Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Anyone here from St. Paul Minnesota? Do you know of the Jewish Synagogue, The Temple of Aaron?

The 1956 sculpture is an abstract representation of flowing water.

The rotating circle at the top of our sculpture represents a waterfall. Below it is the symbol representing flowing water in a stream. Because the sculpture faces the Mississippi River and is the dominant theme of the synagogue, the words below are selected from the prophet Amos: ‘Let justice well up like water, and righteousness as a mighty stream.’

Whoever choose these words to be put in that place had an instinct for what is central to the prophet’s preaching. Those who drive or walk along the road can hardly miss the point: May justice and righteousness roll through the land like the mighty Mississippi.

This theme of social justice is a major theme of Amos.

The Book of Amos is set in a time when the people of Israel have reached a low point in their devotion to God. The people have become greedy. They have stopped following the Law and they have lost their sense of values.

God speaks to Amos, a farmer and herder, and tells him to go to Samaria, the capital of the Northern kingdom. Through Amos, God tells the people that he is going to judge Israel for its sins, and it will be a foreign nation that will enact his judgment.

The people understand judgment as the coming of "the Day of the LORD." "The Day of the LORD" was widely celebrated and highly anticipated by the followers of God. However, Amos came to tell the people that "the Day of the LORD" was coming soon and that it meant divine judgment and justice for their own iniquity.

Amos 1

1 The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

Tekoa is a small, rural town not far from Bethlehem.

The earthquake mentioned here, was a serious one – and a century later people writers still made reference to this ‘Great Earthquake.’

2 He said:

“The LORD roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds dry up,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

3 This is what the LORD says:

“For three sins of Damascus,
even for four, I will not relent.
Because she threshed Gilead
with sledges having iron teeth,
4 I will send fire on the house of Hazael
that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad.
5 I will break down the gate of Damascus;
I will destroy the king who is in[b] the Valley of Aven[c]
and the one who holds the scepter in Beth Eden.
The people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,”
says the LORD.

6 This is what the LORD says:

“For three sins of Gaza,
even for four, I will not relent.

Sound familiar? Verse 5 and verse 3 have the same pattern – in fact it is a pattern that is repeated over and over.

Damascus is in the north.

Gaza is in the south – in the direct opposite direction.

Amos goes onto to talk about Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, and Israel.

Let’s think about what is going on here. Amos is not speaking to these different nations, he is talking about these nations to the people of Israel. Think geographically. Damascus in the north, Gaza in the south. Tyre in the north. Edom in the south. Moab in the east, and then Judah in the southwest.

Imagine a street preacher in World War II. He starts preaching,

“For the three sins of the Nazis, even for four, I will not relent. I’m going to punish the Nazis.

And I’m going to punish the Empire of Japan.

And I’m going to punish the socialists.

And I’m going to punish the communists.

At this point, everyone is cheering the street preacher. They’re shouting Amen, preach it brother!

And then the preacher says, “For the three sins of Sanibel Island, even for four, I will not relent. I’m going to punish Sanibel Island.”

That’s what Amos is doing.

He is preaching to the people and is listing all of the great enemies of the people – but then he zeros in on a neighbor. Judah -- The sister-nation of the people who are listening to Amos.

Like a good Southern Baptist preacher, Amos disarms the listeners and then begins to make them squirm.

4 This is what the LORD says:

“For three sins of Judah,
even for four, I will not relent.
Because they have rejected the law of the LORD
and have not kept his decrees,
because they have been led astray by false gods,
the gods their ancestors followed,
5 I will send fire on Judah
that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”

Now the other nations are under judgment because of war crimes, but Judah is being indicted because of their rejection of the Law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees.

And now, watch out! Amos turns away from the map. He stops talking about those OTHER people in the north and south and north and south and north and south and then turns his finger to the people and says, YOU.

Like the people of Judah, the people of Israel have rejected the Law of God, but when Amos gets to preaching against the people of Israel, he gets down right specific.

6 This is what the LORD says:

“For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
7 They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
and so profane my holy name.
8 They lie down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god
they drink wine taken as fines.

Do you hear what is going on here?

The righteous, the ordinary citizens are being sold for silver, and the needy are sold for a pair of sandals – “a pair of sandals” means “for very little.” Another way to put it might be, the needy are sold for a nickel and dime.

The poor are oppressed, “trampled” in this imaged.

