Lack of Knowledge

Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land mourns,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea are dying.
“But let no man bring a charge,
let no man accuse another,
for your people are like those
who bring charges against a priest.
You stumble day and night,
and the prophets stumble with you.
So I will destroy your mother—
my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. (Hosea 4:1-6)

How can you have a relationship with someone you don’t even know? If you don’t love other people, then you don’t love God—and vice versa. Not loving people results in all the crimes God listed. The crimes were merely symptoms of the underlying disease: an unfaithful and unloving heart.

Those who were in positions of leadership—particularly those tasked with the responsibility of teaching, had failed to live up to their calling. Priests and prophets had turned their back on God’s revelation to his people. They did not concern themselves with what God had told them: they ignored the Bible as it existed to that point, and consequently, they had no idea what it was that God expected of them. They mistreated the people around them, and had no idea who God was, what he cared about, what mattered to him.

What we know is what we will live. Christians today are all priests, with direct access to God. But to whom much is given, much is required. It is impossible for us to worship God in spirit and in truth if we know nothing about the one whom we claim to be worshiping. The religious establishment in Hosea’s day had forgotten who they were worshiping and they imagined that it didn’t matter: that all that counted was their enthusiasm, their sincerity, their rituals. But we can’t love someone we don’t know.

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God Isn’t Fickle

People of Israel and Judah,
what can I do with you?
Your love for me disappears
more quickly than mist
or dew at sunrise.
That’s why I slaughtered you
with the words
of my prophets.
That’s why my judgments blazed
like the dawning sun.
I’d rather for you to be faithful
and to know me
than to offer sacrifices.
At a place named Adam,
you betrayed me
by breaking our agreement.
Everyone in Gilead is evil;
your hands are stained
with the blood of victims.

You priests are like a gang
of robbers in ambush.
On the road to Shechem
you murder and commit
other horrible crimes.
I have seen a terrible thing
in Israel—
you are unfaithful
and unfit to worship me.
People of Judah,
your time is coming too. (Hosea 6:4-11)

Human love can be very fickle, coming and going over the least offense. Hosea had married a prostitute because God told him to, so his wife spent most of her time elsewhere, with other men. She didn’t love him. Likewise, for God: Israel gave him lip service, but her real passion was for the other gods, the ones she really cared about, since she spent all their time with them.

God listed three places that people had been unfaithful to him: Adam, which was near the Jordan River, Gilead, which was a region near Adam, and Shechem, in central Palestine. The people were guilty of unfaithfulness to God and unfaithfulness to one another. Even the priests, who were supposed to represent God acted like a criminal gang. This was nothing new. Even in the days of Samuel, before Saul became king, the priests had taken advantage of those few people who had come to worship Yahweh. Eli’s sons were not the first and would not be the last to misbehave. But by the time of Hosea, God’s patience was near an end and what he had done to Eli’s sons, with the ark of God captured by the Philistines, he now intended to do to the nation as a whole. Hosea’s wife wound up sold as a slave. He redeemed her from the slave market. Eventually, Israel would become captive, and eventually God would redeem Israel from Babylon. Neither Hosea’s wife nor Israel had done anything to merit redemption. They were both redeemed on account of a love that was not fickle. God’s love for us is not fickle.

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The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me,

“Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. (Ezekiel 37:1-7)

It’s never too late for God. Ezekiel, an exile himself, prophesied to the exiles living in Babylon. The people in exile felt empty, abandoned and hopeless. Despite the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah who had promised that they would return home one day, they still doubted, able to see no further than their current pain. So once again, God revealed the future. God granted Ezekiel a vision of a vast field, filled with bones, metaphorically standing for the exiled nation. Then God restored the bones to life, a vast army and told Ezekiel that they represented the Israelites who were saying that “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” God intended to resurrect them. That is, he would bring them back home, to the land of Israel.

God doesn’t go back on his promises. But he makes allowance for human fear and weakness. He freely reassures us time and time again. Sometimes we may fear that God has abandoned us, that we’ve been too bad, gone too far from his will, that it is too late. God reassured the Israelites, even after hundreds of years of them having gone too far and after years of exile, that even then, it wasn’t too late. Even when we’re nothing but dried bones, God still has a plan for us and it’s a good one.

