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The Prophet Micah and The Remnant

July 14, 2011 Comments off

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Micah series, a look at Micah 5 and the description of the remnant.

The very word “remnant” suggests the tragedy of apostasy. So many are gone, only a few left.  Yet after apostasy, the very fact of a remnant also suggests the hope of a return.  God’s electing purpose continues.  In Micah 5 it is further called “the remnant of Jacob” and so we think of the weakness of the man Jacob, but also of the great covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The book of Micah contains three prophecies concerning the remnant:

  • Micah 2:12-13 — a prophecy of being taken into exile
  • Micah 4:6-7 — rescued and transformed, safe from attacks,  and
  • Micah 5:7-9  — the remnant a blessing to the nations

In Micah 5:7-8, the remnant “in the midst of many peoples” is described in two comparisons that may not mean much to us in modern city life, yet which had great meaning to the people of Micah’s day.  In verse 7, the remnant will be “like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass.”  In verse 8 the remnant is “like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among the flocks of sheep.”

We don’t especially think of dew as all that important, but it turns out to be very significant for Israel, a rather dry and arid place.  Israel has a rainy season and a dry season, and the dry season lasts from spring until fall.  The crops can only grow there because of the night-time breezes that come in from the Mediterranean Sea, which comes over and pours a very thick dew onto the land during the night, when the land is cool and thus benefits from dew.

Dew is also mentioned a few other places in the Old Testament.  The story of Gideon and the fleece is the best known one, in which Gideon gains assurance from the Lord through signs from God:  dew on all the ground except the fleece, and then dew only on the fleece and not the ground.  Even earlier, though, comes Genesis 27:28 — Isaac’s blessing to Jacob includes the line “​​​May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.”

Showers further remind us of God’s providence and blessing.  We cannot make it rain.  The dew and the showers have their source in the Lord and His sovereign grace.

Now to verse 8, the lion and young lion:  whereas dew is a silent blessing of the Lord God, a lion suggests irresistible power.  Israel will be the aggressor among the nations, and the other nations like the weak beasts of the forest.  For the lion theme we can also look back to Genesis 49:9, Jacob’s final words to his sons:

​​​​​Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?

Numbers 23 and 24, Baalam’s prophecies, also speak of God’s people Israel as a lion.

  • Numbers 23:24  ​​​​​​​​Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself;
  • Numbers 24:9 — ​​​​​​​​He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.”

Within the lion theme, and this “blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you” statement in Numbers, we again find reference to the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:3:

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Micah 5:8 concludes with “none to deliver” and here we see the power of the remnant of Jacob, as the representative of the Lord God upon the earth.  Verse 9 concludes with a command, “Thy hand be lifted up over your adversaries, thy enemies be cut off.”

In the prophecy of Micah we again see the recurring theme of God’s covenant with Abraham and His covenant people Israel, and we eagerly await the day when this prophecy, part of all the prophetic word, comes to fulfillment in our Lord’s Second Coming and the restoration of Israel.

Insights From The Prophet Micah

July 4, 2011 Comments off

From my recent study through Micah with S. Lewis Johnson, here are some highlights from Micah chapters 4 and 5.

Three Prophecies of Judgment Followed By Great Blessing
In Micah 4:9-10, then Micah 4:11-13 and Micah 5:1-6 we see a set of three prophecies, all of which begin with judgment, but end with a promise of future blessing.  Each of these sets begins with the word “now”:

  • 1st prophecy:  ​​​​​​​Now why do you cry aloud? ….   There you shall be rescued;  there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.
  • 2nd prophecy:  ​​​​​​​​Now many nations are assembled against you …  you shall beat in pieces many peoples; and shall devote their gain to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.
  •  3rd prophecy:  Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; … and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border.

