Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Introduction to Isaiah

Welcome to the blog! For some of you, this may be your first visit. This is a place of learning and going deep! I made a decision a few years ago to dedicate this blog to the study of the prophets, after looking at Proverbs and focusing on some other Biblical topics. I began my studies with the earliest-recorded prophet, Obadiah. Now, I'm on the first of the so-called major prophets, Isaiah. 

For those who have been visiting and have supported me in prayer for direction, I thank you. This will be a long bloggy journey--probably 3 years plus or minus--as I've decided to continue taking my study in segments of Scripture passages rather than full chapters. This will give ample time for exploration of the text as well as quality focused time in the writing.

I always begin a study of a prophet with an introduction. Who was Isaiah? The fun facts first: Isaiah's name means, "The Lord is salvation" or "Jehovah saves." He is mentioned in the New Testament more times than any other Old Testament prophet, and by name in the New Testament more than 20 times. Including Jesus, in a moment with the Pharisees:

"You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME....'"
--Matthew 15: 7 and 8

I am encouraged in what my study Bible says of Isaiah's writing: "His writing style has no rival in its versatility of expression, brilliance of imagery, and richness of vocabulary." This means, it should be a rich read as well as an educational one. George L. Robinson, writing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, "Isaiah is the Paul of the Old Testament."

Isaiah was the son of Amoz (which means strong in Hebrew [Strong's]). He grew up and continued to live in Jerusalem and its vicinity, making him a wise choice for a prophet of God's Word to the area. He was married with two sons, who are referred to in the text of his book. It would seem that he was in a family of some importance, as he had easy access to the king. Some accounts even suggest he was a cousin to King Uzziah, who was the first king in power of the four reigns through which Isaiah prophesied. We will read about Isaiah's calling to ministry in Chapter 6.
Isaiah served from about 739 B.C. until his death in 686 B.C. Where Hosea spoke mostly to the northern kingdom of Israel, Isaiah spoke to Judah, the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel. His ministry overlaps with the second half of Hosea's ministry, and occurs in the time before Judah is led into captivity. He was killed at the word if not by the hand of King Manasseh of Judah.

During Isaiah's ministry, Judah grew in commercial stature but declined in its spiritual well-being, not unlike Israel at this time. Indeed, Judah and Israel were enemies as they each sought international power and prestige. Judah would be known for building up its military, its fortifications and its conquering of new land--and, its reliance on foreign aid from Assyria. In fact, once Assyria came in to help Judah, it marked the beginning of the end for Israel (which was put under Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C.)

Judah would run into its own captivity troubles at the hand of the Babylonians in 605 B.C., after Isaiah had passed. But, the prophet foretold this event as well as many others under the reign of these kings--not to mention, the coming of the earthly reigns of the King of Kings!

Still, as a prophet, much of Isaiah's work revolved around the issuing of words of judgment upon the nations, and Isaiah will cover many more nations than Hosea. We will look at history, as we see some of the drama of the day-to-day political events that take place in and through these prophecies. The latter third of the book abounds in words of deliverance and grace.

With that brief overview, next week we begin the journey through Isaiah, not surprisingly, with the rebellion of God's people.

Welcome, or, welcome back!.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 1: 1-4

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hosea 14: 8 & 9

8 O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like a luxuriant cypress;
From Me comes your fruit.
9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
Whoever is discerning, let him know them.
For the ways of the LORD are right,
And the righteous will walk in them,
But transgressors will stumble in them.

Hosea comes to a thoughtful conclusion today. This has been a longer book in its examination, but, that's because Hosea reads like more than one book. His opening chapters--setting up the unfaithful marriage metaphor of God and Israel through his very own life story of his relationship with Gomer-- is powerful. Painstakingly working through the chapters that followed--Israel's sin, punishment, banishment and the promise of redemption through God and God alone--he truly provided us with the means for understanding the Father's grace and mercy.

"The way of the LORD is a stronghold to the upright,
But ruin to the workers of iniquity."

--Proverbs 10:29

In our text today, verse 8, God speaks with finality that He has nothing to do with idols, nor should His people. They have brought Israel to ruin. "It is I...," He says who provides exactly what comes. Ephraim is not a "luxuriant vine," (Hosea 10:1) but God is a "luxuriant cypress" bearing fruit, shade and shelter. A cypress tree was noted for being a useful tree for wood (from building construction to instrument making); a great and expansive tree (shade and shelter); and, an evergreen tree--green, flourishing, prosperous [Strong's]. For ever! Wonderful choice for God.

Hosea had a long course of ministry, and it no doubt must have frustrated him to have not seen Israel turn from its ways. Yet, God revealed that there would come a time when those who believed would return home. Those who took refuge "in his shadow" under the safety of THE cypress tree would know His mercy and would, as we read in verse 7, "again raise grain" and know prosperity through Him.