The “afflicted,” or the poverty-stricken, do not get their fair treatment in the courts.

A young woman hired as domestic help is sesxually abused not only by one of the young men in the family, but also by the father as well.

A debtor might be required to give a creditor a coat for security, but the law said that the coat had to be returned each evening. In other words, a person in debt was not left without safety. And yet in Amos these people take the coats from the people in debt, and they use them at night as a picnic blanket in the Temple.

In this first section of Amos, we see that God is concerned about international affairs. He is concerned with this nation, and that nation, and the other nation – but he is also concerned about the individual – the poor and needy and the person in debt.

In the Old Testament, there was no separation of church and state and individual. God expected the individual people to be godly, and he expected the nation of Israel to be godly. So when the nation of Israel failed, God became angry with them.

Amos 3

1 Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the LORD has spoken against you—against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt:

2 “You only have I chosen
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your sins.”

Israel is a privileged nation. God has favored them, and because of that, God expects a lot from them.

“I chose you, therefore I will punish you for all your sins,” says Amos.

Luke 12:48 teaches us, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

Much has been expected of Israel, and they have failed, and therefore they will be punished by God.

3:13 “Hear this and testify against the descendants of Jacob,” declares the Lord, the LORD God Almighty.

14 On the day I punish Israel for her sins,
I will destroy the altars of Bethel;
the horns of the altar will be cut off
and fall to the ground.
15 I will tear down the winter house
along with the summer house;
the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed
and the mansions will be demolished,”
declares the LORD.

Amos 4:1 is the beginning of another, separate sermon. Imagine Amos, the country boy, in the big city. He looks at the women where he is visiting and he is disgusted.

He compares them to cows. Contented, ignorant cows. .

Amos 4

1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

We have a responsibility to the poor and needy.

We are forbidden from oppressing the poor. We see this language all the time. Proverbs 14:31 says, “One who oppresses a poor person insults his Creator.”

How might one oppress the poor?

In chapter 8, verses 5 and 6, Amos accuses the people of oppressing the poor by:

“skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,”

In chapter 5, Amos speaks of the government and the courts oppressing the poor…

10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.

11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.

But look again at what the cows of Bashan are guilty of.

4:1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

This part of Amos is going to be uncomfortable for some of us. Like hearing Amos talk about the other nation and another nation and another nation, now he may well be zeroing in on us.

We can be guilty of INDIRECT oppression of the poor.

This from CNN

Everyone loves chocolate. But for thousands of people, chocolate is the reason for their enslavement.

The chocolate bar you snack on likely starts at a plant in a West African cocoa plantation, and often the people who harvest it are children. Many are slaves to a system that produces something almost all of us consume and enjoy.

The CNN Freedom Project sent correspondent David McKenzie into the heart of the Ivory Coast - the world’s largest cocoa producer - to investigate what's happening to children working in the fields.

His work has resulted in a shocking, eye-opening documentary showing that despite all the promises the global chocolate industry made a decade ago, much of the trade remains unchanged. There are still child slaves harvesting cocoa, even though some have never even tasted chocolate and some don't even know what the word "chocolate" means.

Did anyone go with the church’s mission trip to Immokalee yesterday? What can anyone here share about the Coalition of Farm Workers or the situation with migrant workers here in Florida?

  • Like textile workers at the turn of the last century, Florida tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece. The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32-lbs of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday -- nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket. Most farmworkers today earn less than $12,000 a year.

  • In a January 2001 letter to members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Labor described farmworkers as "a labor force in significant economic distress," citing farmworkers' "low wages, sub-poverty annual earnings, [and] significant periods of un- and underemployment" to support its conclusions.

  • As a result of intentional exclusion from key New Deal labor reform measures, farmworkers do not have the right to overtime pay, nor the right to organize and collectively bargain with their employers.

  • In the most extreme conditions, farmworkers are held against their will and forced to work for little or no pay, facing conditions that meet the stringent legal standards for prosecution under modern-day slavery statutes. Federal Civil Rights officials have successfully prosecuted seven slavery operations involving over 1,000 workers in Florida’s fields since 1997, prompting one federal prosecutor to call Florida "ground zero for modern-day slavery." In 2010, federal prosecutors indicted two more forced labor rings operating in Florida.

Let’s think about what it means to have a vision. Many times we think of a vision as something a prophet sees that no one else can see. For Amos, a vision is like the Children’s Devotional. He sees something in real life, and he sees something of a deeper meaning here – like an audio visual parable.

