Saturday, August 27, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (42)

Between present-day Israel and Syria sits a tiny Middle Eastern republic of a little over four million people. It is an ethnic hodgepodge of Arabs, Armenians, Kurds and Turks divided almost equally between Muslims and (nominal) Christians. Before the introduction of Arabic as Lebanon’s official language, its people mostly spoke a Western version of Aramaic. More than three times as many Lebanese live outside Lebanon as live in it, the vast majority of these in South American countries.

From the tiny number of Jews remaining there (in 2020 Lebanon’s Jewish population was estimated at 29, a community described as “elderly and apprehensive”), you probably would not guess that the territory once belonged to Israel. But it did.

As part of the possession given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their offspring — perhaps the best part — Lebanon is mentioned 71 times in the books of the Old Testament. Mount Lebanon marked Israel’s northern border. A land of peaks and valleys, Lebanon was famous for its fir, pine, cypress and algum forests, but especially its cedars, from which Solomon built his temple in Jerusalem. Isaiah refers to Lebanon as glorious. Its cedars became a metaphor for a flourishing, righteous man richly blessed by God.

One day, perhaps sooner than we think, Lebanon will again belong to Israel. Hosea mentions Lebanon three times in this last chapter of his prophecy, as if it would never be lost to his people.

Hosea 14:4-7 — Three Comparisons

“I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”

Last week we considered the prayer of repentance Israel’s descendants will offer up in a future day in response to a missionary message about the glory of God, which we know from elsewhere in scripture will be displayed in the person of the Lord Jesus at his second coming. This is important, because forgiveness cannot take place and Israel’s relationship with its God cannot be restored in the absence of a change of heart and life.

But when God finally blesses, he does not hold back. He loves freely. The fourteenth chapter of Hosea is a complete reversal of everything we have been reading to date, rich with blessing described in images of botanical glory and fruitfulness. Israel will “blossom”, “take root” and give off shoots. Its beauty will be olive-like. Naturally, this is where the Lebanon comparisons come in. Revived Israel will be:

Rooted like the trees of Lebanon. The cedars of Lebanon were notorious for both their size and great age. Big trees have deep roots, and during Christ’s millennial reign, Israel will be as stable and secure as ancient Lebanese cedar. The forests of Lebanon are largely gone today, but revived Israel will endure for 1,000 years.

Fragrant like Lebanon. Israel’s testimony to its glorified Messiah will be as fragrant as a walk through an ancient Lebanese forest. It will be a place of rest, refreshment and beauty.

Famous as Lebanese wine. Lebanon is among the oldest sites for wine production on the planet. The Phoenicians built a fleet of merchant ships from Lebanese cedar and exported their wine all over the ancient world. The Israel of the millennium will be characterized by glory and honor rather than shame and judgment.

How will this great change come about? The Lord says, “I will heal their apostasy.” The word translated “apostasy” means literally “back-turning”, much like Lot’s wife, who couldn’t take her eyes off her home in Sodom. She had been offered salvation, but turned away from it to perish with her wicked neighbors. God will not leave millennial Israel to its own devices in maintaining its newfound faith and loyalty; his people will have God’s help in doing so. Israel will no longer be afflicted with double-mindedness but will be a model of fidelity.

Hosea 14:8 — The Source of All Good

“O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.”

As in all the prophetic scriptures, it is well established in Hosea that idol worship is an exercise in futility. Like adultery, it cannot produce anything good. Food and drink offered to idols was food and drink wasted; the supplications of the idolaters fell on deaf ears.

In contrast, the God of Israel is a God who responds to prayer, a God who cares for his people, and a God who enables them to produce everything of genuine spiritual value (“from me comes your fruit”), the living source of all good things. He is “evergreen”, dependable and secure in every moment and every season. Unlike the gods of the nations, there is never a time when YHWH fails to hear and respond to his people’s needs.

Hosea 14:9 — The Ways of the Lord

“Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

This morning I was reading a little political commentary from the atheist Sam Harris on the emerging Hunter Biden laptop coverup story. Harris’s take: It doesn’t matter if Joe Biden is corrupt, or even if Hunter Biden has the corpses of children buried in his basement; the left wing conspiracy to deny the presidency to Donald Trump was “warranted” because Trump is such an awful person.

Now, Harris is one of the so-called “brights”, a writer and public intellectual considered an expert on his subject matter by many, but he is basically endorsing lies, manipulation and moral anarchy as legitimate means to political goals. This is where any viewpoint that fails to acknowledge “the ways of the Lord” inevitably goes haywire: it is unmoored from all authority, order and law. It cannot ever be “right”, because it starts from the basic assumption that moral behavior is a human construct rather than the Creator’s recipe for the correct operation of his creation.

The discerning man accepts the authority of God and those to whom he has delegated it because he understands his position in the world. He walks in the ways of the Lord and prospers because he is operating in harmony with his own design. He functions in the world as God always intended. The transgressor cannot walk in the ways of the Lord because he can never submit, not even to the wisest mind in the universe. He refuses to acknowledge any direction but his own and any path but the one he has chosen.

Small wonder, then, when he finds himself unable to stay upright because he keeps tripping over the curb.

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