Finally, verse 9, which reads like a verse in Proverbs. Those who are "wise" and "discerning" would know what the Lord was saying through Hosea. More than once, Hosea appealed to Israel's history, drawing upon its past in the hopes that the people would remember the presence of God in all that they did.

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."
--Deuteronomy 30: 19 & 20

But Israel did not "choose life," as obedience and giving up His ways for their ways led to their unfaithfulness in the covenant that God had established with their forefathers. Rather than 'discerning', the King James Version uses 'prudent'. The word probably still brings a smile, if not a chuckle, as we remember former President George H.W. Bush's using the word (and Dana Carvey recklessly overusing it in his impersonations). Prudent means not only being wise in current decision-making, but making decisions with foresight as to their outcome. Israel thought they were doing what was best for themselves at the time, not recognizing that each self-made, self-directed decision was bringing them further and further away from anything resembling goodness, success and prosperity.

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."
--Ecclesiastes 12: 13 & 14

"For the ways of the LORD are right...."
--Hosea 14: 9

Introduction to Isaiah.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: An Introduction to Isaiah

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hosea 14: 4-7

4 I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
He will blossom like the lily,
And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
6 His shoots will sprout,
And his beauty will be like the olive tree
And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.
7 Those who live in his shadow
Will again raise grain,
And they will blossom like the vine.
His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.

Rich, descriptive text marks our passage of Hosea today, as the prophet shares the blessings to be bestowed upon Israel. It is important to remember that the call to repentance that we read about last week was not something that Israel would heed in the days of the Hosea. The time difference between the issuing of the call and of these blessings from the Lord is time still being measured as you read this. Still, what is to come for Israel is beautiful!

Verse 4, "I will heal their apostasy." 'Apostasy,' at its roots, means a "revolt, desertion or defection"; literally, "a standing off" or "standing apart." [] We have seen through our study of this time how Israel chose to stand apart from God, which is as if to see a bride standing away from her betrothed, in keeping with the early theme of Hosea. I love the translation of this part of the verse in the King James': "I will heal their backsliding...."

We can probably all point to a time and means of backsliding over something--sometimes, more seriously than others. In the Bible, this idea as often spoken of by the prophets, according to my study Bible, is backsliding in heart: "He [the backslider] belongs in the category of the fool, the wicked, and the disobedient and he is contrasted with the godly wise. It is a word that the prophets used of apostate unbelievers."

"The backslider in heart [from God and from fearing God] shall be filled with [the fruit of] his own ways, and a good man shall be satisfied with [the fruit of] his ways [with the holy thoughts and actions which his heart prompts and in which he delights]."
--Proverbs 14:14 (Amplified Bible)

Israel most assuredly is characterized in Hosea as having "his fill of his own ways." How amazing the grace and mercy of the Father in healing His people's backsliding. Have you thought that backsliding needs to be healed? That's a worthy question of its own.

Verse 5, "I [God] will be like the dew to Israel." I am not well internationally traveled, so I know nothing of the weather conditions in what was ancient Israel. Rain was a scarce commodity. Says an excerpt in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, it doesn't rain in Palestine from April to October. For an east coast westerner, that is our full growing season right there! No rain in that time period would mean no crops or harvest. Same would be true in Israel if it weren't for the abundant dew characteristic of the region. Dew may not last long, but its presence is enough to nourish and sustain the plants. For God to be like the dew again to His people would mean replenishment of weary, lonely souls.

"The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion,
But his favor is like dew on the grass."
--Proverbs 19:12

Over verses 5 and 6, the metaphoric picture of the future Israel takes shape.
  • "Blossoming like a lily"--The Hebrew definition from Strong's describes an actual lily flower, though the word may refer to other types of flowers. "A lily (from its whiteness), as a flower or architectural ornament; also a (straight) trumpet (from the tubular shape)." Expanding on that, I see the white symbolizing purity and the straightness symbolizing a path of righteousness.
  • "Take root like...fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon"--(See picture above) These are tremendously strong and beautifully scented trees. They were prized for their strength and thus desired in the building of important structures, such as palaces and temples. They are not prolific, however, and not many remain today. How lovely that God would bring Israel back to Him with such an illustration of strength and beauty!
  • " the olive tree"--Olive trees provided so much in the way of their products: fruit, oil, wood, among others. Nothing was wasted. And, another beautiful tree.

Our last verse today, verse 7, says that those who live in the shadow of the Lord will return to the land that Israel will leave behind. God will scatter His people like the sowing of seeds, but they will return to the land, to "raise grain" and "blossom like the vine"--and not the luxuriant vine that Israel had made of itself. No, Israel's "renown"--"literally, its remembrance," says my study Bible--will be like the wine of Lebanon.

Learning a lot on the side in my study. Turns out that Lebanon is renown for its wines! This is one link, of, undoubtedly many, to a Lebanese winery, tracing its days back to Biblical times. This link even speaks of the fact that most of the rain in the region falls during the Winter (not in the Summer, which agrees with what we learned earlier), but the melting snows and the protection of the mountains all aid in bringing about a beautiful crop of grapes for wine. Hosea is truly writing for his audience, here.

