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Hosea 1 is to Hosea 2 what Hosea 3 is to Hosea 4. The first member of each pair of chapters is written in prose and focuses on Hosea and Gomer; the second is written in poetry and focuses on the parallel relationship between Yahweh and Israel.
In the pair of chapters before us (Hosea 3–4), Hosea begins with a restrained, first-person account of what happened next in his marriage. This chapter brings the account of his marriage to an end. Hosea is charged with loving his wife, who has apparently returned to her harlotry and now “belongs” to some other man (presumably a pimp). Hosea discloses none of his feelings as he buys Gomer back; actions are more important anyway (something our generation has all but forgotten). Yet at the same time he charges Gomer, now returned to him, to be faithful to him.
This exactly mirrors God’s situation. In theory he could righteously dismiss his “bride” and forget about her. Instead, he is committed to getting her back, to paying whatever is necessary to do so—but he also expects his bride, newly returned, to be faithful to him. God still loves his elect. He will pursue them, even after the most horrible rebellion and chastening, and he will buy them back. Indeed, the last verses of chapter 3 envisage an exile which on the long haul will do good: it will establish a time when the remnant will truly “seek the LORD their God and David their king” (Hos. 3:5).
In Hosea 4 God addresses apostate Israel. “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land” (Hos. 4:1). The long list of sins is profoundly depressing. The people “are destroyed from lack of knowledge” of God’s Word (Hos. 4:6). Otherwise put, “A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God” (Hos. 4:12). The corruption is now endemic. Sarcasm boils to the surface: why should God punish daughters and daughters-in-law for prostitution, when the men love to consort with harlots (Hos. 4:14)?
God is deepening his people’s sense of shame and guilt. The scorn is palpable: “Do not go to Gilgal; do not go up to Beth Aven” (Hos. 4:15). Gilgal and Bethel were two of the most important shrines for the covenant people of God. The second, Bethel, means “house of God,” but the prophet recasts it as “Beth Aven,” i.e., “house of wickedness,” for that is all that goes on there. “Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!” (Hos. 4:17). Go to church with this lot, and all you are doing is participating in disgusting idolatry and self-seeking, with no attention devoted to learning God’s Word. Better to stay home; this sort of “church” will merely corrupt you.
One of the many practical decisions a busy pastor has to face is whether to engage some particular error that rears its head.
The factors that go into that sort of decision are many. How many people are actually being affected by it? Is it threatening to split the church, or is it the fixation of only one or two people? Is it about some relatively peripheral matter, or does it go to the heart of the Gospel? Is it something about which the Bible is really quite clear, or does it concern something on which the Bible does not pronounce anything very substantial? Moreover, even when the issue is clearly important, one must make sober decisions about how much time and energy you should devote to it. Too little, and many of your flock may be adversely affected; too much, and you are being drawn away from what should be the primary focus of your ministry; you will gradually get sucked into a sea so vast you will never again see the shore.
Over the years I have been invited to address any number of “problems” or “interpretations” that have lasted no more than a few months or a few years. It may be expedient to do the studying necessary to engage a few of them; anything more is a waste of time. Just a month or so before the “Heaven’s Gate” mass suicide, this cult sent me (and doubtless many others) one of their videos and a great deal of literature. I spent all of ten minutes scanning the literature to see where it was going. It was such unadulterated rubbish I filed it away, hoping I would never have to respond to this particular brand of nonsense. A few weeks later, most of the adherents were dead.
Two years ago a pastor phoned me and berated me because I had not yet responded with anything substantive to Michael Drosnin’s book, The Bible Code. Out of interest I had accumulated a fairly substantial file, but that was not enough for this pastor: he felt that the people in his church were terribly vulnerable, and he insisted that I spend some time working on it. I refused. Two months later I discovered that the person in his church most fixated by this problem was the pastor himself, who could not leave the subject alone.
What a welcome contrast, then, to hear Paul telling Timothy what to say to new generations of pastors: “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen” (2 Tim. 2:14). Or again: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Tim. 2:23). Answer when you must; never fixate on the peripheral; do not lose the focus on what is primary; do not be enticed into stupid arguments. The real issues are simply too important.
12:1 In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash1 began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Zibiah of Beersheba. 2 And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. 3 Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.