As with all Bible study, looking at different translations shows some of the variations in the possible meaning.  Micah 5:1 could refer to gathering troops (the translation in KJV and ESV), but could mean “gash yourselves” (HCSB: you slash yourself in grief) or “now you are gashing yourselves, O daughter of troops,” in which gashing is a reference to mourning practices for the dead, in the manner of the heathens (reference 1 Kings 18: the Baal worshippers were slashing themselves while Elijah mocked).

The Preciseness of Bible Prophecies
The background setting for Micah 5:1 is the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians in Hezekiah’s day.  Then verse 2 shows a great contrast, with the well-known prophecy concerning Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

The Bible is so precise in its prophecies, so very unlike human prophets.  Even the mention of Bethlehem leaves no room for doubt.  Micah could have simply said “Bethlehem” and left open the possible interpretation to include the other Bethlehem in Israel: one in the north, in Zebulun’s inheritance (reference Joshua 19:15).  Instead, we know that it can only mean Bethlehem Ephrathah, the Bethlehem in the south near Jerusalem.

The Only Person Who Was Born A King
Also from this text and its citation in Matthew 2:  where is He who was born king of the Jews?  Human kings are never born as such.  They may be born a prince, such as the Prince of Wales, but never a king.  In some interesting trivia from actual history, I recall that a few have been declared kings from a very early age.  In Judah’s history, Joash and Josiah became kings as children of only seven and eight years of age.  From secular history, Henry VI of England was a king at only 8 months of age when his father Henry V died.  One human king in history was declared a king at birth, Alfonso XIII of Spain, whose father died before he was born.  But such is clearly not the norm for human rulers — our Lord Jesus Christ alone is the only one who was truly born a king.

Finding the Road to Christ: A Sermon Example

June 6, 2011 Comments off

As a follow-up to my last post, The Proper Way to “Find Christ in the Text,” consider the following instance where a preacher demonstrates a sermon technique he had previously mentioned.

I noticed this in S. Lewis Johnson’s message on Micah 4:1-5.  As we’re reading along in Micah, chapter 3 ends on a very rough note:  wickedness from Israel’s rulers, and then pronouncement of judgment at the very end:  Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

Then Micah 4 starts on a very positive note, with great blessings to come upon Zion, and the Lord ruling from Jerusalem.  Herein is the “road to Christ”:  Johnson asks how it can be, that judgment comes in Micah 3 but that blessings will come upon them in the latter days?  The answer is found in the redemptive work of the cross, Christ’s crucifixion still hundreds of years future from Micah’s day.  We could also refer to it as God’s working out of the New Covenant, that third great covenant (after the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants) which provided the means for forgiveness and atonement.  The road to Christ is there, not explicitly but as the answer to that very real question of how God can forgive sinners who deserve judgment, and put guilty sinners in heaven.  The next few verses of Micah go on to describe what Christ will do at His Second Coming, when He rules from Jerusalem as the true judge — again in contrast with the wicked men who judged Israel in Micah’s day.

How much more satisfying, and true to the word of God, is this “road to Christ” than the amillennialist’s spiritualizing attempt at “finding Christ” in Micah 4.  The typical approach there is to ignore the context of Micah 3 and Micah 4, then jump into the great words in Micah 4 and simply say that it refers to the wonderful church age we live in, a picture of the gospel going forth triumphantly and bringing people into the kingdom.  Sure that’s a way to “find Christ” — but by deceitful twisting of God’s word, not dealing with the details of the text — in both Micah 3 and 4 — and the meanings of words.

Puns in the Bible: The Book of Micah

May 26, 2011 2 comments

Micah’s Warnings to the Towns of Judah

As I continue going through the minor prophets with S. Lewis Johnson, now in the book of Micah, I observe the similarities between several of these minor prophets — and thus similar applications. The books of Hosea, Amos and Micah were written during the same general time period (the 8th century BC), and contain similar warnings against Israel’s apostasy, including hypocrisy and formalism, even a “promise box” religion, a notional faith not evidenced in how we live.   These sermon series were delivered at various times throughout the 1970s and 1980s, not intended to be listened to in sequence, yet the “application” to our daily church life is similar:  how our natural tendency in churches is to just follow the routine, go through the motions, and easily turn cold towards spiritual things.

