idol worship, and alliances with the nations around her. There is a limit to God’s patience and love before God’s wrath is revealed.

      • Vs. 51. The LORD reveals the root of Samaria and Sodom’s sin, and finds Jerusalem’s sin twice as bad: “Samaria did not commit half of your sins; but you have multiplied your abominations more than they.”

Ezekiel lists the sins of Samaria and Sodom illustrating that sexual sin and idol worship are symptoms of a root problem. Sodom had sexual immorality and pride and idleness, but Jerusalem piled on adultery and idol worship on top of that. The Lord God has every right to be angry. And if the Lord would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, should He not destroy Jerusalem also?

 

Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63

 

And that’s where all of us find ourselves.   Despite all of God’s gifts, His blessings, His love, His patience, we all turn to sin.   We all prostitute ourselves to manmade gods of our own making. John 8:44, Jesus says,

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

We oppose God, and any opposition to God is the same as worshipping the devil. Despite God’s love, we choose pride. And like Jerusalem the prostitute, God’s wrath burns against our sin.

But there is hope anyway. God, despite our failings, has plans for us, plans to give us hope and a future.   Though Jerusalem and her people broke their covenant with the Lord and were living in gross sin, sexual immorality and idol worship, God promises to make atonement for their sins. Ezekiel 16:59-60,63 –

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. …

Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

God is gracious, even when we are not. It’s humbling to know how bad I have sinned against the Lord, yet there is no sin that can keep me from His love.

In spite of Judah’s prostitution and idolatry against God, and in spite of their exile into Babylon, God still promises that He will restore an everlasting covenant with His people. This covenant would help them forget their shame and pain, and it would lead them into a new era with their God.

Fortunately for the people of Judah, this exile in Babylon was temporary. In about 70 years, they would return to their homeland because of the Persian empire. While they were in exile, the people held on to the hope that if they followed God’s laws and stayed faithful to Him, that He would keep His promise and restore them to the covenant.

 

Conclusion

 

And fortunately for you and me, our exile, our relationship with our father the devil, is also only temporary, if we just accept the atonement God provided for us.   Not because we are great, but because God is.

Here’s our outline for today –

      • Helpless, Ezekiel 16:3-5
      • Honor, Ezekiel 16:6-14
      • Harlotry, Ezekiel 16:15-52
      • Hope, Ezekiel 16:53-63

But maybe we should be looking at Ezekiel’s message this way –

      • Helpless – when we are without God
      • Honor – we are made in God’s image
      • Harlotry – in our sin nature, we follow the devil
      • Hope – Christ died for us while we were still sinners

I want to finish with a message of hope for you and me. Despite my unbelief, despite by unworthy generational history, despite my sexual immorality and pride, God loves me and gave His son that I may live.   He no longer sees my adultery against Him; He sees the atonement in Jesus that He provided for me. All I have to do is accept it and believe that Jesus died for me. Ephesians 2:1-9 is probably the most beautiful message of hope for believers in Christ,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

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It is amazing to me how much God loves us. To God be the glory.

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The King Israel Wants

I. Introduction

We’ve been studying the bible chronologically this year, and we’ve covered a lot of ground.  God desires a relationship with man, but Adam sinned against the Lord and was cast out of the Garden of Eden, demonstrating man’s fallen nature.
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God continually reaches out toward man, but man continues rebel.  Cain slew Abel.  Men were so evil, the Lord flooded the earth and began again with Noah.  The Lord promised Abraham his children would be as numerous as the stars, but Abraham got impatient and slept with his maid.  Jacob was thrown into a well and sold into slavery, and the Lord reached out to rescue His people from Pharaoh through Moses.
And the people wandered in the wilderness until the unfaithful generation died off, then the people enter the Promised Land and begin the cycle that Chris taught about last week – rebellion leads to ruin, leads to repentance, leads to rescue, then repeat.

II. God’s Word about a King

All the way back in Deuteronomy, Moses gave the word of the Lord to the people that the day will come that they will need a king.  Deuteronomy 17:14-20,
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.  The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”  He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
In other words, the king should not build an army of horses which may give the people a false sense of security, nor build wealth.  He wasn’t to have multiple wives so as not to turn his heart from the Lord.  In short, this king was to be chosen by God from the people and lead by example of how to be a model follower of Yahweh.

III. The People’s Word about a King

So in 1 Samuel 8, the people finally ask the prophet Samuel for a king.  The Lord tells Samuel this is a bad idea – a king will take their sons and make them join the military, he will force them to serve the king with weapons and food and the best of their flock and their grain and the people will become slaves.  And the people will cry out to the Lord to be saved, but the Lord will not answer.
The people’s response?  “All the cool nations have kings, we want one, too!”
Samuel: “What about Deuteronomy 17, about a humble king chosen by God?”
The people: “Pfft.”
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The people wanted a king for all the wrong reasons, a king to lead them and fight battles.  The Lord pointed out to Samuel that the people were turning from their true, heavenly King to a human king.  But like so often happens between us and the Lord, I mean, between Israel and the Lord, the Lord gave them what they wanted, not what they needed.
The people chose Saul to be their king.  Not because Saul was devout, or humble, or obedient to the Lord.  No, the people chose Saul because he looked good.  1 Samuel 9:2 says,
Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
Instead of being the model servant of God, the people chose the man on the cover of the Israeli GQ magazine.
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Well, like I said last time I taught, if you can’t be a good example, then try to be a horrible warning.  What did Saul do wrong as Israel’s first king?  And if we study Saul as a horrible warning, what lessons can we draw that would help us live as good examples?

IV. Failure to Follow God’s Commands

First, Saul fails to follow all of God’s commands.  In 1 Samuel 15, the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amalekites.  Who were the Amalekites?  We have to go all the way back to the Exodus era in Exodus 17 to understand who the Amalekites are.  They’re one of the many -ites that trouble Israel over the centuries.  The Amalekites, the Amorites, the Canaanites.  The Meteorites.  The Snakebites.  The Parasites.  The Kryptonites.  Oh and the Off-whites.
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So the Israelites, led by Moses out of Egypt through the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amalekites who are killing women and children that are straggling at the rear of the line.  You may recall Joshua led a battle against the Amalekites while Moses held his hands in the air.  Moses’ arms get tired so his arms are held up by Aaron and Hur.   Joshua wins that battle, but our God isn’t pleased that while leading His people to freedom that they are attacked.  In Exodus 17:14-16,
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.  He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
God’s justice will remove the Amalekites and blot out their memory.  Anybody here know any Amalekites?
So after Israel asks for a king, God chooses their king Saul to wipe out the Amalekites; 1 Samuel 15:1-3,
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.  This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'”
The time for justice to be delivered to the Amalekites has come, but listen to how Saul carried out these instructions in 1 Samuel 15:7-9 –
Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt.  He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.  But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.  (April 13th, pg. 402)
In 1100 BC, capturing the king during a war meant riches for the winner.  The king could be ransomed off for a handsome profit.  And it would be a shame to kill all the animals, too, when there were so much better uses for them.
God sent a clear command to Saul through Samuel to completely wipe out the Amalekites and King Agog as an act of judgement.  Completely, in their entirety, leaving nothing.  Instead of obeying the Lord’s command, Saul keeps the spoils of war for himself.
Saul displayed a key character flaw during his time as king: he failed to fully obey the commands of God.  Saul had a habit of listening to God’s commands, and only following them halfway or sometimes not at all.  If Saul thought that he knew better than God, then he would do as he pleased.  Saul did this multiple times in key moments of his rule over Israel.  This disobedience from Saul grieved the heart of God so much so that God began to regret ever allowing Saul to become king over Israel.
Before we judge Saul too harshly, every one of us is tempted to disobey God.  There are many times that the commands of God and the teaching of Scripture will seem inconvenient, untenable, or unpalatable to us.  I see it in the news and it grieves me when entire churches decide which of God’s laws are acceptable and which ones are optional.  When we come across a truth from God that doesn’t make sense to us, we become tempted to either ignore it or only partially obey it.  We do this at our own risk.  God’s laws are not given to us to be restrictive or to make life difficult, but they are given to protect us, to help us thrive and become the people that God made us to be.  When we ignore God’s laws or pick and choose which law we will obey, it leads to destruction and pain for ourselves and those around us.