First, Amos sees something that another prophet saw – Joel. Locusts!

Amos 7

1 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the late crops were coming up. 2 When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

3 So the LORD relented.

“This will not happen,” the LORD said.

The vision is the locusts that devour everything, and the truth that Amos sees in this vision is that if we don’t ask God for mercy, then God can easily destroy us completely.

Then, very quickly, Amos goes to the next vision. It is a wildfire, and again the truth is that God’s anger can be like a wildfire that destroys everything.

4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. 5 Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

6 So the LORD relented.

“This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said.

Then there is a different sort of vision. It involves a plumb line. Any idea what a plumb line is?

It is a builder’s tool to measure the straightness of a vertical wall.

7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

In other words, if the people don’t measure up, they are doomed.

In Amos 7:10, we get a personal glimpse into Amos.

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the LORD says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”

In Amos 8:1, we read

1 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. 2 “What do you see, Amos?” he asked.

“A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered.

Then the LORD said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

3 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing.[a] Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Amos has a familiar cycle. We’ve seen it in Hosea and we saw it last week in Joel.

The people sin and reject God.

This is followed by the judgment by God.

And then what happens next?

Repentance and restoration.

Look at the last part of Amos – 9:11.

11 “In that day

“I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
and restore its ruins—
and will rebuild it as it used to be,
12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that bear my name,[e]
declares the LORD, who will do these things.

13 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,

“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills,
14 and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.

“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them,”

says the LORD your God.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Think about what stories have you heard from your parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles.

My great aunt Lucille used to tell these vivid stories of the Civil War. She would talk about living in Virginia and how the armies would come in – sometimes the Yankees and other times the Confederates. They would take the good horses and leave the tired, worn out horses. They would eat all of the hams in the smoke house. The women would have to cook biscuits for everyone. One day, toward the end of the war, her father reached the age of 13, which was old enough to be drafted in the army during the last days of the war. The family hid him in the mountains, because all of the other brothers had gone to war. Many of them had died, and others had lost legs and arms.

Great aunt Lucille would tell that story over and over. I have her on audio tape telling that story, and then 10 years later I asked her to sit in front of a video camera to tell that story. The words barely changed. She knew that story so well.

But she didn’t live through that story. She was born years after the end of the war, but she heard her father and grandfather tell that story at the dinner table until their stories became her story.

What are some of the stories you were told by your parents and grandparents?

Joel begins his book by saying, “Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” (Joel 1:3).

So what happened in Joel’s day that needs to be told and retold?

Grasshoppers. Sounds silly to us perhaps, but some species of grasshoppers go through a swarming stage that are best known by another name – locusts.

In Joel’s day these swarming grasshoppers devour and destroy the food supply and the main industry of the community.

Joel 1

1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. 2 Hear this, you elders;
listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
or in the days of your ancestors?
3 Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation.
4 What the locust swarm has left
the great locusts have eaten;
what the great locusts have left
the young locusts have eaten;
what the young locusts have left
other locusts have eaten.

Before we move further into the book of Joel, let’s talk about the writer.

Joel is unlike Hosea and most of the other 12 Minor Prophets in that he does not mention any kings of the nation, so that there is no historical time table.

The name “Joel” means “Yahweh is God” and it is a fairly common Old Testament name (I Samuel 8:2; I Chronicles 5:4, 8; 15:7, 11; Ezra 10:43; Nehemiah 11:9).

He appears to have lived in Jerusalem, since his entire orientation is around the Temple (1:9, 13-14, 16; 2:17) Mount Zion (2:1, 15, 32; 3:17, 19-21) and Jerusalem (2:32, 3:1, 6, 8, 17, 19).

Joel is well versed in the Scriptures, as he quotes the words of prophets who went before him. He is familiar with Isaiah (Joel 1:15), Amos (Joel 3:16) and Zephaniah (Joel 2:1-2).

Joel also has poetic gifts of his own. His figures of speech are wonderful. The swarming locusts are described as an attacking nation or as a ferocious lion (1:6).

Joel is a man of deep empathy and sensitivity. He has been impressed by the sound of a

5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! He has been deeply moved and impressed by the sound of a bride in tears (1:8). He has heard the groans of starving cattle and describes them as perplexed, dismayed and even crying to the Lord (1:18, 20).

