2 Kings 20-22

In those days King Hezekiah was stricken with a terminal illness, apparently he has been sick for about 2 years during the time when Sennacherib invaded Judah and put Jerusalem under siege. The events of this chapter are out of chronological order, placed here to show a contrast to the previous chapters. It is at this moment that Isaiah delivers the dire message to Hezekiah “get your household in order, you are about to die; you will not get well”.

In contrast to Hezekiah’s previous demonstration of faith, this time he turns his face to the wall, weeps bitterly and complains to the LORD citing all the things he has done to serve the LORD and what he has done to carry out God’s plans. It is subtle but this prayer does not compare favorably to Hezekiah’s faith and prayer during the Assyrian invasion. At that time he affirmed God’s sovereignty and glory in all things, this time he appeals to the LORD on the basis of his own accomplishments and devotion.

While Isaiah was still in the courtyard the LORD sends Isaiah back to Hezekiah with a message of mercy. God heard his appeal, now for the sake of his ancestor, King David, God will heal Hezekiah, in two days he will be well enough to go to the LORD’s temple. He was also informed Hezekiah that he will live for an additional 15 years and the LORD will rescue him and Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. Note that God’s mercy was for the sake of God’s reputation not because of Hezekiah’s accomplishments; also note that God gave Hezekiah a double blessing, healing and deliverance.

At hearing this, Hezekiah asks for a confirming sign that the LORD would heal him. Signs were miracles that signified that what God said he would do, He would indeed accomplish. Requesting a sign was a common practice, but Hezekiah’s request amplified his lack of faith, especially compared to his previous prayer for deliverance. His recovery from his death bed in two days should have been enough of a sign, now he wants a second sign to confirm the first miraculous event. This is another example of God’s great mercy that He did not object to this request; Hezekiah requested that God move the shadows on the sun dial to go backwards as confirmation. God’s great patience is revealed in his doing what Hezekiah requested.

2 Chronicles records that after his healing Hezekiah was ungrateful; he had a proud attitude which provoked God to anger against Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Hezekiah and Jerusalem humbled themselves and abandoned their pride and once again the LORD showed mercy; Hezekiah became very wealthy and greatly respected. He built up storerooms for all his gold, silver, precious stones, as well as an abundance of grain, oil, wine and livestock from the generous harvest; it was God who gave Judah and Hezekiah this great blessing.

Following this Hezekiah receives an official delegation from King of Babylon, Merodach-Baladan, who was seeking an alliance with Hezekiah in opposition to the power of Assyria. Apparently the Babylonians had heard of Hezekiah’s illness, his miraculous healing by the LORD and the LORD’s deliverance from Sennacherib. Instead of magnifying the LORD’s grace and mercy towards Judah and Hezekiah, Hezekiah takes the visitors into the temple and palace storerooms to show them the great wealth he had acquired. Hezekiah’s pride strikes again, instead of trusting in the LORD, he trusts in his wealth and in the alliances that he will make with Babylon.

Then Isaiah delivers another message to Hezekiah, “Listen to the word of the LORD, Look a time is coming when everything in your palace and the things your ancestors have accumulated to this day will be carried away to Babylon; nothing will be left. Some of your very own descendants whom you father will be taken away and will be made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon”. Hezekiah’s response to this dire prophecy is telling, “At least there will be peace and stability during my lifetime”, he is self-centered and unrepentant. Hezekiah took comfort in the postponement of disaster, but this did not comfort Isaiah. He carried this burden for God’s people, speaking to the future exiles in Babylon, “Comfort, Comfort my people” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her that her time of warfare is over, that her punishment is completed. For the LORD has made her pay double for all her sins” Isaiah 40:2

After Hezekiah dies his son Manasseh becomes king, he will reign for a very long 55 years. He completely wiped out the reforms of his father Hezekiah. He rebuilt the high places, he set up altars for Baal, made an Asherah pole, and he bowed down to the stars in the sky and worshiped them. He built altars to foreign gods in the LORD’s temple; he makes a human sacrifice of his son in the fire and builds a ritual pit to conjure up the underworld spirits. Additionally, Manasseh killed so many innocent people that he stained Jerusalem with their blood from end to end.