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This is what the LORD says:
“A cry is heard in Ramah—
deep anguish and bitter weeping.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted—
for her children are gone.”
But now this is what the LORD says:
“Do not weep any longer,
for I will reward you,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come back to you
from the distant land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come again to their own land.
I have heard Israel saying,
‘You disciplined me severely,
like a calf that needs training for the yoke.
Turn me again to you and restore me,
for you alone are the LORD my God.
I turned away from God,
but then I was sorry.
I kicked myself for my stupidity!
I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.’ (Jeremiah 31:15-19)

Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, once made a wry comment about Herod the Great, the man he had made into the king of Judea. He said, “it is better to be Herod’s pigs than Herod’s sons.” Pigs were not kosher, so he wouldn’t touch them. But Herod’s family? He was paranoid and killed more than one of his offspring and an inconvenient wife whom he had feared might be plotting against him. When wise men from Persia showed up looking for a royal son that had supposedly been born to him, Herod was panic stricken. None of his wives had recently given birth. And he was a king in Judea only because Augustus Caesar had made him king. He was not descended from David and had no legitimacy. If a new king had been born as these wise men suggested, that was very bad news for Herod indeed: he had a rival, someone who had a legitimate right to the throne he was occupying. So he found out where the child was to be born, according to the prophets, and when the wise men didn’t come back, he just took care of things in his own inimitable style: he simply slaughtered all the babies in Bethlehem who might be even close to the right age. No sense in being too careful.

God’s prophesy of Rachel weeping because her children were no more was taken by Matthew and applied to Herod’s slaughter. But Jeremiah’s original intent was to prophesy about the deportation of the Jews to Babylon. “Rachel” of course, was Jacob’s—Israel’s—true love, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Metaphorically, she came to stand in as a poetic reference to the nation of Israel. Unlike the infants slaughtered by Herod, God reassured the Rachel of Jeremiah’s day, the people of Israel, that those taken from them would one day return again. And even for those slaughtered by Herod, the resurrection is coming. Those lost to us now, will be with us forever someday. The most bitter of tears will be wiped away.

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When she came, she pretended to be another woman. But when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, he said, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam; why do you pretend to be another? For I am charged with heavy tidings for you. Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Because I exalted you from among the people, made you leader over my people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David to give it to you; yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my sight, but you have done evil above all those who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and cast images, provoking me to anger, and have thrust me behind your back; therefore, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city, the dogs shall eat; and anyone who dies in the open country, the birds of the air shall eat; for the LORD has spoken.’ (1 Kings 14:5b-11)

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can never fool God. The prophet Ahijah was old and blind. Years before, he had told Jeroboam that he would become king over the ten tribes of the north. But rather than following God, Jeroboam had made the Israelites worship two calf idols instead of Yahweh.

When Jeroboam’s son became ill, he sent his wife to the Ahijah to find out what would become of his son. Although she disguised herself, given that Ahijah was a genuine prophet, she couldn’t hide the truth from him. So Ahijah gave her the bad news from God: not only would Jeroboam’s sick son not survive, neither would any of Jeroboam’s family. Two years into the reign of his surviving son Nadab, a leader from the tribe of Issachar named Baasha rebelled. Baasha killed Nadab, became king in his place, and then murdered Jeroboam’s entire remaining family.

God later judged Baasha for having killed Jeroboam’s family (1 Kings 16:7). Just because Jeroboam was evil, that did not make murdering him the right thing for Baasha to do just because God had predicted what would happen. Two wrongs never make a right. Justice is not served by means of wrong actions, no matter how good the outcome.