Joel is aware of the broad range of the community of the people of faith. He addresses the elderly (1:2) and he is concerned about the children (1:3). He invites the children, even nursing babies, to join in worship services (2:16). The gift of the Spirit is poured out to young and old, male and female and to wealthy and servants (2:28-29).

And this is the man who lives through a disaster.

We’ve seen natural disasters – the tsunami in Japan, and the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the earthquake in Haiti, on this island, Hurricane Charlie, or a few years earlier for those living in another part of Florida – Hurricane Andrew.

Let’s listen to how this man Joel, who is a man of faith, compassion, and eloquence, writes about this disaster of locusts swarming in and destroying the crops.

6 A nation has invaded my land,
a mighty army without number; (Note – not a literal army, but the army of insects)
it has the teeth of a lion,
the fangs of a lioness.
7 It has laid waste my vines
and ruined my fig trees.
It has stripped off their bark
and thrown it away,
leaving their branches white.

8 Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth
grieving for the betrothed of her youth.
9 Grain offerings and drink offerings
are cut off from the house of the LORD.
The priests are in mourning,
those who minister before the LORD.
10 The fields are ruined,
the ground is dried up;
the grain is destroyed,
the new wine is dried up,
the olive oil fails.

11 Despair, you farmers,
wail, you vine growers;
grieve for the wheat and the barley,
because the harvest of the field is destroyed.
12 The vine is dried up
and the fig tree is withered;
the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
all the trees of the field—are dried up.
Surely the people’s joy
is withered away.

Beginning with the next verse there is a transition. Up to now, Joel has been describing a terrible crisis. Now he tells the people what they need to do about it.

And the direction the people are given is to grieve properly.

When we have a tragic loss, it is a spiritually appropriate response for us to grieve. It does not matter if the loss involves a baby, child, spouse, parent, best friend – or in the case of Joel, the loss is prosperity, jobs, employment, industry, food supplies, security. Sounds a lot like America of recent years.

The call to grieve begins with verse 13:

13 Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn;
wail, you who minister before the altar.
Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
you who minister before my God;
for the grain offerings and drink offerings
are withheld from the house of your God.
14 Declare a holy fast;
call a sacred assembly.

Isn’t this an interesting way to respond to the locust. The food supply has been threatened, so the people are to enter a period of fast.

On one hand, this is a spiritual discipline. Fasting is to deny yourself food, or to reduce your food intake, so that one focuses more on God than on one’s self.

However, in this case it may be that Joel is a leader in the community who is thinking on several levels – one is certainly spiritual, but the other is out of a concern that the people ration the remaining food. Lean times are certainly in store for them.

One more thing about Joel’s call to fast. Remember he is familiar with Isaiah.

Look at Joel 1:15 and keep your eye on it while I read from Isaiah 13:6

6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

Joel is quoting Isaiah.

And what sort of view did Isaiah have about fasting?

In chapter 58 this is what we read…

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;

Let’s go back to Joel, chapter 1, where we left off with verse 14

14 Declare a holy fast;
call a sacred assembly.
Summon the elders
and all who live in the land
to the house of the LORD your God,
and cry out to the LORD.

15 Alas for that day!
For the day of the LORD is near;
it will come like destruction from the Almighty.

The “Day of the Lord.” That is an interesting phrase that Joel uses, and it may be one that is familiar to you.

In Amos (5:18-20) the Day of the Lord is a time of salvation. It is viewed as a time of happiness, brightness and joy. Part of the “Day of the Lord” is a time of destruction of the enemies of God’s people. This is also the view of Ezekiel (30:1-3), Isaiah (13), and Obadiah (1:8, 15).

However, the term “Day of the Lord” is also seen as a time of doom for Israel. Amos reversed the usual term of the Day of the Lord as being a time of salvation and hope and talked about it being a time of “darkness and not light, gloom with no brightness in it.” (Amos 5:18-20).

Joel uses the phrase “Day of the Lord” in both ways. In 2:31 and 3:14 it is an occasion for the doom of Israel’s enemies, but for the salvation of Israel. In this verse, 1:15, Joel uses it as a time of doom and destruction for Israel.

Joel uses this phrase again in chapter 2 verse 1:

Let all who live in the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming.
It is close at hand—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains
a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times
nor ever will be in ages to come.

And Joel again uses this phrase in 2:11:

11 The day of the LORD is great;
it is dreadful.
Who can endure it?

12 “Even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the LORD your God.

Joel changes the tone of the book in chapter 2:18.

