Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Haggai

I love this book as it provides my sole contribution to the C of E’s Common Worship corpus – if you look on p 116 of New Patterns for Worship you’ll see my lectionary module to help with a preaching series on Haggai. All my own work!

The book dates from the period after the return from the Babylonian exile, and as we have already seen in Ezra and the third section of Isaiah things were not going as well as they might. Released from the hardship of exile and slavery, the people seem to have returned to their homeland and simply flopped. Haggai is called by God to wake the people up from their stupor and refocus on their worship of God. In particular they are called to rebuild the Temple, the symbol of God present among his people.

The spiritual stupor, though, was not one of slumber, but rather of self-centredness. In 1:4 the term ‘panelled houses’ implies a programme of home improvements for the people, while the Temple still lies in ruins. A modern rewriting of this book might include a concentration on block paved driveways and fitted kitchens, along with a neglect of spiritual life and values. In other words it is a book which speaks directly to well-off Christians feeling they deserve a bit of ease after the rigours of life. Yet it is a lifestyle which does not satisfy: Haggai describes in 1:5-6 and 2:15-19 the materialistic lifestyle which is never enough, in a way which speaks uncannily accurately into 21st century consumerism.

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Unlike many prophets Haggai’s words do not fall on deaf ears, and there is a speedy response. If you look carefully at the chronology of the book the whole thing happens over a period of months. The people are motivated to work in around three weeks, and the work appears to be completed within around three months. But with it come some promises from God: the future is going to be even better than the past, and that the rebuilding will mark a turning point in the people’s fortunes.

Haggai also brings encouragement to the nation’s leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, and promises the presence of his Spirit with them. The book ends with an apocalyptic-sounding glimpse of a victorious future for the remnant of the people.

The book reminds us of two important truths: the temperature of our spiritual lives cannot but affect everything else, and that outward ease and prosperity are shallow if they are not the gifts of God. The ‘peace’ promised in 2:9 sounds an altogether different thing from the implied ease and comfort of 1:4. The more we procrastinate over our spiritual lives, symbolised here by the state of the Temple, the less the things of this world will bring us satisfaction. I write as the schools are breaking up for the summer, and church life often trims back to give everyone a well-deserved rest. But I know only too well how easy it is to forget God when life gets easier. It is paradoxical that the gift of rest, which is our eternal destiny, can serve to help us forget God when we have it down here.

The second truth, though, is the good news of fresh starts, as many as we need. How many times in our lives have we heard God saying to us ‘From this day on I will bless you’? Praise him for his mercy and patience.

Image:       By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (On the Building Site  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Zephaniah

Zephaniah was an approximate contemporary of Jeremiah, prophesying not long before Judah was exiled to Babylon, but in many ways his book has similarities with Amos. it is about the univ3ersal judgement of god, not just on those who are his ‘chosen people’, but on all the nations. The Philistines (2:4-7), Moab and Ammon (2:8-11), Egypt (2:12) and Assyria, who had overrun the Northern Kingdom of Israel (2:13-15) are all to get their come-uppance from God as he executes his judgement on people. Some of the nations’ crimes are spelled out: Moab and Ammon have insulted God’s people, always a dangerous thing to do, and Assyria have been presumptuous and complacent. We’re not told what Egypt or Philistia have done, although we know that they have both at different times oppressed God’s people.

But the plot thickens: in 3:6 we are told that God has already wreaked destruction on other nations. He expected that Judah would see this and make the connection with her own sin. Seeing the anger of God expressed on others ought to have led her to repentance herself. But no, and therefore she too will be subject to his judgement. But there is still time: if people can only read the signs of the times, watch what God is doing to other nations, make the links and come in penitence to him there is the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. That ‘perhaps’ motif, which we encountered in Joel 2:14, is present here too.

So the book is, like Amos, a corrective to people who think that because they are God’s chosen people they are immune from punishment and can do exactly what they like. Instead they should gather – this is more corporate than individual – seek God, humility and righteousness. If they do that, perhaps God will spare them when he judges everyone else.

The book ends, though, as so many of the prophetic books do, with a promise of redemption. History tells us that this promise did not prevent exile and punishment, but it did heal it. The language is not of rescue but rather of restoration. Scattered people will be gathered, purified and re-created as a truthful, honest and fearless nation. In the one verse which anyone knows from this book, we have the beautiful picture in 3:17 of God rejoicing and singing with delight over his people. The Mighty Warrior has almost been overcome with delight and compassion.  The shame and contempt which the nation has received, not just from Moab and Ammon but also from many other nations will be removed, to be replaced with honour and praise from all who see them.

