Archive for May, 2012

Amos 1 (day 880) 29 May 2012

             1: Uzziah was king of Judah from 783 to 742 B.C., and Jeroboam king of Israel from 785 to 745 B.C. Thus we have a fairly narrow date for the prophecies of Amos. He introduces himself as a shepherd from Tekoa, a region 10 or so miles south of Jerusalem. Later, however, we will find him in Israel defending himself to king Jeroboam, declaring that he is merely a herdsman and dresser of sycamore trees, and protesting that he is not a prophet even though God has called him to prophesy (7:14-16). He seems then to have been active in both Judah and Israel before the fall of Israel, and the book that bears his name is therefore the earliest among all the prophetic books.

             2: Amos pronounces an oracle of judgment: God roars from Zion, so it is obvious that whether he is an Israelite or a Judean he is a worshiper of the God whose temple is in Jerusalem.

             3-5: Now he launches into a series of seven oracles, beginning with Damascus and ending with Judah and Israel, saving the lengthiest one for Israel (2:6-16). Each oracle begins with an indictment for four transgressions, introduced by the formula, “for three transgressions and for four I will …” Hazael and Ben-hadad were kings of Damascus and enemies of both Israel and Judah. The valley of Aven and Beth-eden are unknown and the location of Kir is uncertain but king Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria did exile the people of Damascus there in 732 B.C.

             6-8: The Philistine confederation is next, and four of the five Philistine cities are mentioned, omitting only Gath which may have been part of Ashdod by Amos’ time. The reference to exiling communities to Edom is undocumented elsewhere, and may refer to a brief alliance between the Philistines and the Edomites – two peoples between whom Judah was located.

             9-10: Tyre is condemned also for “delivering entire communities” to the Edomites. Some scholars speculate that there may have been an active slave trade to provide labor for Edom’s famous copper mines. If so, the slave trade may have involved the Philistines and Tyreans raiding towns in Judah and Israel to supply slaves to Edom.

             11-12: Edom is next. Tradition has it that Edom was settled by Jacob’s brother Esau (see Genesis 36:8), but after the destruction of Jerusalem the Edomites mounted raids to plunder the Judeans at will; thus the charge that Edom “pursued his brother with the sword.”

             13-15: Ammon shared the Jordan River as a border with both Israel and Judah. They had originally occupied Gilead, the territory east of the Jordan River just below the Sea of Galilee but were expelled by King Saul (1 Samuel 1:1-11). Amos denounces them here for the particularly horrible crime of murdering pregnant women. It is a bit curious that only the king and his officials are said to be going into exile.

 

Amos 2 (day 881) 30 May 2012

             1-3: The Moabites are next, but it is strange that their condemnation is not for making Israel suffer, but rather Edom. There was a time (see 2 Kings 3) when Israel and Edom were allied together against Moab. The reference to the Moabites burning the bones of a king of Edom is an otherwise unknown event. The important thing in this paragraph is that God is apparently standing up for Edom. We mentioned before that Edom was the land occupied by Jacob’s brother Saul, so maybe the idea here is that God is honoring that relationship even though Edom “pursued his brother with the sword” (1:11) and will be judged for it.

             4-5: Now Amos turns to Jerusalem and Judah and prophesies that God will punish them as well because of the sins in “which their ancestors walked,” which could be taken as a reference to most any period in Judah’s history.

             6-16: By far the longest diatribe, however, Amos reserves for his own country, Israel. The wrongdoing he describes can only be the witness of a citizen who lives among them and sees what goes on in the background: the poor are cheated out of what little they have and sexual immorality abounds even at the so-called sacred sites. They behave wickedly even though God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, gave them the land of the Amorites to occupy, gave some of their children (remember Samuel?) the gift of prophecy and inspired some of their young people to take sacred vows. Even the strongest, fastest, bravest and most skilled warriors among them will be easily dispatched.

 

Amos 3 (day 882) 31 May 2012

             1-2: These verses actually belong to the previous section, for they continue the judgment against Israel.

