Monday, 24 November 2008

How does a rich and famous celebrity stay content?

What's required to know true contentment and humility - the sort that makes us satisfied in our circumstances, that causes us to be neither envious nor disdainful of others?

Psalm 131 is David's reflection on exactly this. I suppose that as king of Israel - and all that such an office represented (with all its riches, fame and celebrity) - the temptation to be proud (and derisory of others) might have been very real. Those of us involved in full-time Christian ministry can also face the temptation to be proud and to look down upon others. It occurs to me from this psalm that a right view of the LORD (and of the believer's relationship with him) is essential to fighting this temptation.

Firstly, David is happy not to play God. This is what he's getting at in the last section of verse 1: 'I do not concern myself with great matters or things that are too wonderful for me.' There are certain questions that we will not have answers to in this life; for instance, why particular forms of suffering happen to certain people. Likewise, there are certain situations in which we are impotent and have to rest in the sovereignty of God. It's hard not to want to take these things upon ourselves. But David is happy to trust these things to the living God of the Universe.

Secondly, David's relationship with God has caused his ambitions to change. Once we see ourselves as creatures in relationship with the Creator, it's not surprising that the way that we see ourselves changes. We can no longer be obsessed with self. This change occurred in David.

Whilst I consider myself to be at the centre of the Universe, my ambition will know no ceiling. But once I know that God is rightly at the centre of the Universe (and my Universe), everything changes. For many, being king of Israel was an office to desire because of the kudos and personal benefits it brought (desires seen in the case of Absalom and others). For David, it was merely the role that the God of the Universe had asked him to fulfil.

Likewise, once a person has been brought into the relationship with the God of the Universe for which they were created and experienced his grace, their desires for other things change. The relationship with him is satisfying in itself. That's what the powerful image at the end of verse 2 describes. Just like Paul (in Philippians 4:10-13), David has learned the secret of being content. He is quiet and easy. Spurgeon surely hits the nail on the head:

'To the weaned child his mother is his comfort though she has denied him comfort. It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forego the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us: then we behave manfully, and every childish complaint is hushed. If the Lord removes our dearest delight we bow to his will without a murmuring thought; in fact, we find a delight in giving up our delight. This is no spontaneous fruit of nature, but a well tended product of divine grace: it grows out of humility and lowliness, and it is the stem upon which peace blooms as a fair flower.'
Verse 3 is a very fitting end to the psalm: here we see a man weaned off from obsession with himself demonstrating a concern for others. David models Jesus' exhortation to the disciples who, having deeply experienced God's grace, were called not to lord it over others but serve others (knowing that they're no better). A deep experience of God and his grace is what is required to serve radically.

Oh for more of the heart of humility and others-centredness that God granted David!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A better covenant (Hebrews 8)

I arrived at Hebrews 8 today in supervision time with the Relay Workers. It's another chapter that shows the folly of legalism when compared with the utter supremacy of Jesus' sacrifice and all that it guarantees.

Covenants are legal agreements between two parties, and covenants between God and humans feature significantly in Scripture. Some of the covenants that God makes with humans are unilateral - in other words, they can't be broken by humans. This includes the covenant that God makes with Abram where he promises to give a land and descendants to him.

Other covenants have an element of performance built into them. The most significant of these is the covenant that God makes with the nation of Israel at Sinai. Although the heart of this covenant is faith, covenant blessings and covenant curses are given to Israel dependent on the extent to which they humbly submit to the LORD as their God (see Deuteronomy 28 and 30).

The sad story of the Old Testament is that Israel - themselves, remember, a mirror of humanity - failed to keep the covenant. Indeed, they ended up in exile because of this. And so Jeremiah (31:31-34) foresaw a new covenant - like the Sinai covenant, one that brought the possibility of blessing - but that was unilateral. Indeed, the very things that caused Israel to abandon their blessings - their lack of desire to keep the law, and the way that this showed itself in sin - are those things that are addressed in the new covenant: the law will be internalised, and sin will be forgotten forever.

The writer to the Hebrews was writing to a group of Jewish Christians who felt under pressure to abandon Christianity, keep making the Levitical sacrifices and return to Judaism. Perhaps they considered it necessary to keep making these sacrifices so that they would experience covenantal blessings. But Hebrews 8 shows that vast supremacy of the new covenant: what people hoped for through performance in the old covenant, Jesus has guaranteed through his sacrifice, resurrection and the giving of the Spirit. Christ's sacrifice for us and righteousness imputed to us guarantees our blessing forever (and so led Paul to write Ephesians 1:3).

