Relationship

Attention all Israelites! God’s Message!
God indicts the whole population:
“No one is faithful. No one loves.
No one knows the first thing about God.
All this cussing and lying and killing, theft and loose sex,
sheer anarchy, one murder after another!
And because of all this, the very land itself weeps
and everything in it is grief-stricken—
animals in the fields and birds on the wing,
even the fish in the sea are listless, lifeless.
“But don’t look for someone to blame.
No finger pointing!
You, priest, are the one in the dock.
You stumble around in broad daylight,
And then the prophets take over and stumble all night.
Your mother is as bad as you.
My people are ruined
because they don’t know what’s right or true.
Because you’ve turned your back on knowledge,
I’ve turned my back on you priests.
Because you refuse to recognize the revelation of God,
I’m no longer recognizing your children. (Hosea 4:1-6)

How can you have a relationship with someone you don’t even know? If you don’t love other people, then you don’t love God—and vice versa. Not loving people results in all the crimes God listed. The crimes were merely symptoms of the underlying disease: an unfaithful and unloving heart.

Those who were in positions of leadership—particularly those tasked with the responsibility of teaching, had failed to live up to their calling. Priests and prophets had turned their back on God’s revelation to his people. They did not concern themselves with what God had told them: they ignored the Bible as it existed to that point, and consequently, they had no idea what it was that God expected of them. They mistreated the people around them, and had no idea who God was, what he cared about, what mattered to him.

What we know is what we will live. Christians today are all priests, with direct access to God. But to whom much is given, much is required. It is impossible for us to worship God in spirit and in truth if we know nothing about the one whom we claim to be worshipping. The religious establishment in Hosea’s day had forgotten who they were worshipping and they imagined that it didn’t matter: that all that counted was their enthusiasm, their sincerity, their rituals. But we can’t love someone we don’t know.

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Unrequited

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
As they called them,
So they went from them;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images.
“I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them.
“He shall not return to the land of Egypt;
But the Assyrian shall be his king,
Because they refused to repent.
And the sword shall slash in his cities,
Devour his districts,
And consume them,
Because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most High,
None at all exalt Him.” (Hosea 11:1-7)

Love for our children comes naturally. So does our frustration with them: from three AM feedings to teenagers not coming home until three AM. Matthew’s gospel quoted the beginning of this passage in Hosea where God discussed what it was like raising his people from their childhood. Matthew applied it to Jesus’ time in Egypt, where his parents had hidden him until Herod the Great was dead. In context, Hosea’s prophesy spoke to the fact that God had rescued his people from Egyptian bondage because of his great love, and that he would likewise and for the same reason, send them to Assyria as punishment.

Egypt and the bondage in slavery, stood as a symbol of sin. The New Testament authors used the Exodus as a picture of salvation from sin. Even in the Old Testament, the prophets recognized that just as God had saved them from physical bondage, so he had the power to rescue them from spiritual bondage. The Exodus was their salvation experience, with the history that followed a picture of their lives as the people of God, suffering the rigors and backsliding and discipline of a God who loved them and sought to transform them into what they needed to be.

Israel’s Exodus out of Egypt, being baptized in passing through the Red Sea, and receiving the commandments from God, was paralleled in the life of Jesus, coming from Egypt, baptized in the Jordan by John, and preaching about the kingdom before dying for the sins of the world and rising from the dead. Despite how hard it is to raise children, they’re still worth it. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. God thinks that we are worthwhile.

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Knowledge

“‘How can you say, “We know the score.
We’re the proud owners of God’s revelation”?
Look where it’s gotten you—stuck in illusion.
Your religion experts have taken you for a ride!
Your know-it-alls will be unmasked,
caught and shown up for what they are.
Look at them! They know everything but God’s Word.
Do you call that “knowing”?
“‘So here’s what will happen to the know-it-alls:
I’ll make them wifeless and homeless.
Everyone’s after the dishonest dollar,
little people and big people alike.
Prophets and priests and everyone in between
twist words and doctor truth.
My dear Daughter—my people—broken, shattered,
and yet they put on Band-Aids,
Saying, “It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.”
But things are not “just fine”!
Do you suppose they are embarrassed
over this outrage?
Not really. They have no shame.
They don’t even know how to blush.
There’s no hope for them. They’ve hit bottom
and there’s no getting up.
As far as I’m concerned,
they’re finished.’” God has spoken. (Jeremiah 8:8-12)

It is easy to overestimate one’s knowledge. A college student in his or her second year is called a Sophomore. It comes from two Greek words: sophos, wise, and mōros, stupid. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, because people easily believe that they know more than they really do. Seeing how much more they know than others, they become proud.