Hosea and Amos wrote to the northern kingdom of Israel, whereas Micah wrote to both Israel and Judah, yet the problems are the same.  Yet each prophet has his own style and particular teachings, such as Hosea’s marriage illustration, or Amos’ shepherd experience.  Micah in particular included some interesting puns, word-plays in the original Hebrew, in the first chapter references to locations within Judah — names and meanings that his audience no doubt recognized.  Consider Micah 1:10-15, which names several places in Judah:  Beth-le-aphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth-ezel, Maroth, Lachish, Moresheth-gath, Achzib, and Mareshah — just names that we skim over, but with interesting meanings as used in the verses.

  • The name “Beth-le-aphrah” means “town of dust” — so Micah here says “in Beth-le-aphrah roll yourselves in the dust.”
  • In “Pass on your way, inhabitants of Shaphir” the name Shaphri is very close to the Hebrew word for fair or beautiful, a “fair town.”
  • In verse 11, the inhabitants of Za-anan (“going out”) will not be able to go out.
    Beth-ezel (“Standton”) will have its standing place taken away.
  • In Maroth (bitter land) they wait anxiously for better things, but it will not come.
  • Jerusalem, the city of fortune or city of peace: misfortune and disaster is coming.  No peace is coming to the city of peace.
  • Lachish — “Chariotsburg” — is addressed in reference to the chariots that were stored there.
  • Moresheth Gath:  “betrothed” — the city is promised to another:  “Therefore you shall give parting gifts to Moresheth Gath.”
  • Achzib — “Deceitville” shall be a deceitful thing
  • Mareshah — (possessor or heir) — will have a new, foreign hei

This section begins and ends with references to David’s life:  “Tell it not in Gath” in verse 10, a clear reference to 2 Samuel 1, David’s lament at the news of the defeat at Mt. Gilboa, the battle that killed King Saul and his son Jonathan.  Then the closing, verse 15, references Adullam (“the glory of Israel shall come to Adullam”): the cave where David dwelled as an outlaw, a place of rough living among malcontents.  Yet such is what shall come upon Israel.

Finding God’s Will, and Other Insights from Jonah

May 12, 2011 Comments off

In my continuing studies through the minor prophets, I recently listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s 5-part Jonah series.  Of all the minor prophets, of course, none is so well known as the story of Jonah — though as SLJ admitted, as a young person he couldn’t remember if it was the fish that swallowed Jonah, or Jonah that swallowed the fish!

Again, S. Lewis Johnson’s exposition of Jonah does not disappoint, and he points out several great scripture-treasures in this little book.

In Jonah chapter 1 comes the doctrine of Satanic providence, the whole notion of how we determine God’s will for our lives.  Providence, as played out in actual events or even in the drawing of lots or other random events, is supposed to show God’s will.  After all, Jonah had all the right circumstances going for him: he was able to go down to the coast, he had the necessary money for fare to Tarshish, the ship was available, etc.  Since it was so easy to do, and the circumstances all worked out so well, surely — Jonah could have reasoned — this was in God’s will.  Another great example from scripture:  1 Samuel 26:8, David and Abishai in Saul’s camp, and the Lord had put everyone in the camp to sleep.  Abishai reasoned that this was God’s will, that now is the time for David to kill Saul and gain the kingdom.

In today’s society, some Christians think of finding God’s will by opening up the Bible and randomly sticking their finger on a page — and that verse that the person “lands on” will somehow provide direction.  (I read of this very type of thing in Brother Andrew’s story from his early Christian years.)  Johnson here observed that sometimes God will accommodate us when we do such things, but it’s clearly not the right way to learn God’s will.