As we reflected on Hebrews 8 earlier, we spoke of how the human heart causes us to want to write another covenant with God (where our blessing is based on legalism and performance). How ridiculous when Christ has guaranteed our blessings forever! How much better to glory in what has already been won and given to us!

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Monday, 17 November 2008

Praise and thanks

A gem from JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom on a simple distinction that has helped me in my prayer life recently:

'It is helpful, in our praying, to make a distinction between praise and thanks, and to make sure we express both. Prayers of thanks tend to focus to some extent on us. We thank God for particular gifts given to us and others personally, and for general gifts bestowed on all. Praise, on the other hand, focuses directly on God. We praise him because of who and what he is. It is the difference between one spouse saying to the other, "You are the most understanding person I know; that's one reason I love you so much" and "Thanks for the sandwich; I needed it." Both kinds of prayers are appropriate. But because we are naturally self-centred creatures, we tend to major on thanks, because God's gifts and mercies to us constantly fill our minds. Yet God himself is to be praised, for he is supremely praiseworthy. "Praise to the LORD! For it is good to sing praises our God; for he is beautiful, and a song of praise is fitting." (Psalm 147:1). "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD." (Psalm 150:6). So it is good and right to occasionally wrestle our attention away from ourselves and turn it toward God in prayers of praise.' (Praying, IVP, p. 31-32).

I've been trying to put this into practice recently. So Maurice and Sarah (via the Ferndale website) have both commented on last week's University of Cumbria FREE outreach. There's plenty to give thanks for: good numbers at events, great gospel partnership and the gospel's effect seen in the lives of both Christians and non-Christians. But perhaps above all we should be praising the Lord that he's the sort of God who wants relationship with creatures like us, that he's the sort of God that comes not to be served but to serve, and to sort of God who accepts us if only we admit that we are ill and sinful and have nothing to offer, and approach him as children. What a beautiful character he has! "Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise."

Friday, 14 November 2008

Jesus as he really is (Mark 12:1-12)

Tonight I spoke at the last 'Free week' event at the University of Cumbria. I spoke on the parable of the tenants (Mark 12:1-12). The talk is reproduced below. I struggled to sufficiently include the original challenge to the religious teachers of Israel, but hopefully haven't changed the message too much.

I recently heard about magazine article in which a mother wrote in to say this, “Our 10 year old son Robin would invariably live in a complete mess. His bedroom was a sight to behold. Finally after all the nagging seemed to have failed, I wrote the following note and left it on his pillow:

‘Dear Robin, I wish I was clean and tidy like all the other rooms in the house. Please could you do something about this? Love, Bedroom.’

Next day, to my surprise, I found the room spick and span, and my son had left a note for me to find. It read:

‘Dear Bedroom, There you are. I hope you feel better now. Love, Robin. PS You’re beginning to sound just like my mother.’"

I guess you could say our parents are our earliest landlords. We live in their space. They have rightful authority over us. And yet from the word ‘go’ we show our natural inclination to reject that authority.

That, in effect, is the issue that Jesus addresses in the story we’re going to spend just a few minutes looking at tonight. The title of the talk advertised was ‘Jesus as he really is.’ And we’ll see that to understand Jesus as he really is, we need to turn to the issue of taking other people’s things for ourselves, passing them off as our own and rejecting their love. It would be helpful if you turned to page 39 in your black books [Matthew 12:1-12], as that’s where the story is recorded. We’re going to look at it in three parts.

First of all, it’s a story about bad tenants. Let’s read verse 1: ‘Jesus them told them this story: “A farmer once planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it and dug a pit to crush the grapes in. He also built a lookout tower. Then he let his vineyard and left the country.”’ Now that wasn’t that unusual at the time of Jesus. There were plenty of mostly foreign landowners who let their land out to Jewish tenants. But perhaps the thing that might have jumped out to Jesus’ original listeners was how generously the owner had provided for them: a wall to protect the vineyard from wild animals, a winepress where the process of fermentation could begin, and a lookout tower ensuring that the vineyard isn’t destroyed by animals or humans. These tenants are in a good position thanks to the provision and kindness of the owner.