             3-8: In a series of questions that recall the style of Proverbs, Amos seeks to defend his prophetic office. God made an appointment with him, and so he and God have been “walking” together. God (the lion) has spoken (roared) to the people (the forest) because they have sinned (and are thus the lion’s prey). Israel (the bird) has fallen into God’s hands (the snare). God would not be announcing their punishment (a snare springing up from the ground) if there were no cause (if there is no game for the snare to catch). Verse 6 is more direct. The warning trumpet is being sounded and the people ought to be afraid. The coming disaster is God’s doing. The job of God’s prophets is to announce God’s plans; they can do no other.

             9-11: Israel’s ancient enemies, the Philistines (Ashdod) and Egyptians, are called to witness what God is doing to Israel (Samaria). They are being invaded and conquered because of their iniquity.

             12: As a shepherd might find only a small part of a lamb torn by a lion, so only a small part of Israel will be recognizable when God is finished with them.

             13-15: A picture is drawn of the destruction that will take place in Israel, and the emphasis is on the destruction of the religious shrines and the houses of the wealthy, perhaps specifically the king and his family.

 

Amos 4 (day 883) 1 June 2012

             1-5: The “cows of Bashan” is likely a reference to the rich women in the capital city of Samaria. Bashan was region known for its cattle. The reference is not intended to be insulting, as it would be to women today, but rather to bring attention to their opulence and to their part in oppressing the poor to keep themselves in luxury. Amos says they will be drug out of the city and throne into Harmon. Here is my claim to fame! My surname is in the Bible! Of course, Harmon is probably a reference to the city dump, but you take whatever recognition you can get, you know. Amos goes on to condemn them for worshiping at the pagan shrines in Bethel and Gilgal.

             6-11: Amos says that God was the one who sent drought to them so that they did not have enough to eat. “Cleanness of teeth” means they haven’t chewed on anything. Even with that sign, however, they would not return to God. Indeed, the phrase “yet you did not return to me” is uttered 5 times from verse 6 to verse 11, as if God just can’t quite get over it. He sent blight, mildew, locusts, pestilence and the sword, but they wouldn’t turn back to God. Even total destruction of some of them didn’t nudge the others in God’s direction.

             12-13: So, says Amos, prepare to meet the LORD, the one who “forms the mountains, creates the wind … makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth.” You get the distinct feeling the meeting isn’t going to be a pleasant one for Israel.

 

Amos 5 (day 884) 2 June 2012

             1-3: Amos begins the predictable prophetic lament over Israel, mourning their destruction before the fact. All the cities, large and small, will be decimated, with only 10% of the people remaining.

             4-5: Amos bids them to seek the LORD; but not at Bethel and Gilgal and Beer-sheba where their pagan shrines are.

             6-7: Now the plea indicates that the disaster might still be avoided if they will only see the LORD. He directs his plea toward both the judicial leaders and the religious leaders.

             8-9: This is a common feature of the prophetic lament, a description of God’s sovereignty over the heavens and the earth and the seas.

             10-13: Amos charges the wealthy and the powerful with cheating and stealing.

             14-15: Again, he begs them to turn back to the ways approved by God.

             16-17: The coming punishment will visit all of Israelite society, city and country, field and vineyard.

             18-20: The “day of the LORD” has apparently become a misappropriated term by (probably) the priests in charge of the religious life of the people. Amos and his ilk warn the people about the coming day of the LORD and the unfaithful priests pretend it will be a time of life and light. Amos sets them straight.

             21-24: His accusations continue and escalate. Now he is denouncing the ritual practices in which the people engage; the solemn assemblies, the offerings, the singing and the musical instruments. Instead, he says, justice and righteousness are what God wants from them, and pictures these qualities as a sweeping flood that will cleanse the land.

             25-27: No one knows what Kaiwan and Sakkuth mean, whether they are the names of Assyrian deities (Assyria is never directly mentioned in Amos) or should be translated as nouns that mean “pedestal” and “shrine.” It is clear, however, that their worship of other gods is at the heart of the judgment against them.

