It’s hard not to put ourselves at the centre of our lives. Our will, our desires, our plans, hopes, dreams, thoughts & emotions.
We go back to this fleshly sinful ‘default setting’ all too easily – don’t we? I know that I need to fill my vision with God continually, worship again, pray again, meditate on Scripture again to re-focus myself.
Jesus knew this was the default trajectory of our hearts and minds and so taught us to pray; “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) to our heavenly Father.
The Apostle Paul is such a striking example of someone who has clearly prayed that prayer of Jesus’ over and over again and so had a remarkable outlook on life.
As we journey through the letter to the Philippian believers keep in mind where Paul is writing from – prison! What would your letters be about if you were in prison unjustly? If the self-centred default human setting for the mind and heart is ON, then you would be complaining about the circumstances you find yourself in, how you feel about the injustice and the hardships.
But not the apostle Paul! He is grateful while in prison because he has come to see that his imprisonment has allowed two things to happen.
- The Gospel has advanced to those guarding him, people who would maybe never have come to a church, God took the Gospel to through Paul being in prison. (vs12-13)
- Paul’s fellow-workers have been encouraged to share the Gospel more boldly because of Paul’s imprisonment!
Both of these perspectives are only possible because Paul had displaced himself from the centre of his life & installed Jesus Christ and His Gospel at the centre.
The lens through which he saw his hardship and his experiences as a Roman prisoner was God’s will for his life and God’s plan for humanity, God being glorified in all things (vs20). To the Roman believers, Paul wrote; “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
This was Paul’s life’s operating system – God’s purposes, God’s glory! Not personal comfort, convenience, plans or safety – but God’s plans, God’s will.
Paul is a wonderful example of a God-centred, gospel-centred believer. May I, may we keep disciplining our thinking and our emotions to follow his example and to be inspired by it.
What are you facing today? What hardship, what injustices. How might God use them to advance His Gospel through you? Fill your vision with Jesus again, our great Saviour who surrendered his will to the will of the Father for your sake and mine. So that in turn, we would live like Him and do the same and live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Taxes, Tithing and COVID19 – what a combo! We are living in unprecedented times of financial hardship. In South Africa, our statistics are that more than 3 million people have been retrenched in the last three months. So we can safely say that for the majority of people we’ve never faced a time like this. In addition to this, many have had salaries reduced, or people’s businesses are under severe strain. Unemployment and uncertainty are at all-time highs.
And then our bible reading plan comes to this little section in the gospel of Mark that seems to have a bit of a mini-focus on money from Jesus as a result of some of Jesus’ interactions.
But is it insensitive to write about money at this time? No, I don’t believe it is, after-all in times of financial pressure or lack we need to speak more not less about money.
Taxes & Tithes
In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus teaches us to be faithful in paying our taxes making our contribution to the governance and upkeep of the country in which we live and in the same moment Jesus teaches us that similarly, we ought to give ‘to God the things that are God’s’ – tithes (Mark 12:17).
Bear in mind that the Roman authority over the Jewish people of the time would have been seen as an oppressive authority by most Jews. This was not a government the Jewish people welcomed, agreed to or voted for! Yet referring to tax, Jesus says that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
Now for most people, tax is normally a grudge expense! It is not common to find citizens who just can’t wait to pay their taxes. However, taxes are necessary for civil society to function and when taxes when are administered well they provide things like physical infrastructure, policing, a justice system, healthcare, education and social services for the poor and vulnerable.
Before you understandably interject about corruption in South Africa and you’d happily pay taxes if you knew they would be stewarded well – may I remind you of who Jesus was telling the Jews to pay their taxes to!
The rule and authority of the Roman Empire was an authority that was not invited but imposed through military force. Yet Jesus tells His Jewish hearers to pay to that authority the tax it was imposing.
Let’s be clear, corruption and mismanagement of public funds are sinful, corruption ought to be lamented over and exposed wherever possible. However, corruption does not release Christ-followers from paying our taxes.
Although I can’t claim to have ever been excited about paying tax. I have tried to shape my heart and my thoughts by thinking about two things;
- My taxes are my contribution to all the good things that taxes enable; it is nation-building.
- And reminding myself that if I’m paying tax, it means I have a job and an income and that is something I never want to take for granted!
I’ve found that these things have helped me in paying tax with a good heart. Jesus doesn’t stop there but goes on in Make 12:17 saying that similarly just like Caesar is owed taxes, it is right for us to give to God, the ultimate authority, our tithes.
A Wonderful Example:
Jesus comes back to the issue of money when He does a remarkable thing. Jesus sits Himself down in the temple opposite the offering box and ‘watched the people putting money into the offering box’ (Mark 12:41).
Since becoming a church leader, for the past 17yrs, I have always kept myself from knowing what people are or are not tithing, but Jesus did the exact opposite! Jesus sat there, watching. People are coming and placing their tithe offerings into the box in the temple, some tithes are large, and some are tiny in monetary terms (Mark 12:41-42).
Jesus watches one poor widow approach the tithe box. She doesn’t have much, that is obvious to see. She isn’t dressed in fancy apparel like the rich people and the scribes (Mark 12:38).
