The Time of Reaping

For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.
When I would restore the fortunes of my people,
when I would heal Israel,
the corruption of Ephraim is revealed,
and the wicked deeds of Samaria;
for they deal falsely,
the thief breaks in,
and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
that I remember all their wickedness.
Now their deeds surround them,
they are before my face.
By their wickedness they make the king glad,
and the officials by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
they are like a heated oven,
whose baker does not need to stir the fire,
from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened.
On the day of our king the officials
became sick with the heat of wine;
he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For they are kindled like an oven, their heart burns within them;
all night their anger smolders;
in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen;
none of them calls upon me. (Hosea 6:11-7:7)

Harvests were happy times of celebration in ancient agrarian societies because they meant that the people didn’t have to worry about starving to death that year. A good autumn harvest meant there would be enough seed to plant next spring.

But Hosea used the happy time as a metaphor for God’s judgment on his people. How could such a joyful event become a symbol of judgment? From the perspective of the crops harvested, the reaping was a painful thing: the crops were mowed down, threshed, and the leftover chaff was burned. Harvests were inherently violent. Animals were slaughtered and their meat smoked or salted to preserve it during the long dark winter. The unconsumed grain went into the barns.

But harvests are not destructive. They are not designed to harm. They are for the benefit of all concerned, ensuring the continuation of life. So a harvest captures clearly the true nature of judgment. God loved his people. He disciplined them for their own good. God always acts in love, but how it is perceived depends on whether you look at things from the perspective of the grain being chopped down and threshed, or from the perspective of the hungry farmer.

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The LORD said, “Hosea, Israel has betrayed me like an unfaithful wife. Marry such a woman and have children by her.” So I married Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and we had a son.

Then the LORD said, “Hosea, name your son Jezreel, because I will soon punish the descendants of King Jehu of Israel for the murders he committed in Jezreel Valley. I will destroy his kingdom, and in Jezreel Valley I will break the power of Israel.”

Later, Gomer had a daughter, and the LORD said, “Name her Lo-Ruhamah, because I will no longer have mercy and forgive Israel. But I am the LORD God of Judah, and I will have mercy and save Judah by my own power—not by wars and arrows or swords and cavalry.”

After Gomer had stopped nursing Lo-Ruhamah, she had another son. Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-Ammi, because these people are not mine, and I am not their God.”

Someday it will be impossible to count the people of Israel, because there will be as many of them as there are grains of sand along the seashore. They are now called “Not My People,” but in the future they will be called “Children of the Living God.” Israel and Judah will unite and choose one leader. Then they will take back their land, and this will be a great day for Jezreel. (Hosea 1:2-11)

The worst job in the world is to be God’s prophet. In order to illustrate Israelite behavior, prophets became God’s performance art. The Israelites had betrayed God and chased after other gods. Therefore, God had Hosea purposely find a woman who would behave toward him just as the Israelites had behaved toward God. In marrying Gomer, Hosea had no illusions about what he was getting himself into. And from the very first day, she continued to live and act like the prostitute she was.

And the performance art extended to his children. The name Jezereel was given to his son as a symbol of God’s displeasure with what Jehu had done. The name “Lo-Ruhamah” means “unloved” while “Lo-Ammi” means “not my people,” standing for what Israel had become.

After repentance and restoration, however, the Israelites would be “as many as the grains of sand on the seashore.” The phrase is hyperbole, not literal. It simply means that there will be a lot of them. Hosea’s wife would one day become faithful to him, just as one day Israel would become faithful to God. Both Hosea and God get to have a happy ending.

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Why Can’t You Do What I Say?

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go and tell the men of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, ‘Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the LORD. ‘Jonadab son of Recab ordered his sons not to drink wine and this command has been kept. To this day they do not drink wine, because they obey their forefather’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again, yet you have not obeyed me. Again and again I sent all my servants the prophets to you. They said, “Each of you must turn from your wicked ways and reform your actions; do not follow other gods to serve them. Then you will live in the land I have given to you and your fathers.” But you have not paid attention or listened to me. The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab have carried out the command their forefather gave them, but these people have not obeyed me.’