It is very tempting to read OT books like these individualistically: Jesus has saved me and so all this stuff applies to me as one of his people. It is good to remember that the Bible thinks ‘corporate’ far more than it thinks ‘individual’. If we read this book against the current world scene, and think national rather than personal, it provides some severe warnings about presumption, oppression and national penitence.

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Habakkuk

We know less about Habakkuk than just about any of the other biblical prophets. We have no idea about his surname, his place of birth or his career, apart from some vague traditions that he might have been a musician or Levite attached to a shrine somewhere. Someone with his name (which seems to be Akkadian rather than Hebrew) is mentioned in the apocryphal book of Bel and the Dragon, but that’s about as much as we know.

What we do know, though, is that he was a brave man. Many of us experience times of doubt, often when we believe God to be acting out of character and causing us suffering, But few of us dare to stand up to God as Habakkuk does, and tell him off because of his behaviour. Job can have a bit of a moan from time to time, but Habakkuk really goes for it. It looks as though he is prophesying in the South, not long before the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. The nation had seen their northern neighbours in Israel carried off by the Assyrians 100 or so years earlier, and the signs were that their fate was heading in a similar direction. Habakkuk begins by complaining that in spite of his intercessions God has done nothing to halt the violence and corruption of the nation. God responds by saying ‘Just you wait and see!’, and promises swift and furious destruction of the wicked at the hands of Babylon.

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But this only makes things worse. How can a righteous God, who cannot even look at evil, use a nation even more wicked that Judah as the instruments of his punishment? Habakkuk poses this question, and then stations himself on his watchtower to wait for a convincing answer. You can just see him there with his arms defiantly folded. Again God answers, and it is basically the same message, ‘Just you wait and see!’ Babylon is eventually going to be punished herself, this time, history tells us, at the hands of Persia. It isn’t that God is allowing them to get away with it, any more than he is Judah. Fortunately Habakkuk decides not to push it by demanding who is going to punish Persia: he has got the point, and reaches the conclusion in chapter 3 that God pretty much has the right to do what he likes. In the one purple passage of this book he stakes his faith that whatever the state of things God is worthy of our praise. He seems to be aware that a time of great tribulation is shortly to come upon the nation, but that through it all God’s purposes are going to be worked out, and that he is to be worshipped come what may.

This book tells us two things, one about us and one about God. God is big enough to cope with our rants, and Habakkuk validates the human desire to argue back when things seem unjust. Simple compliant trust and acceptance of God’s will are often held up as virtues in good Christian circles, and they may well be, but for some of us at some times we simply can’t manage that. We want to rage, shout and argue, and Habakkuk gives us permission to do so. Habakkuk’s experience is that this behaviour leads to greater understanding and deeper praise.

Image: By Dan Marsh (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Nahum

It’s an ill wind which blows nobody any good. Imagine, in the middle of world War II, a prophet standing up and announcing God’s judgement on Hitler and Nazi Germany. Bad news for the Nazis, but a great relief for France, Poland, the UK and the rest of Europe. That’s what Nahum is doing as he predicts the destruction of Nineveh, capital city of the Assyrians. The nations who had suffered at the hands of Assyria’s legendary brutality and cruelty would be cheering this prophet, whose name means ‘Consolation’.

All we know about the guy is that he came from Elkosh (1:1), but since we have no idea where Elkosh is that doesn’t help much. It has been identified with what became Capernaum (literally ‘the village of Nahum’)  but we just don’t know. We can, however, date this book fairly accurately, since we know that Nineveh was in fact destroyed in 612 BC. We also know that the destruction of Thebes, to which he likens Nineveh’s downfall (3:8-11), took place in 633 BC, so we have a fairly narrow window. His message is one of unremitting judgement on the city, for its violence, described graphically in 3:1-4, and in particular for its attacks on Israel.

What is interesting about this book, though, is the comparison with Jonah, which probably dates from 150 or so years earlier. We saw that Jonah was called to preach to a city even then legendary for its evil, and that when he was obedient to this call (eventually), the city repented and turned to God. Yet within a few generations the Assyrians are up to their old tricks again, and this time there is neither repentance nor, according to Nahum, any chance of it. Whilst Jonah preached God’s mercy, Nahum preaches only destruction.