We don’t know much about her other than that she was a widow and that she was poor (Mark 12:42). We do also know, however, that what she put into the offering box as her tithe impressed Jesus more than any of the other offerings given that day.
You see, in the maths of heaven, her two little coins (worth probably less than ten Rands) meant more to Jesus than the great sums of money given by others.
Why is that?
Well in the maths of heaven what makes your gift substantial is the heart with which it is given not the amount that is given. What matters is the wholeheartedness of the gift in relation to what that person has been entrusted with financially by God.
And so, it didn’t matter one iota to Jesus that she only had two coins to give! What mattered to Jesus was her heart of generosity with which those two coins were given. Giving is all about our hearts. Jesus taught that where our treasure is our hearts are too (Matthew 6:21), and I have found the reverse to be true as well – that where our hearts are there our money flows too.
This poor widow teaches us that giving to God is not about affordability but is about our heart’s condition. Her offering was small, but it was large, relatively speaking when compared to what she had – so she had given much. Jesus knows this and so says to the disciples (I think in her presence to honour her);
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
She had ‘put in more’ than all the others with their big monetary values! Because her heart of generosity and or love for God overcame her state of poverty. Her heart for God leads her into giving wholeheartedly in rich generosity with faith. We know that she gave in faith because having given she then needed to trust God for the rest of her needs (see vs44).
And because of her example, Jesus makes much of her and honours her above all those giving large monetary amounts but giving gifts that proportionately presumably weren’t generous or sacrificial at all.
Were these others’ tipping’ God rather than tithing?
It seems likely. They were all about appearances, but their hearts were not like hers, seemingly. I think to consider tithing as simply giving to God 10% of the income God has entrusted to you is a really helpful thing.
It is helpful partly because the maths is so easy. It is also helpful because giving a percentage of your income in a church like ours where some people earn more than R100 000/month, and some people earn only R1000/month giving 10% honours everyone’s giving equally.
What matters is not the Rand amount, but that you are willingly faithful with whatever amounts of income God has entrusted you with. And so, whatever your tithe’s monetary amount is it is valuable to Jesus!
We have an older single woman in our church, who actually reminds me of this widow. She is actually supported by our church every month and has been for some time. During the lockdown, she made more effort than anyone else I know to tithe on the money we had given her for her provision! She made a big effort each month to make contact and make arrangements for her small offering in monetary terms but big offering in proportion to be given to God! Amazing.
This is what matters that even amid COVID-19 we have hearts that are wholehearted like the poor widow in Mark 12, that we give from whatever it is God has entrusted to us financially even if that amount entrusted to us is less during this time. And, that we give the whole tithe, that we give with faith and with joy in Jesus.
Jesus seems to like to watch what we are giving and wants to commend us for our wholehearted and faithful consistent giving to God in bringing in the whole tithe. Let’s not be like these rich people Jesus rebuked in Mark 12:38-44 who appear to have been tipping God not tithing and so got rebuked.
Paul is urging the Colossians to continue following Jesus. Here is how he suggests they do that. He uses the analogy of plants with roots and buildings on a firm foundation.
Both of those things take time to develop. I recently discovered that I could use the bottom of the celery I buy at the shops to grow another plant. I cut off the leaves and the stalks and then put the end piece in a little water. Over time it grew new leaves out the top and roots out the bottom. I have just planted it in the soil, and now I wait to be able to use it in my kitchen. The point of my story is that it has taken quite some time. The leaves didn’t grow immediately, and the roots took even longer to appear. I have no doubt it will be a few weeks before I can cut off some celery to use in cooking.
Similarly, building something takes time as well. Anybody who has been involved in any building project of any kind knows this to be true. If the process is rushed, essential details will be ignored, and the result will be a building that doesn’t last or one that presents problems over time, like leaking or cracking and unsightly parts to it.
I think Paul chose these analogies on purpose because following Jesus, allowing your roots to grow deep into him and building your life on him takes time. It takes time to read your Bible. There is so much to read and understand, yet as we daily read little bits, the Holy Spirit gently reveals more of himself to us and builds our knowledge and wisdom. It takes time to speak to him. Prayer isn’t always easy, but as we persevere, he rewards us with a sense of his presence and even in his grace answers our prayers.
We are all building our lives daily. The question is on what are we building? Are we trying to gain our sense of security from money, relationships or possessions? God is our rock, our refuge and fortress. He is the only secure thing that will not send our lives crashing down in a heap of rubble if we build on him.
We all have roots reaching out to gain nourishment for our souls. Are you reaching out to Jesus or are you reaching out to the things of this world that will never satisfy the longings of your heart, as Jesus will?
As you are faithful in reading your Bible and pouring out your heart to him, you will grow closer to Jesus, your faith in him will grow, and you will recognize a thankful heart in yourself. It can be disheartening when day after day it feels like you’re plodding through reading your Bible and trying to grow in prayer, but remember how slowly a building is completed and how many days a plant takes to grow to maturity.
One day, after many months of being faithful in following Jesus, you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come. So keep going!
John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).
The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.
John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.
It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!
Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).
It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).
In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)
This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.