V. Giving Praise to Ourselves instead of to God

The second character flaw that Saul exhibited was his pride instead of humility.  Saul believed it was all about him.  In 1 Samuel 15:10, the Lord tells the prophet Samuel that the Lord is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His command to wipe out the Amelekites, so Samuel goes to see Saul.  Let’s see what Saul is up to, 1 Samuel 15:10-12,
Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel:  “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.
Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”  (April 13th, pg. 402)
Samuel went to Saul find out how the battle with the Amalekites ended.  Samuel found out that Saul had won the battle and then built a monument to himself instead of worshipping God.  Saul awarded himself a participation trophy.
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We get another glimpse into Saul’s character flaws as a leader.  Not only did Saul not fully obey the command of the Lord, but he also had the gall to build a monument to himself after his disobedience.
Saul’s priorities were not with following the Lord or honoring Him.  Instead, Saul wanted to lift himself up to increase his own esteem and notoriety in the world.  Saul was overtaken by the deadliest of sins: pride.  Saul’s role king made him think that he was more important than anyone else in the world, and it is clear from his actions that he actually thought himself more important than God.  His first instinct was to do what he wanted to do and to have people honor him.  Saul wanted to worship himself instead of the God who gave him every good thing in his life.
Pride and self-importance are perhaps the deadliest traps for any of us who find ourselves in a place of leadership.  A true leader looks to the best of others and seeks to accomplish the task at hand.  An ungodly leader uses his status to elevate himself above others.
This trap lies in wait for any of us.  Why do we serve?  The bible has specific warnings to teachers who elevate themselves and who like to hear themselves talk, but the warnings are applicable to anybody who serves.  If we serve because we think we will gain the recognition and approval of others, then our service to the Lord actually offends the Lord.  Jesus tells us the same thing in Matthew 6:1-4,
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
In other words, it’s not about you.  We must all learn to walk in humility and do everything possible to avoid the trap of pride.

VI. Failing to Acknowledge Mistakes

Does Saul have any other character flaws we can learn from?  I’m glad you asked.  Remember, the Lord’s instructions to Saul were to utterly destroy the Amalekites.  Leave nothing.  And instead, Saul captured King Agog and kept the best livestock as spoils of war to make himself rich.  In 1 Samuel 15:13-15 –
When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”
Or in other words,
Samuel: So Saul, did you obey the Lord?  Did you destroy all the cattle?
Saul: Why yes, I did.  Completely.
Cow: Moo.
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Saul refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his disobedience to the Lord.  First, he told Samuel that he had obeyed the Lord, and he said that he only kept the animals in order to sacrifice to God.  Saul’s denial is a form of “partial obedience.”
But did Saul obey?  Saul is in denial about his obedience.  “The Lord bless you, I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” he says.  As Christians today, we have specific instructions, too.  But partial obedience is the same as disobedience.
If you told your child to do the dishes, how many dishes would he have to do for you to consider him to be obedient?  One?  Ten?  Or all of the dishes?
How faithful does a spouse have to be to be considered faithful?  Most of the time?
The scripture says we are to abstain from sexual immorality.  And yes, that includes weekends.
Scripture says God hates gossip.  God says we are to be patient.  God says we are to be kind.  God says to forgive one another.  Not occasionally, not sometimes, not unless we have a good excuse, but all of the time.
Samuel’s question to Saul – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one.  First Saul denies he was disobedient, then Saul justifies to Samuel that partial obedience is more than enough.  1 Samuel 15:20 –
“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.”
That last sentence is almost incoherent.  I obeyed except when I didn’t.  The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said of course he destroyed them except their king.
But you know what?  If we want to live a godly life, if we want God’s blessings to flow, if we want to avoid sabotaging God’s plan for our lives, we will read the scripture, we will put on the whole armor of God daily, we will do our best to be obedient without excuse.  We all have Amalekites of sin in our lives.  Yet, too often, we believe that we can pick and choose among God’s instructions, and then we act as though God should be appreciative of the bits and pieces that we do.  God defines obedience as total obedience.  We obey mostly, but we leave entire Amalekite kingdoms of sin in our lives.
Colossians 3:5-6 says –
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
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When Samuel further confronted him, Saul then shifted the blame to the men who fought with him, saying that they kept the animals.  1 Samuel 15:21,
The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.
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Saul thought he could appease the Lord by giving Him sacrifices, and then when that explanation didn’t fly, he decided to blame those under his leadership.  Worse, he claims his disobedience is actually for the Lord’s benefit.  But if we are not careful, we can blame our own disobedience on others.  I did obey the Lord, but the soldiers didn’t do right.   I had this great plan to serve the Lord, but somebody else messed it up.  Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but you don’t know my spouse.  Of course I can forgive my friend as soon as she asks for forgiveness. Sometimes we even blame God.  I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.
This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book.  Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve.  “It’s her fault!” And the Eve blamed it on the serpent.  The serpent, of course, didn’t have a leg to stand on.  But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else.  God will see through that every time.
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I was recently reminded that this temptation to avoid taking responsibility and lay blame on others is ever present.  Last week, I returned from a business trip to Japan.  It was almost entirely business, but the weekend did have its benefits.
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But eventually it was time to return, and that morning, I was responding to last-minute emails since I would be traveling for the next 14 hours or so.  Then I shutdown, pulled the power plug (I always do that first since I read that is the most common thing left behind at hotels) and put it in my backpack.
Diane asked for some last minute assistance, a lidocaine patch for her shoulder to minimize pain on the return trip, and I was happy to help.  Then grab our bags, then catch a taxi, then transfer to an airport bus, then the airport ticket counter, then customs and immigrations, then security.  And if you have a laptop, you have to take it out of you bag for separate screening.
Imagine my shock when I opened my bag and there was no laptop.  Did somebody somehow steal it?  No, it was in my possession the whole time.  I looked in every section of the bag, and resisted the urge to check even the tiny pockets on the side that were too small anyway.
I called the hotel, who transferred me to housekeeping, who confirmed I had left my laptop in the hotel room.  Nothing that a dozen emails over the weekend and a credit card charge for a $200 to DHL couldn’t fix.  Definitely not a laughing matter, but my laptop was returned to me within the week.
But when I told co-workers – and in a situation like this, you *must* tell co-workers, unless you can explain why you’re just sitting at your desk and staring at a blank wall for the next 3 days – I was surprised at some of the reactions.  One person bluntly told me I should try to keep it a secret and not let anybody know I made a mistake.  That never even crossed my mind, I never claim to be mistake free.  I only claim to learn from my mistakes.  I’m pretty sure I’ll never leave a laptop behind again.
But when they asked me why I left it behind, I found I was tempted to say it was because I was distracted.  I was out of my routine.  I was helping my wife.  I felt the urge to find an excuse.  Certainly those things were true, but the mistake was entirely mine, and the right thing to do was to own up to it.  To be that horrible warning.
Saul, as our horrible warning today, first tried to claim he was obedient.  And when that explanation didn’t fly, he threw others under the bus.  If he failed, Saul reasoned, it was because of others.
God expects better of us.  God wants our heart.  1 Samuel 15:22-23, Samuel tells Saul what God thinks of Saul’s disobedience:
But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

