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May 31 lesson: Pursue Love and Justice

May 17, 2020
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Pursue Love and Justice

Spring Quarter: Justice and The Prophets
Unit 3: Called to God’s Work of Justice

Sunday school lesson for the week of May 31, 2020
By Dr. Hal Brady

Lesson Scripture: Hosea 11:1,2,7-10; 12:1,2,6-14
Key Verse: Hosea 12:6

Lesson Aims
  1. Identify Israel’s problem.
  2. Explain whether the predicted consequences of that problem better fit the concept of “restorative” justice or that of “retributive” justice.
The writer of the lesson described a hot summer day when he and others were excitedly preparing to eat a cool green watermelon. It was so appealing – yet, a swift stroke of a knife later, and everybody gathered around the table winced in disgust. The watermelon had rotted from the inside out. The rind was perfect, but the dead white insides reeked of decay. Disappointment quickly gave way to revulsion as they tried to escape the nauseating stench. The beautiful fruit was rotten at the core.

That was also true of the northern kingdom of Israel of the mid-eighth century BC. Though it looked beautiful on the surface, like the nation had it all together, it too was rotten at the core. And God had had enough of Israel’s revolting behavior

Lesson Context

A general time line for Hosea’s prophetic ministry is 755-725 BC. This is understood with reference to the reigns listed in Hosea 1:1 as well as the fact that the northern kingdom of Israel, Hosea’s primary focus, ceased to exist in 722 BC.

Israel’s King Jeroboam II, listed in Hosea 1:1, reigned from about 793 to 753 BC. He was a strong ruler politically. He also expanded Israel’s borders and made Israel the leading nation in Palestine and Syria (see 2 Kings 14:23-29). Consequently, Israel was wealthy and proud of its success.

Turning their backs on God, the people found it all too easy to shift allegiances to the fictitious deity known as Baal (Hosea 2:8,13). And this went hand in hand with injustice (Hosea 4:1,2). So, in confronting this idolatry, God called Hosea to live out a unique and difficult parable of God’s love for Israel (see chapters 1-3).

Note that Hosea’s style of prophecy did not involve pronouncing what we might call highly directed prophecies – those beginning with the command “Hear,” followed by named addressees – the way other prophets did (contrast Jeremiah 10:1; 22:2). The two exceptions are found in Hosea 4:1 and 5:1. Following those pronouncements, however, Hosea simply continued his generalized prophetic pronouncements on wayward Israel. For this reason, the organization of the book can be difficult to discern.

Father’s Faithfulness
(Hosea 11:1,2,7-10

With the imagery of the husband and wife, chapters 1-3 of Hosea presented an unforgettable picture of God’s forgiving love. Now, after a long series of accusations and announcements of punishment in chapters 4-10, we now see in Chapter 11 and beyond an equally memorable picture of God’s nurturing love, with the image of God the parent and the people as child and children.

Hosea tells the story of God’s interactions with “Israel” beginning with the exodus “out of Egypt.” That event and the giving of the law at Sinai launched Israel as a nation. Calling Israel “child” reinforces that this was a formative experience. God is determined that the leadership and people of Israel understand the coming prophecy first and foremost in terms of his love.

And the writer of Matthew uses this text to describe the return of young Jesus from Egypt (Matthew 2:15). That story too should be read in light of God’s love. Jesus is the ultimate expression of that love.

In verse 2, the designation “Baal” refers to the fictitious god of other nations, particularly the Canaanites. This is a term that generally has the sense of “lord” or “master.” But no matter how persistently God has “called” Israel to him, the people insist on doing the opposite and embracing idolatry (examples: 2 Kings 17:15,16; Hosea 11:7, 13:1).

Though the people may still be offering sacrifices to the Lord and celebrating his festivals, they also burn “incense to idols. The hearts of the people are untrue to the very God who gave birth to their nation by bringing them from Egypt and giving them a land of their own.

What is an idol anyway? Timothy Keller, well-known Presbyterian minister, says it is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God.

Likely the people are worshiping Canaanite deities even as they continue to say the right things about “God Most High.” Because of their utter refusal to abandon idolatry, God will not exalt them by delivering them (verse 7).

In verse 8, the parallel structure of Hebrew poetry is clear as the second question creatively rephrases the first. “Ephraim” is another way of referring to the northern kingdom of Israel (example: Hosea 5:3; 6:10).

This is also true as the fourth question rephrases the third: “Admah” and “Zeboyim” were sister cities destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 29:23). The thought, however, of punishing Israel as he did those cities breaks God’s heart. God is one who takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).

We are informed that “changed” and “aroused” does not mean that God repented of his actions as though he has done or is planning to do wrong. Rather, the sense is that “compassion” tempers his anger; see the next verse, verse 9.

This is not the first time that God’s compassion tempers his anger (see 2 Samuel 24:15-25). While numerous people tend to overreact in their anger, God is always thoughtful and measured in his action. Perhaps this is one of the things Isaiah had in mind when he said of God, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 55:8).

For God to refer to himself as “the Holy One among you” reminds his covenant people that although he is present with them, he also is entirely different from them.

Verse 9 in its context is valuable for glimpsing God’s two overarching characteristics of holiness (compare Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8) and love (compare 1 John 4:8, 16). Neither one is subordinate to the other. God’s holiness calls forth retributive expressions of his wrath (example Genesis 6:5-7), while God’s love calls for restorative expression of his wrath (examples: Deuteronomy 8:5: Hebrews 12:5-7).

As we are reminded, centuries after the time of Hosea, the self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross will satisfy the requirements of both God’s holiness and love. As sin is punished to satisfy the requirements of God’s holiness, the path to eternal life is thereby opened in satisfying the requirements of God’s love. Life in the presence of our holy God becomes possible as sin’s price is paid (Romans 3:21-26).

