Tag Archives: prophet

Dead Worship or Vibrant Life?

Worship created a controversy for the prophets of the Old Testament. The Lord God had instituted temple worship during the reign of King Solomon. The temple in Jerusalem had various rituals like animal sacrifices and pray incense which had roots from the time of Moses and the Exodus. The Israelites were expected to worship God in the temple on a regular basis and many did.

However the prophets spotted a major problem in worship. It had become empty rituals that did not transform the lives of the worshippers. The prophet Isaiah spoke against such abuses,

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts.
Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile;
your appointed festivals my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:11-15 abridged)

Worship had not transformed God’s people into agents of God’s peace and healing for the world. The prophet’s words can be a critique of us today. Has our worship service turned us into servants of God? Do we expect to encounter the living God at worship and be changed?

I have been using Thomas Kelly’s book, A Testament of Devotion, in my personal devotions. He speaks to the transforming power of prayer, but sees it as not our work, but God’s great work within us.

We may suppose these depths of prayer are our achievement. But this humanistic account misses the autonomy of the life of prayer. This inner life has a life of its own, invigorated not by us but by a divine Source. . . . Our prayers are mingled with a vaster Word, a Word that at one time was made flesh. We pray, and yet it not we who pray, but a Greater who prays in us. In a holy hush we bow in Eternity, and know the Divine Concern tenderly enwrapping us and all things within His persuading love. Here all human initiative has passed into acquiescence, and He works and prayer and seeks His own through us in exquisite, energizing life. (p. 45, abridged)

Now that is a description of the Vibrant Life of Faith in Christ.

Lord Jesus, turn my tired, routine prayers and worship into a joyous dance with your Spirit.

Words of Death and Life

The Old Testament prophets were poets and strong words were their tools. The prophet Hosea used offensive language to stir up the people and to call them back to God. The graphic words were to be a shock to the community in hope that they would repent.

Hosea and Gomer by Artist Cody F. Miller

In the first chapter, Hosea was directed by God to marry an unconventional wife.

The Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)

His chosen wife, Gomer, may have been a temple prostitute from one of the fertility cults or a simple street prostitute of the city. She bore children to Hosea to whom Hosea gave symbolic names, No-Pity and Not-My-Children, demonstrating God’s strong disfavor with the fickle people of Israel. Afterwards Hosea spoke an extremely harsh word to the people.

Plead with your mother, plead— for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband— that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts, or I will strip her naked and expose her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and turn her into a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no pity, because they are children of whoredom.

God was angry with Israel’s infatuation with other religions. Instead of being a shining beacon of the Lord God for other nations, they had embraced the gods of other nations, forsaking their unique covenant with God. They had become like a spouse caught in adultery.

The harsh violent language of Hosea can be a shock to our spiritual sensibilities. How can God speak in such cruel severe words?

Perhaps the words are so harsh, because the people’s hearts were so hard. Or perhaps they are so cruel because our hearts are so hard. The words of the prophet “killed” the people (including us the reader), so that God can create a new heart, a new life: a kind of resurrection.

Therefore I will now allure her and speak tenderly to her, . . . I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. (Hosea 2:14,19)

Finally the Lord declared, “I will have pity on No-Pity, and I will say to Not-My-Children, ‘You are my people’” (Hosea 2:23). I cling to these words of hope and restoration.

Lord Jesus, the Word of God, you absorbed our sin in your death on the cross. Speak to us again the Word of Life.

The Prophet’s Profit

The prophetic books have always been a challenge to me as a preacher and pastor. I prefer to work with narrative portions of the Bible: stories that make a point about God and humanity. The Biblical prophets rarely tell stories (the prophet Jesus being the exception). Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah and others tend to use poetic language of metaphor and direct speech. The language is often harsh and demanding. Law seems to prevail over gospel; God’s judgment over God’s mercy.

Do not rejoice, O Israel! Do not exult as other nations do; for you have played the whore, departing from your God. You have loved a prostitute’s pay on all threshing floors. Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. They shall not remain in the land of the Lord; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and in Assyria they shall eat unclean food. (Hosea 9:1-3)

Yet this is God’s Word and needs our faithful attention. Like a good doctor, the prophet gives a proper diagnoses of our spiritual condition. The prophet does not sugar-coat the news, but rather forcefully calls for the repentance of God’s people. The prophet shows us our sinful arrogance and calls us back to God’s ways. It is our disloyalty to God and God’s ways that causes the judgment. It is our mistreatment of our neighbor that causes God’s to be angry.

