Picking a wife
Hosea 1: He picked Gomer daughter of Diblaim.
Somewhere in my sermon files I have a sermon on the “beautiful, vivacious, Gomer.” Aside from this being the name of Hosea’s bride the only other Gomer I know of is the TV character and he’s about as plain a guy and you’ll ever find. I can’t help but wonder how Hosea went about obeying God’s command. Did he head down to the red light district and pick a wife? Did he already know Gomer from their childhoods and, maybe remembered a childhood crush he had on her? This situation almost begs for more information. Frankly, I doubt that Gomer is a lovely lady at all. Instead, I think she’s hard and brittle and jaded and rebellious. The reason I think that is not because I think all women who sell their bodies are like that. I think many are victims for whom one bad choice has led to another. Rather, see Gomer thus because in this “living parable” she represents the rebellious people of Israel. I don’t think that Hosea goes out and picks the prettiest of the lot. Instead, I think he picks the person whose most like Israel: hard, brittle, jaded, and in rebellion against their loving God. Obviously, such a marriage is doomed from the start. However, in spite of this oil and water marriage, Hosea finds himself bound to his wife by an irresistible, undeniable love. The reason for this is that, in this living parable Gomer represents Israel; Hosea represents God.
Take Away: The Lord is bound to us in love, but not because we’re irresistibly loveable.
Picking a wife
Who is this really?
Hosea 1: The first time God spoke to Hosea…
The book of Hosea contains no preface aside from the opening sentence or two. There’s no wading into this pool. Instead, we immediately jump off into the deep end! The thing is it appears it’s that way for Hosea too. Here’s a godly man, minding his own business suddenly hearing from God. Having grown up in the ’60’s I loved Bill Cosby’s “Noah.” Cosby imagines Noah hearing from the Lord and then asking “who is this really?” If, out of nowhere, being told to build an ark was a strange command imagine what it’s like for Hosea when his first message from God is to go, find a prostitute, and marry her! “Who is this really?” wouldn’t have been an unreasonable question. However, Hosea recognizes the Voice of God and he responds, not as Bill Cosby might imagine, but in immediate, humble obedience. God speaks, Hosea obeys. We’ve hardly begun reading this book and before us is the line “Hosea did it.” If I push everything back for a moment, before plunging on into the story, I can’t help but marvel at Hosea’s ability to hear, recognize, and then obey the Voice of God even though what he’s heard seems highly unreasonable. Today, I can’t help but be impressed by that.
Take Away: We all need lessons from people like Hosea and Noah in learning to hear and recognize the voice of the Lord.
The living parable
Hosea 1: This is God’s Message to Hosea.
Having just spent time in the Old Testament book of Daniel it takes some reorientation to turn the page and find myself in the book of Hosea. Here I see that it will be 200 years before Daniel has his adventures in distant Babylonia. I find myself back in the day of Isaiah and his warnings of future destruction and here I find God at work, reaching out to a rebellious people in an effort to restore them to him and spare them from what’s coming otherwise. Also, as I reach the book of Hosea I find I’m now in the final segment of the Old Testament in the writings of those called the “minor prophets.” Of course, it isn’t their message that’s “minor.” It’s just that their books are shorter and more focused. All the books of the Minor Prophets together contain less material than, say, the book of Ezekiel. Hosea’s prophecy is called a “living parable.” As will Ezekiel in years to come, Hosea is called to live out his message. His prophecy is also a love story. The love he demonstrates for us is not some silly, “love ya’ man” or a shallow, “baby, I need your lovin'” kind of love. Hosea demonstrates for us the depth and power of God’s love for us.
Take Away: The Lord loves us with a powerful, persisting love.
Don’t worry about it
Daniel 12: Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax.
The things Daniel sees contain some disturbing and confusing information. He’s concerned about that. He doesn’t want to miss out on the message he’s been given. However, God’s messenger tells him not to worry about it. What he’s been shown is a long way off and, while some will waste a great deal of energy “running around, trying to figure out what’s going on” Daniel isn’t expected to grasp it all. Rather, he’s to merely pass the word along and when the time is right it’ll be opened up to those who need to understand. When he’s done that, Daniel’s off the hook. He’s to go about living life without fretting or worrying about how it will all play out. The Lord’s final message to Daniel is “relax.” I firmly believe that there are crucial events in world history when God puts specific people in a specific place for just that moment. However, most of us are called to simply live for God day by day. We don’t have to figure it all out and we don’t have to become famous Christians. If I give my life to Jesus and by his grace live for him I can “relax.” As Daniel’s promised, “When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.”
Take Away: Most of us are called to simply live for the Lord day by day.
The big picture
Daniel 12: It will be a time of trouble, the worst trouble the world has ever seen.