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The Stupid

Such stupidity and ignorance!
Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.
The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
“Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?”
The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes.
He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
“Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”
“Pay attention, O Jacob,
for you are my servant, O Israel.
I, the LORD, made you,
and I will not forget you.
I have swept away your sins like a cloud.
I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.
Oh, return to me,
for I have paid the price to set you free.”
Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done this wondrous thing.
Shout for joy, O depths of the earth!
Break into song,
O mountains and forests and every tree!
For the LORD has redeemed Jacob
and is glorified in Israel. (Isaiah 44:18-23)

The problem with worshiping false gods is that they are false: it is like believing a chain letter. You’ll not only not see the promised millions, you’ll lose what little you have. The Israelites had put their faith in stuff that didn’t exist. They had been conned. Trusting in charms, horoscopes, crystals and the like was foolish. They were going to get hurt and God didn’t want his people to get hurt.

Rather than trusting God who was reliable, people were willing to give up their time, money, and hope to things that were ephemeral. They looked to things that would fade away for solutions to eternal problems. Despite the Israelites’ stupidity, God had forgiven them. He stood ready and willing to rescue them from all their problems. He had taken care of all the details. All the Israelites had to do was take God’s hand. All that was left to do was to rejoice over God’s salvation. Everything had been fixed, there was nothing left to worry about.

God knows just how stupid we can be when it comes to sin: how easily we let it con us. So there’s nothing left to do now but to rejoice in the way out of our mess that God has provided.

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Depends on the Question

The Philistines also went and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. So David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?”

And the LORD said to David, “Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.”

So David went to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there; and he said, “The LORD has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water.” Therefore he called the name of that place Baal Perazim. And they left their images there, and David and his men carried them away.

Then the Philistines went up once again and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. Therefore David inquired of the LORD, and He said, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the LORD will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” And David did so, as the LORD commanded him; and he drove back the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer. (2 Samuel 5:18-25)

Sometimes war is the answer. It just depends on what the question is. Shortly after David became king over a united twelve tribes of Israel, the Philistines set out to crush his new kingdom. They had, but a few years before, destroyed the nation of Israel—or so they had thought—when they killed Saul and the crown prince, Jonathan. But David had come to power and reunified what had been the scattered tribes of the Jewish people. So the Philistines deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim, the broad plain southwest of Jerusalem, the city that David had just taken from the Jebusites and was establishing as his new capital. David asked God if he should respond to the Philistine provocation. God told him to attack them. So, at Baal Perazim, located just northwest of Jerusalem, David defeated the Philistines and captured their idols. The capture of the idols demonstrated to Israel and the Philistines both that the God of Israel was the stronger God. Baal Perazim means “lord of breakthroughs.” Yahweh had “broken through” his enemies like water punching through a dam.

God can break through whatever it is that stands in our way.

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We first began having significant issues with my youngest daughter when she was in eighth grade: that was when we first began experiencing the out of control rage, a symptom of—we later learned—bipolar disorder. That was four years ago, and the amount of time and focus that she has required rose with each passing day, week, month and year. There were periods of time in there when it seemed as if things were improving, and other periods when it seemed as if all was lost.

One consistency in it all has been how it has sucked energy from me. I remember when I had time to do more than exist, when I could focus my attention for long stretches on writing, reading, or hobbies.. Now, I find it hard to manage to focus my attention for longer than fifteen minutes at a stretch. To a large extent, this is a consequence of having my day interrupted that often by requests from my daughter, whom I spend every day with from the time she awakens until the time she goes to sleep. I make her meals. I fix the minor crises that confront her. She is on independent study for her schooling, because she cannot now manage being in a traditional classroom. This means that I must help her with her school work, answering questions, supervising her as she takes online tests and quizzes, explaining the things she can’t understand, sometimes over and over again.

And so I sit here at my computer, except during the times I’m trying to help her, doing my best to focus on my tasks and finding my mind distracted with the chaos around me. I want to work on my books—I have three novels and two non-fiction books that I’m attempting to write; they are in various stages of rewriting, some barely past the first draft, one that I’m just trying to get past the first chapter. I find it hard to do much more than just sit here. I used to have hobbies, but I find myself unable to make time for them. I try reading, and it’s hard for me to stay interested. I don’t even watch television much. If I spend even an hour during the week watching something it’s been an extraordinary week. The best I can manage for attention now is to sometimes flip from website to website, or to stare at Facebook without comprehending what I’m seeing.