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So this book raises all kinds of questions about God’s judgement and mercy, the permanence or otherwise of repentance, and ultimately the famous ‘Once saved always saved’ controversy in the Christian church. History shows us that in spite of her earlier repentance after Jonah’s ministry Nineveh had again become renowned for her brutality, and that the averted destruction did happen in the end. What we don’t know is whether the people’s earlier repentance was genuine or not, although God seemed to think so at the time. So Nahum’s message reminds us that each generation has to choose afresh whether or not it is going to serve God, and that repentance on behalf of our children is not possible. It also reflects the reality that sometimes people do lose the plot and slide back from an earlier commitment to God. It may also be that the reference to ‘witchcraft’ in 3:4, which is not developed any further by Nahum, points to some spiritual disease in the land which, without healing, simply causes the behaviour to manifest itself again in future generations. We can see this dynamic at work in all sorts of ways, for example in churches which repeat patterns of sinful behaviour keep occurring, although manifested by a new set of people. Deep repentance and healing, of the kind advocated by people like Russ Parker[1] is necessary to break sinful cycles.

Fortunately we live the other side of the cross from Nahum, so there is never, in this life, a point where judgement completely rules out the offer of mercy. We still have the responsibility of making sure that our repentance sticks, but even when it doesn’t we have a God to whom we can return, again and again.

[1] Notably in his Healing Wounded History (London: SPCK, 2012)

Image: “Adad gate exterior entrance north3” by Fredarch – Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Micah

Micah was an approximate contemporary of Isaiah of Jerusalem, Amos and Hosea, in the 8th Century and the lead up to the Babylonian exile. We have already seen how different prophets, facing the same situation, felt very differently about the root cause of the issues God was calling them to address. We saw Hosea complaining about unfaithfulness and lack of love for God, while Amos concentrated more on social injustice. Micah gives us a third take on this period, although his words are more in line with those of Amos. Like all the prophets of this period he warns people about coming judgement, and blames their deliberate and planned oppression of one another. National leaders and false prophets, who say what the people want to hear rather than bringing challenge to them, are equally condemned. Religion is comfortable, big business, and deeply compromised and therefore abusive.


But of his contemporaries Micah is perhaps the prophet most clearly able to see beyond tragedy and punishment to redemption and new hope. He has quite a lot more carrot than stick. He talks about ‘the last days’ (4:1 etc) when the Temple, set on the mountain of the Lord, will become a centre of worship and truth, not just for Israel but for many nations. As people gather to meet with the true God, so his teaching will go out, and warfare and conflict will be replaced with peace and prosperity. The poor will become rich, the sick healthy, the weak and grieving nation will, paradoxically, become mighty warriors.

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In chapter 5 this future vision becomes even clearer, as a new ruler for Israel is prophesied, who will come from the insignificant village of Bethlehem. Whether or not this is to be read as a clear prophecy about Jesus the coming Messiah, two things are significant: Bethlehem’s background as the place from which David, Israel’s greatest king, hailed, and the fact that it is the back of beyond as far as prestige and power are concerned. I wonder if we are meant to see a contrast between the current regime of powerful and oppressive religious leaders, based at the ‘cathedral’ of the Jerusalem Temple, and the future leader whose background is insignificant and who will shepherd the people rather than oppressing them.


The last word comes from the other purple passage of this book, 6:6-8, which sets out what the people have to do in order to please God: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. These kinds of behaviour and mindset are worth for more to God than extravagant sacrifices. The universal picture of salvation is reprised in the final paragraphs with a picture of the warlike nations who have oppressed Israel crawling out of their dens to find forgiveness and true faith in God.


Micah’s work delicately balances warning and hope, judgement and restoration, and Israel and the rest of the nations. It warns us of the dangers both of oppressive religious systems, injustice to others, and a belligerent attitude to the world around. God’s salvation is for all, even people ‘not like us’. It encourages us to righteous living and reverent worship.