Imagine the second part of Daniel as a mural done by a master artist depicting the rise and fall of kingdoms through history. As we examine the mural we see mighty nations rise, then divide, and then fall to some new world power. Some folks have patiently examined Daniel’s “mural,” attaching labels to the various kingdoms he describes. Those folks might be right and they might be wrong. Frankly, for me to attempt this is a waste of time. The least of those who seriously attempt to match nations up with Daniel’s vision is superior to me. I get lost in it all fairly soon. I do come away from Daniel’s sweeping picture with certain impressions. For one thing, I’m reminded that, even though I firmly believe human beings have free will, there’s an overarching flow of human history that’s firmly in the hands of God. Second, even though it seems some things happen outside of God’s providence, I’m reminded that the Lord remains Sovereign over all. Whether or not I think God is orchestrating, down to some detail, the flow of events I need to remember that nothing’s happening on the world stage that he isn’t at least allowing to happen. Finally, I see that there’s an end to the story. Things won’t forever continue as they are. Daniel sums it up with a description of everything coming to a head with “the worst trouble the world has ever seen.” The Lord isn’t a bystander to human history. He’s ushering us along to some specific events and, ultimately, to a specific conclusion. As I watch the world news and see the clashes of world powers, it’s good to remember that nothing that happens is a surprise to God. That may not be a very complete view of the nature of prophecy, but it’s not a bad place to start and, while I may not understand the specifics, I do get the big picture.
Take Away: There’s an overarching flow of human history that’s firmly in the hands of the Lord.
The unseen part of life
Daniel 10: I was waylaid by the angel-prince of the kingdom of Persia.
In general, I’m not a mystic person. That is, I don’t see the devil behind every bad thing that happens and I don’t think most of the events of life are being orchestrated by God. Still, I do believe there’s an entire part of our existence that’s very real yet mostly unseen. That isn’t really much of a stretch for us anyway. For instance, a person born blind can be fully convinced of the reality of color even though he’s never seen it. However, in that case the blind person has plenty of people around him who do see so he has an abundance of input concerning what is personally beyond his grasp. When it comes to the spiritual dimension there’s much less reliable information. We end up in passages like this one receiving just a fleeting glimpse of events beyond our normal sight. Even then, the purpose of the passage isn’t to explain all this anyway, so I have to tread very carefully here. Daniel has an encounter with a messenger of God, an angel. Others sense this being’s presence, but can’t see it. They flee. Daniel though, sees and faints at the sight! The angel is there to talk about future events, but in passing mentions that he was delayed by another angel for three weeks and also mentions he has to go back to fight against that same being when he’s finished with Daniel. I know that better educated people than I have worked through this passage, coming to various conclusions about the part of existence we cannot see (or concluded that this passage has nothing to do with that). For me, I accept the fact that there are realities that I can’t see. While I don’t think I go around with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, I do believe that this part of existence is just as real as the coffee cup sitting here on the table. I also believe that there are times when the unseen is very close by and having a direct influence over me and what’s happening in my life. Finally, I realize that I am, in general, blind to all of this. I have to trust the Holy Spirit, who can see it all and who was sent to be my Guide to help me navigate through the unseen part of life.
Take Away: We should be thankful for the guidance of the Holy Spirit who sees what we cannot see and helps us avoid that which would do us harm.
Daniel 9: All we have to show for our lives is guilt and shame.
As we well know, Daniel is a praying man. Honestly, when I first read of Daniel’s opening his window toward Jerusalem for prayer three times a day I had the impression he had some sort of reverent ritual of prayer. I have nothing against praying the prayers of other people or of repeating prayers that are meaningful to us and I had the feeling that Daniel prayed like that. Now, as I arrive in chapter nine I have the actual text of one of Daniel’s prayers. It’s anything but a ritual of prayer! Here’s a man pouring out his heart to God. Daniel has had a disturbing vision, he’s been reading Jeremiah’s troubling prophecies, and, as he considers these things his heart is broken. I note that Daniel doesn’t pray about “their” sins when thinking of the sins of his people. He sees a nation drowning in sin and, without joining them in their rebellion, jumps right into the pool with them. In other words, Daniel doesn’t piously hover above all the sinners calling them to repent. Rather, he becomes one of them and then begins to plead with God for forgiveness and restoration. His humbleness in identifying with lost people is a powerful picture of intercessory prayer. Also, there’s zero self-justification here. Daniel doesn’t try to explain to the Lord that there’s a righteous remnant left or that he, himself, has never wavered. Instead, he grieves “our sins,” confesses that God is right in judging those sins, and pleads for mercy and forgiveness. I need this lesson because I live in a sinful nation that seems intent on seeing how angry it can make God. At the same time, there are millions who have been swept along by this flow, not so much in rebellion against God as in confusion and ignorance. Like Daniel of old, I pray, “Lord save us. We are sinners living apart from you, lost and without hope. Have mercy on us, not because we deserve it but because you are the God of mercy.”