Regarding Jonah’s attitude itself, many ideas have been suggested, including that he was prejudiced against the Gentiles, that he only wanted God’s blessings for the Jews and not for others.  Johnson suggests yet another idea:  Jonah loved his country more than he loved God.  He understood the covenant relationship of Israel to God, and knew that Israel was in apostasy and thus under threat of judgment.  Very likely he was even aware of the prophecies that had been made, as by others of the minor prophets, that Assyria would be the instrument used to bring judgment upon Israel.  Therefore, if Nineveh turned to the Lord, such would be a rebuke to Jonah’s nation and would seal their doom.  We are not told any of this explicitly, but certainly in Jonah 4:2 Jonah says “when I was yet in my country.”

Another theme that comes out is Jonah’s runs, showing us a prophet who caused more problems for God than the many Ninevites did — and God’s incredible patience with us and our waywardness:

  •     In chapter 1, Jonah runs away from God
  •     In chapter 2, Jonah runs back to God
  •     In chapter 3, Jonah runs with God
  •     In chapter 4, Jonah runs ahead of God

The book of Jonah also shows several “prepared” things, and the word occurs four times in this book (Jonah 1:17, and Jonah 4:6-8).  (Note: in the ESV edition, which I read from, the word is “appointed.”)  The prepared things include a great fish, a gourd, a worm, and a “scorching east wind.”  Yet going beyond all the actions and things in the basic story, we can see a 5th “prepared thing” in the prophet Jonah himself.  Through the very fact that Jonah later penned the story of his experiences, Jonah shows himself to now be a “humbled and spirited saint.”  Finally, the book of Jonah is Jonah’s confession of how God settled Jonah’s quarrel with Him.

Studying the Minor Prophets

April 21, 2011 2 comments

Among people I’ve talked to, who read or have read using the Horner Bible Reading plan, often I hear a common frustration:  that it’s hard to just read through some of the books (for instance, the minor prophets) when I really don’t understand them.  How should we follow the Horner reading plan and yet do specific-verse study?  The answer, of course, is not an “either-or” but “both – and.”  The Horner Bible reading plan is the groundwork layer, overall reading to become increasingly familiar with the Bible as a whole, but not intended as its own end with nothing else.  In addition to the genre-style reading, add additional study of different scripture texts — and the overall Horner reading will suggest many ideas for such further, in-depth study.

As with anything we have questions about in Bible reading, it’s best to pick a particular Bible book, find a good commentary or sermon series, and start listening/reading it through sequentially, through all the chapters of the study along with the actual Bible book chapters.  For commentaries and other resources, the “Precept Austin” site compiles good listings, on a Bible book basis.  At this point I prefer audio sermon series, and S. Lewis Johnson taught through most of the minor prophets.

From my general reading and sermon listening (through Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and some of Jonah), here are some of my observations concerning the prophets.

Not everything in the Bible was written to us (in the church age) as the primary audience.  We can certainly make application from the reading, while still recognizing the original intent.

Expanding further on this point, consider the wise words of J.C. Ryle (from Practical Religion, chapter 5)

Determine to take everything in its plain, obvious meaning, and regard all forced interpretations with great suspicion. As a general rule, whatever a verse of the Bible seems to mean, it does mean. Cecil’s rule is a very valuable one, “The right way of interpreting Scripture is to take it as we find it, without any attempt to force it into any particular system.” Well said Hooker, “I hold it for a most infallible rule in the exposition of Scripture, that when the literal construction will stand, the furthest from the literal is commonly the worst.”

Anyone who confuses the church with Israel, who does not understand Israel’s unique situation and the covenants established between God and Israel (the Abrahamic /Davidic as well as the Mosaic law), will likely become confused.  Likewise, anyone who comes to the text with the general idea, taught at too many churches, that all prophecy was fulfilled at Christ’s First Coming, will be confused over many specific things said in the prophets.  Instead, let the text speak for itself and do not try to “fit” what is said to any preconceived idea of how the prophecy is about something accomplished in the distant past (i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.).