Image: “A cross in the sky of Bethlehem (8316854980)” by Lux Moundi – A cross in the sky of Bethlehem. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Jonah

We’re a bit more on familiar ground with this fishy tale, a book with a great story and loads of difficult issues. Jonah is called by God to preach God’s judgement in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, a cruel and vicious enemy of Israel away to the north east, which is a bit like asking someone to run an Alpha Course at Islamic State headquarters. So quite naturally he runs off in the opposite direction, and gets on a boat in Joppa. However, his disobedience threatens the life of his fellow-passengers, and he is thrown into the sea, only to be rescued by some sort of sea creature. He spends three days inside the creature, singing, no doubt, since we all know that everyone sings in whales, until sadder and wiser he gets vomited out and goes and does what he’s told, only to see the Assyrians repent in great numbers, from the King downwards. However, Jonah is really annoyed that God is letting them off after all they’ve done to harm Israel, and he throws a hissy fit and decides to sulk himself to death. Using a gourd-vine and a worm God teaches him a lesson, but the book is left hanging as to whether or not Jonah is convinced.

The miraculous in this book is clearly a big issue for some, and different people tells tales of having survived inside a large fish or whale, while others tell of the physiological impossibility of this happening. It may be that we have a well-known folk tale here, which is given a more spiritual twist. We saw that when we looked at Job. The book is difficult to date too. It must be fairly late, when the Assyrian empire was at its height and had captured Israel. Some regard it as a treatise against the narrow nationalism of post-exilic Judah. When you’ve been in exile and finally returned to rebuild your own land it’s natural for you to feel a bit xenophobic, to want to batten down the hatches and keep God to yourself. The idea that God might love foreigners appears to be a novel one, and the idea that he might love the very nation responsible for the destruction of your fellow-Israelites up north is unthinkable. So Jonah’s sorry tale might be for the nation a reminder that the God of mercy and compassion is merciful to all. It might also serve another purpose, which we have touched on before, taking them back to the original call of Abraham to be blessed but also to be a blessing for the rest of the world.

So what might this book have to say to us? There is something, I think, about the consequences for others when the church loses its vocation and focuses on being blessed rather than on being a blessing. At the lowest level we leave people not being able to tell their right hands from their left. Of course that doesn’t in any way refer to my wife, but rather speaks of a nation lost and confused in their sin and ignorance. The people lack all moral perception, and are unable to see the consequences of their action. The abolition of ‘Sunday’, for example, had radical effects on Western family and working life. Many believe that the persistent erosion of stable families is going to reap a whirlwind in the future. We can read all the research that children thrive best in families with a man and a woman in lifelong commitment, yet we continue actively to promote alternatives. When the church loses moral battles, the nation as a whole is weakened. Without preachers of truth and repentance, the nation simply will not hear, and may lose out the opportunity to change its ways.

But it gets worse: might those on the boat with Jonah be a picture of the storms which threaten others when Christians are disobedient. The church continues to be rocked, for example, by accusations of abuse, and in a real sense many have simply shoved us over the side to drown. The fish or whale, therefore, becomes not an image of God’s judgement but of his rescue, a sign of hope that we may get a second chance, and that people might even start to listen when we simply do what God tells us.

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Obadiah

This is one of my fave little books, brilliant for introducing group Bible study. With a little bit of background knowledge it’s possible to grasp what this book is all about, tick it off and get going on the other 65. Living out its message, of course, takes longer, but it’s always good for people to be able to say ‘OK, understand that’.

So what do we know about the background? Not a lot. Who was Obadiah? No idea. When might it have been written? We’ll come to that. Next question: who is this prophecy about? V 1 tells us it’s aimed at Edom, a nation who lived due south of Judah next to the Dead Sea. There are a few more clues to Edom’s location: the people live ‘in the clefts of rocks’, ‘on the heights’, ‘among the stars’ where the eagles soar. Not Lincolnshire, then. Note too that the people are called ‘Esau’, so they are the descendents of Jacob’s cheated brother, and so not always best friends with the Israelites.

What will happen to this nation? They will be totally ransacked by God’s judgement. If it were only human invaders things would be slightly better, but upset God and you’re in deep muck. And the fact that you think you’re unconquerable (v 3) only shows how much you underestimate God.

Now those who have visited the Holy Land may by now be picking up some clues, particularly if I tell you that in Hebrew ‘edom’ means ‘red’. (Esau was by all accounts a ginger.) What we’ve got here is the capital city, Petra, carved high in the red sandstone mountains of the Negev, accessible only by a narrow defile, called the Siq, only a few metres wide, and therefore extremely easy to defend. But not against God.

So what great crime did Edom commit to incur their judgement? Reconstructing v 10-16 the scenario seems to be that when Judah, their neighbours, were under attack (almost certainly as they were being carried off into exile in Babylon, which helps no end with the dating of this prophecy) Edom, rather than coming to their aid, stood at a distance and gloated, then helped mop up a few survivors and handed them over to the attackers, and then marched into the deserted city to loot what was left, desecrating the Temple as they went.