I still manage to do my work and to function. Somehow I get blog posts up every day, write a newspaper column every week, and make some progress, however minimal, in writing the books I’m trying to finish. And I do manage to read a book or two each month. Which may seem like a lot, but I used to read that many in a week and often more. I remember when I used to write three or four novels each year—finish them—which meant I would do three first drafts and be working on rewriting two or three others all at the same time. And somehow, along with that, I was pursuing my hobbies: I like building and flying model rockets, playing with model trains, collecting stamps and coins. I enjoy hiking. And I’d be reading books and keeping up on the daily newspaper, reading magazines, and keeping up on the journals in my field of specialization. And I’d still have time to spend with my wife and kids, watch some TV, and attend the occasional movie—while also teaching Sunday school each week.

How is it that I can’t do all that now? There are still the same number of hours in the day. But now, why can’t I focus, why can’t I concentrate? Is it the stress of my daughter’s mental illness? Has it really taken that much of a toll on me?

I’m not really sure.

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Big Sister and Little Brother

Although Moses was the most humble person in all the world, Miriam and Aaron started complaining, “Moses had no right to marry that woman from Ethiopia! Who does he think he is? The LORD has spoken to us, not just to him.”

The LORD heard their complaint and told Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to come to the entrance of the sacred tent. There the LORD appeared in a cloud and told Aaron and Miriam to come closer. Then after commanding them to listen carefully, he said:

“I, the LORD, speak to prophets
in visions and dreams.
But my servant Moses
is the leader of my people.
He sees me face to face,
and everything I say to him
is perfectly clear.
You have no right to criticize
my servant Moses.”

The LORD became angry at Aaron and Miriam. And after the LORD left and the cloud disappeared from over the sacred tent, Miriam’s skin turned white with leprosy. When Aaron saw what had happened to her, he said to Moses, “Sir, please don’t punish us for doing such a foolish thing. Don’t let Miriam’s flesh rot away like a child born dead!”

Moses prayed, “LORD God, please heal her.”

But the LORD replied, “Miriam would be disgraced for seven days if her father had punished her by spitting in her face. So make her stay outside the camp for seven days, before coming back.” (Numbers 12:1-14)

Just who did Moses think he was? Zipporah had been Moses’ wife when he returned to Egypt. Whether she had died, whether Moses had divorced her, or whether Moses was adding a second wife to his household is unknown. For some reason, Miriam and Aaron thought Moses had no right to marry the Ethiopian woman. By claiming that God spoke to them, too, they meant to imply that God agreed with them.

God told Moses’ siblings that they had no business claiming to be speaking for God when they weren’t. God told them that he and Moses spent a lot of time together, the implication being that he didn’t spend that kind of time with them.

Moses’ sister Miriam was singled out for punishment. Perhaps she was the ringleader. In any case, God gave her leprosy which turned her as white as snow. Perhaps she had objected to Moses’ nuptials on the basis of his future wife’s skin color. So God turned her exceptionally white since she seemed so fond of that color. Her punishment was only temporary. God healed her within a week.
God will protect his own. If God is for us, who can be against us? Even our closest families members can’t stand in God’s way.

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The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:8-16)

Symbols matter. Our lives are full of them. Stop signs. Green lights. The letters that spell out words. Moses raised the staff that had been his tool as a shepherd—that had become a sign of God’s work in his life—over his head while the Israelite’s fought. That uplifted staff served as a symbol of God’s watchful care over his people during their first battle. Aaron and Hur joined together with Moses, demonstrating unity of purpose with God in the fight against their enemies.

The staff was not magic, nor were Moses’ hands. It was God who was at war against the Amalekites. Moses didn’t credit Joshua, the staff, Aaron, Hur or himself for the victory. It was God who had saved the people that day in answer to the prayers symbolized by their upraised hands holding Moses’ staff.

God told him that the job was not yet done, however. The day was to be commemorated and remembered, because a time would come in the future when the last of the Amalekites would be relegated to history. The fulfillment of God’s promise came during the reign of Israel’s first king, Saul.

Symbols and commemorations help us remember what God has done in our lives. They prepare us, giving us the strength to face what our futures hold.

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