“Therefore, this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on Judah and on everyone living in Jerusalem every disaster I pronounced against them. I spoke to them, but they did not listen; I called to them, but they did not answer.’ ”

Then Jeremiah said to the family of the Recabites, “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘You have obeyed the command of your forefather Jonadab and have followed all his instructions and have done everything he ordered.’ Therefore, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Jonadab son of Recab will never fail to have a man to serve me.’ ” (Jeremiah 35:12-19)

The Recabites were a peculiar group of people. Jonadab, the son of Recab, had told his children not to drink wine. He also told them, never to build houses, sow seed or plant vineyards. Instead, they always had to live in tents (Jeremiah 35:7). Ever after, every descendent of Jonadab had followed his words, despite the fact that the instructions were to put it mildly, rather nonsensical.

In contrast to the weird Reabites who strictly adhered to the most peculiar rules, the Israelites ignored the reasonable instructions of God. And so God used the Recabites as an object lesson. How is it that a mere human being can get generations of people to abide by his idiosyncratic beliefs, but the Israelites won’t listen to wisdom given to them by God himself? Wisdom that he gave them because he loved them and wanted what was best for them? Why would they turn from the living God and follow pretend gods? Why would they turn against love and toward hate for their neighbors? They are crazier than the Recabites ever were.

God does something remarkable: he makes a promise to the Recobites, that because of their faithfulness, he will make sure that there will always be descendents of the Recobites to serve God. God appreciates loyalty and rewards it.

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God Doesn’t Have a Lawyer

“This is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

It is the LORD who provides the sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night, and who stirs the sea into roaring waves.

His name is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, and this is what he says:
“I am as likely to reject my people Israel as I am to abolish the laws of nature!”

This is what the LORD says:

“Just as the heavens cannot be measured and the foundations of the earth cannot be explored, so I will not consider casting them away for the evil they have done. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 31:33-37)

When God rescued Israel from Egypt, he made a covenant—a contract—with them. For the people of Israel, it signaled their change of ownership. Where they had been slaves to Egypt, they now belonged to God. So they agreed to do what he told them. The details of the contract were laid out in the book of Deuteronomy, the actual treaty between God and Israel. Israel became obligated to worship God exclusively and to treat one another in a loving way.

Although God’s promises are more certain than tomorrow’s sunrise, his people’s promises were not. That’s why human beings have contracts—and lawyers. But God doesn’t have fine print in his contracts, nor does he have a band of lawyers working to get him out of them. Instead, God wants to keep his contracts—and he wanted to help his people keep theirs.

To solve the ongoing problem of his people breaking their promises, God decided at last to write a new covenant—a new contract inside them—to make it a part of them so it could never be erased, lost, or forgotten.

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Mind Games

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
“I, the LORD, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.
“As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid,
So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly;
In the midst of his days it will forsake him,
And in the end he will be a fool.”
A glorious throne on high from the beginning
Is the place of our sanctuary.
O LORD, the hope of Israel,
All who forsake You will be put to shame.
Those who turn away on earth will be written down,
Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:9-13)

Our own minds can play tricks on us. The Hebrew word commonly translated into English as “heart” in the Old Testament is rarely referring to the physical organ. Rather it is the seat of the intellect: the mind. Our minds are the source of who we are, the place where our personality and all our experiences are stored. From it come the dark thoughts and the good thoughts, our emotions, our feelings of hatred and love. Our actions grow from and are directed by our minds, and our minds can fool us, deceive us, and lead us into the wrong paths; our minds can help us justify our actions, however reprehensible—and our mind can help us see reason and lead us to repentance.

Consider how easy it is to be fooled. A stage magician can convince us we’ve witnessed the impossible. An optical illusion easily confuses us. We lie to ourselves. We all too easily jump to conclusions. Our biases warp our perception of reality. Our minds betray us on a regular basis.

But God understands us even when we don’t understand ourselves. God alone is trustworthy.

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Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the LORD.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
And whose hope is the LORD.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

God alone is completely trustworthy. The land of Israel is dry in many places. But it has streams called wadis. During the rainy season, they fill with water, but during the summer and during droughts they dry up. But beneath the parched soil, the water is still there if you dig for it. Trees planted near such wadis will never lack for water, regardless of the changing seasons.

