THE PROMISES FROM HOSEA TO ZEPHANIAH
Israel became the unfaithful wife, literally the harlot. Hosea the prophet was ordered to relive God’s feelings toward Israel in his marriage with an adulterous wife. She gave birth to two children that symbolized Israel’s and Judah’s sins and punishments. In spite of Hosea’s attempt to love, reconcile and restore his wife, she like Israel remained adulterous. The verdict was: “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you. For I desire mercy, and not sacrifices, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Like Adam, they have broken the covenant — they were unfaithful to me there” (Hosea 6:4-7).
Gomer’s children, Israel (Ephraim) and Judah, did not see the hand -writing on the wall. Perhaps, the image of the harlot was too vulgar. How about admonishing Israel with a fatherly figure, namely that of a shepherd? Hence, Amos the shepherd was sent to bring the people a couple of fruit baskets of justice and righteousness, but they filled them with poison and bitterness. The ripe fruit, the locust or the Assyrians and Babylonians ate. God’s plumb line was drawn and Israel was to be no more. The prophet Amos could only lament: “Fallen is Virgin Israel, never again to rise, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up” (Amos 5:2). “As a shepherd saves from the lion’s mouth only two leg bones or a piece of an ear, so will the Israelites be saved” (Amos 3:12). The call to repentance by Joel fell on deaf ears. Israel refused to believe that God would permit an army of human locusts from Assyria to spoil their harvest. Prior to the punishment of the ten tribes, Micah was sent to ask, “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me” (Micah 6:3)? All that was required of the people was, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Micah was sent to both nations, Israel and Judah. Jerusalem had taken part in Samaria’s sin and was to be punished by another swarm of locusts, the Babylonians some 150 years later. That brings us to the days of Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Jeremiah. What Isaiah was to Israel, Jeremiah was to Judah. Judah had witnessed the fall of her sister to the north but did little to change her ways. Now Jeremiah was predicting a similar discipline and termination of Judah, but to no avail. A “boiling pot” from the north was ordered to carry out the sentence because Judah had not kept the Conditions of the Promises. Jeremiah was instructed to say, “I will pronounce my judgment on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshipping what their hands have made” (Jeremiah 1:10). Can they remember? “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them”(Jeremiah 2:2). “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled the land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols. Therefore I bring charges against you, and I bring charges against your children’s children” (Jeremiah 2:7-9). “I had planted you a choice vine of sound stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21). “On your clothes men find the lifeblood of the innocent poor” (Jeremiah 2:34).
Jeremiah has numerous graphic descriptions of Judah and Jerusalem as a prostitute without shame. The prophet was told, “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city” (Jeremiah 5:1). Regarding the leaders, Jeremiah had to woe, “They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife” (Jeremiah 5:8). “They have lied about the Lord; they said, ‘He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine. The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them'” (Jeremiah 5:12-13). “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end” (Jeremiah 5:31)?
As the end was approaching, the people persisted in believing that peace would prevail, the temple would not be touched and that the Babylonians would not take Jerusalem. There was no remorse for their heinous crimes and repentance for their horrible sins. As far as the people were concerned, they trusted these false interpreters of God’s Promises without Conditions. Jeremiah could not help but lament, “The harvest is past, the summer has ended and we are not saved. Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no healer there” (Jeremiah 8:20-22)? This is what the Lord intends, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins and a haunt of jackals; I will lay waste the towns of Judah, so no one can live there” (Jeremiah 9:1). “Cursed is the man who does not obey the terms of this covenant — the terms I commanded your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-melting furnace.’ I said, ‘Obey me and do everything I commanded you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God. Then I will fulfill the oath I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey’ — the land you possess today” (Jeremiah 11:3-5). “But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed their stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep”(Jeremiah 11:8). “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!'” (Jeremiah 15:1). The Lord mourned, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusion of their minds. Therefore, this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name, ‘I did not send them; yet they are saying, No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine” (Jeremiah 14:14-15). And that was how it ended.
The Babylonians came and swept Judah away along with the other nations that resisted. The Great Day of the Lord arrived with Babylonian justice (Zephaniah 1-3). Jeremiah told the king of Judah to surrender and not resist. “I gave the same message to Zedekiah. I said, ‘Bow your neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon; serve him and his people and you will live'” (Jeremiah 27:12). It was Nebuchadnezzar who became God’s servant to carry out his sentence against the nations. God’s people were no longer capable or suitable to judge justly. “Tell this to your masters. With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All the nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for this land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him. If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague, declares the Lord, until I destroy it by his hand” (Jeremiah 27:5-8).
Jeremiah believed that Judah would be restored and then Babylon would suffer a similar faith. “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever. I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it all that are written in the book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations. I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands” (Jeremiah 25:12-14). The Babylonians did hear about Jeremiah and they did sent some Jews back to Jerusalem for the purpose to rebuild the temple and appease the God of the Jews. Only, their cup of injustice and sin had run over. Regarding the exiles Jeremiah urged them, “Built houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says, ‘Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams they encourage you to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:4-9).
We conclude with the words of Habakkuk 2:1-4 where the word “Faith” is not a mere belief but “Faithfulness” or an act of “Obedience” to the Conditions that govern the Promises. “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it; for a revelation awaits an appointed time. It speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it lingers, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith.” The conclusion of the Prophets was that the chosen people had not met the Conditions for claiming the Promises, and what was valid for the chosen people was also true for the rest of the world. God cannot be mocked or disobeyed nor can his purpose be thwarted.