1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’
Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.
2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’
There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?
The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!
In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…
3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’
This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!
If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.
John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.
As we reach the end of this combined study of 1 & 2 Timothy, there is so much to say. I need a blog for each point in this section! There is a lot to be said for the relational dynamic in the gospel advance as seen in verses 9 to 16 and in 19 to 21. There is a lot to be said about the continual need to believe that God will help you persevere in the faith in the face of overwhelming challenges, as seen in verses 16 to 18. I also think there is much to say about our agency in the mission of God – as Paul is so clearly aware throughout this book and this chapter that the gospel advance will continue long after him, and its spread is not dependent on any one person for its success.
However, I think that all of these topics fall under Paul’s words in verses 6-7, as we see the heart of the man who gave everything he had for the mission of God.
I grew up reading stories of “wide eyed radicals” and “dreamers of the day”; men and women who would give up their whole lives for the mission God had called them to. Whether it was reading books like ‘Jesus Freaks’ and ‘The Heavenly Man’, or various biographies from giants in the faith such as Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor or Olaudah Equiano; these stories of radical living and lifelong sacrifice stirred my faith in a simple truth; Jesus is worth everything we have to give.
Paul fits this mold of “wide eyed radicals”. Perhaps the original in the early church movement. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes his final words, in the final chapter of his final book, in his final moments this side of glory. It is a summary of a lifetime of service to God and His bride, and as we lean in, we will discover some amazing truths to fuel our perseverance in the mission…
“6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
– 2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul here is drawing from Old Testament sacrificial language to convey the summarizing thought of his earthly life. There was nothing left, no reserves, just a complete emptying out of everything Paul had to give to the mission of God, because of his passionate devotion to God. It’s not a sacrifice to earn the Father’s approval, or to attain spiritual salvation. Paul’s sacrifice is joyfully and enthusiastically offered up precisely because his approval and salvation has already been graciously given! He lived with a sense of joyful significance, as he was included in God’s gloriously good purposes for all creation. It’s the response to salvation, not a prerequisite for salvation.
Paul also draws from his own writing from earlier New Testament letters, as well as these two letters to Timothy, and he uses military and athletic language to claim that God’s mission was worthy of every sacrifice he ever made. The military language fits the pattern set throughout 1 & 2 Timothy, and in using the metaphors of “fight” and “race” Paul is intentionally using very active and energetic language. His life is an example of what it looks like to be wonderfully consumed with the dreams and endeavors of gospel advance.
If you listen to the tone of the text, you can almost hear the joy and relief in verse 7, as Paul marvels in the wonderful preservation of God in every act of service Paul had ever done. The passive verb in verse 6, “I am being poured out”, is Paul’s way of communicating God is the one who was at work in Paul’s life, empowering every moment and preserving his faith until the end.
Earlier this year I heard two older pastors, at a similar phase of life to Paul, quoting Colossians 1:29, where Paul says “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Paul, in both Colossians and 2 Timothy, shows a total dependence on God for his own preservation. It would be arrogant to think that any of his achievements were his own. Paul spends 2 Corinthians reminding us how just how unimpressive and dependent he truly is. There is a great truth here, that Paul has spent his whole life demonstrating. Our perseverance is only possible through Gods preservation. He keeps us. He empowers us. And He gets all the glory.
From these two verses, we can almost picture Paul running through the gates of heaven, hands lifted high, proclaiming the goodness of the Almighty to the roar of all of redemption. Don’t you want that same magnificent moment? No reserves. No regrets. Completing your life on the mission that is worth everything you have to give.
 Phrases from Simon Guillebauld’s excellent book, “More Than Conquerors.”
 “Ray Ortlund and Sam Storms on Finishing Well in Ministry”. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/churches-planting-churches/id1069930513
What would your final words be?
Imagine you were a CEO of a startup company, a leading figure of a research project or a key member in your field of expertise, and you knew what you were writing would be your final words to your successor. That scenario isn’t too dissimilar to Paul’s life as he was writing 2 Timothy around 64-67 AD. He finds himself in prison, awaiting a certain fate of death, with very few people around him. After a lifetime of church planting, preaching and raising leaders, Paul knows his final efforts will be to encourage his spiritual son in the faith.
It’s helpful to visualise the situation Paul is writing in, as it provides some clarity in an otherwise confusing section of scripture. At first glance, chapter 2 seems a whirlwind of different themes that Paul is mixing together. He’s discussing leadership, holiness, perseverance and false teachers in a manner so unlike the structured theological masterpieces of Romans or Ephesians. However, with an understanding of Paul’s context, we as the readers, are given a glimpse of Paul’s overall reflections of ministry, as well as his final words of encouragements to us.
Within this book of Paul’s final words, there consists an encouragement for Timothy to persevere in faithful ministry.
If anyone would know the challenges that Timothy will face, it would be the Apostle Paul. He was sitting in a jail cell, waiting for his promotion into the grandstands of Heaven. He was the guy who was kidnapped and stoned to an inch of his life (Acts 21). The man who survived a shipwreck, only to be bitten by a viper (Acts 27 & 28). Paul was the guy who wrote and boasted in his various sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), so that God would be praised. Paul knows exactly what he is encouraging Timothy into when he says “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus”.