 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips.   (Hosea 14:1-2)

The prophets announce God’s mercy and tenderness. God’s love permeates even the judgment.  The prophet Hosea proclaims God’s grace towards us in a poem that reminds of the paradise garden of Eden in Genesis 2.

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.  I will be like the dew to Israel. . .   They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

The prophets can still speak God’s Word of life for us. Are we willing to listen?

Lord Jesus, you have the words of eternal life. Open our hearts to hear them.

Is it right to be angry?

Last night we wrapped up the study of Jonah for Summer Lite Worship.   Most remember Jonah’s attempt to escape from God’s mission to Nineveh and how God sends his pet whale to retrieve him.  What happens next is even more fantastic, because when Jonah finally reaches Nineveh, a city renown for sin, he preaches a one-sentence sermon and the ENTIRE CITY REPENTS, including the cattle, sheep, dogs and cats.   It is a marvelous scene with everyone wearing ashes and gunnysacks, seeking the mercy of a God they did not know prior to Jonah’s arrival.    And wonder of wonders, “God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them and he did not do it.”  Jonah 3:10

The reader would think that Jonah would rejoice.  After all, what preacher has ever had 100% positive response to her sermon?   But not Jonah; he despairs!   He wants Nineveh to be punished for what it had done to Israel.   Jonah starts to argue with God,

“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3  

The mercy of God causes Jonah pain because he sees others getting away with “murder.” Even though he received mercy when the great fish rescued him from the depths of the sea, he cannot stomach others receiving mercy.  God’s mercy irks him so much that he wants to die.

So God asked Jonah a fateful question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Almost all emotions involve some kind of judgment.   We are sad when we are deprived of something that we valued.  We are happy when we receive something we value.  A Garmin Forerunner 410 as a birthday present could give joy to an avid runner and disappointment to a six-year-old.  

God asks Jonah if his anger towards God’s compassion is right.  Should God be merciful to all sinners, even the most horrendous ones? Should God be gracious towards those who have hurt you?

Lord Jesus, wash me in mercy, that I might be merciful.

Jonah, Nineveh and Nahum

Tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 14), Resurrection will host its first Summer Lite Worship at 7:00 pm.  A central component is the study of neglected, yet vital Bible stories.  Our first four weeks will be the book of Jonah.

"Jonah Prophet 1" by artist Reza Badrossama

Many Christians see the book of Jonah simply as a children’s story that has no relevance to today’s world.  The only part they know is that Jonah was swallowed by a whale (or great fish).  Yet the book has a great message that is told with humor, style and grace that speaks to us today. 

Jonah is listed among the prophetic books of the Bible, yet it is so different.  While the other prophetic books are composed of primarily prophetic poems, Jonah has one prophetic speech that is less than ten words.  Whereas most prophetic books have some description of how God called the prophet to speak, Jonah goes into great detail in how he runs away from God’s call to go to Nineveh.  The contrasts all have a purpose that drives Jonah’s message for us.  I am looking forward to our study.

One key feature in the story that is challenging to understand is the city of Nineveh.  Nineveh was not a city in ancient Israel, but of an arch-enemy.  Nineveh was the capital of the great Assyrian empire.   The Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE and destroyed it as an independent nation.  The Assyrians nearly captured the southern kingdom of Judah as well.  The brutality and cruelty of the Assyrian empire was legendary. Nineveh became a symbol of all that was evil and hated.  The book of Nahum is a long Hebrew poem celebrating Nineveh’s destruction by the Babylonians in 612 BCE.

O King of Assyria, your people are scattered on the mountain with no one to gather them.  There is no assuaging your hurt, your wound is mortal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For who has ever escaped your endless cruelty? Nahum 3:19

 As Americans, we have trouble identifying with such hatred, because we have not been dominated by other nations. Yet Israel had a deep hatred of Nineveh as symbol of raw power and brutality.

In what ways is hatred appropriate ever appropriate for Christians?  

Lord Jesus, help me to follow your call no matter what.