We can make many applications from the overall minor prophet themes.  For instance, in Hosea and Amos — both written at about the same time period, to the northern kingdom of Judah — we can relate to people living in a very prosperous, and very secular and worldly society, a time of formalism in worship.  How often that indeed relates to our day, of worldly entertainment-oriented churches, with many people only observing the outward forms of Christianity but lacking the true heart substance.  In Jonah we see the attitude of the self-righteous who think God should only bless “us” and not our enemies.

As a general rule, the first books in the minor prophets section are thought to be “earlier” in time than the later books:  Hosea and Amos were contemporaries in the 8th century B.C.  The last few books in the set — Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi — are the post-exilic prophets, and the book just before those (Zephaniah) was just before the exile, contemporary with Jeremiah and King Josiah.  Sometimes, as with the smallest book of Obadiah, we know very little about the book’s time setting (other than the general idea that it probably was written earlier during the prophets), and yet we can take comfort in the fact that it’s not necessary to know such details in order to understand the message of the book.  In Obadiah the prophecy is Edom’s doom, and we know about Edom from earlier in the Bible, especially in the Genesis section dealing with Jacob and Esau.

Also generally, the prophets first speak of judgment — and spend a great deal more time there — followed by briefer yet certain promises that God will not forever abandon His people.  Amos contains 8 1/2 chapters of judgment, followed by the wonderful future promise in the last part of Amos 9.  Hosea too is mostly focused on the judgment.  We find the prominence of judgment rather discouraging, but here I remember also that Jesus spent far more time talking about hell than He did about heaven.  Before we come to the great news of salvation and our glorious future, we must recognize our tremendous sin guilt, to be confronted and warned to flee from the wrath to come.  Yet we can also hold on to these treasures, the promise of redemption and that God will not forsake His people forever (with meaning specific first to the Jews, but also to all the people of God, including us who have been grafted into the Romans 11 olive tree), of the wonderful things yet to come.

The Earthquake in Japan: How Short is Our Interim of Grace

March 14, 2011 Comments off

Amos 3, in verses 4 – 6, puts forth three sets of “before” and “after” events.  The first one shows the “before” — when it is time to avert disaster.  The second phrase shows the “after” when the event has passed and the opportunity missed:

Before:  ​​​​​​​​Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?    — No, the lion keeps quiet until he finds his prey.
After:   Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? — By now the lion has caught the prey

Before:  ​​​​​​​​​Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it?
After:  Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing?

And more clearly in verse 6,
Before:  Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid?
After: Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?

The personal application is clear.  As S. Lewis Johnson observed in this Amos message, sometimes in our lives we have opportunities to do certain things.  Then come seasons in our lives of lost opportunities, for the things we wish we had done.  In between, we live in this interim of grace, before judgment has fallen.

Early Sunday morning as I began my Bible reading time, the sun was shining so brightly, and what it represented came to me so clearly: this is still the day of grace, the time to seek the Lord.  As the song goes, “His mercies are new every morning,” and “great is Thy faithfulness.”

It was hard to believe, looking at the sun shining so brightly and calmly here, that calamity had struck another part of the world — so remote, and surely things here continue the same as always (the common thought that such things can never happen here).

But that terrible earthquake is surely just as much a reminder of our sovereign God and His mighty power, so terrible to behold.  For many thousands of people in Japan, their day of grace has ended, their time of opportunity gone.  This earthquake also is a reminder of the dreadful judgment certain to come to the whole world, that this interim of grace has an end — when the grace of God finally ends and wrath comes to the lost instead.  We presume on God’s grace if we continue to think things will just go on as always.

It seems also that we are getting a preview of things to come, as described in Luke 21:25-26:  the nations distressed, in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.