Many of us today do not live with a readiness, a willingness, to embrace and fight through the challenges that will come as we try to live for Jesus. Maybe this is because we so easily forget that we live in a spiritual warzone. When Paul says “share in suffering”, what he is communicating is that there is a share of suffering that every believer should brace themselves for. If we live as we ought to, transformed and compelled by the gospel, then we should expect trials, opposition, temptations and sufferings to face us. Sin won’t go down without a fight. The devil is still prowling around. Cultural ideologies such as individualism, sinful temptations of materialism and political tactics of division have already taken out the sincere faith of many believers.
One of the questions that we all need to face up to as a matter of urgency is this: Are you ready for the inevitability of suffering? The hardest rugby tackles are the ones you don’t see coming. They are the ones that cause injuries. Paul’s words are a caring and compassionate plea to Timothy and to us; that we would be prepared for wartime living.
Our perseverance comes from remembering and trusting in Jesus’ work in our lives. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead…” This section runs parallel to the first chapter of the book, and it reminds us that our perseverance does not come from ourselves. We are meant to trust and rely in our savior’s ongoing work in our lives. Our perseverance is inseparable from the resurrection of Jesus, to His victory and the certainty of our success in the mission field. This is also why Paul says, “therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect”, because there are people who have been elected (chosen) by God, and Paul knows that their conversion is an absolute certainty. The truth that God is electing, preserving and empowering us will produce endurance inside of us.
Finally, our perseverance produces faithfulness and glorifies God. This is where Paul ties in our holiness with our faithful perseverance. To be ‘preserved’ is not just to make it to the end of our lives without sin taking us out. To be preserved is a call to fight for holiness in our lives. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” As we are preserved by God to continually endure through our sufferings, it is a testament of the faithfulness that God is working in our lives and displaying to the people around us. We should “flee” from sin and “pursue” a transformed pure heart. Then we too will be able to say, along with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, that we have “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- What kinds of challenges should we expect as we live for God in the world today?
- Why do you think Paul’s using his final words to encourage us to keep persevering?
- What do you need to flee from in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?
- What do you need to pursue more in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?
I want to start of by asking a question: Are we looking at the Bible through the world’s eyes or are we looking at the world through the Bible’s eyes?
You see, there is a difference; and history is full of horrible examples of how people have manipulated God’s word to do the unthinkable. Both Apartheid and the Crusades were fueled by the misinterpretation of scripture and the arrogence of self centered leaders. This is unthinkable! How could people be so easily deceived?
Verse 1: “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”
These people did not devote themselves to God’s Spirit and God’s Word. Rather than being changed by the Spirit of God and His Word, they tried to change God’s Spirit and God’s Word to suit themselves. They looked at the scriptures to prove their worldly view, to justify their sinful hearts. Is there an area in your life where you do the same?
The Bible is there to interpret the world around us. It is not just a book full of wonderful stories of God’s faithfulness, it is a guide to our everyday life. It is the living word!
Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.
We have been given a weapon to fight these deceitful teachings: God’s Word. His word will enable us to discern between right and wrong. We must thus study His word and apply His word.
Verse 4-5: For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
You see, if we live in the world through the guidelines of God’s Word, God will keep us safe. I think alcohol is a good example of what is talked about in verse 4. Alcohol in itself is not bad; drinking a glass of red wine per day actually has cardiovascular benefits! However we all know the consequences of abusing alcohol; it is the cause for so many hurt in our society today. There are things in our lives, like drinking alcohol or watch certain TV series, that can be made holy by the word of God, when used in the ways that honors God. The word of God is there to guide our every move in life, so that we can to grow in godliness. In other words, the gospel transforms everything!
Verse 7: “have nothing to do with irrelevant, silly myths. Rather train yourself in godliness ( being like God). For while bodily training is of some value , godliness is of value in every wayas it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Believers must first be dedicated to God’s word and His teachings, before we spend our time reading weird and wonderful theories of other peoples interpretations of God’s word. We should rather use our time to grow in godliness and place our hope in God.
Verse 10: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God You see our hope can not be in other people with fancy words, new teachings and interpretations. Our hope is in Christ Jesus and in His Word.”
I want to end of by honouring all of you that do read this bible plan and who are dedicated to His word. Keep going, training yourselves in godliness for it has value even in the life to come!
My hope today, is that you will be encouraged in reading the Word and equipping yourself to discern between what is good and evil in these confusing times. I hope this scripture challenges you to not only read His word, but to allow His word to change the way you see the world around you. How can you apply His word today in your life and the lives of the people around you? For God’s Word is alive, and is actively working in you!
Futile. Empty. Unfulfilling. Mad.
To live as if God is not God – is futile, empty & unfulfilling. It is like trying to be filled up in your stomach on the wind. Eating the wind, taking great gulps of air, will never fulfil the need for nutrition that your body has (vs1).
Rejecting God, putting your trust in self or anything other than God is like chasing after the wind as if it could be caught (vs1).
