Hosea 1:1-3

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:

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.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
(Hosea 1:1-3 NIV)

Today we step into the study of the Old Testament book of Hosea.  As noted in the introduction, Hosea was the author of the book (verse 1), and his timeline was marked by the kings of Judah (the southern kingdom).  In our modern measurement of time, he served around the 755 – 710 BC timeframe.

Remember also that only Jeroboam was mentioned from Israel (the northern tribe), as all the successors to the throne after Jeroboam II were short-lived before Assyria finally conquered Israel.

The book of Hosea was written primarily to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Hosea was from Israel (the northern kingdom), so the Lord was addressing His people via one of their own.  Hopefully, the people would listen to a fellow Israelite.

Hosea’s name in Hebrew means “Salvation”.  Truly, the Lord had brought salvation to His people when He brought them out of Egypt.  The Lord saw how the hearts of the Israelites had turned cold toward Him, and He desired a restored relationship with them.   The Lord wanted to save His people from the impending consequences of their sin and sent Hosea to proclaim that message to them.

As the Lord began to speak through Hosea, He gave Hosea a very strange and difficult command.  The Lord told Hosea to go marry a prostitute.

Scholars generally agree that this passage is not translated well from the Hebrew text.  At first reading, it sounds like God is telling Hosea to go marry a known prostitute.  In fact, the Hebrew text is saying, “Go, marry a woman and have children with her; but know that she will eventually be unfaithful to you and ultimately sell herself as a prostitute.”

So how should we understand this text?  Did God literally tell Hosea, a godly Jewish man, to go marry a woman who would later turn out to be a prostitute?  Or was this all just an allegory, a symbolic marriage, an “object lesson” to Israel to repent and turn back to God?

Again, scholars agree that we should understand this as a literal command from God that Hosea obeyed, not a story or an illustration or some kind of “circus act” to make a point.

Men, what would your reaction be if the Lord told you to marry a good woman, but she would eventually become a prostitute?  Would “common sense” prevail, and would you say, “there is no way God would tell me to do that”?  Or would you say, “there is no way I am going to sign up for that kind of heartache!” and walk away.

Ladies, imagine if the gender roles were reversed, and God told you to agree to marry a man who would be faithful at first, but would later abandon you and get involved in the sex trade, eventually living on the streets and having to sell his body just to afford a meal?  What would your response be?

While we see the smaller story of Hosea and his obedience to the Lord, the larger story is that of God taking His people in covenant relationship as His “bride”, and how they had eventually sold themselves as cheap prostitutes to the nations around them, rather than looking to God as their strength and provider.

Likewise, the smaller story of Hosea’s pain, embarrassment, and anguish over his wife’s choices are eclipsed by the larger story of God’s heartbreak over His people turning their backs on Him and selling themselves to their ungodly neighbors rather than depending on Him.

Just as a side note, Hosea’s wife’s name is Gomer.  In Hebrew, her name means “Completion–a double cake of figs.”   As figs were associated with sensual pleasures, Gomer’s name might be loosely translated into something like “Double portion of Dessert.”  If Gomer lived up to the meaning of her name, she was probably a lot of fun to be married to – at least at first.

Isn’t that just like sin in our lives?  It sure is a lot of seeming fun at first!  But eventually the “fun” wears off and we are left with the consequences of that sin – heartbreak and a desire for something better and actually fulfilling.

So what are our choices?  We can go in search of other activities, people, or things to fill that void, or we can turn to the Lord who is the only one who can satisfy the deep longing in our hearts.

How God longs to have us back, even when we stray far from Him.

His simple message is, “Come home.”

What’s stopping you from heeding His unconditional offer?

Blessings,
~kevin

Introduction to Hosea

Today we begin our next study of God’s Word – the Old Testament book of Hosea.

The book of Hosea is fairly well known in churches and Bible study groups.  Hosea’s story is known primarily for its seemingly scandalous message in chapters 1 – 3.  But when we focus only on the shock factor, we miss the far greater message that the Lord intended us to learn from this book and its contents.

The book of Hosea was written mainly to the northern kingdom of Israel (also referred to as Ephraim, the largest tribe in the northern kingdom)

The book of Hosea was written by its namesake, as noted in Hosea 1:1.  The timeframe of this book was around 755 – 710 BC, as noted by the era of kings listed in verse 1.

The list of kings in verse 1 is very important to the context and understanding of Hosea’s story.  Note that four kings of Judah (the southern kingdom) were mentioned, while only one king of Israel (the northern kingdom) was mentioned.  While the southern kingdom (Judah) continued to remain a sovereign state for a while longer, the northern kingdom collapsed into anarchy after Jeroboam II died.  Four of the next six northern kingdom rulers ascended to power by murdering their predecessors.  The Assyrians eventually took over the northern kingdom of Israel.