The LORD sent prophets with warnings of disaster on Jerusalem and Judah saying, the LORD will wipe Jerusalem clean, like a person washing dishes, they will be swept away. The LORD will hand over the last remaining tribe to their enemies. It was during this time of persecution of the LORD’s faithful and his prophets that the prophet Isaiah was murdered by Manasseh.

After this the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem, Manasseh was captured, they put a hook in his nose, bound him in bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 2 Chronicles 33 records Manasseh’s repentance, he called out to the LORD, and the LORD rescued him and brought him back to Jerusalem. Manasseh rebuilt the city walls of Jerusalem, and removed the idols and altars he had built. He restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed thank offerings on it. He told the people of Jerusalem to serve the LORD, the God of Israel, but the people continued to sacrifice at the high places.

After Manasseh’s death his son Amon becomes king, he will reign for only two years. In that short time he reverses the good of Manasseh’s late reform, he did evil in the sight of the LORD. After two years his servants conspired against him and killed the king in his palace. They put down the rebellion that assassinated the king and made Amon’s son Josiah king in his place, Josiah was eight years old when he became king and will reign for 31 years. Josiah will be the last godly king of Judah; Nahum, Zephaniah and Jeremiah are the prophets at this time.

When Josiah is 16 years old, he began to seek the God of his ancestor King David, and then when he was 20 years old he purged Judah from all the high places, Asherah poles, idols and images. He ordered the altars of the Baals to be torn down, he smashed Asherah poles crushed them up and sprinkled the dust over the tombs of those who sacrificed to them. He burned the bones of the pagan priests on their altars; he purified Judah and Jerusalem. Josiah also extended his reforms into the areas of the northern kingdom of Israel, purifying the land in Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon and Naphtali. The power of the Assyrian empire was in decline, which gave Josiah the freedom to reform.

Six years later, at age 26, Josiah sets about repairing the Temple of the LORD, which had fallen into ruin and was desecrated during the reigns of his father and grandfather. Following the wise actions of his ancestor Joash (2 Kings 12) he bypassed the priests and Levites and gave the funds to the craftsmen to make the repairs and restore the Temple to its former condition. In the process of the restoration, Hilkiah the High Priest found the lost Book of the Law, which he handed over to the king’s scribe. Shaphan showed the king of the scroll and read it out loud to the king. When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes in great despair over his ancestors’ failure to abide by the Covenant and realizing how great the LORD’s anger is against Judah. Josiah’s reaction showed that the contents of the book were very serious indeed. Its demands had not been met and the king feared the consequences.

King Josiah sent the High Priest and his representatives to the prophetess Huldah to inquire what the LORD wants them to know. She said to them: “This is what the LORD God of Israel says: I am about to bring disaster on this place and its residents, the details of which are recorded in the scroll which the king of Judah has read. This will happen because they have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to other gods, angering me with all the idols they have made. My anger will ignite against this place and will not be extinguished!” To Josiah she reported that because he displayed a sensitive spirit and humbled himself before the LORD, this coming disaster will not come in his lifetime; he personally will not have to witness the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

2 Kings 17-19

It is a turbulent time in Israel and Judah, the power and threat of Assyria is unrelenting for both nations. King Ahaz is on the throne in Judah, his evil is great, to the degree that he brought pagan worship into the heart of Jerusalem, and sacrificed one of his own sons to Baal. At this moment he is considering making a pact with Assyria to protect him; so God sends the prophet Isaiah to warn Ahaz to stand firm, trust in the LORD and do not be afraid, the LORD will deal with Assyria. But Ahaz rejects God’s message, then when Aram and Damascus combine their forces to attack Judah, King Ahaz sends a message to Assyria offering to be their vassal if Assyria will come to Judah’s defense. Tilgath Pileser came to Judah’s rescue, but Assyria will bring more death and destruction than protection and help.