It’s been said that evil triumphs when good people do nothing. But to add active insult to passive injury makes things even worse. There is an implicit warning here for those who do nothing while others suffer. I recently led a study on this book in a Homegroup, at around the time that the Christian Church in Syria, Baghdad and other parts of the Middle East was undergoing virtual wipeout at the hands of Islamic State murderers, and we couldn’t help but wonder how our brothers and sisters viewed the Church in the West, and whether this very book which we were studying in the comfort of our nice homes was speaking to them of us. It’s a deeply challenging book, inviting us to stand up against injustice and violence wherever we can, and warning us against believing that we’re safe and secure here where no-one can touch us.

Images: By David Bjorgen (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Jordan, Petra, Panorama, High Sacrifice” by – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Amos

And now for something completely different. Hosea whom we looked at two weeks ago was an 8th century prophet who warned people that because of their lack of love for God and their prostitution of their faith through adulterous relationships with other gods they would go into exile. Then we saw Joel, who is not easy to date, believing that a plague of locusts heralded the start of God’s apocalyptic judgement, which might, however, be held back by deep penitence for sin. Now we come to Amos, a slightly earlier contemporary of Hosea, also ministering in the North, also predicting  judgement, but for very different reasons.

His message, and his style, were aimed at people who were basically complacent and self-satisfied. It wasn’t that they were bad at loving God, but that they were dreadful at loving their neighbours.

He begins to tickle their complacency by a cook’s tour of the surrounding nations, each of which is roundly condemned for some area of sin. You can just hear the applause after each nation is mentioned, as self-righteousness and xenophobia combine to make the people feel better and better. The penultimate straw is his condemnation of Judah, their despised brothers to the South: this would really have raised the roof. But then the hammer drops as in 2:6 Israel itself get exactly the same treatment. Not only does this condemn them for their sins, but also it tells them that they are no better than all these hated foreigners in God’s sight. All alike are ripe for punishment.

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The sins of Israel, though, are not about their lack of devotion to God. Indeed their worship and music are exemplary (5:21-24). It’s just that it is so much hot air, and does not show itself in care and concern for the poor, needy and broken of society. Their worship really is the Tory Party at Prayer, while the humble poor are neglected. The rich get richer, and enjoy a life of ease, while the poor are further beaten into the dust. And no-one even seems to care, or even to notice.

It isn’t that God hasn’t tried to get their attention. In chapter 4 there is a list of disasters which have overtaken the nation: famine, drought, pests and plagues, warfare and destruction. But the refrain after each disaster is the same: ‘Yet you have not returned to me!’.

The Israelites could have done with being Anglicans. Merely to say to God ‘We do not presume …’ might have freed them from annihilation. But they would not, and their self-righteousness continued. Amaziah the shrine priest tried to send Amos back down South to do his preaching there (7:10ff) but he knew his calling, and he had no choice but to obey. His message was that those who longed for the Day of the Lord, that time would God would come and vent his wrath on all the foreigners, would be the day they too were on the receiving end of it.

I need not labour the parallels with our own age, with its injustice, inequality and violence. But as we’ll see next time, to do nothing is simply not enough. How tragic if the British Church heard God say ‘yet you have not returned to me’.

Image: By Jim Linwood [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Joel

Hosea and his other chums among the minor prophets are easy to date, but Joel is harder. The main story is about the nation being attacked by a locust plague so devastating that to the prophet it feels as though the apocalypse has started. You can see why, with the sun blocked out across the land, vegetation completely destroyed (and remember that this isn’t just about food now, it’s also about seeds for next year), and relentless armies still coming. What is unclear, though, is whether this was an actual physical plague or one merely seen in a vision or dream. Sadly history tells us nothing which would help us to locate this plague in a particular era, and scholarly opinion as to the dating ranges for several centuries from the 9th to the 2nd.

However, the message of Joel is not dependent on us getting the date exactly right. With prophetic insight he saw this plague of locusts as a picture of the coming judgement of God on an apostate nation, judgement which would be equally severe and all-encompassing. But he not just a messenger of doom: he suggested practical action which could avert the disaster, and he saw beyond it to future hope for a repentant people.