But the tenants don’t seem to appreciate the owner’s kindness. Let’s read on, in verses 2-3: ‘When it was harvest time, the owner sent a servant to get a share of the grapes. The tenants grabbed the servant. They beat him up and sent him away without a thing.’ When we read that the owner had let the vineyard to the tenants, the deal was that they were responsible to pay a fixed part of the proceeds. It’s a bit like on Dragon’s Den, where the Dragons resource entrepreneurs on the basis they’ll get a future share of profits. But when the owner sends a servant to ‘get his share of the grapes’, they resist him. At the time, you could establish your right as owner of a piece of land if you had undisputed use of it for three years. And so the tenants refused to pay their share of grapes as rent, they were attempting to deny the owner’s claim of possession. They wanted to keep the vineyard for themselves. And so the tenants treat the servant that had been sent to collect the rent like a robber, trying to deprive them of what they considered already to be theirs.

Read verses 4-5 and you see that, despite the patience of the owner with the tenants, the pattern continues: ‘The owner sent another servant, but the tenants beat him on the head and insulted him terribly. Then the man sent another servant, and they killed him. He kept sending servant after servant. They beat some of them and killed others.’ They all receive the same reception. The tenants intended to keep the fruit for themselves. They were using the vineyard as a means of gaining power for themselves. In their minds, the vineyard was their vineyard, like Robin’s room was, in his mind, his own. He could live as he wanted.

Now look at verse 12, because this makes sense of the story: ‘The leaders knew that Jesus was really talking about them, and they wanted to arrest him.’ Jesus originally told this story to religious leaders, and they understood exactly what he’d been saying. They’d have known this because they were Jewish people familiar with the Old Testament, the part of the Bible written before Jesus came. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah tells a very similar story to this one by Jesus, involving a vineyard rented out to tenants. Isaiah’s story is addressed to the people of Israel – he reminds Israel that although God built them up as a nation, they’d turned against him. He sent prophet after prophet to speak to them and to call them back to him. The difference with Jesus’ parable is the bit involving the son. But the key thing is that the people there understood that they represented the tenants. The scandal is that, despite having been warned otherwise, they took things that belonged to God and passed them off as their own.

The story of the Bible opens with God creating the world. As humans, he made us tenants in God’s world. God has given us a responsibility to look after the world and to enjoy it. But we don’t own it. God owns the world and we are ultimately answerable to him. And so we’re just like the tenants in the parable.

We’ve seen that the tenants acted as they did because they thought it would lead to getting the vineyard for themselves. They wanted to be owners of the vineyard and run it their own way. And that describes the attitude of each of us. God has made us tenants in a world that belongs to him, he’s kindly provided for us – but our response is to choose to ignore God, to own the world and rule and run it as though it all belongs to us. We want to be God of the world for ourselves.

But here’s the thing. A world that has walked out on God will always end up a war zone. God created us to submit to him, at the centre of our lives. Everything fitted together for God's good purposes. But now each of us has tried to redefine reality so that we are at the centre serving our own ambitions.

So if I am trying to rearrange the world so that I get to the top, I’m probably not very bothered about the rainforests or the fact that a child dies every six seconds of a preventable disease. When it doesn’t suit me, I am not going to be very bothered about you either. I am looking out for myself. And things get ugly because just as I am looking out for me, you are looking out for you. In my version, I get to the top, in your version you do. So what so we do? We fight. Not just with bombs over Baghdad, but with snide words and cutting remarks over the washing up. We try to prop up our version of how we think things should be. That’s what happens when we take God out of the picture and when we forget that God is the true owner.

So here’s the scandal. Blessing upon blessing has come our way from God. But what have we done with them? Thanked God the Giver? Not exactly. The natural reaction of each of us is to take each of these gifts for granted, rejecting his love. Even though our every breath depends on God, the natural reaction of each of us is to airbrush him out of our existence.

But look again at this story. Do you see how much God is showing his patience with his people – how much he loves them? He sends messenger after messenger and in one last desperate act we read in verse 6, last of all he sent his son to them and says, 'They will respect my son.' That is how much God cares for a wayward world and wayward people. He sends Jesus. A lot of people think that Jesus has come to stop their fun. But, as we see in this parable, Jesus’ claim is that he is the son; that he is the owner of everything. In other words, when he calls us to repent – to put God at the centre of our universes – he isn’t calling us to some strange religious cult, he is calling us to do what we should rightly do, what we are made to do: to submit to his authority as the King sent by God and give all that we have to him.