It makes no sense to reject God. It’s not rational; instead, it’s entirely irrational – like trying to feed on or catch the wind.
By reaching out to Assyria and Egypt, making covenants with them for protection, faithless Israel has been like a person futilely feeding on the wind or chasing it.
And so God has an indictment against both Israel and Judah (vs2). Neither of them has been faithful to God and His covenant with them but have rather rejected God and made covenants with Assyria & Egypt, which will prove futile.
They, Israel, are acting just like their ancestor Jacob (Hosea 12:2-5) who was habitually deceitful as he tricked his father and robbed his brother of his birthright (see Genesis 25-27).
Yet God was gracious to Jacob, and so God promised to bless Jacob with the same covenant promise that was given to Abraham (Genesis 28:10-22). More than this, when Jacob wrestled with God and asked God to bless him, God did, and at that moment renamed him ‘Israel’ (Genesis 32:22-32).
And so God will be gracious to Israel as He was to Jacob if only they would return to God and hold fast to love and justice (Hosea 12:6) rather than ‘multiply falsehood and violence’ (Hosea 12:1).
Israel became wealthy but did so through corrupt means and so has walked away from God’s ways. Therefore, God will humble them, reduce them back to a state of living in tents and humble accommodation (Hosea 12:7-8).
God laments that He sent prophets to Israel, God gave visions and parables to the prophets appealing to Israel to stop, to see their sin and to repent (Hosea 12:10). God is so gracious, so forbearing to keep speaking when we are wayward.
God was gracious to Jacob, blessed him with a wife and children as He had promised He would (Hosea 12:12). God was then faithful again to His promise to Jacob by bringing the twelve tribes bearing the names of his twelve sons out of Egypt hundreds of years later through Moses the prophet (Hosea 12:13).
Israel’s actions have been futile, faithless, and yet in recounting the checkered story of Jacob’s, God shows Israel that He is faithful to His promises, He is gracious in spite of us.
What does this mean for you and I today?
- It is utterly futile to put your trust in anything or anyone other than God Himself.
- Learn from Israel’s history, determine not to repeat their errors in trusting in Assyria & Egypt.
- Know that God is faithful to His promises, and know that He has promised never to leave and never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b), and because of that, determine to trust God!
- And so, with God’s help, hold fast to love and justice and continually wait for your God regardless of what you are facing (Hosea 12:6).
- In so doing you’ll avoid futility & you’ll be faithful.
[All Scripture references today are from the NLT translation]
Hosea’s painful ordeal as a spouse who’s marriage partner is openly unfaithful represents another pain – God’s sorrow over Israel’s idolatry & unfaithfulness toward God.
Hosea, the husband, stumbles through conflicting thoughts and emotions towards his unfaithful wife.
One moment he wants nothing more to do with her or her children; ‘for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband’ (vs2); ‘for their mother is a shameless prostitute and became pregnant in a shameful way.’ (vs5)
The next moment he wants her shame to be exposed and wants his anger vindicated (vs3) for she has longed after her lovers and the perceived material benefits she has gained from loving them (vs5).
Then he wants to build a hedge around her, to keep her from them, to stop her path to these lovers, so that she won’t be able to catch them anymore and will lose her way to them (vs6-7).
He does this because he thinks, maybe then she will come to her senses and think; ‘I might as well return to my husband, for I was better off with him than I am now.’ (vs7)
Hosea is still hoping, still willing to forgive her and take her back and begin to rebuild their marriage – if only she would come back to him!
But his hurt is deep, she thinks these lovers of hers provided for her, but it was he, Hosea her husband all along but she took all the gifts he provided her, and she sacrificed them to Baal! (vs8)
God had provided for Israel his people had provided for them even when they were chasing after other gods, and yet Israel took the very provision God lovingly gave them and sacrificed these things to Baal. What a tragedy! What pain. What an offence.
Hosea cycles back into thinking – enough! I will remove that which I provided for her; I will strip her naked, I will put an end to her celebrations and parties. I will remove from her the material things she thinks came from her lovers (vs9-12).
I will punish her for all those times she loved others. God is speaking through Hosea’s experience about Israel who he has eventually decided He will punish for all her Baal worship and the fact that she; “‘forgot all about me,’ says the LORD.” (vs13)
Can you feel the terrible confusing pain of Hosea, the whole range of emotions and thoughts experienced? The anger, the desire to still be reconciled and to protect and yet the tiredness that’s come from repeated rejection.
What does this mean for us today?
- Not all jealousy is wrong. God is rightfully jealous for our exclusive love and worship, just as married people are rightfully jealous over the exclusive love of their spouse.
- God’s command to His people was; “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This Jesus said was the first and the greatest commandment.
- So, is your love and devotion exclusively for your God? Anything less than everything is a painful sinful rejection of God. Don’t be like Gomer or the Israelites towards your God. Love Him, adore Him, live for Him only.
We already know from Hosea 1:1-3 that God told Hosea to marry a prostitute (named Gomer) as a prophetic picture of how Israel had been unfaithful to God who had only loved her.
In Hosea 1:4-11, we read about three children born to Gomer. God instructs Hosea on what to name each of the children born to his wife. Each of the names has a significance for the future of Israel and what God is about to do.
