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“The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this” (Hos. 9:7). This chapter (Hosea 9) spells out some of the connections between sin and judgment.
(1) The language of prostitution continues: “For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute at every threshing floor” (Hos. 9:1). Both politically and religiously, Israel flirted continuously with alien gods and foreign powers. All the ceremony of religion she dearly loved. But the days are coming when she will be scattered, forced to abandon “the LORD ’s land” (Hos. 9:3, 17). Israel will return to “Egypt” (Hos. 9:3); some Israelites did end up there, but Egypt is also a cipher for any alien, oppressive country. Ephraim (= Israel) will “eat unclean food in Assyria” (Hos. 9:3). Not just the ceremonial uncleanness of the food is in view, but the prospect of forced exile. All the offerings for her much loved festivals and ceremonies will dry up (Hos. 9:5); the punishments are tied to the sins.
(2) Systematic denigration of the prophets means that the people cannot hear God’s warnings—and so their cynicism ensures that they stumble into the judgments against which the prophets warn. “Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac. The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim, yet snares await him on all his paths, and hostility in the house of his God” (Hos. 9:7–8). How well does this apply today?
(3) The history of Israel swings from really wonderful connections with the living God—from God’s perspective it was “like finding grapes in the desert” (Hos. 9:10)—to abominable degradation. The incident of Baal Peor (Hos. 9:10; cf. Num. 25) is telling, for it combines both physical and spiritual unchastity: the Moabite women seduced the men of Israel, and the local Moabite Baal attracted their worship. Our culture follows sex as avidly and sometimes connects it with the self-fulfillment of new age spirituality. The result with us will be what it was at Baal Peor: the people “became as vile as the thing they loved” (Hos. 9:10). What you worship you soon resemble (Ps. 115:8); more, you identify with it, defend it, make common cause with it—and if it is an abomination to God, soon you are an abomination to him. So the “glory” departs (Hos. 9:11), whether in the sense of reputation, or self-respect, or moral leadership, or, finally, the very presence of God (Ezek. 8:6; 11:23).
To defend a king or a president because of his economic policies when the moral core has evaporated means we have become as vile as the things we love.
The books of 1 and 2 Kings, though they follow the fortunes of both Judah and Israel (the southern and northern kingdoms, respectively, after the division that followed Solomon’s death), lay more emphasis on Israel, the northern ten tribes. More space is devoted to Israel’s kings than to Judah’s. Eventually, of course, the northern kingdom collapses (see tomorrow’s meditation), and then all the attention is focused on the south. By comparison, 1 and 2 Chronicles recount more or less the same history, but turn the spotlight primarily on the southern kingdom of Judah.
Even in 2 Kings, however, substantial attention is sometimes focused on one of the kings of Judah. So it is in 2 Kings 16. By and large, the northern kings degenerated more quickly than in the south. In the south, many kings are described as following the Lord, but not as David had done; in the north, many are described as following in the footsteps of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. But every once in a while a really evil or stupid king arises in the south. And such is Ahaz.
Religiously and theologically, Ahaz was a disaster. “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites” (2 Kings 16:2–3). Politically he fared no better. Harried by Israel and Syria to his north, King Ahaz of Judah decided to strip the temple of its wealth and send it to King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. Assyria was the rising superpower. Sending money to him as a kind of tribute, with a plea to get him to lean on Syria and Israel so as to reduce pressure on Judah, was a bit like throwing a hunk of meat to a crocodile: you could be sure that this crocodile would want more. Worse, King Ahaz became so enamored of Assyria that he introduced some of its pagan ways into the temple service. Fear turned Ahaz toward pagan power, and “deference to the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 16:18) fostered fresh compromises.
Contrast Hezekiah, two chapters later, who, while facing a far more serious threat from the Assyrians, brought on in no small part because of the stupidity and faithlessness of Ahaz, brooks no compromise but diligently seeks the face of God. There he discovers, in line with the experience of Moses and the fathers of Israel, that God is able to defend his people against few or many—it is all the same with him.
16:1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, 3 but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering,1 according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. 4 And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.
5 Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to wage war on Jerusalem, and they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him. 6 At that time Rezin the king of Syria recovered Elath for Syria and drove the men of Judah from Elath, and the Edomites came to Elath, where they dwell to this day. 7 So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasures of the king's house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. 9 And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin.
10 When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. 11 And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. 12 And when the king came from Damascus, the king viewed the altar. Then the king drew near to the altar and went up on it 13 and burned his burnt offering and his grain offering and poured his drink offering and threw the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. 14 And the bronze altar that was before the LORD he removed from the front of the house, from the place between his altar and the house of the LORD, and put it on the north side of his altar. 15 And King Ahaz commanded Uriah the priest, saying, “On the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering and the king's burnt offering and his grain offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. And throw on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice, but the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.” 16 Uriah the priest did all this, as King Ahaz commanded.
17 And King Ahaz cut off the frames of the stands and removed the basin from them, and he took down the sea2 from off the bronze oxen that were under it and put it on a stone pedestal. 18 And the covered way for the Sabbath that had been built inside the house and the outer entrance for the king he caused to go around the house of the LORD, because of the king of Assyria. 19 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 20 And Ahaz slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.
2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound1 doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Bondservants2 are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
9:1 Rejoice not, O Israel!
Exult not like the peoples;
for you have played the whore, forsaking your God.
You have loved a prostitute's wages
on all threshing floors.
2 Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them,
and the new wine shall fail them.
3 They shall not remain in the land of the LORD,
but Ephraim shall return to Egypt,
and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria.
4 They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the LORD,
and their sacrifices shall not please him.
It shall be like mourners' bread to them;
all who eat of it shall be defiled;
for their bread shall be for their hunger only;
it shall not come to the house of the LORD.
5 What will you do on the day of the appointed festival,
and on the day of the feast of the LORD?
6 For behold, they are going away from destruction;
but Egypt shall gather them;
Memphis shall bury them.
Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver;
thorns shall be in their tents.
7 The days of punishment have come;
the days of recompense have come;
Israel shall know it.
The prophet is a fool;
the man of the spirit is mad,
because of your great iniquity
and great hatred.
8 The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God;
yet a fowler's snare is on all his ways,
and hatred in the house of his God.
9 They have deeply corrupted themselves
as in the days of Gibeah:
he will remember their iniquity;
he will punish their sins.
10 Like grapes in the wilderness,
I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree
in its first season,
I saw your fathers.
But they came to Baal-peor
and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame,
and became detestable like the thing they loved.
11 Ephraim's glory shall fly away like a bird—
no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!
12 Even if they bring up children,
I will bereave them till none is left.
Woe to them
when I depart from them!
13 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm1 planted in a meadow;
but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.2
14 Give them, O LORD—
what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb
and dry breasts.
15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
there I began to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
all their princes are rebels.
16 Ephraim is stricken;
their root is dried up;
they shall bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth,
I will put their beloved children to death.
17 My God will reject them
because they have not listened to him;
they shall be wanderers among the nations.
126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
127:1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children1 of one's youth.
5 Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.2
128:1 Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
6 May you see your children's children!
Peace be upon Israel!