Gleanings from the Bible: Hosea

Is God into judgement or into love and mercy? Our answer to that question will determine how we respond to those who fail in church life, whether the lay or the leadership. It’s easy to see that we can find ourselves towards either end of the spectrum – harsh and unfeeling at one extreme or weak and irresponsible at the other.

The answer, of course, is somewhere in the middle and it seems to me that the prophecy of Hosea gets the balance right.

The theme of marriage is used to illustrate the Covenant relationship between Yahweh and his people. Israel is likened to an adulterous wife, chasing after idols and the heinous practices associated with them (13:2). Israel has made vows to worship and serve Yahweh alone and there are consequences for breaking those promises and the conditions associated with them. Both the leadership and the people are culpable. God is justifiably angry…

            “I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals
she decked herself with rings and jewellery
and went after her lovers
but me she forgot,”
declares the LORD. (2:13)

However, in the following sentences we read…

            “Therefore I am going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her…”
“There she will respond as in the days of her youth…”
“In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master’…” (2:14-16)

The very act of judgement can be seen clearly as discipline to restore Israel to all that will make life abundant, stemming from her devotion to her Maker, Lord and devoted Husband.

            “I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.  (2:19)

The wrath of God (his justifiable anger and judgement) are seen clearly as an act of discipline where, “I long to redeem them…” (7:13). That longing of God for Israel is laced through the text contrasting with the withholding of compassion until the (often horrifically severe) judgement is meted out: “I will have no compassion…” (13:14b), “The people of Samaria will bear their guilt” (13:16), “When Israel was a child, I loved him” (11:1), Return Israel to the LORD your God (14:1), “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely” (14:4).

The Christian church has often struggled to get the balance right between judgement and mercy. Too often a lack of rigorous discipline has allowed destructive attitudes and activities to flourish and at others it has been so harsh, unfeeling and unrelenting as to drive people away for ever. I remember that someone once said something to the effect that, when you preach about Hell you should only do it with tears in your eyes.

May God give us the strength to not retreat from church discipline but to apply it with wisdom and a heartfelt love and longing for the restoration of the people concerned. I am sure we will have much healthier fellowships as a result.

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Gleanings from the Bible: Daniel

Daniel is rather like a “Boys Own” adventure. Lots of action and some weird encounters with dreams and angels.

The Date?

The action occurs during the Babylonian/Persian exile. Daniel was one of the first to be carried off from Judea. Many scholars have accepted that it was written about 160 years before Christ in the intertestamental period as an encouragement to the Jews who were at the time being overrun by Syria. Some of the driving force behind this argument is the disbelief that the book could tell the future in the way that it claims and therefore must have been written after the events. I can see that chapter 11 in particular seems to have more detail than is usual for an Old Testament prophecy but, without going into extensive detail, there are still convincing arguments for the earlier date, and there remain outstanding prophecies, which are still not explained away by a later date.

God’s Kingdom

Either way, the message is the same. God’s Kingdom is not only more powerful than any other kingdom, but it is eternal. And its subjects, who remain faithful, will eventually prevail. It is the message of not just Daniel but the whole Bible and we will see it again in Revelation, where God’s people are exhorted to persevere and receive the crown of life.

The evidence of the power of God’s Kingdom is in Daniel’s ability to explain the king’s dream when no one else could; the deliverance of Daniel’s friends unscathed from the furnace; Nebuchadnezzar reduced to madness because of his pride; Daniel’s survival from the lion’s den and the “writing on the wall” preceding the fall of Babylon. In each case the might of Babylon and Media Persia are seen to bend to the foreknowledge and power of Daniel’s God.

A Future for the Jews in Captivity

As well as the “Court Scenes” there are the interpretations of dreams and visions, which have to do with the future of the Jews, scattered by the Exile. In short they acknowledge Babylon, followed by Media Persia, followed by Greece, followed by Rome, during which time God’s Kingdom is established to go on to fill the earth and put an end to all the other kingdoms. The Roman Empire is not mentioned by name but seems to be an obvious conclusion in the dream of the statue (chapter 2) and the vision of the beasts (chapter 7). The angel’s explanation of the future of the Jews in terms of “weeks” (chapter 9) has led to a plethora of interpretations, one of which, by starting with Artaxerxes’ decree to Nehemiah and working with a 360-day year and accounting for leap years, arrives at a date close to Christ’s crucifixion for the establishment of God’s Kingdom. Whether we are meant to take the numbers quite so literally is open to debate but the fact of Christ establishing the Kingdom seems clear enough.

Tantalising Insights.

There are other interesting morsels in Daniel. For example, when the impressive looking man appears to Daniel by the Tigris, he says this…

“ …your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.  But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.  Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”  

This all seems to be going on in the spirit world where nations appear to have angels assigned to them and battles take place, with reference to (and contingent upon?) earthly goings on. This insight into the interaction between the heavens and the earth leaves us wanting to know more and seems to lend weight to the power of prayer. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s observation,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  (Ephesians 6:12).

The Encouragement of Daniel

Whether you lived under the power of Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome or Syria, or indeed whether you live today under an oppressive regime, which seeks to suppress your Christian faith, the book of Daniel stands as an example of courage, integrity and faith in the face of powerful adverse forces. It says, “Despite your circumstances God is in control. It is he who moulds history and not Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Alexander or Caesar. It is not the USA or Russia or China or North Korea or even powerful multinationals who will determine the future of the world — or your personal circumstances. If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, who has established God’s Kingdom through his life, death and resurrection, then you too shall rise for your reward at the end of days (12:13)”