But let's look at what happens to this son, as we turn to its second element: a story about the death of a much-loved son.

Look at verses 7-8: ‘But they said to themselves, “Some day he will own this vineyard. Let’s kill him! That way we can have it for ourselves.” So they grabbed the owner’s son and killed him. Then they threw his body out of the vineyard.’

The Bible teaches that, far from what we often think, rather than being essentially good, humans are essentially bad. And the ultimate proof of that, according to the Bible, is that we murdered our Maker. That is what Jesus’ death on the cross, illustrated in this parable by the murder of the Son outside the vineyard, means. Remember Jesus’ call was just that each of us should place God at the centre of the Universe, in the place that he belongs. He said that humans experience true freedom when we live this way, the way we were created to live. As a fish is free in the ocean, as an eagle is free in the air, so humans are free when we live in the environment in which we made to live, submitting our lives to God. And Jesus’ life backed up this claim as, through submitting his own life to God the Father, he always put others before himself. And so the human response to him, to sentence him to death, is the ultimate insult, the supreme gesture to what we think about the idea of God as our king, as the owner of the vineyard. It is the final snub which puts the lid on all the snubs that God has received from the human race.

Sure, none of us was actually there when Jesus was crucified. ‘Oh yes,’ we say, ‘It was all their fault. The Jews, the Romans, we all know how barbaric they were. The crucifixion of Jesus was such an appalling act of judicial murder.’

But it’s the conviction of the Bible that those that actually put Jesus to death merely represented each of us. Some of us are represented by the Roman bureaucrats, turning a blind eye to the injustice of the crucifixion, just as we turn a blind eye to the evidence for Jesus today. Some of us are represented by the smug religious leaders, very religious but wanting rid of Jesus for the sake of the quiet life. Perhaps most of us are represented by the crowd crying ‘Crucify, crucify’. Our hands were not the actual hands that drove the nails into his hands and the wood, but our lives show that we want rid of Jesus’ claim to be at the centre of our lives.

Sometimes I catch myself thinking about what Jesus cried out on the cross: 'Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.' But this parable shows the generosity of that prayer, because verse 7 shows that the tenants knew exactly what they were doing. If there was any ignorance in those that killed Jesus, it was an ignorance for which they were responsible. And we living today have even less excuse for rejecting Jesus than they had for we have the whole Bible in our hands, God's complete and clear revelation. To walk away from Jesus is to add our own personal nail to the cross.

And this is why Jesus gives us a final element to the story: a story about a choice that faces each of us.

Remember, Jesus is speaking to those who quite literally got rid of him. In this parable he paints a picture of them as confident that they can get rid of him and get away with it. But Jesus goes on at the end of his story, in verse 9, “What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do?”

Jesus assumes that his listeners have the sense to see the story can’t end at verse 8 – the tenants can’t have the last word, they surely can’t get away with it. The owner must ultimately step in and act. And so he continues, “He will come and kill those tenants and let someone else have his vineyard.”

And he goes on, “Surely you know that the Scriptures say, ‘The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone.’” That’s slightly enigmatic stuff. In fact, it’s a quotation from the Old Testament, from a time when God’s Old Testament people were under attack. The people around them were trying to overthrow their king in order to build their own empires. And God had turned the tables, the attackers had failed, and the king had survived. So this line came to be written, ‘The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone’, in other words, ‘God’s king the attackers rejected has now become the most important one.’

So the picture is of a building site and there is a stone lying there. The architect’s plan is that that stone is central to what he is building. And various other builders say ‘Well, actually we want to build differently. We want to get rid of that stone.’ So they chuck it out of the building site. Then the architect himself walks onto the site. He turns the tables by rescuing that stone, bringing it back and building on it. That’s the picture Jesus is building. He’s saying that he’s the stone, God’s son, our rightful king.

The builders, the leaders of Israel are about to crucify him, and throw him off the building site thinking they can get on with building their lives as they please. But Jesus says, ‘Not so. Very soon you will realise the stone the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone.’ He is God’s king, he is risen from the dead and he will judge. And so, in effect, Jesus says, “You can reject me, but you cannot ultimately get rid of me, and you will ultimately have to reckon with me. The reality is that I belong at the centre of the universe.”