 

Amos 6 (day 885) 3 June 2012

             1-3: Amos goes after the well-to-do in Samaria who think everything is fine. He tells them to visit some of the larger cities in adjacent countries: Calneh, Hamath and Gath; Samaria will suffer from the comparisons, he says.

             4-7: The wealthy are oblivious to what is happening in the country. All they care about is enjoying their lives of ease. As was the case when populations were taken into exile, the rich and the powerful are the first to be taken because that further destabilizes the population.

             8-11: Amos describes the punishment of the city in a rather curious exchange. God delivers up the city in verse 8, and then he describes a gruesome scene within the city. Ten people die in one house, and a relative whose job as next-of-kin is to dispose of the bodies comes to carry them out. Apparently there is but one survivor in the house. The horror of it is such that they are afraid to mention the name of the LORD, fearing that the mention of God’s name might bring about even greater disaster since it is God who is behind the attack. Indeed, God is determined that all the houses, big and small, will be shattered.

             12-14: The deliberate misuse of justice is like trying to run a horse on rocks, he says. Justice has been corrupted by those who “rejoice in Lo-debar” and “have taken Karnaim.” These are slight misspellings of towns in Gilead; Amos is using them as a play on words, “nothingness,” and “horns” – a reference to the grasping of authority. God is raising up a nation, he says, which we know will be Assyria even though Amos never mentions them.

 

Amos 7 (day 886) 4 June 2012

             1-9: Amos sees God approaching the land three times to destroy it. The first destruction is by locusts and the second is by fire. Amos begs God to forgive and to cease, protesting that Jacob (Israel) is too small and weak to withstand such onslaughts. The effect of his plea is to paint God as a bully, and God relents. The third vision, though, simply has God standing with a plumb line as if to measure how “out of plumb” Israel is. This time God only threatens the pagan worship sites and the ruling family, and Amos does not protest.

             10-17: Finally Amos’ pronouncements stir up an official complaint. The priest of Bethel, which is perhaps the primary pagan shrine, complains to the king about Amos’ statements. There was, of course, no constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech, and Amos’ life truly would be threatened by this development. When Amaziah tells him to never prophesy at Bethel again but to flee to Judah it is for the two-fold purpose of getting rid of him and avoiding the risk of making him a martyr to his cause. Amos responds by distancing himself from the priest by reminding him that he, Amos, is not of the priestly caste from which prophets usually come. Then he proceeds to prophesy against Amaziah. His wife will become a prostitute, he says, an all too common fate for women in those days who were thrust into the difficult situation of being in a city that has been conquered and being stranded there without her children who were killed and without her husband who has been carried into exile and has died in “an unclean land” where most of her neighbors have also been taken.

 

Amos 8 (day 887) 5 June 2012

             1-3: We are reminded of Jeremiah’s vision of the baskets of good and bad figs (Jeremiah 24) which foretold God’s pleasure for the people of Judah and God’s displeasure with King Zedekiah and his officials. In this case there is one basket of summer fruit which God explains is a sign of the end of Israel. The Hebrew has a play on words not carried over into English so that the English translation makes little sense. Why would a basket of summer fruit be such a terrible sign? What we don’t see is that the words for “fruit” and “end,” as in “end of life,” are very much alike in Hebrew.

             4-8: The verdict is in: Israel has become the kind of nation that allows and enables the wealthy to prey on the poor, the Sabbath to be ignored, and the use of honest weights and measures cavalierly disregarded.

             9-10: Since they will not mourn their iniquity, God will bring mourning upon them.

             11-12: The worst sentence of all: God will be absent from the land.

             13-14: The worshipers of pagan gods are particularly targeted, represented by the “beautiful young women and the young men,” a reference to the emphasis on sexual prowess and permissiveness.

 

Amos 9 (day 888) 6 June 2012

             1: A description of divine punishment: the pagan altar is broken and so are the people.