After the alliances’ defeat Hosea became king of Israel, he will reign for nine years and be the final king of the northern kingdom. Remember that Hosea assassinated King Pekah, who was the king that joined with Damascus to attack Judah, and then he made a treaty with Assyria. The history of Assyria claims that Tilgath Pileser put Hosea on the throne of Israel. King Hosea will bring the complete downfall to the northern kingdom when he decides to stop paying taxes to Assyria and attempts to make a protection alliance with Egypt. Shalmaneser is now the king of Assyria, he invades Israel, Samaria is put under siege for three years, and he takes Hosea as prisoner then deports all the people of Israel to various parts of the Assyrian Empire. 2 Kings makes it very clear that all this happened because the Israelites sinned against the LORD their God. Israel did not completely forsake the worship of the LORD; instead they compromised with their pagan neighbors and followed the customs and practices of the nations that God declared as wicked. 2 Kings also makes it clear that the LORD had repeatedly warned Israel by sending prophets to plead with them to turn them back from their evil ways. “So the LORD was furious with Israel and rejected them; only the tribe of Judah was left”. It has been about 200 years since the beginning of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, now the northern kingdom of Israel will cease to exist; they were ruled by 20 kings who were all judged as evil by God.

The policy of the Assyrian Empire was to move people from other nations into the lands they conquered; they would intermarry and occupy the land of Samaria. They brought people from Babylon, Aram and Sippar to live in Israel; they brought with them the gods of their nations and set up shrines in the high places. At this time the LORD sent lions among them and the lions were killing people. The Assyrians interpreted the killings as a punishment from the God of Israel whom they needed to appease, so they brought back one of the priests of Bethel to teach them the requirements of “god of the land”. This priest of Bethel would teach them how to worship the LORD, but they also continued in the sins of Israel that resulted in God’s rejection of Israel. The new inhabitants of the land incorporated the worship of the LORD into their polytheistic religion; this is the beginning of the Samaritan people.

While Hosea was still king, before his defeat by Assyria, Hezekiah became king over Judah. In contrast to his father “He did what the LORD approved”. Remember that his father sacrificed one of Hezekiah’s brothers in a pagan rite. But we are told that Hezekiah’s mother was Abijah which means worshiper of Yahweh. Hezekiah not only removed his father’s idols in Jerusalem, he also eliminated the high places, smashed the sacred pillars to bits and cut down the Asherah pole. He also demolished the bronze serpent that Moses made; it seems that during his father’s reign this ancient symbol became another idol in Israel. 2 Chronicles records the reforms of Hezekiah, he cleansed the temple of the corruption of pagan worship and purified the temple. He confronted the priests and Levites with their unfaithfulness and they offered up sin offerings for all of Israel. “So the service of the temple of the LORD was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly.” The revival in Judah was so great that contributions to the temple exceeded their ability to use them, so Hezekiah builds store rooms in the temple. “This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.”

It was at this time that Hezekiah decided to reverse the policy of his father and rebelled against the king of Assyria. Sennacherib was now king of Assyria, thinking he was weaker than his father Sargon, Hezekiah joined an alliance with his neighbors to oppose Assyria. Then Hezekiah began making preparations for Assyria’s eventual retaliation, he defeated the Philistines, constructed an interior water supply and fortified Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.

In the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign, King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah and the nations surrounding them. He defeated the Phoenicians, then marched down the coast to defeat the Philistines and attacked the fortified cities in Judah. Sennacherib’s inscriptions record that he defeated 46 strong cities in Judah, this is the prophecy that Micah described.

At this point King Hezekiah sends a message to the king of Assyria, saying he would do whatever Sennacherib demanded. The king of Assyria demanded an extreme payment, so Hezekiah gave them all the silver and gold in the LORD’s temple and treasuries, even removing the gold overlays on the doors and pillars of the temple. This ransom did not satisfy Sennacherib, he now sends his army to Jerusalem to demand complete surrender.

Sennacherib’s commander stands outside the walls of Jerusalem to deliver the demands and to taunt the king and people of Jerusalem. The message was delivered so that all the people would hear and was designed to intimidate Hezekiah into surrendering. His final intimidation was to claim that the LORD had commanded them to attack and destroy Jerusalem. None of the gods of the nations around them were able to save them from Assyria, “So how can the LORD rescue Jerusalem from my power?”