18 Then the LORD was jealous for his land
and took pity on his people.

19 The LORD replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.

This attitude continues and I love the way Joel expresses it in verse 22

22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

Now let’s take a moment here to talk about the structure of the book of Joel. You can easily divide it into two parts. Part one is the natural disaster and the people’s response. Part two is all about Joel’s future, and ours.

With Joel 2:27, we come to the end of the first section and in the next verse, we move into the future.

28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

We talk a lot about the church being inclusive today, and Joel is certainly inclusive here. God’s Holy Spirit can call everyone – young or old; male or female; servant and master.

This section, Joel 2;28-32, has an important place in Christian history. It was the text for the first apostolic sermon, preached at Pentecost by Peter (Acts 2).

The theme for the book of Acts is explained in Acts 1:8, where Jesus promises the apostles: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses.”

Now let’s think about what Joel is doing here with his book.

Many times in a group of people, or an organization, or a business, will go through some sort of crisis and come out of it and then reflect on the crisis – and often they will use the phrase, “what’s the take away from this?” In other words, what did we learn from this?

Joel is telling the people that they have been through a natural disaster. They turned back to God. And what do they learn from this? To remember God the NEXT time there is a disaster, and there will be a next time. That is the theme for chapter 3.

The first talks about a gathering of the nations for judgment and a time of warfare.

3:9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare for war!
Rouse the warriors!
Let all the fighting men draw near and attack.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
“I am strong!”

Remember – Joel knows Isaiah’s work. In Isaiah you see an interesting turn of a phrase. Keep you eye on Joel 3:10 while I read from Isaiah 2:4:

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

What is the difference between Isaiah and Joel?

Isaiah declares peace, Joel uses Isaiah’s words, turns them around and declares war.

14 Multitudes, multitudes
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near
in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and moon will be darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.
16 The LORD will roar from Zion
and thunder from Jerusalem;
the earth and the heavens will tremble.

Where do you turn at a time such as this?

In a time of man made disaster, as with the earlier natural disaster of locusts, you turn to God.

Continuing in the second half of the 16th verse:

But the LORD will be a refuge for his people,
a stronghold for the people of Israel.

17 “Then you will know that I, the LORD your God,
dwell in Zion, my holy hill.
Jerusalem will be holy;
never again will foreigners invade her.

18 “In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.

Stop here and notice that what Joel is doing is referring to the earlier part of the book.

Remember Joel 1:5

5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep!
Wail, all you drinkers of wine;
wail because of the new wine,
for it has been snatched from your lips.

But now jump to the end of Joel, 3:18

“In that day the mountains will drip new wine,”

Remember Joel 1:18, 20

18 How the cattle moan!
The herds mill about
because they have no pasture;
even the flocks of sheep are suffering.

20 Even the wild animals pant for you;
the streams of water have dried up
and fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness.

But in Joel 3:18

and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.

Joel starts with the question, “What shall we tell the children?”

And it continues that theme through to the end.

Tell the children, of today and of the future, that when bad things happen, and they will happen, look to God as your refuge and God will bring restoration.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Minior Prophets - HOSEA

Hosea is the first one that is listed in the order of the Bible, the Table of Contents. But historically, this is not the first one that appears on the scene. The historical sequence is different, but we will take them as they appear in your Bible, so the first one is Hosea.

For those of you who were here on Sunday, you may remember that my sermon was titled, “Second Hand Jesus.” The title refers to those people who would know ABOUT Jesus, but not know Jesus personally. Hosea deals with much the same issue – people who know about God, but are not personally involved with God.

Hosea’s day is a prosperous and peaceful time. The nation is religious, but only on the surface.
I run into so many community leaders and I read about so many politicians who seem religious outside, but they never go to church and they seem to have no real faith – and I know that is hard to judge and discern, but I think we are all aware of that situation in our present times.
Hosea lived in such a time. Outwardly the people are pro-religion, but there is no substance to that talk.
And God calls Hosea to do something absolutely crazy.
Anyone know what Hosea was asked to do?

Hosea 1
1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash[a] king of Israel:
2 When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

This is crazy! Who in the world would marry a woman like this? In fact, some scholars interpret the Hebrew text to mean that Gomer was a prostitute. The marriage between faithful Hosea and unfaithful Gomer becomes a reflection of the relationship between faithful God and unfaithful nation. Some people even believe that Hosea was not a real, flesh and blood historical figure, but a parable. That doesn’t really matter – John Calvin said that whether it is a parable or history, the teachable truths are still the same.