Jezreel (Hosea’s son)
‘Jezreel’ is Hosea and Gomer’s firstborn son. His name is foreboding – God is going to punish the house Jehu. Seemingly for the massacre of Ahab’s whole household at Jezreel (see 2 Kings 9-10) and probably also Jehu’s compromise with the ‘golden calves’ at Bethel and Dan, and for his carelessness to not; “walk in the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart.” (2 Kings 10:31)
God promised to ‘put an end to the Northern Tribes of Israel who had been in constant sin, idolatry and rebellion since the days of Jeroboam 1.
Lo-ruhama (not Hosea’s daughter)
Reading between the lines, we understand that Gomer was unfaithful to her husband Hosea and gave birth to a daughter. ‘Lo-ruhama’ was not Hosea’s daughter. The name God told Hosea to give her means; ‘No Mercy’.
The reason for this God-given name is that God was saying; ‘for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel’ (Hosea 1:6).
God is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6) but after 13 kings in the North with almost none being godly – God declares; ‘enough’. No more mercy!
Lo-ammi (not Hosea’s son)
There is such personal pain in the name of the next child born to Gomer. It seems as though once again Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea and she conceived a son whom God named; “Not my people”.
You can imagine Hosea feeling; this isn’t my son! And that feeling was what God felt about His people Israel;
“Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:9)
This is a stark contrast to the normal way the phrase ‘my people’ is used in Exodus. It is used as a term of endearment by God towards Israel 17 times in Exodus alone.
As James E Smith writes; “This name signals the climax of Israel’s doom. The Lord would no longer recognize Israel as his people. They would be as Gentiles to him. If they were no longer his people, then Yahweh declared “I am not your God.” They would no longer have any claim on God (1:9).” – Old Testament Survey Series: The Minor Prophets
Hope for the Future (vs7&10-11)
God declared that there would be no mercy for the Northern Tribes of Israel, but there would however be mercy for Judah because God is the covenant-keeping God (vs7). Hence, God promised to save Judah miraculously rather than by any conventional means.
God then reminds Judah of his covenant promise to Abraham; ‘the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered’ (Hosea 1:10). The covenant still stands.
God then promises that the name ‘Not my people’ will be overturned in the future and Judah will be called ‘Children of the living God’ (vs10).
Although there are dark days ahead for the Northern Tribes of Israel, God is the covenant-keeping God and so there is hope yet for Judah and the line of David.
Lastly, there is a promise of future unity between Jew and Gentile who would both be gathered together under one leader (vs11). Later in the book (3:5) Hosea will identify that leader as “David” (i.e. a descendant of David). The reference must be to Christ, the greater son of David. – James. E.Smith
‘Not my people’ (Gentiles) & ‘my Children’ (Jews) will be united together in Jesus Christ the Messiah at some point in the future. And this is exactly what we see happening at Pentecost in Acts 2 and then in all the NT Churches and the great crowd before the throne of Jesus in Revelation 7:9-12.
What does this mean for you and I today?
There is real pain in these verses. Pain for Hosea, and Gomer who are in a terrible mess of a marriage. This pain is indicative of God’s pain over His people in the Northern Tribes of Israel and their unfaithfulness to Him.
How we live really matters. We can and do grieve God greatly when we sin, compromise or live as though God is not our God. God is loving and merciful but we need to be careful of presuming on that mercy as Israel did.
However, we know that God is the covenant-keeping God. He keeps His promises to Abraham & David. And because of that, we have an incredible hope, the best is yet to come, God will unite the nations under the King of kings – Jesus.
These were not easy times amongst the people of God. Moses was leading a generation destined to wander the desert until they all died. They were now paving the way for their children to inherit what was supposed to have been theirs.
It’s not easy leading 1-1.5million people in a desert on the best of days! But leading a generation that you know will die and will not fulfil any of their dreams can not have been easy.
Then crisis hits. The Wilderness of Zin had no water in it. This very real crisis precipitates a fresh round of complaints and the people quarrel with Moses and grumble! (vs3-5)
Moses is caught between a real crisis, a monumental problem and a discontented people who’s unbelief had blinded them to the magnificence of their God.
So, Moses and Aaron take the situation and the people’s complaint to God (vs6) falling down in His presence. What a great response!
God in His faithfulness responds to their prayer, and God intervenes – “the glory of the Lord appeared” (vs6). God then spoke to them (vs7) and provided a miraculous solution to their need; (vs8) “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.
Moses and Aaron do some of what God told them to do. They gather the congregation, but Moses then goes rogue and doesn’t obey God specifically!
When they gather before him, he scolds them in his anger and frustration that has probably built up over the past year since he started leading them; “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (vs10)
His unprocessed hurt and frustration boils over and spills out in a moment in a very public way. More than this, Moses did not do what God told him when he struck the rock twice (vs11) rather than speak to it like God had instructed him (see vs8).
We don’t have the time to unpack the reasons that caused Moses to do this thoroughly. However, what we do know is that once before, about a year prior God had provided water from a similar rock and on that day God told Moses to strike the rock once (see Exodus 17:5).