When Hezekiah heard this message he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and went to the temple to pray. He also sent a message to the prophet Isaiah to pray with him for the remnant in Jerusalem, pleading with God to save them from the Assyrians. Isaiah sends a message to King Hezekiah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘don’t be afraid because of the things you have heard – these insults the king of Assyria’s servants have hurled against me. Look, I will take control of his mind; he will receive a report and return to his own land. I will cut him down with a sword in his own land.’” God was in control, he would arrange for the Assyrians to abandon the siege. Somehow Sennacherib heard about Isaiah’s prophecy that Yahweh would deliver them, he renewed his efforts to intimidate Hezekiah saying do not believe that that LORD can rescue you.

Once again, Hezekiah goes to the temple to pray, pleading with the LORD to rescue them from the power of the Assyrians, “then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you, LORD, are the only God”. Isaiah sends another message to Hezekiah, “This is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I have heard your prayer concerning King Sennacherib of Assyria.’” The LORD will deal with him for the taunts he made against the LORD, Assyria took credit for their victories but God says He ordained it, He planned it and He brought it to pass.

Isaiah then delivers the message that will be a sign that God will deal with Assyria, this year and next the harvest will be sparse, but the following year they will be able to sow and reap. For two years the people will be able to eat the produce of the land, it will not be stolen or destroyed by the Assyrian army, God would feed them. This is what the LORD says, Sennacherib will not enter the city, or shoot an arrow inside and he will not build siege works against the city. He will go back the way he came. God will rescue the city of Jerusalem, for the sake of the promise He made to King David.

That very night the LORD sent an angel of death among the Assyrian army, the next morning when Jerusalem awakened there were 185,000 dead soldiers outside the city walls. So King Sennacherib broke camp and went home to Nineveh. Years later he is assassinated by two of his sons while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, the gods he said gave him the power to conquer all of Israel were not able to save him in his own home.

Jonah and Micah

Jonah identifies himself as the author and subject of this narrative. This is a book written about his life, it is not a collection of his prophetic messages. Jonah is a real person, not a myth or legend, we know that he delivered a message to King Jeroboam II in 2 Kings 14 and he was a contemporary of Amos and Hosea. Additionally, Jesus refers to Jonah as a real person in Matthew 12 and confirms the historical reality of Nineveh’s repentance.

The events of Jonah’s life recorded here occurred during a time of great optimism for both Israel and Judah. The Assyrian Empire was a great power, but at this time they were dealing with internal problems so it allowed Israel and Judah to expand their borders almost to the extent of King Solomon’s reign. It was a time of great prosperity for Israel and Judah, they were feeling secure, with increasing wealth, they thought they were doing everything right, the proof being their current wellbeing.

Into this period of prosperity God sent Amos, Hosea and Jonah to deliver messages for the LORD. Amos warned Israel of the coming certain judgment of the LORD, Hosea identifies Assyria as the nation that will deliver the destruction and Hosea lived his life in a manner that showed the people of Israel how great God’s love for them and the extent He will go to save them. Now Jonah is called to deliver a message from the LORD to Israel’s hated enemy, Ninevah.

The message of Jonah is very clear; God reserves the sovereign right to be compassionate to whom He chooses and He delights in performing acts of kindness, even when those acts seem contrary to an already issued prophetic warning. Moreover, God delights in even small steps in the right direction with gracious acts of compassion and mercy. Like Hosea’s message, Jonah is an object lesson, demonstrating the compassion of God to both Jonah and Ninevah. The central character of Jonah’s narrative is God and Jonah is an example of what not to do.

The account begins with God giving His prophet an urgent command, to immediately go to Ninevah to deliver a message from the LORD. Instead Jonah immediately goes in the opposite direction, running as far away as he could, Jonah didn’t just disobey, he attempted to escape from God. Jonah boarded a boat headed to Tarshish in the area of modern day Spain. Ninevah and Tarshish represent the opposite ends of the known world of that day. Ninevah was located on the east side of Tigris River about 550 miles from Samaria. It was a very large and powerful city, and was well known in the ancient near east for its idolatry, its many temples dedicated to various gods, and for the great evil they inflicted on its war captives.

Jonah records the reason for his disobedience in chapter 4, if he delivered the message from God to Ninevah; they might repent and not be destroyed by the LORD. God might show mercy to Israel’s hated enemy, the nation already prophesied to destroy Israel and Jonah didn’t want that. Jonah flees from the LORD, but the LORD intervenes with a series of miracles.