So Hosea, either as a parable or in history, marries Gomer, and they have a child. In verse 4 through 10 we find out the names of three children.

They don’t get names like Frank or Bob or Maryanne: They get names that would result in years of therapy.

The oldest child is named Jezreel – which is a lot like naming a child, “World Trade Center Twin Towers,” or Aushchwitz, Chenobyl or Hiroshima.

Jezreel was a beautiful place, or had been at one time. But the beauty of that place had been marred by extreme violence and assassinations, mass murders.

The next child was named No Mercy.

The next child was named “Not my people.

What a hopeless situation!
But Hosea is a word of hope.

Throughout the book, you will find that there is a definite cycle – doom and hope, doom and hope, doom and hope.

Or to put it another way, the cycle is faithless people, reconciliation; faithless, reconciliation.
Hosea is written by a man who has a vivid imagination. He sees the relationship between humanity and God in everything around him.

First, in marriage, as a husband dealing with an unfaithful wife, but we’ll get to that later.

How many of you have grown fruit or vegetables. You know how you feel about that first harvest? Corn, tomato, blackberry – you can’t wait for it, you are excited and you pick it and you savor it. That is how God savors his people:

Hosea 9:10
New King James Version (NKJV)
10 “ I found Israel
Like grapes in the wilderness;
I saw your fathers
As the firstfruits on the fig tree in its first season.
But they went to Baal Peor,
And separated themselves to that shame;
They became an abomination like the thing they loved.

Another example of how Hosea describes the relationship between God and people is that of a bird owner with a dove.

Hosea 7:11
“Ephraim is like a dove,
easily deceived and senseless—
now calling to Egypt,
now turning to Assyria.

Time and again the people seem to be unwise – or idiotic to put it frankly.
When I was a kid, one of my friends would say, “You don’t have the sense God gave a dead horse.” But in Hosea, God says this about people:

Hosea 13:13
New International Version (NIV)
13 Pains as of a woman in childbirth come to him,
but he is a child without wisdom; when the time arrives,
he doesn’t have the sense to come out of the womb.

Have you ever heard of half baked ideas? Then hear this...

Hosea 7:8
New International Version (NIV)
8 “Ephraim mixes with the nations; Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over. (Half baked)

On the other hand, God knows that the people do not hold God in high esteem.

Hosea 5:12
New International Version (NIV)
12 I am like a moth to Ephraim,
like rot to the people of Judah.

But throughout all of these illustrations, there is a constant set of themes.

Doom and gloom, to hope.

God’s love, anger and pain.

The people’s rejection of God, lack of good sense, and coming back to God, and falling away again.
One prominent relationship comparison is that of the parent and child. How many of you have children? No matter how good your children were, there are times when you probably wanted to sell your child to the zoo. Or maybe you wanted to go to the zoo.

Let’s take a look at Hosea 11. This is the voice of God speaking, and you tell me, is this anger or pain that you hear in these words?

Hosea 11
God’s Love for Israel
1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms; but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
4 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.
5 “Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
6 A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
7 My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.
8 “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? (Note: Admah and Zeboyim? These are cities of the plain that were caught up in the destruction when Sodom and Gomorah were destroyed)

My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
9 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.
10 They will follow the LORD;
he will roar like a lion. When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.

So what did you hear? Anger or pain?

Let’s stop here and take a look at what is happening in this time in history.

The times are peaceful and prosperous, but what most people don’t know is that all of that is over.

Have you ever seen the movie, the Titanic? Moments after the ship hits the ice burg, a group of men begin to play soccer with the large pieces of ice that feel onto the ship. They are already dead, but they don’t know it. That part of that movie is based on history.

As a nation, we’ve sometimes entered the worst times in our history, oblivious for a while of how bad things have already become.

In Hosea’s time, Assyria is a country that is gathering momentum. They are right over the horizon.

The people of the promised land formed a nation – Israel.

At first they were led by Judges, but not be specific Kings. The first king was Saul, who started his rule in 1020 BC. The next was David.

Then came Solomon.

But under the son of Solomon, a King named Rehoboam, the country split into two kingdoms.

North and South, Israel in the North and Judah in the South. That split happened in 930 BC.

Hosea tells us in verse one when he ministered.