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The first two chapters alternate between descriptions of the tragedy and calls to penitence. The first account of the locust-storm describes its effect on the land and its produce, but ends in v 12 with a deeper interpretation: the withered land is also a picture of the withered hearts of the people. Drunkards are called to weep because there will be nothing more form them to drink, but the more serious call to action is aimed at the priests, whose responsibility is twofold: to cry to God in penitential and desperate prayer, and to summon the people to do the same. This is priestly ministry indeed, as they stand between the people and God to intercede for them, but so great is the disaster that the people too must tear open their hearts in shame and fervent prayer.

In chapter 2 there is a further description of the locusts, but now they have taken on a much more sinister and apocalyptic look, as they are painted as a great conquering army, leaving not just devastation but also fire in their wake. What is worse, it is the Lord himself who is leading them in their mission of punishment.

The solution, then, is radical and heartfelt penitence, but in somewhat agnostic fashion the prophet suggests that there might just be hope (v 14). But in 2:18 the Lord indeed responds, and promises not just physical restoration of the land and its crops, but also a spiritual harvest, in the purple passage from this book, which was seen by Peter and the others on the day of Pentecost as a prediction of the coming of the Spirit.

But Joel’s vision is even more far-reaching, and chapter 3 looks to the final judgement of all people, when those who have remained faithful as God’s people will be rewarded with a bountiful land while those who have acted against Israel will be punished and devastated.

Joel’s words are challenging on many levels, but as a priest I find his call to take the lead in intercession and penitence very significant. The problem may be, though, that as a nation on one level we have not been threatened with the level of disaster which the locusts, real or spiritual, brought with them. We shall see next week that our land is in a place much closer to that of Amos’ time, when self-satisfaction rather than fear is the predominant mood. Far be it from me to hope for a national disaster, but there is no doubt that it would certainly focus the mind, and hopefully the prayer too.

Image: By Iwoelbern (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Through the Bible in Just Over a Year – Hosea

From the future-focussed apocalyptic of Daniel we are on safer – if equally strange – ground as we go back to the 8th century and the ministry of Hosea in the Northern Kingdom of Israel shortly before its destruction by Assyria. Like his approximate contemporary Amos his message is one of judgement for an apostate nation, but the cause of, and the response to this apostasy is very different. Hosea had the extremely uncomfortable calling to do his prophecy through the details of his own life, and his disastrous marriage gave him deep insight into the feelings in God’s heart as he prepared to see his chosen people overrun and destroyed.


Hosea is called by God to marry a prostitute, which can’t have been an easy task in itself, finding one who wanted to get married. The term ‘Diblaim’ in 1:3 may be her father’s actual name, but also means a couple of fig cakes. An accurate translation could be the equivalent of ‘You could have her for the price of a bag of chips’, so she may not have been a high-class escort! But Hosea used both her unfaithfulness to him and his forgiving love for her to illustrate God’s faithfulness to an apostate nation. Although there is some anger on God’s part, the feel that comes over from the book is of a rejected and broken-hearted God weeping over his people. In chapters 10 and 11 God recalls the past, and his kindness to the nation, kindness which has been thrown back in his face.

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Again, in contrast with Amos, the main sin of the people is not about their actions, but rather their heart. We shall see Amos condemning the injustice and oppression of his society, but Hosea goes deeper: it is the nation’s failure to love God and remain faithful to him which is the issue. Just like his own wife and her sexual partners they have gone off after other gods. But just as he keeps the door open for Gomer to return to him, so the message of the book is one of mercy and grace. The final chapter holds out a promise of a glorious future for a repentant people, but it was sadly never to be fulfilled.


We are in an interesting position in the church today. We’re no longer that concerned about sin at all: the highest value in our society nowadays is ‘tolerance’, and we have created a tolerant god in our own image. No doubt that is a reaction against what was perceived as a hellfire approach in the past, where an angry God was constantly looking out for whom he might smite for the smallest peccadillo. But there is a third way of thinking about sin and unfaithfulness, and Hosea epitomises it. It isn’t just that sin makes God angry, although it does. It certainly isn’t that he ‘tolerates’ it: he doesn’t, and won’t. But we seldom think of sin as breaking God’s heart, but that is how Hosea presents it to us. I am reminded of Jesus’ tears over the apostate city of Jerusalem in Luke 19 and 13:

If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.

 I guess it would put a whole new perspective on discipleship and holiness if we really could grasp the pain in our Father’s heart for his wayward children. Meditating on the life of Hosea might do us all good.

Image: “10.3010 Torino-nightlife.v2” by Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons