Section Six: The Prophets [The Faithfulness of God]

EXPLANATION OF THE ILLUSTRATION

Section Six: The Prophets, The Faithfulness of God

As one surveys the historical record of the people of God, we note that God chose His people first with the patriarch Abraham.  God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many.  Through Isaac and Jacob this promise was transferred.  Once the promise was with Jacob (also called Israel), the promise moved from “the trunk of the tree” to “sprouting twelve strong branches” through the twelve sons of Israel.  Through these descendants in bondage in Egypt, God Almighty established them in population as a distinct people group with a specific set of laws and way of life.  God then moved this people group to a specific land promised to Abraham and fulfilled promises to make them a nation.  That nation did not stay unified, but rather divided among those who were faithful to God (Southern Kingdom of Judah) and those who were unfaithful to God (Northern Kingdom of Israel).

Once divided, the Bible records the exploits of prophets whose job it was to preach, minister, correct, rebuke, teach, and comment on the actions and attitudes of the people of God (both North and South).  We know some of their names: Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Nathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others.  Most of the “people” named books in the Old Testament bear the name of a prophet.  We do not know all the names of those who fulfilled the role as prophet.  We do know that Hebrews 11:36-40 says that they were mistreated, Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (NIV 1984).

One specific prophet exemplifies the nature of Godly prophets as well as the message that they, as a cadre of communicators, brought to the people of God.  Hosea son of Beeri ministered to the people of God as a prophet “during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel” (Hosea 1:1, NIV 1984).

In summarizing his story, it involves listening intently to God’s directions about who he should marry, obediently marrying a prostitute named Gomer, questionably fathering children with her, losing her to her lifestyle of sin, and having to purchase his own wife again out of prostitution and slavery.

The Prophet Hosea preached to the people of Israel about sin and about repentance.  The whole Old Testament is filled with a particular life cycle of God’s chosen people (specifically illustrated in the Book of Judges and elsewhere).

With God → Prosperity and Peace → Sin → Away from God →

Distress and Hardship → Repentance → With God

This behavior and faith cycle mentioned above very much was the natural order of things for generations for the people of Israel and Judah.  Yet, Hosea comes on the scene in a time when Israel needs to come to repentance and turn back to God.  Through the story of Hosea, we see an important thought in the history of the People of God: God is faithful to who He is and what He said He would do.  Through Hosea’s life, marriage, children, struggles, and ministry, the reader of the Bible encounters a God who has promised to give LIFE and does so even when we break faith with Him.

Hosea 14:1-9 says, Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God. Your sins have been your downfall!  2 Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.  3 Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say “Our gods” to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.’  4 ‘I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.  5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots;  6 his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.  7 Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine, and his fame will be like the wine from Lebanon.  8 O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.’  9 Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.”

This passage focuses on what God has promised He would do for His wayward people.  All of the verses explain, in different metaphors, LIFE that God gives because He is faithful.  Here are some of the blessings and results that God outlines:

The Faithfulness of God, Healed waywardness (verse 4)

The desire to turn away from God will be healed.  Many times, if not all the time, God must do this work in us because we cannot do it on our own.  Our sinful nature has too great a grasp upon our necks and we cannot break free.  Romans 7:18-19 states, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”  God must give us strength to overcome the temptations and desires to turn away from Him.

NIV: “waywardness”

KJV: “backsliding”

Hebrew: “back turning” “apostasy (also used in Jeremiah 2:19, 3:6, Hosea 11:7)

The Faithfulness of God, Loved freely (verse 4)

God will continue to love us and will hold no anger towards us.  His anger will be turned away and that is a good thing.  The Hebrew here is quite clear that the love that God restores to Israel He does on a completely voluntary basis.  There is nothing that requires God to love people after they sin (and repent), but He does because it is in His nature.  He does what is necessary to offer salvation to His people and we who are righteous (and have LIFE) depend on Him.

The Faithfulness of God, Dew to Israel (verse 5)

God will bring LIFE (symbolized by “dew”) that only He can give.  As seen below, dew always carries with it special meanings or emphases.  Dew comes from God and is considered a blessing.  The removal of rain or dew is seen as a sign of the displeasure of God because those that are found unfaithful are without life and are subjected to death. Goodness and abundance and provision from God come with dew and are described as dew-like in their spread and affect on the person / nation.