First God sends a great wind and a violent storm, the ship is in danger, the sailors are praying to every god they can think of and throwing things overboard in an attempt to save the ship and themselves. Meanwhile, Jonah is asleep, unconcerned with the sailors, the ship or even his own life. Finally, the captain wakes Jonah up to plead with him to pray to his god to save them. Jonah identifies his god as The LORD God who made the land and the sea and confesses he was running away from the LORD. Finally after another miracle that clearly points to Jonah being at fault for their situation, he says to the sailors just throw him into the sea to save the ship. Jonah was willing to endure punishment and certain death, but God had another plan!

Everything is reversed in this tale, the pagan sailors are the faithful ones, they are praying and they do not want to kill Jonah. Jonah by contrast is not praying, even though he declares that the LORD controls the land and the sea. The sailors have compassion for Jonah, while Jonah shows no compassion for Ninevah or the sailors. The sailors are concerned with sin while Jonah seems untouched by his disobedience. The sailors worship the LORD, while Jonah does not, the sailors fear the LORD as Jonah shows no fear of God.

We see an important lesson here; “Having Peace” with our decisions in life does not necessarily mean that we are at the center of God’s will. Jonah rested peacefully but was not obeying the LORD, being “at peace” is not evidence of God’s approval. Jonah’s peace was the result of a hard heart, like Israel he thought he “got it right” when really there was deep seeded sin in his thinking. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

When the sailors throw Jonah into the sea it instantly becomes calm, then God intervenes again by providing a great fish to both swallow and save Jonah. Jonah is in the fish for three days, now Jonah finally prays and surprisingly it is not a prayer for deliverance, it is a prayer of thanksgiving, Jonah thanks God for using the fish to save him from drowning. God intervenes again, this time he causes the fish to deliver Jonah to dry land.

The LORD commands Jonah to go to Ninevah a second time and this time he immediately obeys. Arriving in Ninevah Jonah walks around the city for three days delivering the message from God. “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” We are simply told that the Ninevites believed God, when the king heard of Jonah he commands the entire city to put on sackcloth and when God saw their actions that they turned from their evil ways He relented concerning the impending judgment and did not destroy them. God spared Jonah, now he spared Ninevah. This prophesied judgment was delayed for 150 years, and then Nineveh will be destroyed by the Babylonian Empire.

However Jonah responds to God’s great mercy for Ninevah with anger. While Ninevah repents, Jonah is angry with God for sparing his enemy, he wanted a different outcome, and the destruction of Nineveh would have protected Israel from Amos and Hosea’s prophesied judgment. Jonah’s hatred was so great that he declared that he would rather die than live in a world where Ninevah was included in God’s grace. While Jonah was the recipient of God’s compassion, he had no compassion for Ninevah. Jonah says to God, “You are a compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a god who relents from sending calamity”. This is a good thing, but Jonah says just kill me now, again like in the boat he would rather die than have “those” people in God’s favor.

God responds to Jonah’s anger with a question, “Have you any right to be angry?” Jonah doesn’t respond, instead he goes to a hill opposite Nineveh, builds a shelter and sits down to wait. Wait for what? Does he expect God to destroy Nineveh just because he is angry? God intervenes again, this time he provides a plant that will grow to provide shade and comfort for Jonah. The presence of the shade plant turns Jonah’s depression to delight, he is happy about the plant but not about Nineveh’s rescue. Then God sends a worm to destroy the shade plant and once again Jonah wants to die. God confronts Jonah again saying, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” Then God explains to Jonah, “Should I not be concerned about Ninevah?” There are more than 120,000 people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!

Jonah’s story concludes with Jonah still angry, depressed and hot. He is left to contemplate God’s words about his own lack of compassion and God’s great compassion for everyone. God is gracious to all nations, Gentiles and Israelites. God’s character is revealed to us in His patience with Jonah and His compassion for Nineveh

The prophet Micah comes from the hill country of Judah west of Jerusalem. Micah and Isaiah prophesied around the same time, Isaiah in Jerusalem and Micah in the country side. Micah began his ministry before Israel’s destruction by Assyria and probably saw his relatives carried off into captivity when the Assyrians invaded Judah. King Ahaz of Judah made a treaty with Assyria that protected Jerusalem and in response he brought the idols of Damascus into the court of the temple as his personal gods. He even repurposed items dedicated to the LORD to be used in his worship of foreign idols. Judah has now become infected with the same sins that brought about Israel’s complete destruction. When Micah began his preaching he was warning of Israel’s judgment, but when he wrote the book, Israel was destroyed so the final product is directed to the nation of Judah.