VII. Conclusion

In the life of Saul, we see an example of someone who wasted the opportunities given to him by the Lord.  Saul had all the natural tools to successfully lead the people of God, but he failed because he did not obey the Lord.  But we can use Saul as an example of a horrible warning because we are all capable of ignoring the Lord.  God has a calling for each one of us, and if we are obedient and trusting and loving, then we can experience fulfillment and joy.  However, if we are stubborn, selfish, and disobedient to the Lord, then we will lose our way and our walk with Him, just as Saul lost his opportunity to be a successful king of Israel.
Look to the Lord for His guidance, trust in His leadership, and be obedient to His Word.
To God be the glory.

 

How Can God Still Love Me?

             I.      Introduction

 

It’s almost the New Year, no thanks to the ancient Mayans.  The New Year is a time for beginning fresh, to put our past behind us and look forward to a new beginning.  For auld lang syne my friends, for auld lang syne.

 

A new beginning means a new you.  But what if the old you is still here?  How do we begin again?  And for sins we’ve committed last year, how do we put those behind?  And what about those who have done wrong to us?  Why should they be allowed to start again?

 

We’ve been studying the book of Hosea, the Prophet of Doom.  The Israelites, or more specifically the Northern Kingdom, sometimes called Ephraim by Hosea, has led duplicitous lives.  Yes, they prayed to the Lord and sacrificed to Him, but when times were good, they also sacrificed to Baal and other pagan deities of the Canaanites.  The Lord gave Hosea a personal life that mirrored Israel so he could understand.  Hosea’s wife was a prostitute, unfaithful to Hosea, and eventually sold into slavery.   Israel, too, was unfaithful to the Lord.  God used the might Assyrian army to invade the Northern Kingdom, judgment against Israel for her unfaithfulness.  Our God is a jealous God, and He is God alone.

 

Thankfully this week it’s not all about death and destruction and judgment.  Today we’re going to study the Lord’s compassion in the midst of Israel’s discipline and punishment.  Why does the Lord have compassion for sinners?  And how can the Lord look past what I’ve done and accept me for who I am?  And the most difficult question, why does the Lord show compassion to me even when I continue to sin?  Doesn’t my unwillingness to be pure indicate that I do not truly love the Lord with all of my mind and body, heart and soul?  Why would the Lord should compassion to me when I know I don’t show my Love to Him?

 

          II.      Compassion Though Unrecognized, Hosea 11:1-4

 

Let’s start at the beginning of Hosea 11 and read the Lord’s word to Israel –

 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

    and out of Egypt I called my son.

But the more they were called,

    the more they went away from me.

They sacrificed to the Baals

    and they burned incense to images.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

    taking them by the arms;

but they did not realize

    it was I who healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness,

    with ties of love.

To them I was like one who lifts

    a little child to the cheek,

    and I bent down to feed them.

 

God’s love is more than a feeling; it is compassion in action.  Here, God reminds Israel He has been there from the beginning and cared for Israel when Israel could not take care of itself.

 

God calls Israel His child, who He loved, and called him out of Egypt.  Hosea is speaking, of course, of the days of Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Exodus 3:7 says, “The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them.”  God led them in a pillar of cloud or fire to the promised land.  But Israel’s trust waivered and their hearts hardened towards God, and instead turned to worship idols and the gods of the Egyptians and other tribes.   God also sent prophets to them to point out their ways, to correct their behaviors, but the more they were reprimanded, the more Israel turned from God.

 

But this is also a prophetic verse; in Matthew 2, Matthew builds upon this when he describes the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus made to Egypt until the death of Herod.  Matthew quotes Hosea, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  The Lord acted compassionately throughout history to save His people Israel, just as He acted compassionately when He sent His son Jesus for our sake.

 

But unlike Jesus, Israel slipped into sin again and again.  And for those who have had children, you know how painful it is if your child slips into sin repeatedly.  God called to His people, lovingly, compassionately, but the more God called, the more Israel turned away from Him.

 

This is our problem today with the Lord, just as it was with Israel.  When times are good, we are wayward children, turning away from Him, time and time again.  We’re funny that way – we have so many blessings, but we don’t give proper thanks to the Lord.  And in the midst of our blessings, we find excuses to turn away, rationalizing it with thoughts like, I do so many good things for the Lord, surely the Lord won’t mind if I do this one thing that I need to be happy.  Sometimes, we even lie to ourselves that since God wants me to be happy, God would approve of my sin.

 

I once knew a single woman who desperately wanted a husband.  She seemed smart and attractive, you know, many blessings in her life.  But her focus was on one thing God had not blessed her with.  One day she said that she had found somebody, and he made her happy.  There was a small problem, she said; he was married .  But she knew God would want her to be happy.  She said God had told her so.

 

I don’t know where she is today, but I do know this: God never blesses sin.  For a Christian to continue in sin is like crucifying Christ over and over again.  Sin separates us from God because God is free of all sin.  God may love us, but He hates the sin.  If we choose to continue in our sin, God will either give us over to our hardened heart, or God will discipline us in order to bring us back to Him.  As we learned last week in Hosea 8, it’s far, far better for us to learn to discipline ourselves than to wait for God to discipline us.

 

In verse 3, the Israelites failed to realize that the Lord was always there, feeding them, helping them to walk, healing them when they fell.  We have been given so much compassion, so many blessings, and we take them for granted.  Our health, our country, our church, our next meal, our next breath.  God is in all of it.  We forget to thank the Lord for what we have already been given in abundance through His love.

 

       III.      Compassion Amid Judgment, Hosea 11:5-7

 

The Lord’s compassion always extends to us, even when in discipline and judgment.  In Hosea 11:5-7,

 

Will they not return to Egypt

    and will not Assyria rule over them

    because they refuse to repent?

A sword will flash in their cities;

    it will devour their false prophets

    and put an end to their plans.

My people are determined to turn from me.

    Even though they call me God Most High,

    I will by no means exalt them.

 

So God is looking at me… sorry, I mean, God is looking at Israel and realizing His child will not repent.  His child is reaping the rewards of God’s blessings and using those blessings in a way that offends the Lord.  And as much as the Lord is expressing His love, Israel is determined to follow false prophets and turn from Him.

 

I find it interesting that God used the Assyrians to punish Israel.  It’s backward from what we would normally think God should do.  We compare Israel and Assyria and say, well, Israel’s mostly ok.  They have this little thing about worshipping other gods, sure, but that’s just on weekends.  Those Assyrians, though, who they’re rotten people, sacrificing children and hating the Lord.  Surely the Lord will protect Israel from those nasty Assyrians.

 

But God doesn’t see it the same way.  He loves His people and He wants them to be pure.  So God allows the Assyrians to win this conflict.  Does He do the same with us?