The Prophets of the Lord: Their Specialties

February 28, 2011 Comments off

In my study through the minor prophets with S. Lewis Johnson, I’ve completed Hosea and now working through Joel.  One interesting thing I’ve come across is overview descriptions, or labels, for each of the prophets.  These follow the wording of:  “so-and-so is the prophet of blank.”  For instance, “Hosea is the prophet of unconditional love.”  Next, Joel is the prophet “of the Day of the Lord,” also “of Pentecost” and “of Repentance.”  Curious about this, I checked through other transcripts dealing with the Old Testament prophets (mostly from S. Lewis Johnson, but a few elsewhere), to come up with this good summary list for study of the OT prophets.  This list can be useful as a general outline for further study of each of the Old Testament prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi.

  • Elijah is the Prophet of Judgment and the Prophet of Fire
  • Isaiah is the Prophet of the Holy One of Israel
  • Jeremiah is the Prophet to the Nations
  • Ezekiel is the Prophet of Hope
  • Daniel is the Prophet of the Nation Israel, and the Prophet of The Times of the Gentiles
  • Hosea is the Prophet of Unconditional Love
  • Joel is the prophet of the Day of the Lord, the Prophet of Pentecost, and the Prophet of Repentance
  • Amos is the Prophet of Social Justice
  • Obadiah is the Prophet of Poetic Justice
  • Jonah is… well, a category by himself: the Parochial Prophet; or, the prophet who would not prophesy
  • Micah is the Prophet of Social Protest
  • Nahum is the Prophet of Nineveh’s Doom
  • Habakkuk is the Prophet of Faith
  • Zephaniah is the Prophet of Judgment, and the Prophet of Josiah’s Reformation
  • Haggai is the Prophet of the Return
  • Zechariah is the Prophet of Hope
  • Malachi is the Prophet of Reality

Finally we come, of course, to Jesus the Great Prophet:  the Prophet of the Prophets, and the Everlasting Prophet.

Hosea and Farming References in the Bible

February 22, 2011 Comments off

S. Lewis Johnson often remarked that we who grew up in the city (instead of the farm), do not as fully appreciate some of the Bible’s illustrations and agricultural references.  The Bible is replete with agricultural images that the people of Israel would understand in a way that related to their everyday life.  The relatively few non-agricultural analogies come in the New Testament, mainly from Paul:  for instance, running the race, and constructing a building.  But for the most part, Jesus referenced the Old Testament pictures of farming, vineyards and sheep/shepherds.

Some interesting farm-specific pictures come forth in Hosea’s prophecy, and now I look at Hosea 10, the topic of one of S. Lewis Johnson’s messages in his Hosea series.

Verse 1 describes a “luxuriant vine.”  Israel is like that vine, one that keeps growing and growing but only for itself and not towards God.  Here SLJ described his own gardening experience with vines, and that he had recently observed this very thing with his own vines:  two vines next to each other, and one was just growing a lot, putting forth lots of vine and leaves, but very little fruit throughout it.  The vine right next to it was much smaller and had more grapes on it.

Verse 11 tells us that “Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh.”  Johnson, who also grew up in the city, had to look up this reference in the commentaries, to understand and explain that the threshing part of the animal’s work is fairly easy work as compared to other tasks.  Understanding that analogy, the implication is clear:  Israel had had it pretty easy up to this point, but soon God’s yoke of judgment would come:  no more threshing but more unpleasant work.

Verses 12 and 13 emphasize the overall crop process:  plowing, then reaping, then eating.  Again it’s something that should be obvious, but not as much so for us who get our food from the grocery store.  Verse 12 is a call for the people to “break up your fallow ground.”  Fallow ground is idle ground — land which not only brings forth lots of weeds and thorns (pretty obvious even for us who do simple gardening and lawncare), but also becomes harder, tougher, more difficult to break up with a plow.  Another application here is the fact, somewhat uncomfortable for us but nonetheless so, that the majority of believers “break up their fallow ground” in their younger days, when the ground (the soul) is not quite as hardened as in later years.  Again we recognize that yes, it is possible for older people to be saved, and many are, but the vast majority of Christians were saved before age 30.  How urgent the plea becomes:  now is “the time to seek the Lord, so that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.”  I recall many Spurgeon sermons on this subject, as he urges people to not put off the day of salvation; you may think that you can repent and come later, but your heart may become more hardened by then and you lose that opportunity, to your eternal destruction.