Regardless of Moses, God in his love for the people solves the very real crisis and provides for the people – so water gushes out of the rock abundantly (vs11) so that the original crisis is solved, but a new personal crisis for Moses has just begun.
God was angry with Moses and said;
Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (vs12)
It seems to me that Moses’ anger at the people blinded him. It caused him not to trust God when God had told him to “tell the rock” to provide its water? God was displeased with the way Moses had not honoured Him before the people, and so that day, Moses lost something. That day Moses missed the Promised Land.
Crises have a way of revealing what’s really in our hearts. People are a little like oranges. When the pressures of life put their squeeze on us, eventually what’s inside comes out.
Undealt with emotions that have subsided with time from our consciousness but have not been dealt with through prayers of lament and forgiveness are a time-bomb waiting to be triggered.
Crises will come; it’s only a matter of time. And when we are faced with crises, God wants us to come to Him in prayer. But when we do, let’s commit to then do what He tells us to do. Not to do more, not less, but to do now what He tells us to do.
Who hasn’t felt the pain of being misrepresented or misunderstood? Many leaders have known the uncomfortable feeling of not being trusted or feeling confident in your leadership slip or even being challenged. Added to the pain and pressure of such moments are your own internal struggles and doubts which only get amplified by the enemy.
Times of pressure, moments when there are delays, setbacks or significant obstacles often heighten these dynamics. The context leading up to Numbers 17 was that God’s people had grumbled against God and His appointed leaders for bribing them out of Egypt, they had doubted and feared rather than trusted God, there had been internal leadership squabbles and outright rebellion and questions raised continually about who should lead.
In moments like these, it is often inappropriate and ineffective, trying to vindicate yourself. Managing the perceptions of others is not only exhausting; it is impossible in the long run. In a wise, lucid moment the apostle Paul reflecting no doubt on some situations from his own life and ministry said this with fatherly wisdom;
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” (Romans 12:19)
RT Kendal reflecting on this passage advises that we often want to vindicate ourselves, take revenge, make our point, and we could choose to do so, but that is very unwise. It’s like God then says; ‘Oh you want to vindicate yourself! Go ahead and try but you’ll mess it up and end up sinning.’ Rather Kendal says God’s wisdom is to leave vengeance and the desire to vindicate oneself to Him and to His timing.
In Numbers 17, we see God doing exactly what Romans 12:19 promises He will do, as He vindicated Aaron’s ministry as head of the priesthood in a remarkable, public and miraculous way! God’s intent was to stop the discontent & grumbling which doesn’t help those leading or those following;
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”
The key thing to notice here is that this is God’s initiative, God stepped in to vindicate Aaron, to silence the discontent. Moses and Aaron were not trying to vindicate themselves (although no doubt they were glad for what God was doing) – God did it. God chose how, and God chose when it would happen – and so it was effective. A right reverence returned to the camp, respect for those God had appointed (vs12).
Remember, when we try to vindicate ourselves, we are likely to mess it up! Not the least because we should be slow to think that we have an accurate perspective on ourselves, our own heads and hearts or the situation we find ourselves in.
Wisely, Paul was cautious about judging himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were challenging his leadership;
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
So, if it is God’s prerogative to vindicate, what ought you to do if you feel unjustly treated, misrepresented, falsely accused…?
Three things come to mind in sequential order:
- Lament – “A passionate expression of sorrow and grief” – Christina Fox. The Psalms are full of this processing raw emotions to God and leaving it with Him.
- Forgive – Because we have been forgiven much because this is the only pathway to health and not bitterness & because it honours God.
- Leave it to God – Remember that Jesus died without being vindicated! As did many of the heroes of the faith. Vindication is hardly ever on our time scale and is quite likely to be only seen in full at the return of Christ.
God judged the ten spies who had brought the bad report, and so they died instantly – a sign of God’s judgement. Then, despite Moses’ telling that generation that they would not enter the Promised Land, some still attempted a conquest to enter into it (Numbers 14:39-45)!
Unsurprisingly, this unauthorised rebellious attempt without God or Moses failed, and they were beaten back from the Promised Land to a place called Hormah by the Amalekites & Canaanites.
These were painful days. Just over a year before, they were singing songs of God’s deliverance (Exodus 15), they were in a place of faith and expectation of the imminent fulfilment of God’s promises to give them the Promised Land.
Now they were camped in the Wilderness of Zin at Kadesh-Barnea, most likely feeling bummed out – defeated & dejected. They would never enter the Promised Land, their sin of unbelief and their fear had robbed them, a life-time of Wilderness wandering awaited them.
And then God does what can seem a strange thing. He gives them some instructions (similar to the instructions for worship recorded more fully in Leviticus 1-7) for their worship and sacrifices. But why now?
After-all these instructions can’t be fulfilled by the nomadic people in the Wilderness of Zin. They don’t have vineyards for wine production or fields for grain or much livestock for offerings. So why give them? And why now?
Twice God repeats the words; “When you come into the land…” (Numbers 15:1&17).
God speaks with certainty – it’s not “if” but “when”. But God is speaking to a whole generation to whom these instructions do not apply! These are instructions for their children, the next generation who will inherit the Promised Land. So why give it now?