 

Sometimes I think He does.  We can see it in our country – one nation, under God – but it seems that many of the battles Christians have fought have gone the wrong way.  Abortion, euthanasia, prayer in schools, have all gone against Christians.  Why is the enemy winning?

 

I don’t know, but if we are like the Israelites, we have grown complacent in the Lord and He will discipline us for our own good.  Church attendance is decreasing across the USA.  Is it because our attitude is that life is too good to waste it on worship?  No wonder the Lord uses evil to get our attention.

 

And it’s not a matter of knowing the Word, it’s a matter of putting it in action, consistently, with the right heart.  The Israelites certainly knew they were God’s chosen people, but they believed that somehow gave them the right to take God for granted and to do things their way.  It’s like they believed their disobedience was a God-given right.

 

I once had a wayward dog, a stubborn, stiff-necked Dalmatian.  I named him Israel.  No wait, I named him Samson.  I named him that because man, he was a big Dalmatian.  Most Dalmations are 45 lbs or so, Samson was 80 lbs.  He was big and he was stubborn.  I took him to obedience training for several weeks, and at the end of the class we had a test to see how well our dogs had learned.  I had worked Samson all week, and once I switched to a pinch collar instead of a choke collar, Samson deal very well at following directions.  On command, he’d sit, stay, down, come, and heel.  The final test was the heel command; Samson’s head was supposed to be even or behind me, and without a leash, Samson would heel as we walked the training course.

 

After all the lessons were complete, we continued working the commands.  Sit.  Stay.  Come.  Down.  Heel.  And we’d walk around the block.  Sometimes I’d unclip his leash and walk him for a bit, then reclip it later.  He was well trained.

 

Until one day as we were walking and I said, “heel!” and I unclipped his leash.  We’d walk a while, and he’d start to gain a little on me.  “Heel!”  Samson would drop back in place, and slowly surge forward again.  “Heel!”  He’d drop back again, surge forward a little sooner.  I could see him sort of looking over his shoulder to see if I was watching and he kept surging a little further until he was a full body length in front of me.  “Heel!” I’d say, and pow, like a rocket, he was off.  There was no way to catch him, he was so fast.  Eventually, I went home, got the car, drove ahead of him, and caught him again.  We didn’t do that walk again without the leash ever again.

 

It wasn’t as though Samson didn’t know where I was or what the rules were, or even that the rules were for his own benefit so that he wouldn’t get lost, get hit by a car, would be home for supper and a warm comfy bed.  It was just that he had realized he had all the freedom he wanted.  It had gone beyond disobedience and was now outright rebellion.  Because of my love for the dog, the dog then lost the freedom he had through the new discipline and restrictions.

 

We’re like that, in a way, when we’re in rebellion with God.  We know what pleases Him and what we should and shouldn’t do, and we even understand that the behavior God encourages for us is also for our benefit.  It’s just that, man, sometime we just want to run and do our own thing, and we disregard the consequences.  We know what is right, and we know we’re not doing it.

 

Mark Twain once put it this way:  “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

 

We’re all guilty of this, making excuses for our sin.  In 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  And we’re all repeat offenders, too.  In the sentence of our life, God may put a period, but we change it to a question mark.  He didn’t really mean it that way, did He?  We still want God’s love in our lives as long as we can have it on our terms.

 

         IV.      Compassion Over Anger, Hosea 11:8-9

 

Our disobedience in the face of God’s good plans draws His anger, but even in His anger, God shows compassion.

 

How can I give you up, Ephraim?

    How can I hand you over, Israel?

How can I treat you like Admah?

    How can I make you like Zeboyim?

My heart is changed within me;

    all my compassion is aroused.

I will not carry out my fierce anger,

    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.

For I am God, and not a man—


the Holy One among you.

    I will not come against their cities.

 

This is amazing to hear that God’s heart can be changed, even in the midst of His anger over our sin.  As we turn to sin again and again and again, our sins must stir God to take corrective action on our behalf.  Previously, God had corrected rampant sin in His people with complete destruction of the sinful.  Hosea makes reference to that here – the two towns listed here, Admah and Zeboyim, were neighboring villages of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Israel’s sin demanded punishment, but God’s heart was moved toward compassion.

 

And am I ever thankful that God gives me much better than I deserve.  God’s perfect justice is balanced by His perfect mercy, but we want that justice imposed on others, and the mercy on ourselves.  And it’s God’s mercy that delays the end times, the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation.

 

He is the Holy One in our midst.  He is not absent, He is not asleep, He is not dead.  The moment we repent, when our hearts are burdened by our own behaviors and we turn to God, He is there waiting for us.  We don’t have to wait for Him to show up, and He doesn’t hold it against us.  His compassion trumps His righteous anger.

 

            I.       

            II.       

            III.       

            IV.       

            V.      Compassion with Purpose, Hosea 11:10-11

 

Why would the Lord act with such compassion?  He has a purpose for this compassion.

 

They will follow the Lord;

    he will roar like a lion.

When he roars,

    his children will come trembling from the west.

They will come from Egypt,

    trembling like sparrows,

    from Assyria, fluttering like doves.

I will settle them in their homes,”

    declares the Lord.

 

So, with Israel in rebellion and God’s mercy delaying God’s justice, God shows compassion by staying the destruction of Israel.  Israel would not only be spared, but many would ultimately repent and follow the Lord.  And the Lord would be quick to respond.

 

When I consider God’s compassionate response instead of His righteous anger, I can’t help but consider where I have still not fully submitted to the Lord.  Either out of ignorance or willful disobedience, God will eventually get my attention.  My sin is detestable to Him.  He is the Holy One, and if I am to spend eternity with Him, there is no place for my sin.  I can be so thankful that God in His Sovereignty chooses to act in loving mercy to me.  He gives me better, far better, than I deserve.

 

In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  The Lord’s justice has been stayed by His mercy for a long time now.

 

         VI.      Conclusion

 

Yes, God’s compassion, as well as His discipline, has a purpose.  God uses both discipline and love to draw us to Him, gently or forcefully, but for our own good.  And He is patient with us, seemingly infinitely patient.  At what point would a father not want his children to return?

 

Deuteronomy 7:7-9 –

 

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

 

Hosea’s wife, through her willful disobedience, had repercussions, and she was eventually sold into slavery.  In her slavery, she finally realized the love Hosea had for her.  Hosea was a jealous man for his wife and eventually rescued her from bondage, out of the slavery that she caused.

 

Israel, too, through willful disobedience, was also sold into slavery, and in this discipline realized the love the Lord had for His children.  Through His love and compassion, the Lord drew Israel home to Him and rescued Israel from bondage.

 

And today?  Today, God still calls us out of our willful disobedience.  We find excuses not to do what is right, and we deceive ourselves that the Lord may actually bless our disobedience.  But our Lord is a jealous God for all things Holy and True and His Justice will prevail, and every knee will bow, either by our own free will or by His force.  We can be thankful that God delays the punishment we deserve out of His abundance of compassion, so that no one may die and that all may live.

 

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Deciding on Discipline

             I.      Introduction

 

Today’s lesson is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.  Who enjoys discipline, raise your hands.  Hold on; give me a second to count all the hands of the people that love discipline.  Looks like… None.  Just what I expected.