A genuine education has been obtained when the student realizes how little he knows—and how little he can ever know. Humility is the consequence of genuine knowledge, because only then can we see how small we are and how big the subject matter is.

The Israelites had received a little knowledge of God; they’d gotten some of his words. They mistakenly imagined they knew it all. Instead, they knew nothing, and what little they did know, they didn’t even use. They simply patted themselves on the back for what they’d gotten, as if what they had gotten was merely a pretty shiny jewel that sparkled and they could enjoy the light show.
God concluded that they didn’t deserve their scholarship any more. He would send them back to captivity in Babylon. They hadn’t learned anything yet—and their test scores were abysmal.

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Attitude

If you are poor and cannot afford to bring an animal, you may bring two doves or two pigeons. One of these will be a sacrifice to ask my forgiveness, and the other will be a sacrifice to please me.

Give both birds to the priest, who will offer one as a sacrifice to ask my forgiveness. He will wring its neck without tearing off its head, splatter some of its blood on one side of the bronze altar, and drain out the rest at the foot of the altar. Then he will follow the proper rules for offering the other bird as a sacrifice to please me.

You will be forgiven when the priest offers these sacrifices as the price for your sin.

If you are so poor that you cannot afford doves or pigeons, you may bring two pounds of your finest flour. This is a sacrifice to ask my forgiveness, so don’t sprinkle olive oil or sweet-smelling incense on it. Give the flour to a priest, who will scoop up a handful and send it up in smoke together with the other offerings. This is a reminder that all of the flour belongs to me. By offering this sacrifice, the priest pays the price for any of these sins you may have committed. The priest gets the rest of the flour, just as he does with grain sacrifices. (Leviticus 5:7-13)

God did not want money to stand in the way of people coming to him. The poor were not to be excluded from forgiveness just because they were poor.

Sacrifices of animals in an agrarian society were sacrifices of wealth—the equivalent of taking money out of the bank and setting it on fire. It was not an easy thing for anyone to do—and God understood how hard it was. Therefore, how much a person sacrificed depended upon how much they could afford. The rich offered the most: large animals. The further down the economic scale, the smaller and less valuable the offerings became. At the lowest level, just a little flour would suffice. The poorest of the poor could still manage a handful of flour because God had made it a law that fields could not be harvested completely: enough grain had to be left for the poor to glean (Leviticus 23:22).

Blood was not the key to a good sacrifice. Attitude was. For a person to stay alive, something must die, whether it was the animal that provided the steak dinner, or the wheat plant whose seeds were ground up to make bread. In either case, the picture of the sacrifice is preserved: a death gives life.

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Mercy

The LORD said to Cain:

“What’s wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling. But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don’t let it!”

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go for a walk.” And when they were out in a field, Cain killed him.

Afterwards the LORD asked Cain, “Where is Abel?”

“How should I know?” he answered. “Am I supposed to look after my brother?”

Then the LORD said:

“Why have you done this terrible thing? You killed your own brother, and his blood flowed onto the ground. Now his blood is calling out for me to punish you. And so, I’ll put you under a curse. Because you killed Abel and made his blood run out on the ground, you will never be able to farm the land again. If you try to farm the land, it won’t produce anything for you. From now on, you’ll be without a home, and you’ll spend the rest of your life wandering from place to place.”

“This punishment is too hard!” Cain said. “You’re making me leave my home and live far from you. I will have to wander about without a home, and just anyone could kill me.”
“No!” the LORD answered. “Anyone who kills you will be punished seven times worse than I am punishing you.” So the LORD put a mark on Cain to warn everyone not to kill him. But Cain had to go far from the LORD and live in the Land of Wandering, which is east of Eden. (Genesis 4:6-16)

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Cain had murdered his brother and he deserved to die. All the ancient law codes, from Egypt to Mesopotamia included death as the sole penalty for murder. After the Great Flood, God ordered capital punishment for murder. The death penalty was part of the covenant God made with Israel in the time of Moses. Nevertheless, over and over, those guilty of the most heinous crime imaginable were granted mercy instead of vengeance. Moses killed an Egyptian overseer, but God did not demand his execution. David murdered Uriah, and he was forgiven. But before all of that, we have the example of Cain who murdered his younger brother.

God had rejected Cain’s offering, but had accepted his brother’s. Why? Not because of the kind of offering that Cain brought to God, but because of the kind of heart he had brought to him. God warned Cain about his anger. Rather than repenting, Cain gave into it and murdered his sibling.