The final section of Hosea 11 describes a homecoming, when God’s children will come home from all over the world (vv.10-11). The figurative “roar like a lion” by God will be the sign for Israel to return home.

Now, the movement of this chapter (11) as a whole suggests comparison with the parable of the Prodigal Son. That father, in the parable, knew the risks of parenting, as he allowed his son to take what he had coming to him and set off on his own. The father must have known the pain of parenting as well; we can imagine him having reports about his son who was squandering his inheritance and wasting his time and money with prostitutes (Luke 15).

But that father’s love would not let the rebelling son go. When he saw him in the distance one day, he ran down the road to meet him, embraced him, and threw a homecoming party. So it is with God, says the text, when God’s rebelling children come home.

Lord’s Resolution
(Hosea 12:1,2,6-14)

Speaking through the prophet (11:12), God begins an indictment of Ephraim/Israel by accusing it of lies and deceit. The futility of Ephraim’s deeds become evident in 12:1, where Ephraim attempts to “herd the wind” and “pursue” the east wind. This can be another way of referring to “a treaty with Assyria” and an economic treaty with “Egypt” that involves “olive oil.” Rather than seeking God as an ally, the king of Israel has turned to world powers for security (compare Hosea 5:13; 7:11).

Verse 2 is the formal language of a lawsuit (compare Isaiah 3:13; Amos 3:13; Micah 6:2). Like any legal arrangement, there are consequences for breaking the contract. These consequences are agreed on before signing (example: Deuteronomy 11:16,17,28). As the name Ephraim in our scripture lesson refers to the entire northern kingdom of Israel, so also “Jacob” here represents all of “Judah” (or even both kingdoms in totality). Judah would do well to see how God judges the north and repent while there is still time.

In verse 6, we see that the language of “return to your God” is language of repentance from sin. But this turn of the heart must be matched by a turn in behavior. Any turn of the heart must be accompanied by practicing the “love and justice” that mirrors God’s own character.

And to “wait for your God always” is not simply a suggestion of passive patience. Rather, this imperative implies an active and complete trust in God’s plans and timing (examples Psalm 130:5; Isaiah 8:17; Micah 7:7). This will demonstrate repentance from relying on earthly powers instead of God.

Verse 7 portrays the nation as a greedy shopkeeper who delights in using “dishonest scales” to defraud or cheat customers. These “dishonest scales” are false weights on a balance scale (example: Leviticus 19:36).

Then it is that ill-gotten gain breeds arrogance (compare Ezekiel 28:5). If unchecked, this arrogance will eventually result in a self-deluding sense of invincibility (“they will not find in me any iniquity or sin”). But all his riches can never offset the guilt he has incurred.

However, mention of the exodus from “out of Egypt” again brings the prophecy back to Hosea 11:1. To “live in tents again” refers to the annual Festival of Tabernacles. During this week-long observance, Israelites live in temporary huts, or booths (tabernacles), to remember their days of God’s protection in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:33-36, 39-43). But to bring the people back to him this time, God will send them through a wilderness experience again in the form of exile.

By this time, God has spoken “to the prophets” plainly. He has also communicated through “visions” and “parables.” Since the time of Morea, God has sent a succession of prophets to call Israel to conversion. When the nation refuses to repent, God destroys it. The agents of God’s revelation then became the agents of God’s just punishment.

We are informed that in verse 11 we have a good example of a prophetic parable in the form of a riddle God poses to Israel. Earlier in Hosea’s prophecies, he had introduced “Gilgal” as the site of a major pagan shrine. The location of the city of “Gilead” is unknown, but it parallels Gilgal in wickedness. God speaks of the people’s pride in both the shrine and their agricultural wealth. But Gilead’s “altars” to other gods make it unfruitful as if its fields were sown with rocks instead of fertile soil.

In verse 12 God continues the riddle by noting Jacob’s experiences with Laban. Although “Jacob” initially “fled” to Laban for safety (Genesis 27:42-45), Jacob did not find the haven he hoped for. Jacob (later renamed “Israel;” Genesis 32:28) was deceived in marriage and ultimately sensed the need to flee. Similarly, Israel is looking to Egypt and Assyria for safety but will eventually find Egypt to be powerless and Assyria to be a deadly enemy.

Without the riddle, God now speaks plainly. Listening to Hosea is the same as listening to the “prophet” Moses of long ago. Both speak God’s words. Just as God “led Israel” up from slavery under Moses, God can lead the Israelites away from a second captivity and exile if they listen to Hosea.

In verse 14 God repeats his warning: “Ephraim” (Israel) will face the consequences of its actions (compare Ezekiel 18:13). God’s protection will be withdrawn. Arrogant Israel’s injustice and idolatry will cause national destruction.   

Thus the key message of this lesson is found in verse 6: “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” As we look at Israel, we see something of our own reflection in the mirror. Therefore, God calls us to repent of our sins, do away with injustice and idolatry and follow Him only.

There was a Sunday school lesson on the word “repentance.” “What does repentance mean?” The teachers asked. “Being sorry for your sins,” was the answer. Not bad, but better still was, “Being sorry enough to quit.” “You must return to your God…,” Hosea said.

Action Plan
  1. How can we guard against allowing our trust in earthly covenants to supersede the new covenant we have in Christ?
  2. What techniques can we pass onto others to help them wait for God?
  3. How can we allow love and justice to characterize our lives?
Resources for this lesson
  1. “2019-2020 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 330-336.
  2. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII,” pages 276-287.
  3. “Interpretation Hosea-Micah” by James Timburg, pages 38-42.
  4. “The Interpreter’s Bible Volume 6” pages 680-682.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).

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