Dew is not just a metaphor used by Hosea, but we hear the Holy Spirit project His voice through the Prophets.  “Dew” usage in the Old Testament:

Genesis 27:28: May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine.”

Genesis 27:39: “His father Isaac answered him, ‘Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.’”

Numbers 11:9: “When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.”

1 Kings 17:1: “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’”

Psalm 133:3: “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Haggai 1:10: “Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops.”

Zechariah 8:12: “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people.”

In each one of these instances, we can see that “dew”/LIFE is only something that comes by God, from God, at His Word, or from His good graces.  Those that depend on God will never be shut out from LIFE because He is faithful.

The Faithfulness of God, Blossom like a lily (verse 5)

God will give His blessing and life will grow and expand under His grace and mercy.  The obvious parallel passage comes from Luke 12:27-28 (and Matthew 6): “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!”  The usage of lilies in Hosea 14 and Luke 12 is exactly the same.  God will care for someone just as He cares for the lilies of the field.  His grace and mercy and provision will be given to the person who is seeking Him out for repentance.

The Faithfulness of God, Like a cedar of Lebanon (verses 5-6)

God will be the strength needed in everything.  Often in Scripture (or at least in the example shown), Godly / Holy Living / Christian Life is seen as growing strong roots and God provides this.  For example, Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

The roots of the blessed man are planted in the streams of water that God provides.  The roots will grow because of the influence of God.  The person is not to remain as they were, but like a plant, must grow to survive.  Roots must be laid down and grown or their will be no fruit.  So it is in the spiritual world as it is in the natural world.  After repentance, the person must commit to growing in the right direction and establishing roots that do not lead to sin, but lead to God.  The fruit borne must be fruit of righteousness and not of wickedness or self-centeredness…otherwise…was it really repentance in the first place or just mouthing some empty words?

The Faithfulness of God, Dwell in the shade (verse 7)

God will protect and care for those that are His because He is faithful to He is and does what He says He will do.  “Shade” in the Bible is often used to denote the awesome protective power of God.  It is also used to denote the protection and power of an earthly nation or king.  For example, in Isaiah 30:2-3, shade refers to the protective power of Pharaoh and of Egypt.

Again, we see many prophets in the Bible speak with a unified voice inspired by the same Holy Spirit.  King David tells us where help and protection comes from:

Psalm 121:1-8: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

The Prophet Isaiah, like Hosea, tells us about God’s watchful ways over us:

Isaiah 4:3-6: “Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.”

The Prophet Jonah also echoes as a witness to God’s protective nature:

Jonah 4:5-6: “Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.”

Jesus Christ speaks the same way by stating that the Kingdom of God gives us shade:

Mark 4:30-32:  “Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’”

The Faithfulness of God, Flourish like the grain / blossom like the vine (verse 7)

This verse again shows us that God will provide.  In fact, Jehovah-Jireh is the name given to God by Abraham in Genesis 22:14.  God had provided LIFE for Abraham in a mighty way and He still does this for us.  God provided a ram for Abraham on Mount Moriah instead of death for his one and only son.  God promises to provide us blessing and uses the terms “flourish” and “blossom” to tell us this.  Flourishing in the land or in a particular manner is usually attributed to God.  He is the one that allows bounty to appear for us.

Again, the prophets all follow suit in speaking with one voice about God:

Genesis 26:19-22: “Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, ‘The water is ours!’ So he named the well Esek, because they disputed with him. Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, ‘Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.’”

Proverbs 14:11: “The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.”

Isaiah 66:12-14: “For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.’ When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.”

Ezekiel 17:22-24: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the field will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. ‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’”

The Faithfulness of God, Faithfulness (verse 8)

Again, God gives us what we need.  In fact, God says in this verse that our faithfulness is given to us by God in His faithfulness.  God gives us what we need because we are often unrighteous and reject God.  God will bless those abundantly who walk with Him.

What do You and I need to understand?

All of the prophets, including Hosea, in the Bible are given for a specific purpose.  Their message is that God is faithful to who He is and will do what He has said He would do.  To be honest, their messages all look forward to Jesus Christ.  As we look in the next sections in the New Testament, we will find that Jesus Christ breaks into the scene of humanity and is the only One that is truly faithful.  The prophets set up Jesus as being the provision of God’s faithfulness.  The prophets look forward to Jesus coming and saving the day.  We should not forget when the Prophets speak of the faithfulness of God they are speaking of Jesus!

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