God did not order Cain’s execution. Cain’s punishment was exile from his people and from his chosen profession as a farmer. But God protected Cain from human vengeance. Rather than allowing justice—eye for eye—God granted Cain mercy.

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Abimelech and Abraham

And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.”

But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.”

And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. (Genesis 20:1-8)

Abraham lied to Abimelech. Oh sure, Sarah was his half sister, but what mattered in their relationship was the fact that Sarah was his wife. But Abraham was afraid—which of course is the motivation for all lying. He imagined the worst of Abimelech and the other people of his land, assuming that they were so wicked that they would kill him so that they could steal what mattered most to him: his beautiful wife. He didn’t trust them, and he didn’t trust God.

Despite Abraham’s lies, however, God protected Abimelech from doing something that Abimelech had never had any intention of doing in the first place. He didn’t want to take another man’s wife and was appalled by Abraham’s actions. But God showed them mercy, and more importantly, he showed Abraham mercy. He protected his wife, despite Abraham’s poor choices. And he protected Abraham. Abimelech didn’t kill him or even curse him. Instead, Abimelech paid him a thousand shekels of silver—about 25 pounds—and gave him cattle, sheep, and slaves. Abraham lied, put a king and his people in jeopardy from God and put his wife into the arms of another man—and wound up richer because of it.

Abraham was spared from what he deserved and got instead what he didn’t deserve. Abimelech was spared as well. The story of Abraham and Abimelech is an odd illustration of mercy and grace.

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Forgiveness

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. (Exodus 32:7-14)

Moses left the Israelites in his brother Aaron’s hands while he went to get God’s Ten Commandments up on a mountain. He was gone a long time. The people grew restless, and so Aaron helped them build idols that they worshipped in place of God. He even told them that the idols represented the gods that had rescued them from Egypt. Then they had a wild party.

God was furious. He felt the same pain, the same anger that a spouse feels when the other spouse has an affair. In fact, later prophets would use adultery as a picture of idolatry. God’s first response was to dump the Israelites and replace them with Moses. It’s hard to forgive because it means you have to give up on getting justice.

But Moses begged God to forgive the people of Israel, without disputing that they deserved punishment. Instead, he reminded God of how important the Israelites were to him. So God forgave them. The relationship meant more to God than getting even.

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A Kingdom Divided

Now the LORD was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD had commanded.

So the LORD said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant. Nevertheless I will not do it in your days for the sake of your father David, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:9-13)

Solomon was an idolater. He had built temples to the gods of his wives and offered sacrifices to them. And yet Solomon had known God, had worshiped God, had been given the gift of wisdom by God. He is noted as the wisest man who ever lived.

But despite his relationship with God, despite his wisdom, he still went far astray. Solomon illustrates what Paul said: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:21-23)

But God’s judgment on Solomon was not as harsh as we might imagine it should have been. God did not strike Solomon with illness or strip him of his position. Instead, he stripped Solomon’s future from him. After his death, his son would oversee the loss of Solomon’s wealthy kingdom. Ten of the twelve tribes would break away to form a new nation, with a king not descended from Solomon to rule over them.

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Balaam

But Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Although Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God, to do less or more. You remain here, as the others did, so that I may learn what more the LORD may say to me.” That night God came to Balaam and said to him, “If the men have come to summon you, get up and go with them; but do only what I tell you to do.” So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab.

God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. (Numbers 22:18-25)

Just because God lets you do it, it doesn’t mean you should. God had told Balaam not to do what Balak, king of the Moabites, had asked. But like a child who continues pleading with his parent long after the parent has said no, so Balaam, because money was being dangled before him, kept begging God. Balaam knew what God wanted but chose his own way instead.

Angry that Balaam insisted on going, God sent an angel to block his path. The donkey Balaam was riding saw the angel and tried to avoid him. Balaam reacted by beating his donkey. But despite whatever pain Balaam gave him, the donkey refused to go anywhere he wasn’t supposed to.

In contrast, despite everything that God told him, Balaam was going to go his own way, regardless. He pronounced a blessing rather than a curse upon Israel, but he figured out a way—or so he thought—to get around God’s constraint. He told Balak to send women to seduce the Israelites and lead them into idolatry. Balaam might not be able to curse the Israelites, but he thought he could get God to curse them anyhow. That way, Balak would still pay him. But it didn’t work out quite as either he or Balak hoped. Instead, it cost both of them their lives (see Joshua 13:22).

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Apollo 13

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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