             2-4: Psalm 139:7-12 is recalled. We cannot hide from God. In the psalm that was a good thing; here it is a threat.

             5-6: We are again reminded that the authority behind the sentence is the God who rules the heavens and the earth and the sea.

             7-8: God takes responsibility for the displacement and resettlement of Israel, Philistia and Aram, and there is no doubt God can do it again. However, there is once more the promise that the destruction of Israel, though seemingly complete, will not be forever.

             9-10: It is, in the end, the wicked people who are the target of God’s wrath.

             11-12: The line of David will be restored. This is the fervent and nearly universal hope of all the prophets. It smacks, just a little, of longing for the “good old days.”

             13-15: The restoration of Israel will be dramatic. The land will become so fertile that the harvest season will last so long it will be time for the next planting season before the harvest is ended. Cities will be rebuilt, fields and vineyards will be restored – all of this symbolic of the fruitfulness and prosperity of the people, planted to “never again be plucked up.”

             Thus we reach the apparently inevitable and happy ending of sayings from yet another prophet of doom.

 

Joel 1 (day 877) 26 May 2012]

             1: “Son of Pethuel” is the only information given about Joel’s identity. We will learn in the course of reading the book that he is likely situated in Jerusalem some time after the return of the exiles as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Many scholars today place the book between 500 and 350 B.C.

             2-20: The first chapter tells the story of an incredibly destructive locust plague that destroys everything in its path leaving no food for humans and animals alike. There is no grain or wine for consumption or religious rituals. Verse 19 hints of wildfires sweeping forests and fields after the locusts have stripped them bare.

             There is no way to tell if the locust plague is intended to describe an actual event or is instead a literary device to illustrate the coming “day of the LORD” (2:1). Many scholars, particularly those of centuries past, believe Joel dates to the last years of the kingdom of Judah (630-600 B.C.) and that the locust “army” is a metaphor for the real army of Babylon invading the land.

 

Joel 2 (day 878) 27 May 2012

             1-14: Using the imagery of a vast swarm of locusts, Joel moves now to describe the “day of the LORD” that is coming, an apocalyptic day of world judgment and destruction in which the armies of God overrun the earth, leaping and scaling buildings like locusts. That this is no longer intended to be a description of a locust plague is made evident by the devouring fire that goes before and behind them, the quaking earth and the trembling heaven that accompanies the onslaught. God’s “army” is relentless and unstoppable.

             15-16: Again the prophet calls for the trumpet to be blown. Now a vast assembly of the people is called, including even infant children and newly married couples on their wedding night.

             17: The priests are summoned to raise intercessory prayers for the people, asking God to spare them because they are God’s people and pointing out to God that if they are destroyed other nations will believe God is powerless to help them. Hmm…I wonder if that line of prayer works.

             18-27: Joel imagines God’s response to the people’s supplications. God will restore the land’s productivity. The punishing army sent to enforce the Day of the LORD will be diverted to other “parched and desolate” (figuratively speaking) places. The land where God’s people dwell and the wild animals that live there need not fear. The people (“children”) can rejoice because God will send the rains in due season, a bumper crop will result, and the people will enjoy a plentiful harvest.

             28-29: After the Day of the LORD God’s spirit will be poured out and the people, all the people, will be changed. Men and women alike, young and old, slave and free, Gentile and Jew will be filled with God’s spirit. Think of the implications of these verses on the apostles’ understanding of the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), or on Paul’s understanding of the gift God gave the world in Jesus (Galatians 3:28 – “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”), or on the United Methodist Church’s more recent decision to ordain women for ministry.

             30-32: These verses are quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:19-21), and Jesus tells of similar events by which God will warn the nations of the coming Day (Mark 8:24-25). We should not fall into the error of trying to figure out what historical events might match the description Joel gives: he is simply using fantastic imagery to speak of the unimaginable things God might do to redeem creation when the time comes. Such is the currency of apocalyptic literature.