While we often want to focus on the seeming scandal of Hosea and his wife, the major theme of Hosea’s message is God’s constant love for His people despite their idolatry.  The message is not one of sin and derision, of writing off Hosea and his wife (and thus the northern kingdom of Israel) because of their sin.  Instead, we need to read this book as a love story written by God to His people, and lived out in all its practical messiness through Hosea and his wife Gomer.

In many ways, the story of Hosea parallels the Apostle John’s message of love through his New Testament Gospel as well as his epistles (letters).

The pattern of Hosea’s story is the pattern of God’s story of humanity, and our spiritual journey as well.   The story opens with God’s love, then sin enters into the story to create separation.  Judgment ensues, followed by redemption, with forgiveness being offered as a gift, and restoration taking place when the gift is received.

The book of Hosea is divided into two parts:

  • Chapters 1 – 3, portraying God’s love and Israel’s sins through the lives of Hosea and his wife Gomer
  • Chapters 4 – 14, portraying God’s love for His people, renouncing their sins, and their eventual promise of restoration.

Hosea’s story in chapters 1 – 3 is a parallel to Israel’s story in chapters 4 – 14, a real-life object lesson shown as a microcosm of the larger story of God’s love and redemption for His people (and for us).

May God richly bless your understanding of His immense love for you and me as we embark on our journey through Hosea’s (and our) story.

Blessings,
~kevin

Psalm 143

Psalm 143

A psalm of David.

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you.
The enemy pursues me,
    he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
    like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
    my heart within me is dismayed.
I remember the days of long ago;
    I meditate on all your works
    and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
    I thirst for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground.

11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
    in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
    destroy all my foes,
    for I am your servant.
(Psalm 143 NIV)

I love this psalm!

We see David’s heart in his words – his passion against the evil before him, and his utter dependence on the Lord as his shield and protector.

David asks the Lord for two things:  Deliverance and Direction.

We don’t know what events triggered this psalm – what brought about David’s reaching out to the Lord for help.   Regardless of the circumstances, David’s resolve was to lean on the Lord for justice and to ask for the Lord’s guidance to live a life of faith and focus on Him.

In this psalm, we see a series of contrasts:

  • Of chaos (his enemies after him) and calm (his dependence on the Lord)
  • Of sin (the evildoers) and submission (his acknowledgment of God’s righteousness alone)
  • Of loathing (his enemies) and longing (his desire to walk with the Lord)

Verse 2 is key, as David recognizes that his righteousness does not measure up to the Lord’s – he has not merited God’s favor in any way, shape, or form.  David is humbling himself before the Lord.

I resonate deeply with verse 8.  David starts his day with the Lord as his first focus.  David asks for guidance for the day and places his complete trust and dependence on the Lord from the outset.

While verse 8 is my heart’s desire, I often fall short.  Do you struggle with that as well?

Verse 10 is so rich – seeing David’s heart to follow God and be led by the Holy Spirit.

Lord, as I begin this day, help me to live in utter dependence on you – to walk with You, and be led by Your Holy Spirit as I go through the day.  Help me to remember that nothing can snatch me from Your good hand.

Help me to live moment by moment in Your reality and truth.

Blessings,
~kevin

Philemon 21-25

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings.24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
(Philemon vv. 21-25 NIV)

As we wrap up our walk through the Apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon, we see Paul writing as a friend to a friend about the situation regarding Onesimus, a runaway slave.  Onesimus had stolen some money and run away from Colossae to Rome.  In Rome, Onesimus met Paul, who led Onesimus to the Lord.  On finding out the details of Onesimus’ life, Paul knew he had to send Onesimus back to Philemon.

Paul had the authority to write to Philemon and tell him the right thing to do; Paul also knew that Philemon was a godly man, and was a blessing to both the believers who met in his home as well as Paul himself.  So Paul avoided a heavy-handed approach and opted to appeal to Philemon on the basis of love and forgiveness.

As we step into today’s text, we see Paul wrapping up his appeal to Philemon’s godly character.  In verse 21, Paul says he knows that Philemon will obey the Lord and do the right thing with Onesimus – to love, to forgive, to restore, just as Christ did for Philemon (and you and me).

When Paul said that Philemon would do more than what he had asked him to do, what did that mean?  Was Paul suggesting that Philemon emancipate Onesimus, granting him freedom from slavery?  We don’t know – and neither Scripture nor history tells the rest of Onesimus’ story.  It could be that Philemon welcomed back Onesimus as a brother in Christ as well as a servant (v. 16).  It could be that Philemon sent Onesimus out as a missionary, an ambassador of Christ.

Whatever the case, Paul was confident that Philemon would make a decision that honored the Lord.  Eastern Orthodox church tradition says that Onesimus held fast to his faith and ultimately died a martyr’s death for his faith in Christ.