 

There are two types of discipline.  There’s the positive type of discipline.  Discipline that improves a skill or behavior.  Practicing the piano, staying within a budget, exercising, these are positive types of disciplines.  And primarily, these are disciplines that we impose upon ourselves.

 

Then there’s the negative kind of discipline.    Correction.  Rebuking.  Admonishment.  Punishment.

 

We’re studying the minor prophet Hosea, the Prophet of Doom, today.  Hosea’s had a tough life so far; God told him to marry a prostitute, and Hosea was faithful to the Lord, even if Hosea’s wife Gomer wasn’t faithful to him.  Homer’s wife was very intimate with other men, but it eventually led to her downfall.  As she hit bottom in her life, she was eventually sold as a slave.  Despite Hosea’s love for her, Hosea’s wife had strayed, she sowed the seeds of her own destruction, and then she reaped the consequences of those choices.

 

Hosea never gave up on his love for her.  It was necessary for Hosea’s wife to hit bottom, to be sold as a slave, before she could realize the depth and discipline of Hosea’s love.

 

Hosea draws upon this understanding when he preaches to the Northern Kingdom of Israel that Israel would soon hit rock bottom before they could fully realize God’s love for them.  And sometimes it takes us to hit rock bottom before we fully realize God’s love for us.  He’s there when there is nothing else.

 

I have no doubt that the Israelites knew they were God’s chosen people.  God promised it to them.  In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God’s made a covenant with David.  Through the prophet Nathan, God told David –

 

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

 

I guess they liked that part that said, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” and just overlooked the part that said, “When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men.”  But that’s exactly the situation in Hosea’s time.

           II.      Check Your Relationship, Hosea 8:1-4

 

So let’s open to Hosea 8 and read 1-4…

 

Put the trumpet to your lips!

    An eagle is over the house of the Lord

because the people have broken my covenant

    and rebelled against my law.

Israel cries out to me,

    ‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’

But Israel has rejected what is good;

    an enemy will pursue him.

They set up kings without my consent;

    they choose princes without my approval.

With their silver and gold

    they make idols for themselves

    to their own destruction.

 

This announcement by Hosea begins, “Put a horn against your lips.”  This signals the beginning of war against an enemy.  It has a twofold meaning here.  One, there would soon be an attack against the Northern Kingdom and the main worship center at Bethel.  This would come from the blistering invasion from the Assyrian army.  The Assyrians were located in what is now modern day Iraq, and in 8 BC were the world’s most powerful army.  Death and destruction were imminent.  But that wasn’t the worse part.  The Israelites, through their duplicitous lives, were at war against the Lord.  .  Sound the horn, Israel, you’re not only facing the Assyrians, you are also facing the Lord in battle.  The Israelites, by their disobedience, had declared war.

 

What had the Israelites done that was so bad?   The Israelites were a messy bunch.  On one hand, they were bound to the Lord by covenant promises since the days of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Solomon.  On the other hand, the Israelites were also very much involved at the time in the pagan deities of the Caananites.   So they’d offer gifts to the Lord, then they’d offer gifts to Baal.  They installed new kings without God’s direction, worshipped calf-idols all while standing at Bethel, a place to worship God.

 

One can’t do both.  Our God is a jealous God, who does not settle for part time adoration.  Trying to do both is the same as worshipping only pagans deities and turning their backs on God.

 

Once, talking to a missionary, he told me of a story of a man he met in India.  This man was familiar with worshipping the many gods of India, it is said that there are 330 million gods in the Hindu religion.  This man, after several visits, eventually gave his life to Christ and acknowledged Jesus as Lord.  Several months go by, and the missionary checks on his Indian brother and visits him at his house.  One wall is completely lined with little statues of Indian gods.  The missionary said, “But didn’t you acknowledge Jesus as Lord?”  And the Indian man said excitedly, “I did!  Look, here He is at the end of the second shelf!”

 

Our God is a jealous God.  God and God alone.  God promised Israel in Deuteronomy 6:18 that they would prosper and enjoy the holy land if they did what is good and righteous.  But between the selection of kings and the unholy alliances and the worshipping of pagan gods, Israel didn’t do that.  They sought their own desires, and accordingly the promise made to them in Leviticus 26:17 would be fulfilled, an enemy would pursue them.

 

A couple of things struck me about the rest of these verses.  When times got tough, who did Israel cry out to?  They cried out to the Lord.  Not to Baal or pagan deities.  That suggests that the Israelites knew who was Lord, but when times were good they felt it was ok to do things their own way and to dabble in other religions.  Sort of like the days after 9/11.  People knew the Lord was God and they came to churches by the hundreds and the thousands.  And in the good times they’re off doing their own thing and dabbling in other religions.

 

And another thing – the Israelites knew scripture.  They knew the Word of the Lord because they knew they were God’s chosen.  So here’s a question: if we, as believers, have memorized lots of scripture but we do not do what it teaches, do we really know the Lord?  Is knowing God a matter of mastering information we have read, or doing God’s will?  O both?

 

        III.      You Reap What You Sow, Hosea 8:7-10

 

Our actions have consequences, and Israel is taught this by the Lord in the next few verses –

 

They sow the wind

    and reap the whirlwind.

The stalk has no head;

    it will produce no flour.

Were it to yield grain,

    foreigners would swallow it up.

Israel is swallowed up;

    now she is among the nations

    like something no one wants.

For they have gone up to Assyria

    like a wild donkey wandering alone.

    Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.

Although they have sold themselves among the nations,

    I will now gather them together.

They will begin to waste away

    under the oppression of the mighty king.

 

 

In Charles Stanley’s, “Life Principles to Live By”, one of the principles is: You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow.

 

Actions have consequences.  Physical actions have physical consequences.  If you jump off a bridge, there is a physical consequence.  Mental actions have mental consequences.  And emotions have emotional consequences.  People forget that spiritual actions have consequences.  We reap what we sow – if we sow watermelon seeds, we reap watermelons.  If we sow anger, we reap anger.  Sometimes I think we sow our wild oats all week long – and then when Sunday comes around, we pray for crop failure.

 

The Israelites had crop failure.  The work they did was not aligned with God’s will, and so there was no field of standing grain to show for all their hard labor.  Nonexistent crop yields point to a reality that if they do not follow God’s will, then they do not reap His blessings.  When we throw foolishness into the wind, we reap a whirlwind of folly and destruction.  Empty words and idol worship will yield an unstoppable whirlwind of destruction.  They finally reached the end of God’s loving patience and were about to receive His discipline. 

 

Ephraim – the Northern Kingdom – paid their enemy to love them.  They gave money to the Assyrians to persuade them not to attack.  They were hiring lovers among nations.  At the same time the Northern Kingdom was paying the Assyrians not to attack them, the Israelites
were also paying surrounding kingdoms to be their allies against the Assyrians.  They were paying friends and enemies.    The crushing financial burden of this must have been great.

 

Did you know that most large corporations pay both Democrats and Republicans large sums of money during an election?  They want to be on the side of whoever wins.  No parallels.  Just an observation.

 

But I digress, let’s go back to Israel.  Soon every able bodied man was conscripted into military service, every household was heavily taxed to pay tribute to the enemy, gifts for the friendly nation, and payment for the military buildup. 

 

The punishment was upon them. 