Take Away: Jesus taught his followers to pray for forgiveness for “our trespasses” – not “their trespasses.”
The bottom line on the bottom line
Daniel 7: The Old One sat down.
The Book of Daniel is clearly divided into two parts. The first half recounts for us stories of God’s empowerment of and protection over the Hebrews who were taken into Babylon. The second half contains Daniel’s reports of his visions and dreams concerning the future. I think anyone will agree that the stories are more fun than the visions. However, we find in these six chapters of Daniel Old Testament writing that reminds us of the Book of Revelation. In fact, it’s likely that the writer of Revelation borrows some of his imagery from these visions. When Daniel is tossed into the den of lions we read about it as a very personal account of faith and deliverance. Now, his visions of the flow of history are so broad in scope as to take our breath away. He sees kingdoms rise and fall as bewildering history unfolds before him. Theologically, I firmly believe the Lord has granted us free will and, because of that, the future isn’t predetermined in detail. However, I also believe that God is ushering the human race to a future he’s already declared. In other words, I’m free to cooperate with God or not. Because of that, my future isn’t predestined. The big picture, though, is known to God because he’s already determined to bring it to pass. When the Almighty decides to do something, well, he doesn’t have to see the future to state that it will happen. In this specific vision, Daniel sees a series of future kingdoms appear, flourish, and then give way to the next. At one point he notes that in the midst of all the rising and falling that there’s a fiery throne and on that throne sits the Ancient of Days. I love that picture. Kingdoms rise and fall, human history marches through time, and in the midst of it all we see God in his glory and authority. I don’t claim to have all that great a handle on prophecy but I think I have this one figured out. Through it all, in it all, above it all: God is.
Take Away: Everything else gives way. God remains.
Daniel 6: God…closed the mouths of the lions.
Daniel’s political enemies might have conspired to have him thrown into the den of lions but they couldn’t control the lions, themselves. God sends an angel to do that and his man survives unscathed his night with the big cats. The king is relieved. After all, it was his gullible foolishness that caused all of this in the first place. He’s ready to acknowledge the power and authority of Daniel’s God. Darius then turns his attention to the conspirators and their families. He has them all thrown into the lion’s den. God’s angel has already departed and they come to a horrible end. As I read this I’m reminded that Daniel represents God in a wicked and heartless regime. Nebuchadnezzar, it seems, had a genuine change of heart. Darius, on the other hand, has been impressed and humbled by Daniel’s God and from now on he will treat Daniel’s God with respect. In other words, Darius’ experience was not nearly as personal as was Nebuchadnezzar’s. Daniel prospers under Darius and then under Cyrus. Apparently, neither of these two become worshipers of the Lord but they respect Daniel and his God. We Christians have something to learn here. If possible, we want people to become believers; to join us in worship of the only one worthy of worship. However, we may not always see that happen. In some cases the best we will see is that others will decide we and our faith have earned their respect. Hopefully, that will be a first step to something more for them, but that decision is out of our hands.
Take Away: Live in such a way as to influence people for the Lord – if nothing else, to earn their respect and to cause them to respect the one we worship.
Daniel 6: Your God…is going to get you out of this.
Darius’ ego trip has put one of his most loyal supporters in jeopardy. The command making himself the only object of prayer was a dumb one in the first place. Who does he think he is anyway? I see that when the trap is sprung that Darius works all day long trying to find a way to reverse it. I don’t get that one. Law of the Medes and Persians or not, he is the King after all. Finally, Darius gives up and prepares to toss Daniel into the den of lions. Darius gives Daniel a pep talk and in he goes. In this passage Darius is cut a lot of slack so I need to be careful in how I think about it. Still, I have to admit that Darius gets under my skin a bit. He makes a dumb law. Then, even though he is king and all, can’t figure a way out of it. He then tells Daniel, “Your God…is going to get you out of this.” If Darius has all this faith in God why did he issue his silly decree in the first place?” But, of course, he’s right. God is King of kings and he is King over the king of the beasts. The lions are under his authority and God controls them through the night. As I say, I don’t want to be too hard on Darius, but it’s not smart to place oneself or others in jeopardy through our own foolishness and then say, “God will take care of things.” I’m glad that the Lord is gracious to me in my silliness, but I don’t want to tempt the Lord either.
Take Away: It’s not smart to place oneself or others in jeopardy through our own foolishness and then say, “The Lord will take care of things.”