 

Joel 3 (day 879) 28 May 2012

             1-3: Joel is looking to the distant future when Judah and Jerusalem will be restored and all the nations judged for their part in the suffering of God’s people. The ‘valley of Jehoshaphat’ is not a specific location – no such place name is known – but rather a reference to what is to happen. The name Jehoshaphat means “the LORD is judge.” The nations will be judged for claiming the land for themselves. This is an affront to God because the people of Israel had always lived in the land at God’s pleasure; the land has always belonged to God.

             4-8: Tyre, Sidon and Philistia are held up for the particular crimes of taking the sacred vessels from the temple in Jerusalem and using them in their pagan places of worship, and for engaging in the slave trade to sell God’s people to the Greeks. Their punishment will be that they in turn will be sold to the Sabeans, a region in the Arabian Peninsula in the opposite direction from Greece.

             9-10: Joel is told to summon all the nations to war with God and to come with all the firepower they can muster – beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears is exactly the opposite of what we read in Isaiah 2:4 and will read in Micah 4:3.

             11: Joel issues the summons, while at the same time calling on the warriors of the LORD to come down and meet them in battle.

             12: God renews the summons to the trial, which is now being described as a battle.

             13-16: God commands the heavenly host to utterly destroy the armies of the nations, using the imagery of harvesting the grain field and the vineyard. The battle assumes cosmic proportions as the foes clash. All creation is shaken.

             17-21: The book ends with a repetition of God’s intent to restore Zion as his “holy mountain,” bless the land, and punish the neighboring peoples who have had a part in causing the suffering of God’s people.

 

Hosea 1 (day 863) 12 May 2012

            1: The period in which Hosea prophesied was a particularly disruptive time in Israel’s history. Most scholars date him from 750-724 B.C. It is not obvious from the opening verse, but Hosea lived and prophesied in the northern kingdom, Israel. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were all connected to the southern kingdom, Judah.

            2-3: God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute, a surprising beginning to the book and a surprising suggestion from God, but Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is a reflection of God’s “marriage” to Israel.

            4-5: Their first son is to be named Jezreel, a valley in Israel about 20 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. That is where Jehu brutally assassinated Joram (9:17-25) and became king of Israel and established his own dynasty. God says the day is coming when Jehu’s line will be terminated and Israel with it.

            6-7: A second child, a daughter, is named “Not Pitied,” to symbolize God’s lack of pity for Israel. Judah, however, will be spared (but not for long).

            8-9: After a few years another son is born, and God tells Hosea to name him “Not My People,” signifying the complete break between God and Israel.

            10-11: Now the prophesy is reversed: the day will come when all will be restored, the two kingdoms reunited under one throne, and God’s people will once again take possession of the land.

 

Hosea 2 (day 864) 13 May 2012

            1: Chapter 2 will turn from the marriage of Hosea and Gomer and take up God’s marriage to Israel. To begin with, Israel was “My People” and “Pitied.” But now, as symbolized in the names of Hosea’s children they are “Not My People” and “Not Pitied.”

            2-13: Now Israel is the prostitute. Israel has consorted with Baal and other gods and God is going to punish Israel for going after other lovers.

            14-23: But the day will come when God and Israel will be reconciled to one another and their relationship will be restored. The play on names is used to illustrate that relationship. Jezreel means “God sows,” and now is mentioned as a promise from God that the land will once more be fruitful. God will once again claim them as his people, and they will once again claim God as their God.

Hosea 3 (day 865) 14 May 2012

            1-5: The first part of Hosea, chapters 1-3, compares God’s relationship with Israel to Hosea’s relationship with an unfaithful wife. Chapter 4 will begin a new section with a different metaphor for God’s relationship to Israel. Even so, Chapter 3 is hard to understand. The difficulty has partly to do with guessing where the quotation marks begin and end, and partly to do with the implication that Hosea is marrying yet another promiscuous woman. Most scholars seem to agree that Gomer is still the woman involved. Perhaps she and Hosea were divorced for awhile after the birth of their children because of her unfaithfulness, and now Hosea is being told to buy her back, though there is no explanation as to why she must be bought unless the silver, grain and wine offered is a bridal price paid once again to her father; or represents the cost of redeeming her from an owner if she has become a slave in a prostitution ring. In any case, his relationship with her is supposed to symbolize the time the Israelites are bereft of a king. The last two verses say that Israel’s dispersion will be temporary; they will be brought back to the land and once again worship the LORD in a holy kingdom ruled by a descendant of David.