 

The interesting thing about punishment is that, while we hate it, we would rather receive it from someone we know and love than a stranger.  Children probably never appreciate discipline when they’re young, but I can guarantee that they would much rather receive punishment from their father than from a next door neighbor.  What’s the difference?  The difference is clear – accepting punishment from someone we love is easier because, while we may hate the punishment, we know that the person dealing the punishment has our best interests at heart.

 

So the best way for the Israelites to accept and understand discipline– and it’s true for Christians as well – is to get to know God.  The more we know Him and understand Him, the more we can understand His purposes.

 

I think the Israelites had grown lazy in their faith.  Did they really know God?  They knew who God is… but that is not the same thing as knowing God.  We often quote the verse that even the demons know who God is and they shudder.  Think of this – if the Israelites really knew God with all of His perfect love and protection and patience and kindness, then why were they seeking prosperity and security in something else?  Why were they paying friends and enemies instead of relying on the Lord for protection?

 

Bad Israelites.  But you know we Christians still do the same thing today.  We treat church as a social club instead of a place to worship and grow and serve.  We cut back on tithing because we need a new car.  We secretly check our iPhones during the worship services to see what’s happening on Facebook instead of giving ourselves to our Creator for an hour.  We pursue these worldly things, and then these worldly things seem to pursue us.  We cannot seem to get away.  It’s what we so, so it’s no surprise it’s also what we reap.

 

But that’s ok.  Someday, God will discipline us to make sure we are paying attention to Him.  We can either discipline ourselves, or God will do it for us.  One way or another, every knee will bow.

 

God disciplines us on an individual level, but He also disciplines us as a nation.  God used violent international conflicts and heavy taxes to discipline Israel.  Right now, our culture is sowing persistent cultural sinfulness.  We once were a moral nation, but we’ve moved away from that.  First we were morally tolerant, then morally permissive.  And now it’s demanded of us that we accept immoral behavior as the basis of American life.  Do you believe God is please with us for our decision?  Do you think it’s possible God will decide He needs to discipline us for our own good before we destroy ourselves?  I shudder to think how and when God will one day do this.

 

          IV.      Heed a Warning When You Hear It, Hosea 9:7-9

 

God’s judgment didn’t just suddenly arrive with no warning.  Hosea preached for years about God’s patience with Israel was wearing thin.

 

The days of punishment are coming,

    the days of reckoning are at hand.

    Let Israel know this.

Because your sins are so many

    and your hostility so great,

the prophet is considered a fool,

    the inspired person a maniac.

The prophet, along with my God,

    is the watchman over Ephraim,

yet snares await him on all his paths,

    and hostility in the house of his God.

They have sunk deep into corruption,

    as in the days of Gibeah.

God will remember their wickedness

    and punish them for their sins.

 

Did you hear how I pronounced Gibeah?  How are you supposed to pronounce it?  I learned a secret that if I don’t know how to pronounce one of the Old Testament names or places, I just say it with confidence.  I say it with so much confidence, if Dr. Young was hear and heard me, even he’d start wondering if he’s the one pronouncing it wrong.

 

But we’re talking about Hosea and his message to Israel.  How do people sometimes respond when they don’t want to hear an unwelcome message about God’s judgment?  Sometimes they close their ears, change the subject, even get mad.  When I study for lessons like this, God’s word speaks to me.  The message sticks in my head messages like “do what is right, leave the consequences to God,” “your body is a temple, not a megachurch, maybe it’s time to lose weight”.  And you know, I can’t tell you that I ever receive these messages with joy.  They bother me because they’re true, and if I know they’re true, then I must act on the truth.  I don’t want to live with my own hypocrisy.

 

When has God used the preaching of His Word to warn you about your behavior?

 

Hosea then delivered this message to Israel, that the end was near, the tone was urgent, the threats were severe.  The prophet kept preaching that the days of God’s judgment on the house of Israel had arrived.  The people of the Northern Kingdom knew this by now, there was no mistake.  By this time, the Assyrians had probably conquered all of the Northern Kingdom with the exception of the capital city of Sumaria.

 

Why was God so harsh?  Do you believe the people would have listened to a quiet, gentle message?  I don’t think so – we have a loving God that we often ignore, and sometimes His discipline is harsh to get our attention that something must change.  Who do you think this harsh discipline hurt more, God or the people?

 

I ask myself this, and you should ask yourself, too.  Has God been speaking to me?  And am I listening?  Am I postponing action on God’s call in my life?   If I continue to delay, what will God will do to get my attention?

 

 

             I.       

             II.       

             III.       

             IV.       

             V.      Realize What Time It Is, Hosea 10:10-12

 

The last time I was here, I taught from Second Peter.  I was like, whoa, there are two Peters!  There’s one Peter, and then there’s a Re-Peter.  In that lesson, we talked about the confidence we can have about the Second Coming of Jesus and what we should do while waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas.  For the Northern Kingdom, the Day of the Lord has arrived.  And God will use Israel’s time of punishment to renew His people and give them a new heart that yearns only for the Lord.

 

When I please, I will punish them;

    nations will be gathered against them

    to put them in bonds for their double sin.

Ephraim is a trained heifer

    that loves to thresh;

so I will put a yoke

    on her fair neck.

I will drive Ephraim,

    Judah must plow,

    and Jacob must break up the ground.

Sow righteousness for yourselves,

    reap the fruit of unfailing love,

and break up your unplowed ground;

    for it is time to seek the Lord,

until he comes

    and showers his righteousness on you.

 

 Is God’s discipline and expression of His justice?  Or is it an expression of His love?  Or is it both?

 

How can you begin seeking the Lord more seriously?  Hint: it’s verse 12.

 

God said, “When I please, I will punish them.”  In some translations, “discipline them.”  His judgement would come, at the time of God’s choosing.  The two crimes of Israel were mostly likely worshiping other gods and placing their trust in human kings and alliances instead of the only faithful source, the Lord.

 

Hosea says the people of Israel wanted the cushy job in the threshing floor, but God’s discipline would put a yoke around her neck like a young cow and send her to the field with a yoke around her neck.  The easy days of happiness would be behind them and days of labor in front.  But even now, though, the people had a chance to repent.  Hosea lists three things they must do:

 

1 – Sow righteousness for themselves.  We cannot make ourselves righteous, but we can live a life of faithful love and righteousness. 

 

2 – When one sows grain, one reaps wheat.  When one sows righteousness and love, one reaps a character of godly righteousness.  The righteousness they reap would have everlasting effects on the nation of Israel.

 

3 – They were to break up the untilled ground.  In other words, in every part of their life where they had excluded God, they were to break it up and till it with God’s word.  In all areas of personal life, in all areas of their life as a nation.

 

And to do these three things with persistence and God would rain down righteousness like rain.

 

I hear people say all the time, “God wants me to be happy.”  That’s not God’s number one desire for us.  God doesn’t want us to be unhappy, of course.  What father would want His children to be unhappy!  But happiness is not the goal.  Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  If you want to be happy, be righteous first.  That’s what pleases the Lord.  If we seek happiness and we’re willing to give up righteousness to get it, God will correct us.  And in the process of seeking happiness, we will lose it.

 

Today, some believers seek an easier church with an easier message.  One that teaches freedom and tolerance and happiness.  There’s nothing wrong with such a message, but it’s incomplete and it’s in the wrong order.  A church that teaches righteousness and then freedom and happiness has their priorities in order.