Because we can see people, we easily put our faith in them, despite the fact that people are flawed, inconsistent, and often fail to meet their well-intentioned obligations—like the water in a wadi. Likewise, we will fail ourselves: we will become guilty of the one thing we could never imagine ourselves being guilty of. We will lose the job that seemed so perfect. Our bodies will age, we will grow sick, and our memories will fail us. The other person in the race is actually faster than us after all.

God never tires, never gets sick, never has a short temper. The events of his day never ruin his mood or turn him grumpy.

God will always be ready for us, like the deep water; he is the one person that we can always rely on.

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Without a Prayer

And the LORD said to me: Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your ancestors when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of an evil will. So I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.

And the LORD said to me: Conspiracy exists among the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors of old, who refused to heed my words; they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant that I made with their ancestors. Therefore, thus says the LORD, assuredly I am going to bring disaster upon them that they cannot escape; though they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they will never save them in the time of their trouble. For your gods have become as many as your towns, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars to shame you have set up, altars to make offerings to Baal.

As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. (Jeremiah 11:6-14)

Sometimes it is simply too late. The ship has sailed. The ice cream is on the floor.

Israel’s idolatry was endemic. Every town had its own gods. Shrines to deities dotted the hillsides. They no longer knew who God was. Yahweh was simply one of many gods worshipped by the Israelites.

Their relationship with God was entirely superstitious. They thought in terms of ritual, sacrifice, incense, lucky charms and sacred objects. The god of one town was useless in the town next door. Their reach, their capabilities, were small. They were not much to be feared, but likewise, they were not much help in trouble, either: which is why they had so many. Strength in numbers.

God told Jeremiah that it was too late. There was no solution to the problem but exile. No one listened. No one even understood any longer. There was no prayer left for these people. Only judgment.

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Orbital insertion is scheduled for the evening of July 4, 2016.

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Talking the Talk

But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
You make friends with a thief when you see one,
and you keep company with adulterers.
“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your kin;
you slander your own mother’s child.
These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:16-23)

So you thought God was just one of the guys, just like you? He hadn’t commented for a long time, and so you thought he must agree with you? He already told you “do not murder.” Does he have to say it again when you kill your neighbor? Don’t you already know what he thinks? Or did you expect God to be a nag?

God’s silence should never be taken as agreement. Quoting God’s commandments is all well and good. But God doesn’t much like being quoted by those who disagree with everything he stands for. What does he have in common with gossips, adulterers and thieves? God doesn’t want to be seen in that company. It bugs him when the wicked quote him, as if his words upon their lips somehow grants them his endorsement. Those caught in a crime who talk about how much they love God are doing nothing but piling up reasons for God’s judgment.

Not only have they been guilty of wickedness, they insult God and bringing his name into disrepute, giving ammunition to the scoffers who delight in pointing out the vile deeds of the self-righteous. When Satan stands before God and accuses the saints, he doesn’t have to make stuff up.

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What the Contract Stipulates

The LORD God told me to say to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:

I, the LORD, am warning you that I will put a curse on anyone who doesn’t keep the agreement I made with Israel. So pay attention to what it says. My commands haven’t changed since I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, a nation that seemed like a blazing furnace where iron ore is melted. I told your ancestors that if they obeyed my commands, I would be their God, and they would be my people. Then I did what I had promised and gave them this wonderful land, where you now live.
“Yes, LORD,” I replied, “that’s true.” (Jeremiah 11:1-5)

People change their minds. They make promises, but then circumstances arise and they find it easy to let them alter the agreement; they explain their promises away. They had good intentions, but how were they to know what would happen?

The prophets were not innovators. They did not bring a new message from God. Instead, they preached the old, old story, repeating what God expected: that his people would love him and love each other.

Israel had agreed to that contract with God. They had promised to do whatever he said. They did not have to agree to the contract. He rescued them from Egypt before he offered it to them. Their freedom and prosperity were not on the line. It wasn’t as if they were drowning in a lake and the lifeguard made them agree to pay a fortune before he’d save them. They were out of danger. And they decided to sign on the dotted line.

God reminded his people that he had not changed. That is a comfort, or should be a comfort: what God promises, he’ll do. God will never betray us, he’ll never go back on a promise. He’ll keep his word.

God wishes that human beings—that his people–would be more like him.

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