I believe God wanted these people to know that their children would not die in the Wilderness – like they said they would (Numbers 14:3). But that instead, they would inherit God’s promises, and they would worship God in that future moment as God had instructed this current generation to do (Leviticus 1-7). God is faithful; not one of His promises falls to the ground.
So, although they had lost all that God intended to give them. As parents, they could know that God would be faithful to His promises to bless their children.
These words from God, remind me of God’s words to a later generation who also disobeyed God continually. Until God eventually sent them away into exile in Babylon. And yet again, even while sending them into exile, God promised that He would bring them back to Jerusalem after 70yrs had passed. Even in judgement, God is faithful and merciful, pointing to future hope in His faithfulness.
God is slow to anger and abounding in love, but sin is serious and has serious consequences. However, through everything, God is always faithful to His people and His promises.
You and I only have one precious life. I urge you to use every moment of it to honour and obey God, confident in His exceeding goodness and faithfulness. After all, if this is how God treats those who He is displeased with. Then how much more will He reward and bless those who live to please Him?
At the end of the chapter God instructs His people to wear tassels on their garments to help them; “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:39-41)
God’s desire is for a people who live for Him, obeying His commands, living holy lives, set apart for Him & in relationship with Him – their God.
God promised king David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) that God would establish for David a ‘house’ (a lineage, a family, a clan or tribe) that would endure forever! In the context of the books of the Kings where king after king was overthrown some within days of their appointment as king, with whole lines of families being wiped out by successive kings more than once in Israel with the constant threat of invasion and capture from powerful nations all around – in that context these are massive promises to David.
And God kept His promise! As one reads through 1 & 2 Kings phrases like this are embedded in the storyline a total of eight times;
Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. (2 Kings 8:19)
God was faithful to His promise to David, because God is faithful, He cannot be unfaithful even though we are unfaithful to Him as Scripture declares;
“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13 in NLT)
And so here at the end of 1&2 Kings in the midst of lament and the tragedy of the siege and sacking and the exile to Babylon, there are four verses that offer a ray of hope, a glimmer of God’s eternal promise to David – which still stands.
Jehoiachin and the royal family are deported and not killed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:15) and then after 37yrs in prison in exile king Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah in the NT) is released from prison by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor and is given a place of honour and provision for his family! God is faithful, God is the promise keeper, not one of God’s promises fall to the ground.
And so the line of David is preserved, the promise still stands, and in Matthew 1:12 we read of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah’s place in the storyline that all culminates in Jesus the King of kings the one who ultimately fulfills the promise made by God to David, and He is enthroned as King forever and ever.
The whole Old Testament is really about Jesus, it points to Him, shows us our desperate need of Him and anticipates His coming. As Isaiah prophesied of King Jesus;
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Worship, Jesus! Thank God for His unshakable faithfulness. Trust Him.
Hezekiah was a mighty man of God, yet sadly his son Manasseh did not follow his father’s example. Even worse than that Manasseh actually undid all the good his father had done and re-erected altars to Baal and Asherah, he even had altars to these false gods erected inside the Temple! He burned his own son as an offering and consulted fortune-tellers and mediums provoking the Lord to anger.
How does this happen? Father follows God incredibly, and yet his son is evil personified.
Sadly, the bible has a number of this sort of one-generational God-following.
- Eli and his sons (1 Samuel 2:12)
- Samuel and his sons (1 Samuel 8:3)
- David and Solomon (1 Kings 11)
In Deuteronomy Scripture clearly portrays God’s plan for parent to teach God’s ways to their children, to ensure that God-following, that faith is not one-generational but is passed on.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
And yet this is dramatically not the case with Hezekiah and Manasseh. Seventy five years later Manasseh’s grandson Josiah who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, re-discovers the Book of the Law while he was repairing the Temple. His grand-father and father had been so ungodly that when the priest gives Josiah the Book of the Law it is simply referred to in the following way;
“Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” (2 Kings 22:10)
But when Josiah heard the words of the Book of the Law he tore his clothes, humbled himself and repented. And because of this God forgave him and granted him mercy (2 Kings 22:18-20).
We then read in 2 Kings 23 that Josiah went on to reform all of Judah, leading Judah to renew their covenant with the Lord. Josiah went on to purify the temple of Baal & Asherah worship and removed false priests and broken down the high places and even finally fulfilled the prophecy God brought against Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 13:11-32 and his rebel altar at Bethel.
Lastly Josiah restores the Passover festival which has not been mentioned in Scripture since Joshua 5:10-12. And so as the epitaph over Josiah’s life is a glowing one;
Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23:25)
Hezekiah didn’t pass on faith to Manasseh, faith was lost for essentially 75yrs in Judah and then sadly Josiah although he followed God was another example of one-generational God-following as his son, Jehoahaz turned from the Lord again.
If you’re a parent – what can you do today, and do beyond today that can ensure that your God-following is not one-generational too?
And if your parent(s) have not followed God, can you believe God that you could be like Josiah and break with the past and follow God wholeheartedly and be used by God to accomplish amazing things?