 

Hosea 4 (day 866) 15 May 2012

            1-3: A renewed indictment against the kingdom of Israel, with a list of grievances from swearing (taking God’s name in vain?) to adultery. The sin of the people is nullifying the fruitfulness and the productivity of the land.

            4-6: The priests and prophets are held responsible because they have not taught the people. “Your mother” in verse 5 is a reference to the kingdom of Israel; “your children” in verse 6 is a reference to the population that will be dispersed when the kingdom is conquered by Assyria.

            7-10: The priests have become no better than the people and will be likewise punished.

            11-14: The people, women and men alike, have “played the whore;” that is, they have worshiped idols and consulted mediums.

            15-16: God implores them not to take their pagan excesses into the southern kingdom of Judah.

            17-19: Sexual promiscuity is the overriding charge against them. I suppose that means that either the pagan religions are fertility cults that use temple prostitutes, or their going after other gods is labeled adultery and unfaithfulness.

 

Hosea 5 (day 867) 16 May 2012

            1-2: The blame for the current state of Israel is placed again on the priests as well as all the people (“the whole house”) but now also on the king (more on the ruling elites later in the chapter). The locations mentioned are scattered around the country, indicating that the sin is widespread.

            3-4: The theme of whoredom is repeated.

            5-6: God will no longer respond should they begin again to offer sacrifices to him.

            7: “Illegitimate children” plays on the whoredom theme and simply refers to the growing corruption of the people with each passing generation. “New moon” is a reference to pagan fertility rituals, and they will find that their worship of these gods will not make their fields produce.

            8-15: Cities in Benjamin’s territory are given the alarm about the destruction to come – Benjamin is the tribal territory in the south adjacent to Judah. Bethel (“house of God) is sneeringly referred to as Beth-aven (“house of wickedness”). Now Judah is included in the indictment as well, perhaps because they have been raiding in Israel’s territory (they “remove the landmark”). Hosea derides Israel for seeking help from Assyria (2 Kings 15:19). Both Israel and Judah stand under God’s judgment; God will be against them both “until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.” The reference in verse 15 about God returning again to his “place” may be Hosea’s acknowledgement that the final goal of God’s wrath is to return all the people to acknowledge the temple in Jerusalem as the seat of God’s habitation on earth.

 

Hosea 6 (day 868) 17 May 2012

            1-3: Many scholars believe these verses represent Hosea’s rendition of the shallow religious promises of the people of Israel and Judah: They think all they have to do is make a show of repentance and God will quickly reverse their fortunes in a matter of a couple of days.

            4-6: God responds by saying he is not interested in sacrifices but rather in a lasting change of heart that reflects God’s own steadfast love.

            7-11: Other cities are named – Adam, Gilead, and Shechem – and their transgressions documented. The priests, he says, are no better than murderers. For this Ephraim (Israel) will be punished. Judah’s punishment has also been assigned to a later “harvest.”

 

Hosea 7 (day 869) 18 May 2012

            1-7: God continues making charges against Israel. Whenever God was ready to heed their pleas and heal them their corrupt behavior would come forth. The primary charge is twofold: they worship pagan gods, the reference to them being “hot as an oven” is perhaps a description of the sexual frenzy the fertility cults engender; and they turn their backs on God – “none of them calls on me,” God complains.

            8-10: Now Hosea takes up the attack. Ephraim (Israel, the northern kingdom, Hosea’s home) is guilty of intermarriage with foreigners (“mixing with the people”). They are an unturned cake, baked on one side but not the other so that it is unpalatable. Their strength is fading like an old man’s (“grey hairs are sprinkled upon him”).