Micah alternates messages of impending doom with messages of hope; they are directed to the two capital cities of Samaria and Jerusalem. His major theme is judgment and deliverance, judgment for their sins of idolatry and injustice and deliverance when Zion will have even greater glory under the reign of the Messiah.

Micah opens his message set in a courtroom where God is the chief witness against Samaria and Jerusalem. He pictures God coming from His heavenly dwelling place to walk upon the mountains which melt before Him. We get the picture God is trampling the high places where His people prostituted themselves with false gods. He identifies the sins of Samaria and Jerusalem as the same sins of the house of Jeroboam. Samaria will be a heap of rubble, all their wealth used in idol worship will be carried off. They have sought out other gods, now God would send them away to lands where foreign gods were worshiped, giving them what they evidently wanted.

Micah laments over Samaria, he may have gone through Jerusalem and the countryside naked and weeping about the coming judgment. He weeps and lists the sins of God’s people, they lay awake at night planning evil to do the next day, they covet their neighbor fields and houses, the steal another’s inheritance, and they oppress their countrymen. Micah lists the sins of the false prophets, they silence the true prophets of God, saying don’t prophesy disgrace and destruction and they tell the people deceitfully that the LORD’s patience can’t be exhausted; He would never destroy or disgrace them, “the chosen people”. By failing to deliver God’s truth the false prophets were insuring their destruction, how will they ever repent if they do not hear! “If a lying windbag should come and say, ‘I’ll promise you blessings of wine and beer’, he would be just the right preacher for these people!”

Micah then delivers a message of hope, looking forward to the time when the LORD will break through all barriers and lead the remnant of Israel back into the land. The LORD will remove all obstacles to deliver this blessing. Micah returns again to the leaders of Israel and the false prophets saying you ought to know what is just, but you hate what is good and love what is evil. The leaders of Israel have betrayed their people, someday they will cry out to the LORD but there will be no answer from the LORD. Micah delivers the message that Judah will go into captivity in Babylon. It is important to note that at this time Babylon was not a threat to Assyria or Judah, yet Micah is prophesying captivity and that God will rescue Israel from Babylon.

In the midst of these dire predictions we receive the message that the promised Messiah will come from Bethlehem, a small insignificant town. That King will rule over Israel, He will be from ancient origins, He will be our peace and He will destroy Israel’s enemies. Micah lays out God’s case against Israel again, reminding them of all the ways God has cared for them and protected them. Micah speaking as a righteous man asks the rhetorical question what should he do? What sacrifices should he bring? Then he answers clearly, He has told you, O man, what is good and what the LORD really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful and to live obediently before your God.

Micah ends with this statement: “There is no other God like you! You forgive and pardon the rebellion of those who remain among your people. You do not remain angry forever, but delight in showing loyal love. You will once again have mercy on us; you will conquer our evil deeds; you will hurl our sins into the depths of the sea. You will be loyal to Jacob and extend your loyal love to Abraham, which you promised on oath to our ancestors.” God will have compassion, He will forgive us our sins and He will cleanse us from all our iniquity.

Amos and Hosea

During the last years of the northern kingdom of Israel God sent His prophets to His people to warn them of coming judgment and to call them back to Him, to worship and live for the LORD God alone.

Jeroboam II is the King of Israel, he will reign for 41 years. His accomplishments in human terms were great, he expanded and restored the boundaries of Israel and during his reign Israel experienced great prosperity. But, the conclusion of the Creator of the Universe is, “he did evil in the eyes of the LORD”. The people of God have become arrogant and overconfident, they concluded in this time of peace and prosperity that “they got it right”, ignoring God’s way and His plan.