Even in that phrase above comes another illustration from nature:  the Lord will “rain righteousness upon you,” a reference again to nature.  The rain breaks up the fallow ground to make plowing easier.  S. Lewis Johnson related this also to the account in 1 Kings 18, where the rain finally came to a land in drought for 3 years, and Ahab and the others had to hurry home before the chariot wheels would get stuck in the mud.

Verse 13 ends that section of the text, with the basic agricultural sequence:  you have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies.

Hosea: The Prophet of Unconditional Love

February 7, 2011 Comments off

I’ve  now embarked on a study of the minor prophets, via the many of these books that S. Lewis Johnson taught (he taught all except Nahum and Zephaniah).  First is the book of Hosea, and a series that SLJ did in 1984, shortly after finishing his 88 message series through the gospel of John.

Hosea is the prophet of unconditional love.  Other prophets had their unique characteristics:  Jeremiah was more of a theologian, while Hosea was a poet.  Hosea was a “home missionary,” from the northern kingdom and sent to prophesy to the northern kingdom.  Amos was a contemporary of Hosea, also preaching to the northern kingdom — though he was from Judah.  S. Lewis Johnson often refers to Amos’ prophecies, which relate to and expand on the same ideas presented in Hosea.

A simple outline of Hosea includes two parts.  Hosea 1 – 3 is a biography of the prophet, which is used as a pedagogical lesson to the nation of Israel, showing the loyal love of God and the faithless apostasy of the covenant people.  Hosea 4 – 14 is application of that biography, and includes many homilies.

Concerning the nature of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer:  the likely understanding here, as that which best makes sense in analogy with God and Israel, is that when Hosea married Gomer, she was outwardly pure, with no actual record (yet) of sexual immorality.  Yet Gomer was inwardly inclined, one with a wandering eye, to unfaithfulness, and would (during the marriage) manifest her harlotry.

From Hosea’s marriage we can learn how God sees our wandering nature, expressed in the strong language of adultery.  Spiritual adultery comes when we love the world more than we love God.  The way to fulfillment of ourselves, and our truest expression of ourselves, comes in obeying God.

Hosea 4 is a great chapter that  points out the importance of theology.  S. Lewis Johnson here observes that,

We are saved by theology; the truths that are expressed as theological truths, when they are brought home to us by the Holy Spirit and salvation results, it is due to that which is represented by these spiritual truths.  So, we should never take the position that what we’re interested in is life and not doctrine.  There is no good life without doctrine.

Concerning God’s relationship to Israel:  God never divorced the nation Israel, as a whole.  God certainly did cast off particular generations, as indicated in Hosea 2 — and again for the generation of Jesus’ day — but the overall covenants and promises still stand.  Paul, in Romans 9 and elsewhere, speaks of Israel still having the covenants and the promises.  As Alexander MacLaren (a name often mentioned by S. Lewis Johnson) pointed out in reference to Hosea, why would God abandon a people and say He’s given up on them, while He is still sending them a prophet and calling them to repent?

Hosea 4:17 is a verse commonly misapplied to say that God abandoned Israel.  See, for example, the MacArthur Study Bible note here:   “This was an expression of God’s wrath of abadonment.  When sinners reject Him and are bent on fulfilling their wicked purposes, God removes restraining grace and turns them over to the results of their own perverse choices.  This kind of wrath is that written about in Romans 1:18-32.”

But read the verse in its context, starting with verse 15 — which addresses Judah:  “Though you commit adultery, O Israel, let not Judah become guilty.”  The warning is to Judah, to separate and not get mixed up in and involved with Israel’s idolatry.  The passage can also be applied to us as believers today, as a message concerning proper biblical separation.