But, again, Israel's future renown will not be because of itself. It will be because God has ultimately restored the relationship with His people, fulfilling a lifetime promise upon which most of the Word of God speaks. His anger will have finally and completely turned, and He will love them freely. And they will remember Him!

"Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity
And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love."
--Micah 7:18
"We stand and lift up our hands
For the joy of the Lord is our strength
We bow down and worship Him now
How great, how awesome is He....
It's rising up all around
It's the anthem of the Lord's renown...."
--from "Holy is the Lord," by Chris Tomlin

Hosea's epilogue, as we conclude with the last 2 verses.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Hosea 14: 8 & 9

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hosea 14: 1-3

Hosea 14

Israel’s Future Blessing
 1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.
3 “Assyria will not save us,
We will not ride on horses;
Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’
To the work of our hands;
For in You the orphan finds mercy.” 

My goodness! Here we are--the final chapter of Hosea and almost halfway through the pre-exilic prophets. [And, please drop me a comment or send me an E-mail about Isaiah; I really would like to hear from you.] It was Spring when we started the book, meeting Hosea and his then estranged wife, Gomer. Although her name is not mentioned in this chapter, what we will learn here is embodied in her name, which means "completion." [Strong's] Exile is not the end for Israel, as the completion of this relationship between God and His people is for a time yet to come.

With verse 1, we see a final call to repentance issued to Israel, beckoning them to acknowledge their sinful living and to confess. A number of times in Hosea, we have read similar statements: "Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us" (from 6:1); "...For it is time to seek the LORD until He comes to rain righteousness on you" (10:12b); "...Observe kindness and justice, and wait for your God continually." (12:6b) Come. Seek. Wait. All actions that Israel needed to heed. God was standing by.

"'...And rend your heart and not your garments.'
Now return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil."
--Joel 2:13

Hosea says to "take words with you" to "present the fruit of our lips." Words would be a start for Israel, though not just any words. We know from our reading that Israel still acknowledged God, but on such a surface level that their words didn't carry any weight. The phrase "fruit of our lips," used in the New Testament as words of thanksgiving (see Hebrews 13:15, a "sacrifice of praise")--can here be translated, "our lips as bulls." A translation of the King James Version reads, "...So will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips."

"The prophet calls on his contemporaries to return in penitence to Jehovah. Their worship should consist not of meaningless dumb ritual, but of 'words'—hymns and prayers, expressive of real gratitude and of actual needs—or perhaps pledges of repentance and reform. The people respond and undertake that their worship shall consist of 'calves or bullocks of lips,' i.e. not of animal offerings, but of promises of reform or vows of obedience."
--T. Lewis, writing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Bottom line: words were not enough nor were sacrifices. True repentance starts with confession, but confession is born of a changed heart and a desire to, as Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Go and sin no more." (John 8:11, KJV) Hosea says to come to the Lord bearing your heart. Alternate translations for "receive us graciously" use the words "accept that which is good." God cannot accept that which is not good, but, as sinners, we cannot offer anything that is. We're reading about a time before Jesus, but, nonetheless, God's Word makes it clear that a right state of the heart is paramount to repentance. To go forward on our "good" works with a "good" heart is how Israel ended up in the mess it was in. There was no good! They needed to hear, again, and follow the words of their king, David:

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."
--Psalm 51:17
Verse 3 begins part of what sounds like a verbal confession. "Assyria will not save us," acknowledges that there is no help from foreign nations equal to that of reliance on God. Not only will Assyria not save them, but Assyria will enslave them. The crafting and worshiping of idols ("the work of our hands") would need to come to an end, as this was not of God. Going to war would not solve the problems of the nation nor make it great. "A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength." (Psalm 33:17) Worth repeating: "For there is no savior besides Me." (Hosea 13:4)

Today's passage ends, "For in You the orphan finds mercy." In the Old Testament, 'orphan' is most often translated as "fatherless." God has a tender place in His heart for the orphan; He is "father of the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5). I know a number of friends who have adopted or tried to adopt orphans into their homes, as well as continue to raise awareness of their circumstances. The Bible has a big-picture view of what it means to be fatherless. At its Hebrew root, 'orphan' means to "be lonely." [Strong's]

Surely, Israel would learn what it meant to be an orphan, facing a long exile. But, beyond that, following the prophets, God's voice went "silent" for some 400 years. Then Jesus came, and Israel remained lonely in not seeing the sent One as its Messiah. Yet, the Father of the fatherless is at the ready to receive Israel graciously, at the appointed time, for the Lord will keep His promises and show His mercy to His orphans.

"But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him."
--Luke 15: 17-20 

"I will heal their backsliding...." The merciful Father to the fatherless paints a beautiful scene. More from Chapter 14 .... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Hosea 14: 4-7

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).