And so, it seems like a grim story, as we’ve all been bad tenants. The amazing news, however, of Mark’s Gospel that we’ve been sharing for the whole week is that God still longs to have relationship with us, the people he has created. And so Jesus’ first words in Mark’s Gospel, way back in chapter 1, are these: ‘The time has come! God’s kingdom will soon be here. Turn back to God and believe the good news!’ The good news is that God will accept us back just as we are, if only we will put him back in his right place, admit that he owns the vineyard, and believe the good news. The good news is when we admit we don’t deserve anything from God, he accepts us through Jesus’ death on the cross in our place. At the cross, Jesus took the punishment in our place and in our shoes. As we’ve been saying all week, that’s the best news about accepting the resurrected Jesus as our King: he lays aside everything and gives his life so that we might be forgiven.

So will you come clean tonight? Will you admit that you’ve acted as though you’re the owner of the vineyard, that you’ve lived at the centre of your Universe and that you’ve ignored the true king? Do you see how deluded that is, that it messes with true reality? If you will, and you will admit that you’ve nothing to commend yourself before God, he will accept you tonight on account of Jesus. Each of us must face Jesus as either saviour or judge. It would be an amazing thing if you arrived here tonight as a rebellious tenant, and go home reconciled through Jesus’ death on our behalf.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

For Remembrance Sunday

On Remembrance Sunday, I was reminded of a haunting poem by First World War poet Wilfred Owen, A Soldier's Dream:

I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big-gun gears;
And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;
And buckled with a smile Mausers and Colts;
And rusted every bayonet with His tears.

And there were no more bombs, of ours or Theirs,
Not even an old flint-lock, not even a pikel.
But God was vexed, and gave all power to Michael;
And when I woke he'd seen to our repairs.
Today I heard again that almost 20,000 British soldiers alone died in the Battle of the Somme. It almost drove me to tears thinking of a number equivalent to the entire student population of the two Lancaster universities lost in battle. I can almost imagine the cries of pain from the heart of God as humanity tears itself apart; longing for the day when evil is silenced and justice has the last word in the Universe. This day will come. The Bible looks forward to a time when war will - at last - end:
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

Saturday, 8 November 2008

FREE at the University of Cumbria

The first of the Gospel distributions in Lancashire starts this week at the University of Cumbria campus in Lancaster.

The CU are hoping to give out about 1,000 Gospels, which is roughly one-third of the undergraduate population.

There is also a series of events designed to help those that have received the Gospels to engage with the life and claims of Jesus. All of the talks will be using passages from Mark's Gospel. Maurice and Anna McCracken are the main speakers for the week, and there's a great team of CU Guests coming too, including bloggers Sarah Dawkins, Andy Jinks and Tim Sandell.

Here's are the planned events, outside of Gospel distribution and first contact evangelism - we'd crave your prayers:

Lunchbar: What would Jesus say to Richard Dawkins? "Faith is one of the world's great evils, similar to smallpox, but harder to eradicate"
Evening: Acoustic night with talk: Why would God bother with me?

Lunchbar: What would Jesus say to Michael Phelps? "I want to be able to look back and say, 'I've done everything I can, and I was successful.'"
Evening: Pub quiz with talk: Jesus on losing your religion

Lunchbar: What would Jesus say to Jennifer Aniston? "The greater your capacity to love, the greater your capacity to feel pain"
Evening: 'Invite the campus to dinner' - CU members offering dinner to their friends, with short talks given by CU Guests

Lunchbar: What would Jesus say to Simon Cowell? "I'm not being rude, but you look like the Incredible Hulk's wife"
Thursday: CU meeting, with talk: Why should I bother with God?

Lunchbar: What would Jesus say to Madonna? "I stand for freedom of expression, doing what you believe in, and going after your dreams.”
Evening: three course dinner with talk: Jesus as he really is

Friday, 7 November 2008

Our priest forever (Hebrews 7)

The Hebrew Christians were under extreme pressure to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. Christianity was, at this time, viewed by at least some within orthodox Judaism as a sect. Faith in Jesus seemed to ride roughshod over the Old Testament, didn't it? After all, what of the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices?

Hebrews 7 is the beginning of an answer to this objection.