            11-16: God speaks again, comparing Israel to a dove that flits hither and yon, a colorful metaphor for Israel seeking first an alliance with Egypt, then with Assyria. Again we find a reference to their refusal to call on God, and again their affair with fertility cults (verse 14). God “trained and strengthened their arms,” but they have turned away.

 

Hosea 8 (day 870) 19 May 2012

            1-6: The trumpet is to herald the beginning of God’s action against Israel. The charges against Israel continue to be catalogued: they have spurned God’s ways in spite of claiming to know God. The kings of Israel have not been chosen by God as have been the kings of Judah who were all descended from David. The man who made himself their first king, Jeroboam, set up golden calves at Bethel and Dan in Samaria (1 Kings 12:25-13:34; 2 Kings 17:14-23).

            7-10: Israel has bargained with Assyria instead of turning to God, and God will let them be conquered and scattered.

            11-14: Their establishment of a rival cult so their people wouldn’t have to go to Jerusalem to make offerings was the beginning of their downward spiral. “They shall return to Egypt” is a metaphor for being returned to being enslaved by foreign rulers. Judah, too, has forsaken the true worship of God, and their time of punishment will come.

 

Hosea 9 (day 871) 20 May 2012

            1-6: The sentencing of Israel is relentless. The emphasis here is on their loss of ritual access to God: they will be slaves in Assyria as in Egypt before; they will not be able to observe the dietary laws; they will not be able to make offerings to God; they will lose the festival days.

            7-9: Their corruption is so deep they are angered by the prophet’s attempts to turn them back. “The days of Gibeah” is a reference to the decadence of that city (see Judges 19:10-30).

            10-13: Horticultural metaphors are often used as illustrations of Israel’s history. Baal-peor is probably a reference to a Moabite deity who is to blame for the corruption of the people while they camped in Moabite territory for many years before they crossed the Jordan River.

            14: This verse appears to be an insertion; Hosea interrupts God’s decree to encourage God in Israel’s punishment.

            15-16: God responds with an indictment of their behavior which God says began at Gilgal, a reference to their very first campsite when they crossed the Jordan opposite Jericho (Joshua 4:19). God’s patience has run out.

            16-17: Hosea summarizes the chapter.

 

Hosea 10 (day 872) 21 May 2012

            1-2: Hosea charges that Israel’s prosperity only resulted in more apostasy. As they prospered they built more altars that were used to sacrifice to local deities.

            3: “We have no king” is a strange thing for them to say unless the “king” is God.

            4: Their worship rituals are hollow words and the oaths they make to their gods are empty. They have become a litigious society because of their disdain for the Law God gave them.

            5: Samaria is the capital city of Israel. Beth-aven (“house of wickedness”) is a slur against Bethel (“house of God”), a primary cultic site where Jeroboam had set up a golden calf for them to worship.

            6: The golden calf will become part of the spoil carried away to Assyria when the kingdom falls.

            7-8: The king will perish and the high places of worship will be desolate.

            9-10: God speaks: Gibeah is once again given as an example of the kind of people Israel has become; their destruction is nigh.

            11: The calf imagery continues: once upon a time Ephraim was trained and loved to do God’s bidding without being yoked (“I spared her fair neck”). But now Ephraim and Judah, and indeed all of Jacob (all twelve tribes) will be forced to labor.

            12: There still appears to be a window of opportunity left them though, doesn’t there?

            13-15: Ephraim and Judah will be yoked because they have “plowed wickedness.” Verse 13 follows the annual agricultural cycle of plowing, reaping and eating; but they have plowed wickedness, and wickedness has produced a bitter harvest. They trusted in their own military instead of God and as a result they will suffer the punishment of war. “Shalman” and “Beth-arbel” occur nowhere else in the Bible. Shalman may be the Assyrian king Shalmanesar (see 2 Kings 18:9).