In verse 22, Paul asks Philemon to prepare a room for him to come visit.  Some scholars suggest that Paul was issuing a subtle warning to Philemon – “do the right thing, and I am coming to check up on you to make sure you did.”

To me, that contradicts Paul’s loving approach in the rest of the letter. Yes, Paul did use that approach with the Corinthians and other churches that were way out of line and needed correction.  It seems more likely that Paul was saying, “My dear brother Philemon, I long to come visit you again face-to-face.  I know you are praying the same thing.  Please prepare a guest room for me in anticipation of the Lord removing these chains of imprisonment so I can come see you again.”  Love, friendship, and face-to-face fellowship was the motivation, not authority and accountability.

Finally, Paul sends the greetings of those with him (v. 23) and ends the letter with a blessing on Philemon.  Paul is asking the Lord to guide and direct Philemon in his decisions and choices in all of life, including the matter of Onesimus.  Paul knew that the enemy would be working overtime to convince Philemon to not forgive or to forgive but not restore Onesimus to fellowship in Christ.  Philemon would need God’s wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make God-honoring decisions.

What a great letter and story of love and redemption!  Again, we don’t know how the story ends; we can only surmise that Philemon consulted the Lord in his decisions and chose to forgive and restore Onesimus.

What a great example for us!  May we reflect God’s glory by forgiving others as Christ has forgiven us by giving his life for us.

We can’t say we fully love others unless we are willing to fully forgive them as Christ did for us.

How can we do anything less?

Blessings,
~kevin

Philemon 8-20

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
(Philemon vv. 8-20 NIV)

Looping back to the prior sections of Paul’s letter to Philemon, we heard Paul’s thankfulness for Philemon and his family and their friendship.  We also heard Paul express his gratitude for Philemon’s love for the Lord and for God’s people.  Philemon provided the place where the house church met.  Philemon had a pastor’s heart and cared deeply for the believers that gathered in his home.  Paul told Philemon that the people who met in his home were blessed, and Paul was blessed because the people were blessed.

In today’s text, Paul addresses the issue of Philemon’s runaway slave Onesimus.  Paul begins gently, appealing to Philemon’s grace and forgiveness as Philemon decides what to do with Onesimus.  Paul says that he, as an apostle has every right to command what Philemon should do, but chooses to appeal to Philemon out of love and friendship.

In verse 11, Paul uses a play on words to appeal to Philemon.  The name “Onesimus” means “useful”; Paul says that as a runaway slave, Onesimus had become “useless” to Philemon, but now was “useful” to both Paul and Philemon.  So what redeemed Onesimus?  What made him useful again?  The change was spiritual, not physical.  Somehow the Lord had arranged the meeting of Paul and Onesimus, and Paul had led Onesimus to the Lord.

Paul saw the value of Onesimus’ changed life.   Although Paul would have preferred to keep him in Rome as his helper, he knew the right thing was to send Onesimus back to his rightful owner Philemon.  Paul did not want to overstep his relationship with Philemon and demand or claim his right to have Onesimus help him.  Instead, Paul humbled himself and did the right thing by sending him back.

Paul tells Philemon that while he may have temporarily lost a slave, he is now gaining back both a slave and a brother in Christ.   Onesimus’ value has increased eternally!

Notice that Paul neither approved nor condemned slavery – it was a part of the culture in Paul’s day.  What Paul did do, however, was proclaim the infinite value of a person in the eyes of God.  In Paul’s day, a slave that was considered a “property” rather than a “person”.  But Paul saw through the cultural definition of a slave to God’s definition of a person and their creation in His likeness and their value as such.

Paul is asking Philemon to love Onesimus as a person.  And the first step in that fractured relationship is for Philemon to forgive Onesimus.  Paul does not specifically tell Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but that is what is implied here.

Paul is also asking Philemon to take the next step beyond forgiveness – to restore Onesimus to service.  Philemon could easily sell Onesimus to the slave market to make up for his losses.  Instead, Paul asks Philemon to bring his back into his home.  Paul even offers to help make up the financial loss that Onesimus caused Philemon.  We don’t know how long Onesimus had been gone; Paul likely knew the details and offered to make up the difference financially.

Paul closes this section by asking Philemon to receive Onesimus as if he were receiving Paul himself.  Paul says that if Philemon will accept Onesimus as he would accept Paul, this act of love, forgiveness, and restoration would refresh Paul’s heart in Christ.

Forgiveness is often so hard, isn’t it?   But it’s what God calls us to do and shows us by example.

And when we forgive, to restore a relationship with someone and make restitution is a whole different level of commitment and love.

Lord, help us to love unconditionally as You love us.  Thank You for Paul’s example of doing the right thing, and for reflecting Your character and love in his letter to Philemon.

Help us to learn this lesson of forgiveness well, and to practice it in our daily lives.

Blessings,
~kevin