1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel:

Which means we can pin Hosea down to 750 to 722 BC – remember, these are Before Christ years, so the numbers go in reverse – 722 being later than 750. In that same period, what is happening of significance in the world?

Tiglath-Pileser III.

He ruled Assyria from 745–727 BC. Basically the same time frame as Hosea’s ministry.

Tiglath-Pileser III seized the Assyrian throne during a civil war and killed the royal family. He made sweeping changes to the Assyrian government, considerably improving its efficiency and security. Assyrian forces became a standing army. Tiglath-Pileser III subjected Babylonia to tribute, severely punished and conquered many nations.

Later in his reign, Tiglath-Pileser III assumed total control of Babylonia.

Tiglath-Pileser III discouraged revolts against Assyrian rule, with the use of forced deportations of thousands of people all over the empire. He is considered to be one of the most successful military commanders in world history, conquering most of the world known to the Assyrians before his death.

The common person in Hosea’s country doesn’t really see this as a threat.

Does anyone remember how Seattle Washington celebrated the millennium on January 1, 2000?

They did nothing. All public celebrations were cancelled because of a terrorist threat. Many people were furious and asked, “Who in the world is this Osama bin Ladin?” He was unknown to most of us, but the very next year, everyone knew of bin Ladin and of September 11, 2001.

Hosea sees Assyria coming over the horizon. He knows what is in store for this country.

Was Hosea a real person? We don’t know. From the very beginning of Christianity, many people have thought that Hosea was a parable, not a history.

Does it matter? John Calvin said it doesn’t. If it is a parable, the teachable truth is not changed at all than if it is a history.

There are two main parts of Hosea:
Chapters 1-3 tell of the marriage of Hosea with Gomer,
Chapters 4-14 presents the oracles of Hosea in which the prophet continues to speak on the themes of sin, judgment, redemption.

Let’s take a closer look at that first section, Chapters 1-3.

1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel:
2 When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Remember what happens next? We read a few moments ago about how Gomer has three children, who may or may not have been biologically Hosea’s children. And they are given these terrible names.

The oldest child is named Jezreel – which is a lot like naming a child, Aushchwitz.

The next child was named No Mercy.

The next child was named “Not my people.

And beginning in verse ten we begin to hear that word of hope:

10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ 11 The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel. 2:1“Say of your brothers, ‘My people,’ and of your sisters, ‘My loved one.’

You see this wonderful cycle of sin, judgment, redemption.
Sin – Gomer’s unfaithfulness.
Judgment – these terrible names.
Redemption – the names are reversed “Not my people,” becomes “Children of God.”

Now in the midst of that word of hope – comes some interesting contrasts in Hosea 2:2 and following. They are words about an Angry God.

We probably don’t say enough about God’s anger and wrath. But the Bible does devote an immense amount of material about the judgment and wrath of God. God wants us to be aware that life has consequences, and one consequence of rejecting God is to incur his wrath.

Listen to these words, spoke through Hosea. Imagine he is married to Gomer, unfaithful wife, and he is speaking to the three children, but the words he speaks has a double meaning – Hosea and Gomer on one hand, and the people and God on the other.

2 “Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.
3 Otherwise I will strip her naked
and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
turn her into a parched land,
and slay her with thirst.
4 I will not show my love to her children,
because they are the children of adultery.
5 Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.

But throughout the OT, judgment and hope go hand in hand.

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. (Note: The Valley of Achor was a place with bad memories in Israel, a hopeless place, that Hosea says will become a doorway into hope. Again that cycle of hopelessness - hope. See Joshua 7:25))

There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
16 “In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals (false gods) from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.
21 “In that day I will respond,”
declares the LORD—
“I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;
22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and the olive oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

So what we see here is an angry God, who reaches out and forgives the unfaithful and brings them back to himself.

That brings us to chapter 3, which seems to be years later. Gomer has again become unfaithful. But the Lord says in 3:1, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites.”

So Hosea goes out and buys Gomer for “fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Can't help but say it - "a homer for Gomer."

A homer and a lethek possibly weighed about 430 pounds

We don’t know who was selling her – maybe it was what we today would call a pimp or a “human trafficker.” But the price is cheap. A slave would sell for twice that. Centuries earlier, Joseph was sold in Genesis for 20 shekels of silver.

Hosea takes her home and tells her:

3 “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

Again, this is not just about a man and a woman – this is about God and his people, and verse 4 makes this clear:

4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.