God calls Amos, who is a shepherd, from Tekoa a town south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. He was a farmer and layman, not a professionally trained prophet or priest. He lived a life outside of the main stream of the Israel and Judah at that time. Amos delivered a series of messages to the northern kingdom which was later organized into the first organized and permanent prophesy preserved for future generations.

Amos delivered his messages in Bethel, the main religious center in the north. It was also the place where the wealthy, kings and leaders of Israel would gather for their religious ceremonies. Israel felt secure and smug, thinking that she was in God’s good graces and protected. “The prophets of God, however, looked past the façade of the so-called golden age to the dry rot of social and moral decay in both Israel and Judah. Contrary to all external appearance the Hebrew nations were “loaded with guilt” and “ripe” for judgment of God”.

Amos dates the vision he received that prompted the message as two years before the earthquake during King Uzziah’s of Judah reign. The message is clear the LORD is angry with Israel, Judah and the nations. “The LORD comes roaring out of Zion”, God is pictured as a roaring lion coming out from the temple of the LORD to bring devastation, and before the LORD the mountains shake and the pastures wilt.

Amos begins with “This is what the LORD says” to Damascus (Aram), Gaza (Philistine), Tyre (Phoenicia), Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah and Israel. I can imagine the enthusiasm of the crowd as Amos starts his preaching by condemning their hated foes of Damascus, Gaza and Tyre. Then less eagerness as the condemnation is directed towards their neighbors and relatives in Edom and Judah. Finally as God’s ire is turned on Israel we see their total rejection, as Amos describes the sins they have done.

Amos repeats for each nation, “for three sins, make that four”, God’s condemnation is clear He has withheld his judgment, waiting for them to repent, He will wait no longer. Their sins are listed, the judgment announced, they will experience total devastation, Damascus, Gaza and Tyre will no longer exist. Damascus and Gaza will be absorbed into the Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pileser. Tyre will become a subject state of Assyria, then Nebuchadnezzar and finally sold as slaves under Alexander the Great. Amos condemns Edom’s constant anger and violence against Israel, continuing the bitter jealousy between the descendants of Esau and Jacob. Edom will become a subject state under the Assyrians and later turned into a desolate wasteland by the Nabateans. Ammon and Moab will also disappear to be absorbed into the Assyrian Empire.

Amos now turns to God’s chosen people Judah and Israel, their sins are clear they have rejected the Law of the LORD and have not kept His decrees, they have broken their covenant with God. Specifically, they have chased after foreign gods, the gods the LORD commanded them to destroy. Judah will escape the imminent destruction under the Assyrians, but will receive the prophesied destruction under Nebuchadnezzar.

Next Amos directs his message to the people in front of him, Israel; he begins to list their many sins. They sell the righteous and deny justice to the poor, they have corrupted the Laws of the LORD to oppress the poor, father and son have sex with the same girl, and they worship other gods even using the wine and cloaks confiscated from the poor to toast heathen gods.

Amos reminds the Israelites of all the good things God has done for them in the past. He brought them up out of slavery in Egypt, he destroyed their enemies and revealed Himself to them. God says, “I have chosen you alone from all the clans of the earth. Therefore I will punish you for all your sins”. Amos fully explains the reasons for God’s judgment, with appeals to repentance and instruction on how to escape the coming judgment. “Certainly the sovereign LORD does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets”. The LORD is the lion, He has roared, who is not afraid? “The sovereign LORD has spoken!”

Amos describes the complete and total devastation of Israel, and repeats again their sins against the poor and exposes their false devotion and fake humility. He lists the consequences he has sent to Israel in His attempt to get Israel to repent, famine, drought, blight, locust, plagues, military defeat and natural disasters. “Still you did not come back to me. Prepare to meet your God, Israel”. “Hate what is wrong, love what is right! Promote justice at the city gate! Maybe the LORD, the God who commands armies, will have mercy on those left from Joseph”.

Amos relays visions of destruction coming: the swarming locusts, Amos begs the LORD to forgive the people, the LORD relented, judgment delayed. The devouring fire, again Amos begs the LORD and the LORD relents a second time. The plumb line, God is setting the plumb line, they are out of line, and God would spare them no longer. The basket of ripe fruit, picture overripe fruit, “the time is ripe for my people Israel” the day has arrived; God will spare them no longer. In that day God will send a famine, but this time it will be a famine of divine revelation, “they will wander about looking for a revelation from the LORD, but they will not find any”. Israel will be destroyed by the sword of the LORD, escape is impossible.