4 Jehoash said to the priests, “All the money of the holy things that is brought into the house of the LORD, the money for which each man is assessed—the money from the assessment of persons—and the money that a man's heart prompts him to bring into the house of the LORD, 5 let the priests take, each from his donor, and let them repair the house wherever any need of repairs is discovered.” 6 But by the twenty-third year of King Jehoash, the priests had made no repairs on the house. 7 Therefore King Jehoash summoned Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and said to them, “Why are you not repairing the house? Now therefore take no more money from your donors, but hand it over for the repair of the house.” 8 So the priests agreed that they should take no more money from the people, and that they should not repair the house.
9 Then Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in the lid of it and set it beside the altar on the right side as one entered the house of the LORD. And the priests who guarded the threshold put in it all the money that was brought into the house of the LORD. 10 And whenever they saw that there was much money in the chest, the king's secretary and the high priest came up and they bagged and counted the money that was found in the house of the LORD. 11 Then they would give the money that was weighed out into the hands of the workmen who had the oversight of the house of the LORD. And they paid it out to the carpenters and the builders who worked on the house of the LORD, 12 and to the masons and the stonecutters, as well as to buy timber and quarried stone for making repairs on the house of the LORD, and for any outlay for the repairs of the house. 13 But there were not made for the house of the LORD basins of silver, snuffers, bowls, trumpets, or any vessels of gold, or of silver, from the money that was brought into the house of the LORD, 14 for that was given to the workmen who were repairing the house of the LORD with it. 15 And they did not ask for an accounting from the men into whose hand they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen, for they dealt honestly. 16 The money from the guilt offerings and the money from the sin offerings was not brought into the house of the LORD; it belonged to the priests.
17 At that time Hazael king of Syria went up and fought against Gath and took it. But when Hazael set his face to go up against Jerusalem, 18 Jehoash king of Judah took all the sacred gifts that Jehoshaphat and Jehoram and Ahaziah his fathers, the kings of Judah, had dedicated, and his own sacred gifts, and all the gold that was found in the treasuries of the house of the LORD and of the king's house, and sent these to Hazael king of Syria. Then Hazael went away from Jerusalem.
19 Now the rest of the acts of Joash and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 20 His servants arose and made a conspiracy and struck down Joash in the house of Millo, on the way that goes down to Silla. 21 It was Jozacar the son of Shimeath and Jehozabad the son of Shomer, his servants, who struck him down, so that he died. And they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Amaziah his son reigned in his place.
2:1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,1 who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God2 not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,3 a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”
20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,4 he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant5 must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
3:1 And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech1 of barley. 3 And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.
4:1 Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel,
for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
and the birds of the heavens,
and even the fish of the sea are taken away.
4 Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.2
5 You shall stumble by day;
the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;
and I will destroy your mother.
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
7 The more they increased,
the more they sinned against me;
I will change their glory into shame.
8 They feed on the sin3 of my people;
they are greedy for their iniquity.
9 And it shall be like people, like priest;
I will punish them for their ways
and repay them for their deeds.
10 They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
they shall play the whore, but not multiply,
because they have forsaken the LORD
to cherish 11 whoredom, wine, and new wine,
which take away the understanding.
12 My people inquire of a piece of wood,
and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
and they have left their God to play the whore.
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains
and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
because their shade is good.
Therefore your daughters play the whore,
and your brides commit adultery.
14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,
nor your brides when they commit adultery;
for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes
and sacrifice with cult prostitutes,
and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.
15 Though you play the whore, O Israel,
let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
nor go up to Beth-aven,
and swear not, “As the LORD lives.”
16 Like a stubborn heifer,
Israel is stubborn;
can the LORD now feed them
like a lamb in a broad pasture?
17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
leave him alone.
18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring;
their rulers4 dearly love shame.
19 A wind has wrapped them5 in its wings,
and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.
121 I have done what is just and right;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Give your servant a pledge of good;
let not the insolent oppress me.
123 My eyes long for your salvation
and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise.
124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love,
and teach me your statutes.
125 I am your servant; give me understanding,
that I may know your testimonies!
126 It is time for the LORD to act,
for your law has been broken.
127 Therefore I love your commandments
above gold, above fine gold.
128 Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right;
I hate every false way.
129 Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.
133 Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from man's oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.
137 Righteous are you, O LORD,
and right are your rules.
138 You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
139 My zeal consumes me,
because my foes forget your words.
140 Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
141 I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is righteous forever,
and your law is true.
143 Trouble and anguish have found me out,
but your commandments are my delight.
144 Your testimonies are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I may live.