Then the LORD said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.’ I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD. And they did so.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. (Exodus 14:1-9)

All’s fair in love and war. And God’s conflict with Egypt was both. With the death of the first born, Pharaoh finally relented and gave in to Moses and Moses’ God, letting the people at last do what they have been asking for: he granted them his permission to take three days off from work to go somewhere to sacrifice to their God, together with all their children and wives and all their livestock. He couldn’t keep fighting; Egypt was a mess, people were dead; for the best of the nation, he had to let the slave’s God have his way.

But then, after the three days had passed, when the slaves stayed gone and it became clear that they were making a break for freedom, Pharaoh had to act. He’d been suspicious all along that Moses had in mind something more than just a worship service of singing, praying and animal sacrifice. He’d been suspicious of the requirement that the people go as whole families, leaving nothing and no one behind. Pharaoh had lied over and over to Moses, but he now saw that Moses had been lying to him just as much. So, Pharaoh had no choice: he couldn’t let Moses steal all his property. He had to run and get it all back. So he sent his army off to track down the runaway slaves and return them to where they had come from. Plagues or not, he wasn’t ready to see all his property gone. He hadn’t suffered enough yet to lose the slaves for good.

Once again, Pharaoh underestimated God. He had lost his farms, his wealthy, and now he was about to lose his power: his army would be wiped out. Human strength would be weakness compared to God.

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Raisin Cakes

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a half of barley. Then I said to her, “You shall stay with me for many days. You shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man; so I will also be toward you.”

For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days.
(Hosea 3:1-5)

The world is bright and wonderful in the arms of love. Hosea loved his wife, even though she was sleeping with other men, just as God loved Israel, even though they insisted on worshipping other deities. Fifteen shekels of silver was about six ounces of silver, while a homer and a half of barley was about 430 pounds. The raison cakes, in this context, referred to the food used during the worship of other gods, such as Asherah.

Despite the fact that his wife had been and seemingly continued to be with other men, Hosea was instructed to buy her back. He told her that she had to remain with him after that and that she could not continue behaving or living as a prostitute. In the same way, Israel would no longer have contact with those things that were part of their idolatrous relationships. That is, as Gomer must turn from other men, Israel must turn away from other deities: from their idols, ephods and pillars. Then, they would finally remain faithful to God.

There was not a sense here that Gomer had repented, any more than there was a sense that Israel had repented. Instead, they were being forced into a process that would lead them to repentance: Gomer exiled from her lovers and Israel exiled from her land. Both exiles would lead to restoration. God punishes us, not to destroy us, but to transform us, to restore us, and to make us lovely and wonderful once more.

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SpaceX Plans for Falcon Heavy

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Lack of Knowledge

Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites,
because the LORD has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land mourns,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea are dying.
“But let no man bring a charge,
let no man accuse another,
for your people are like those
who bring charges against a priest.
You stumble day and night,
and the prophets stumble with you.
So I will destroy your mother—
my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. (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 worshiping. The religious establishment in Hosea’s day had forgotten who they were worshiping 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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God Isn’t Fickle

People of Israel and Judah,
what can I do with you?
Your love for me disappears
more quickly than mist
or dew at sunrise.
That’s why I slaughtered you
with the words
of my prophets.
That’s why my judgments blazed
like the dawning sun.
I’d rather for you to be faithful
and to know me
than to offer sacrifices.
At a place named Adam,
you betrayed me
by breaking our agreement.
Everyone in Gilead is evil;
your hands are stained
with the blood of victims.

You priests are like a gang
of robbers in ambush.
On the road to Shechem
you murder and commit
other horrible crimes.
I have seen a terrible thing
in Israel—
you are unfaithful
and unfit to worship me.
People of Judah,
your time is coming too. (Hosea 6:4-11)

Human love can be very fickle, coming and going over the least offense. Hosea had married a prostitute because God told him to, so his wife spent most of her time elsewhere, with other men. She didn’t love him. Likewise, for God: Israel gave him lip service, but her real passion was for the other gods, the ones she really cared about, since she spent all their time with them.

God listed three places that people had been unfaithful to him: Adam, which was near the Jordan River, Gilead, which was a region near Adam, and Shechem, in central Palestine. The people were guilty of unfaithfulness to God and unfaithfulness to one another. Even the priests, who were supposed to represent God acted like a criminal gang. This was nothing new. Even in the days of Samuel, before Saul became king, the priests had taken advantage of those few people who had come to worship Yahweh. Eli’s sons were not the first and would not be the last to misbehave. But by the time of Hosea, God’s patience was near an end and what he had done to Eli’s sons, with the ark of God captured by the Philistines, he now intended to do to the nation as a whole. Hosea’s wife wound up sold as a slave. He redeemed her from the slave market. Eventually, Israel would become captive, and eventually God would redeem Israel from Babylon. Neither Hosea’s wife nor Israel had done anything to merit redemption. They were both redeemed on account of a love that was not fickle. God’s love for us is not fickle.