Amos concludes his message with a vision of a future day, when God will restore David’s fallen tent. God will repair its broken places, God will move in mercy to renew and refresh His people. God will restore David’s kingdom and through it He will bless all nations of the earth. Amos describes the land as overflowing in abundance, so prosperous that the harvest from one year is still in process when it is time to plant again. The LORD will bring back my exiled people, “I will plant Israel in their own land never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them”. “The LORD, who is about to do this, is speaking! Be sure of this, the time is coming” says the LORD, says the LORD your God.

Hosea began his ministry shortly after Amos finished his message of impending judgment. While Amos brought the dire threat of God’s judgment on Israel at the hands of an unnamed enemy Hosea identified that enemy as Assyria. The contrast between the messages of Amos and Hosea is startling. Amos was an outsider, Hosea came from the northern kingdom of Israel, he lived among them and they knew him. Amos relates impending doom; Hosea’s message reveals God’s great love and mercy, and how far God will go to deliver His people.

The first three chapters of Hosea is a narrative of the family life of Hosea; his life story is used to convey a message from God. God orders Hosea to marry an adulterous woman, Gomer, and then their three children are all given symbolic names representing God’s ominous message. Hosea’s and Gomer’s relationship parallels the relationship between God and His chosen people.

Hosea marries Gomer, a known adulterous woman, their firstborn is a son Hosea names Jezreel meaning God scatters, “Because I will soon punish the house of Jehu”. Their second child is a girl who he names Lo-Ruhamah meaning she is not loved; “for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel”. Then Hosea compares Israel to Judah saying, “Yet I will show love to the house of Judah and I will save them”. Gomer gives birth to a third child, another son who is named Lo-Ammi meaning “not my people”; “for you are not my people and I am not your God”. Through Lo-Ammi God announced that Israel would no longer experience God’s saving presence.

Then Gomer leaves Hosea for another man and another life quite possibly a pagan lifestyle. Hosea declares “she is not my wife and I am not her husband”. However what Hosea really wants is to heal their relationship not terminate their marriage in divorce. Hosea describes a second betrothal, when in the future “I will allure her; I will lead her back into the wilderness and speak to her tenderly”. This describes in words the way a man would speak gentle encouraging words to his desired bride. They will make a new covenant that will be forever, in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. The restoration of the LORD’s marriage to Israel is described in terms of a betrothal, a new beginning with all the freshness of first love not just the patching up of differences. “I will show my love to those called ‘not my loved one’. I will say to those called ‘not my people, you are my people’ and they will say you are my God”.

Gomer situation has become dire, Hosea buys her back, redeems her from slavery, and then tells her “you must live with me many days; you must not commit adultery or have sexual intercourse with another man and I also will wait for you”. Gomer’s lengthy period of isolation was designed to portray Israel’s exile, when the nation would be separated from its illicit institutions and practices.

Hosea then delivers the message from the LORD regarding Israel. My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge; I reject you as my priests. I will punish both people and priests for their evil ways. “A whirlwind has wrapped them in its wings; they will be brought to shame because of their idolatrous worship”. He then announces the judgment against Israel, “I will be like lion to Ephraim, like a young lion to house of Judah. I myself will tear them to pieces, then I will carry them off and no one will be able to rescue them!” Ephraim will return to Egypt (slavery) and eat unclean food in Assyria. The days of punishment are coming; the days of reckoning are at hand. It is time to seek the LORD until He comes and showers righteousness on you; Israel will be completely destroyed.

Hosea’s prophecy to Israel ends on a positive note, with encouragement to repentance, “Return to the LORD”. This final appeal will be rejected by this arrogant and stubborn nation. However, his message will instill hope in the righteous remnant and repentant generation of the future, revealing the great love of the LORD for His people. It will also provide a model to follow for individuals and nations to follow in returning to the LORD.

Amos’ final words of wisdom: “Who is wise? Let him discern these things! Who is discerning? Let him understand them! For the ways of the LORD are right; the godly walk in them, but in them the rebellious stumble.”