Hosea 1 through 3 use this imagery of God and the people as being like faithful Hosea in a marriage with unfaithful Gomer.

Beginning in chapter 4 we make a transition from the biography or parable if you prefer to think of Hosea as a fictional sermon illustration, to the oracles of the prophet.

Hosea 4
1 Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
gainst you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery; they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.

What part of the cycle is that? Part one – sin.

What comes next? Judgment.

Hosea 5
1 “Hear this, you priests!
Pay attention, you Israelites! Listen, royal house!
This judgment is against you:
You have been a snare at Mizpah,
a net spread out on Tabor. (Note - these are two places that had become enticing locations for Baal worship).

2 The rebels are knee-deep in slaughter.
I will discipline all of them.
3 I know all about Ephraim;
Israel is not hidden from me. Ephraim, you have now turned to prostitution;
Israel is corrupt.
4 “Their deeds do not permit them
to return to their God.
A spirit of prostitution is in their heart;
they do not acknowledge the LORD.
5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them;
the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin;
Judah also stumbles with them.
6 When they go with their flocks and herds
to seek the LORD, they will not find him;
he has withdrawn himself from them.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away;
I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them.
15 Then I will return to my lair
until they have borne their guilt
and seek my face— in their misery
they will earnestly seek me.”

So that is two parts of the cycle.
And what comes next? Redemption. Hope.

We then read a section in chapter 6 that sounds on the surface to be wonderful, healing words:

Hosea 6
1 “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us; he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
3 Let us acknowledge the LORD;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Now don’t those words sound wonderful? But remember, God has been through this over and over and over and over – and he is fed up with the insincere repentance. And this is his response

4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim?
What can I do with you, Judah?
Your love is like the morning mist,
like the early dew that disappears.
5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,
I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun.

And then in verse 6 comes this wonderful line:

6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

The people may think they have completed the cycle:
Sin, judgment, now redemption – but their repentance is a shallow, meaningless gesture.

Hear what God says, beginning in the last verse of chapter six.
“Whenever I would restore the fortunes of my people,

Hosea 7
1 1 whenever I would heal Israel, the sins of Ephraim are exposed
and the crimes of Samaria revealed.
They practice deceit,
thieves break into houses,
bandits rob in the streets;
2 but they do not realize
that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them;
they are always before me.

Throughout chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10, Hosea is recording the voice of God grieve over His people. They do not repent. They are like Hosea’s wife Gomer. She was unfaithful over and over. Hosea took her back, and Gomer was unfaithful. So in these chapters, God’s voice speaks over and over of the sadness and anger God feels over the unrepentant people.

And then we come to Hosea 11
1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms; but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
4 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.

5 “Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 6 A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. 7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.
8 “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. 9 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.

And yet, even as God says such loving things about the people, he keeps going back to the reality of the people’s rejection of Him. And He goes back and forth over this in the next several verses.
You are rebellious, but I love you.
You are rebellious, but I love you.
You are rebellious, but I love you.
You can see an example of this in Hosea 13:3 and 4

3 Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window.
4 “But I have been the LORD your God ever since you came out of Egypt.
Then we come to the last chapter. And we have not yet gotten into that final part of the cycle, redemption.

And we never really get there.
It is left open ended. It’s up to you. What will you do? What will you do?
Hosea 14 is one last plea from God to rebellious people.

Hosea 14
1 Return, Israel, to the LORD your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
2 Take words with you
and return to the LORD. Say to him:
“Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips.
3 Assyria cannot save us;
we will not mount warhorses.
We will never again say ‘Our gods’
to what our own hands have made,
for in you the fatherless find compassion.”
4 “I will heal their waywardness
and love them freely,
for my anger has turned away from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon
he will send down his roots;
6 his young shoots will grow.
His splendor will be like an olive tree,
his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.
7 People will dwell again in his shade;
they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine—
Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
8 Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
your fruitfulness comes from me.”
9 Who is wise? Let them realize these things.
Who is discerning?
Let them understand.
The ways of the LORD are right;
the righteous walk in them,
but the rebellious stumble in them.

Hosea ends like an old fashioned altar call -- the invitation is there, but then the book comes to an end and we don't know how the nation responded. But the pages of history tells us how it ended. And it does not end well.

The people remained rebellious and the cycle continues -
The people are unfaithful.
The judgment comes.
The people return.
God loves and welcomes us.
The people are unfaithful....