 

I don’t know about you about you, but I’d rather decide my own discipline.  In seeking His righteousness, I want to exercise discipline in my life that brings me closer to Him.  The positive kind of discipline.  That kind of discipline is rewarding, but if I wait and let God discipline me, it’s harder.  God will give me a heavy load and hard work until I understand that God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, but when I go my own way, I’m sowing the wind and will reap a whirlwind.

 

Discipline, as a rule, is not something we enjoy.  But sometimes discipline is exactly what we need. 

 

          VI.      Conclusion

 

As a child, you probably didn’t appreciate the discipline from your parents.  As we grow older and more mature, then we see that the discipline when we were younger leads to life that reaps good things.  And just like when we were young, sometimes now it’s difficult to accept God’s discipline.  It’s hard.  But as we grow and mature spiritually, then we will see that God is preparing us for an eternity of trusting in Him.  There are tremendous benefits to come if we only start sowing now so that we may reap later.

 

Hosea was one of the earliest writing prophets, and he used his own experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel: God the husband, Israel the wife. Hosea’s wife left him to go with other men; Israel left the Lord to go with other gods. Hosea searched for his wife, found her and brought her back; God would not abandon Israel and brought them back even though they had forsaken him.  God does the same for us.  His love is perfect and He will never leave us.

 

The book of Hosea was a severe warning to the northern kingdom against the growing idolatry being practiced there; the book was a dramatic call to repentance. Christians can extend the analogy of Hosea to Christ and the church: Christ the husband, his church the bride.   Hosea teaches us that God calls the church not to forsake the Lord Jesus Christ.  Eventually, Homer bought is wife Gomer back, just as Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brings us back to Him.

 

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Compass Trip to Israel

I just returned from a trip to Israel, and I’m waiting right now for that next-day 3:00pm jet lag feeling to hit. Just a few more minutes, I think. I took 1300 pictures; I plan on posting a few of them in the next couple of weeks with my thoughts.

But before I do that, I want to put in a plug for Bill and Susie of Compass.org who organized a flawless Mediterranean cruise to the Holy Land sites. Transportation, food, and stimulating bible studies were all provided so all we had to do is show up, eat and pray.

Before we booked this trip, I searched the web for reviews of Compass. I didn’t find many, which is a shame since they’re approaching 50 trips to Israel. So here’s a plug for this fine organization.

Act on Revealed Truth

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...
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Introduction

Last week, Michelle taught from Isaiah 6. This week, the lesson covers Isaiah 7-23. When I first started studying, I though, whoa, we’re supposed to cover 16 chapters?

I spoke to Fred about this last Saturday; he said there was no problem covering all 16 chapters, he would enjoy a thorough lesson. So I thought we’d cover chapters 7-10 first, then break for lunch. Come back and read chapters 11-20 and then break for dinner. That would leave us plenty of time to cover 21-23 this evening.

Actually, I’ve noticed that the bible is an amazing book in that the closer or further away you get, there are different lessons. Isaiah 7-23 has many, many lessons for us. Isaiah 7-12 is a warning to political leaders; chapter 7 talks about hope, chapter 8 is a warning of judgment, 9 is a promise of mercy, and so on. Chapters 13-23 are prophecy and fulfilled prophecy, showing that the Lord is in control. Yet we can also focus on a single sentence and get a life-changing lesson from it, the Word of God is that powerful.

We’re just going to focus on Chapter 7 this morning. In Chapter 7, Isaiah reminds us that we are to trust in God in times of stress. We are God’s people, and we are to do things God way. God’s will be done; we can participate, or God will do His will without us. Yet, stubborn as we are, we often choose to be controlled by our circumstances rather than listen to the Lord. And that’s the lesson from the Lord today – to have faith in Him and not things of the world.

It’s time to make a decision. You can go one way, or you can go another. You can ask for help, you can go it alone. You can help a friend, but it means breaking a confidence. You can accept a new job, but it means moving away from church. What are some difficult decisions we face today, as a nation, as a church, as a class, or as a family?

Here’s a story from Los Angeles City College. In a class teaching public speaking, students were given an open assignment in public speaking. Here’s an excerpt from the news article –

On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez’s presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation, “Ask God what your grade is.”

One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.

What are Mr. Lopez’s options? How would you respond?

Obviously anti-Christian, the teacher inadvertently asked a very appropriate question. “Ask God what your grade is.”

In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is faced with a similar dilemma. He’s faced with a threat and has to make a decision. David’s kingdom had long since split in two after the death of Solomon. Israel to the north had routinely strayed from the lord. Judah to the south, sometimes followed the Lord and sometimes they didn’t, depending on the king at the time. Northeast of Israel was the nation of Aram (also called Syria), and north of that was the rising Assyrian Empire.

Under King Uzziah, Judah flourished. Aram and Israel had wanted to form an alliance with Judah, but Uzziah had resisted. Isaiah preached that the Lord would save, and Judah should remain neutral. Uzziah was dealing with raids from the Philistines from the west and the Edomites to the south, and if Uzziah moved troops to face the Assyrians, the southern attacks would succeed. Uzziah stayed neutral, and under King Uzziah, Judah flourished.

Uzziah died, and his son Jotham took over. Jotham was also a strong leader and kept Judah neutral, but died young. And Ahaz, 20 years old, took over. It’s now about 735 B.C.

Isaiah also spoke to Ahaz about relying on the Lord to save, but Ahaz didn’t listen. Ahaz was not a righteous king; in 2 Kings 16:2-3 we’re told Ahaz offered sacrifices to Baal and pagan idols. As a weak king, Israel and Aram gave up on the alliance idea and decided to attack Judah. Their goal was turn Judah into a puppet kingdom and become large enough to defend themselves against the Assyrians. Isaiah brings Ahaz a message to depend on the Lord and remain neutral. Isaiah tells Ahaz that Israel and Aram are too weak to be a threat, and that the Lord will protect Judah. Instead, 2 Kings 16:8 says Ahaz gave away treasure from the temple of the Lord to the Assyrians as a bribe to protect him from Aram and Israel.

Instead of listening to Isaiah’s word from the Lord, Ahaz tried to appease evil. How well did this work out? Assyria used the treasure to finance the war to conquer Aram and Israel, and then in 2 Chronicles 28 we’re told the Assyrians continued their march and conquered Judah, too, with the help of the Edomites from the south.

Isaiah told Ahaz to trust in the Lord. As Christians, we’re also taught to trust in the Lord. Like Ahaz, though, we attempt to resolve problems using our own human strength. Ahaz made several mistakes we can learn from.

I. Misplaced Focus

Let’s look at Isaiah 7:1-2.

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern kingdom, and is used here to represent all of Israel being united. Ahaz gets word that Israel and Aram have become allies, and Ahaz is scared, shaken by the wind. Ahaz has been given the word of the Lord, but he fears men. He has misplaced focus.

Oswald Chamber wrote, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” We face many fears in a world of sin and uncertainty. Finances, disease, natural disasters. We may face danger. We may face fear that someone we love will be hurt. Something may challenge our emotional or spiritual strength. We are tempted to give in to fear, to find a worldly solution.

Our focus should be on the Lord. What would the Lord have me do in this situation? How do I obey His commands in this time of trouble? When we turn to the Lord, fear of the world is replaced by faith in a faithful God. Our God is a powerful God. Why should we fear anything else? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us to remember that the Lord knows our needs, that He will take care of us. Do not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we should wear. Put the Lord first, and He will provide what we need.