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The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me,

“Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. (Ezekiel 37:1-7)

It’s never too late for God. Ezekiel, an exile himself, prophesied to the exiles living in Babylon. The people in exile felt empty, abandoned and hopeless. Despite the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah who had promised that they would return home one day, they still doubted, able to see no further than their current pain. So once again, God revealed the future. God granted Ezekiel a vision of a vast field, filled with bones, metaphorically standing for the exiled nation. Then God restored the bones to life, a vast army and told Ezekiel that they represented the Israelites who were saying that “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” God intended to resurrect them. That is, he would bring them back home, to the land of Israel.

God doesn’t go back on his promises. But he makes allowance for human fear and weakness. He freely reassures us time and time again. Sometimes we may fear that God has abandoned us, that we’ve been too bad, gone too far from his will, that it is too late. God reassured the Israelites, even after hundreds of years of them having gone too far and after years of exile, that even then, it wasn’t too late. Even when we’re nothing but dried bones, God still has a plan for us and it’s a good one.

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This is what the LORD says:
“A cry is heard in Ramah—
deep anguish and bitter weeping.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted—
for her children are gone.”
But now this is what the LORD says:
“Do not weep any longer,
for I will reward you,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come back to you
from the distant land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come again to their own land.
I have heard Israel saying,
‘You disciplined me severely,
like a calf that needs training for the yoke.
Turn me again to you and restore me,
for you alone are the LORD my God.
I turned away from God,
but then I was sorry.
I kicked myself for my stupidity!
I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.’ (Jeremiah 31:15-19)

Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, once made a wry comment about Herod the Great, the man he had made into the king of Judea. He said, “it is better to be Herod’s pigs than Herod’s sons.” Pigs were not kosher, so he wouldn’t touch them. But Herod’s family? He was paranoid and killed more than one of his offspring and an inconvenient wife whom he had feared might be plotting against him. When wise men from Persia showed up looking for a royal son that had supposedly been born to him, Herod was panic stricken. None of his wives had recently given birth. And he was a king in Judea only because Augustus Caesar had made him king. He was not descended from David and had no legitimacy. If a new king had been born as these wise men suggested, that was very bad news for Herod indeed: he had a rival, someone who had a legitimate right to the throne he was occupying. So he found out where the child was to be born, according to the prophets, and when the wise men didn’t come back, he just took care of things in his own inimitable style: he simply slaughtered all the babies in Bethlehem who might be even close to the right age. No sense in being too careful.

God’s prophesy of Rachel weeping because her children were no more was taken by Matthew and applied to Herod’s slaughter. But Jeremiah’s original intent was to prophesy about the deportation of the Jews to Babylon. “Rachel” of course, was Jacob’s—Israel’s—true love, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Metaphorically, she came to stand in as a poetic reference to the nation of Israel. Unlike the infants slaughtered by Herod, God reassured the Rachel of Jeremiah’s day, the people of Israel, that those taken from them would one day return again. And even for those slaughtered by Herod, the resurrection is coming. Those lost to us now, will be with us forever someday. The most bitter of tears will be wiped away.

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When she came, she pretended to be another woman. But when Ahijah heard the sound of her feet, as she came in at the door, he said, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam; why do you pretend to be another? For I am charged with heavy tidings for you. Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Because I exalted you from among the people, made you leader over my people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David to give it to you; yet you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my sight, but you have done evil above all those who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and cast images, provoking me to anger, and have thrust me behind your back; therefore, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city, the dogs shall eat; and anyone who dies in the open country, the birds of the air shall eat; for the LORD has spoken.’ (1 Kings 14:5b-11)

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can never fool God. The prophet Ahijah was old and blind. Years before, he had told Jeroboam that he would become king over the ten tribes of the north. But rather than following God, Jeroboam had made the Israelites worship two calf idols instead of Yahweh.

When Jeroboam’s son became ill, he sent his wife to the Ahijah to find out what would become of his son. Although she disguised herself, given that Ahijah was a genuine prophet, she couldn’t hide the truth from him. So Ahijah gave her the bad news from God: not only would Jeroboam’s sick son not survive, neither would any of Jeroboam’s family. Two years into the reign of his surviving son Nadab, a leader from the tribe of Issachar named Baasha rebelled. Baasha killed Nadab, became king in his place, and then murdered Jeroboam’s entire remaining family.

God later judged Baasha for having killed Jeroboam’s family (1 Kings 16:7). Just because Jeroboam was evil, that did not make murdering him the right thing for Baasha to do just because God had predicted what would happen. Two wrongs never make a right. Justice is not served by means of wrong actions, no matter how good the outcome.

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