 

Hosea 11 (day 873) 22 May 2012

            1-2: These verses move to a new metaphor of Israel as God’s wayward child. Matthew, in telling about Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod, quotes verse 1 to connect the story of Jesus with the story of Israel. I suppose Matthew didn’t read the next verse!

            3-4: God recalls Israel’s early history the way a mother recalls her child’s infancy.

            5-7: Returning to Egypt is meant mostly figuratively, meaning that they will return to slavery, although a few of them did flee south when the Assyrian army invaded. Assyria is the next and coming world power, and at their hand Israel will suffer the consequences for having turned away from God.

            8-11: And yet, God agonizes over their fate. Up to this point we have listened to lengthy presentations describing God’s wrath, but now we come face to face with a God who grieves and it is a most touching scene, one to which every parent can relate.

            12: Many scholars believe this verse introduces the change of direction in chapter 12, back to the catalogue of ills. However, I read in these lines a wistful parental hope that, although Israel has turned away from God, perhaps Judah is still faithful.

 

Hosea 12 (day 874) 23 Mary 2012

            1: Israel “herds the wind,” an expression that means their attempts to appease both Assyria and Egypt is as futile as trying to control the wind. (It is interesting that Israelite oil is being carried to Egypt! Of course, petroleum is not the kind of oil spoken of here.)

            2-6: Hosea reaches back in time to the story of Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah, who became Israel when “he strove with the angel and prevailed” (Genesis 32:22-32).

            7-9: In these last chapters, when Hosea refers to Israel he calls them Ephraim, the predominant tribe of the north. Here he points out their arrogance in thinking they are blameless. But they have forsaken God’s ways, and so they will be made to live in tents as a homeless people, recalling the Festival of Booths which they have not kept as God commanded.

            10-14: The present-day atrocities of Israel are interspersed with references to earlier times. Verse 12 hearkens back to the story of Jacob working for Laban to secure his daughter Rachel for his wife (Genesis 29:15-30), and verse 13 to the story of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt. In verse 14 Hosea declares once again that Israel/Ephraim will suffer the consequences of their sins.

 

Hosea 13 (day 875) 24 May 2012

            1-3: Ephraim’s downfall is traced from the time when (Hosea imagines) that tribe was prominent among the tribes, to the Numbers 25 account where the people are enticed by the women of Moab to worship Baal, their fertility god. That sin was compounded when the northern tribes broke away from the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem and established the nation of Israel centered at Samaria, and set up rival worship centers with the golden calves and a multiplication of graven images. For that they will be a temporary nation, like the “morning mist.”

            4-11: God took care of them all along the way since they left Egypt, but they became arrogant in thinking their prosperity was their own doing. Therefore God will become “like a lion” to them, and instead of giving will take away.

            12-13: Ephraim is pictured as a child in the womb that is stillborn.

            14: This verse is echoed in Paul’s “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O grave, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). There, however, the victory and sting of death are nullified by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross; here the plague and destruction of death are summoned against Ephraim/Israel.

            15-16: The first line should probably read, “…he shall flourish among his brothers.” In the story of Ephraim’s birth the name Ephraim is given because of its similarity to the word for fruitful (see Genesis 41:52). The “east wind” is Assyria, but perhaps is intended also to indicate Ephraim’s ambitions being thwarted by the very nation they have courted (see 12:1). The gory imagery in verse 16 recalls the bitter conclusion of Psalm 137.

 

Hosea 14 (day 876) 25 May 2012

            1-3: Hosea begs Israel to return to God as an orphan begging for mercy, for the scriptures have made abundantly clear God’s tender compassion toward the orphan and the widow.

            4-7: Here is God’s response. Is this not the response God makes to every repentant sinner?

            8-9: Verse nine presents a number of difficulties in translation. However, the sentiment seems to be pretty clear: If/when they repent their security will be secured by God’s faithfulness to them even though they have been unfaithful to God. The book ends with a platitude we have seen often, especially in the book of Proverbs: “The ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble on them.”