What was Ahaz’s fear? Was his fear justified? Have you ever been in a circumstance where you were afraid? Have you ever asked for someone’s advice and wish you hadn’t? At what point did you turn from your fears and turn toward the Lord for strength?

II. Misplaced Confidence

Isaiah 7:3-9 –

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood — because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,

for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.'”

The Lord says to Ahaz that the attack from the north will be unsuccessful. The leaders of those countries are only men, and He is the Lord God. The Lord knows the plans of evil men, and the Lord tells Ahaz that He is in control. The Lord says that these two countries are like sticks that have burned up, and there’s nothing left of them. Their flame may have once been bright, but now they’re dying. Both kings would be dead within two years.

Isaiah’s specific prophecy was that within 65 years, Israel would be too shattered to be a people. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and deported the people. 2 Kings 17:24 says foreigners came into the land to replace them, and Ezra 4:10 says later even more foreigners arrived.

Ahaz had misplaced confidence. His confidence is in himself. Ahaz puts his trust in a political alliance with Assyria. God is with Judah, but only if Judah is with God. Ahaz is trusting in the strength of an enemy to save him from other enemies. Where is Ahaz’s faith in God?

If we do not place our faith in the Lord when times are tough, then we have no faith at all. That’s what the Lord says – if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. But God is infinitely stronger than any problem we face. He is aware of our needs, and He is aware of those that plot against us. And God will help, but we must place our faith in Him first. Our primary confidence must be in Him, not ourselves, not other people, not worldly wisdom. God allows us to be tested in order to increase our faith in Him, and we demonstrate that faith when we give Him control and do not worry.

I notice also that Isaiah the prophet is faithful to share God’s word. But I also note fulfillment of prophecy that Michelle taught last week in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s message falls on deaf ears, and Isaiah’s vision is unintelligible to blind eyes.

III. Missing Integrity

Isaiah 7:10-12,

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself off. Satan says this will prove Jesus is the Son of God because scripture says angels will protect Jesus from any harm. And Jesus answers, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Why is Ahaz’s response wrong, but Jesus’ response was right? Ahaz was exhibiting false religiousity. Ahaz wasn’t testing the Lord; the Lord was testing Ahaz.

Both Ahaz and Jesus quote Deuteronomy 6:13. There’s a difference though – God wants to protect Judah, and all Ahaz has to do is place his faith in the Lord. Here is the kind of man Ahaz was, from 2 Chronicle 28:1-4 –

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

The Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refused. Ironically, Ahaz probably had been asking for signs from Baal and other deities; the Lord God says, “ask for a sign from me.” When Ahaz said he wasn’t going to test the Lord, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to trust the Lord. Ahaz used scripture to keep from obeying the Lord; he had missing integrity. While calling for Isaiah’s counsel, Ahaz had no faith in the Lord. To ask for such a sign from God required a faith from Ahaz that he didn’t have. He gave the appearance of being a religious person, but he was willing to sacrifice to idols, sacrifice his sons, make political alliances with enemies, anything at all. He had no integrity.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else. You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach. Integrity is being one person. You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God. We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

IV. Misplaced Faith

Isaiah 7:13-14,

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Through Isaiah, God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. Pious, fake religiosity; Ahaz refused to test God. In truth, Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God, because then Ahaz would have to be obedient to God or expose his own hypocrisy. Ahaz had already decided to place his faith in men; Ahaz had already requested help from Assyria.

God’s answer is to the entire house of David. Notice also that Isaiah refers to “my God,” perhaps recognizing that Isaiah’s God is not Ahaz’s god. God provided a sign anyway, even though Ahaz would not ask. God’s ultimate sign of His authority will be His Son, Jesus. The Hebrew word for virgin is complex; for Isaiah’s time, it probably means, “young woman of marriageable age.” In the next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8, Isaiah is talking about his own child, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which meant “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Partial fulfillment of this prophecy meant that Assyria would plunder the Aram and Israel before the child was old enough to know right from wrong.

We know there’s more to the prophecy, though. There is partial immediate fulfillment, but there is eventually ultimate fulfillment. Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess, was probably a real nice lady, but she wasn’t a virgin. She and Isaiah already had one child together. Also, Isaiah’s prophecy is not given to Ahaz, but the House of David, and he uses the plural “you”. The literal and ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. The apostle Matthew 1:22 says that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.”” The Greek word used here is not ambiguous; it means virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations.

Our faith should be in the Lord, not in people, places or things. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the house of David was assured that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever, yet Ahaz placed no faith in that promise. God teaches us through trials to trust in Him and Him alone.

God will work out His plan, whether we participate in His plan or not. Ahaz certainly didn’t; Ahaz had faith in himself and in the world, and placed no faith in the Lord. As a result, Judah eventually fell and was plundered by the Assyrians. But look at Matthew 1:9 at the genealogy of our savior. The lineage of Jesus begins with Abraham through the line of David, then through Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. God provided a savior; God fulfilled prophecy. God is faithful, even when we are not.

When a crisis comes, don’t misplace your faith; learn to place your faith in God. Don’t misplace your confidence; our God is bigger than any crisis that comes. Be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and other; when we respond in faith, it pleases the Lord and encourages others when they see how the Lord responds in our lives. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all.

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Obama Urges Spending Curbs for Somebody, But Not Him

Associated Press headline, “Obama urges spending curbs, hands out $15 billion.”

After not quite a month in office, I’ve begun to change my opinion on the President. I thought at first he was a useful idiot, a tool of the powerful Democrat Spending Machine.

I no longer think he’s useful, and “idiot” may be too high a compliment.

“If we confront this crisis without also confronting the deficits that helped cause it we risk sinking into another crisis down the road,” the president warned. “We cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration or the next generation.”

It’s barely a week since Obama disregarded calls to trim the so-called Stimulus Package, the Porkulus Bill. Billions of dollars of non-stimulus spending items went into that bill, then Obama followed up with another $250 billion or so for the mortgage industry.

Obama has spent more money in 30 days than any President in history. I would not be surprised to find he spent more than all previous Presidents combined.

And he has the gall to say we have to get spending under control? Does he even have a clue what he’s doing? First he says we must spend for the good of our economy, then he says we need to stop spending for the good of the economy.

What the heck is he doing? He’s not just saying an doing two different things – he’s actually saying to different things at the same time.

I see today he’s also pledged $900 million to rebuild Gaza. Didn’t we also sell Israel the weaponry to destroy Gaza to halt terrorist attacks? When the Palestinians re-attack Israel, will we also help rebuild Jewish settlements? Where did Obama suddenly get this $900 million?

Next up, nationalized banks, nationalized healthcare, a few more trillion dollars in spending, followed by another call for fiscal responsibility?

What got us into this mess was government intervention pressuring banks into lending to people who couldn’t pay their loans back and individual and corporate greed and a attitude of immediate gratification and a complete disregard for the debt our grandchildren will inherit. And somehow, the fix for this mess is to pressure banks into lending to people who can’t pay their loans back and individual and corporate greed and a attitude of immediate gratification and a complete disregard for the debt our grandchildren will inherit. Are these people nuts?

No wonder there’s a movement afoot for a Chicago Tea Party. We’re taking money away from the grandchildren in red states and giving it to inept governments in blue states. And now Obama says those same grandchildren better get their spending under control. It’s worse than Orweillian. It’s obtuse and deranged. It’s destructive.

Please stop helping, Mr. President, before we become a third world country.

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