1. There is a model of priesthood in the Old Testament other than the Levitical model
The writer's first part of an answer points his readers to Genesis 14 and the enigmatic passage about the priest-king Melchizedek. After a military victory, Abram tithes and gives away 10% of his plunder to Melchizedek. Unlike many other OT characters, nothing is said about Melchizedek's origins or what happened afterward. But the fact that even the great patriarch Abram tithed to a priest 'external' to Israel shows that priesthood can operate outside of the Levitical system. Significantly, this priesthood pre-dates the institution of the Levitical model.

2. A priest-king in the order of Melchizedek was prophesied after the institution of the Levitical model
The writer then points his readers to Psalm 110. This was written by David, when the Levitical priesthood had already been established for several hundred years. David prophesies an all-conquering king (who seems to be divine), who himself will be a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

3. God has sworn under oath that this new king will be a priest forever
In the third stage of his argument, the writer points to the language of oath in Psalm 110: 'The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind...'. In other words, the priesthood of the Messianic king will last forever. Presumably this means that his priesthood will be utterly effective.

Jesus, of course, applied Psalm 110 to himself (Mark 12:35-37). And so, although he was not from the tribe of Levi, he was a priest: the promised priest in the order of Melchizedek. Unlike the Levitical priests, he has risen, never again to die. And, therefore, he is able to save completely those who trust him: he sacrificed for sins (past, present and future) once for all when he offered himself.

In 21st Century Britain, we might not feel tempted to return to the Levitical sacrifices. However, we can sometimes wonder (explicitly or implicitly) whether Jesus really is enough. Such questioning can lead to ugly legalism. Hebrews 7 confidently announces the complete sufficiency of Jesus' priesthood and sacrifice. His resurrection declares it. The oath of God promises it (it's not as if God will announce at judgement that he's changed the rules of how we can get right with him). I can rest complete assured in Jesus, my priest forever who won't let me down.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Hosea and covenant curse

I taught Hosea to the fantastic guys at Northumbria CU this weekend just gone. I had a great weekend (astounded again by the beauty of the snow-capped Lake District, and seeing a sky minus light pollution full of thousands of stars) and was myself stretched giving four messages from Hosea.

I think the main thing that jumped out over the past week was the way in which so much of Hosea is in light of the national covenant. In particular, Hosea can see the covenant curses being inflicted on the northern kingdom. Hosea makes a lot more sense if you read it after reading Deuteronomy 28-30.

According to the Torah, whereas blessing accompanies Israel's faithfulness to the covenant, curse comes when God's people break his covenant and go after other gods. However, curse is not the final word for covenant breaking. After covenant curse or punishment takes place, the expectation is that the people will confess their sin and return to him (see Leviticus 26:40, Deuteronomy 30:1-3 and so on). This isn't because God is wanting to be a dictator in the lives of the people of Israel, but because he has chosen Israel to be a kingdom of prieststo the nations. Israel are to model to the world what living in relationship with God is like.

Now Hosea can see the curses of the covenant inflicted on Israel (see, for example, Hosea 4:10-11 and compare this with Deuteronomy 28:17-18 and 32:24-28; as well as Hosea 5:14, 6:5, 6:7, 8:1, 9:11 and 9:13). Israel would rather trust the nations of Israel and Egypt than the LORD, and idolatry is rife. Israel's adultery parallels the adultery of Gomer, Hosea's wife. And so severe punishment will follow.

What can we learn from all this?

We see the unique role of the nation of Israel - and their failure. Israel were to be a light to the nations, and had committed themselves as so when the covenant was given. Yet Israel showed themselves incapable of this role (compare Hosea 11:1 with Matthew 2:15). Jesus is the fulfilment where Israel failed.

I think we also see God's patience. Reading through the covenant in Deuteronomy gives us the impression that destruction of the nation will follow very soon after disobedience to the covenant. Yet Hosea prophesied some two hundred years after Elijah. God's patience is shown in giving Israel hundreds of years to repent ('slow to anger...'), despite the very great desire he had to bring justice. What a glimpse of the heart of God! How glad I am of his patience!

Perhaps the thing that jumped out at me is a secondary application. I think we see that God is not happy for people to have an intellectual knowledge of his existence. He wanted (and wants) people to walk with him as their God. And so, the Lord gave and took away from Israel in order that people might know his as their God. We're not the nation of Israel - but I think the New Testament endorses this same truth (Romans 8:28 and so on?).