Psalm 135:1–12; Hosea 2:16–4:19; Revelation 2:12–23

Originally published 11/27/2017. Revised and updated 11/26/2019.

Psalm 135:1–12: This lyrical psalm of thanksgiving rejoices that God has chosen Israel (aka “Jacob” in this stanza) as his special people:
Praise Yah for the Lord is good,
hymn His name, for it is sweet.
For Yah has chosen for Himself Jacob,
Israel is His treasure. (3, 4)

It’s worth remembering that God has chosen us through Jesus Christ. I grew up in a church that talked about the necessity of people making “decisions for Christ.” The clear implication was that it was we who choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ. Not until I was in the Lutheran church did I come to fully understand that it’s exactly the other way round. Jesus has chosen us first. We may accept or reject, but we can never be so arrogant as to assume we’re in control of our destiny.

This sense of God being in control over all creation is intensified in the verses that follow:
All that the Lord desired He did
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all the depths. (6)

Not only does God reign over nature, but as the psalmist recalls, it is God who created the circumstances that resulted in Israel’s release from Egypt through the plagues and the Passover:
[It was God] Who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
from humankind to beast,
Sent forth signs and portent in the midst of Egypt
against Pharaoh and all his servants. (8,9)

Likewise, it was God who conquered the inhabitants of Canaan that enabled Israel to settle there:
[It was God] Who struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings—

And gave their land as an estate,
an estate to Israel, His people.” (10, 12)

We would do well to look around and see exactly how God is enabling us in our quotidian lives. There’s no question he’s at work in ways we cannot appreciate or even comprehend.

Hosea 2:16–4:19: God continues to speak to Hosea using the striking metaphor of Israel being God’s wife. A day will come, God promises, where the Baals are gone forever and “ I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.  I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” (2: 19, 20) This metaphor suggests where the NT writers developed the metaphor of the Christian church being the “Bride of Christ.”

For Israel, God’s greatest promise is fulfilled when after they reject the small-g gods, God will say to them, “You are my people”; / and he shall say, “You are my God.” (2:23)

God then commands Hosea to go hire a prostitute and after he pays her 15 shekels, tell her, “You must remain as mine for many days; you shall not play the whore, you shall not have intercourse with a man, nor I with you.” (3:3) Likewise, Israel, which the prostitute represents here, “shall remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or teraphim.” (3:4) After this time of erasing the small-g Gods from its collective memory, Israel will finally return to the one true God: “Afterward the Israelites shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; they shall come in awe to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.” (3:5)

Chapter 4 is a long poem that recalls Israel’s descent into idolatry with an intense focus on the evils of Baal worship, including,
the men themselves go aside with whores,
    and sacrifice with temple prostitutes;
thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.” (4:14)

But perhaps the greatest sin is that the people worship false idols becaise they have not stopped to think about the deeper implications of what they are doing. They worship Baal because they have not remembered what God has commanded:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
    because you have rejected knowledge,
    I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
    I also will forget your children.” (4:6)

These verses are an ominous parallel to today as the cultural knowledge of the Christian roots of western civilization and the creation of the scientific method are being forgotten and being replaced by the false idols of technology and celebrity. Alas, ignorance of the kind Hosea describes is growing and festering all around us.

Revelation 2:12–23: John continues his messages to the individual churches in Asia. He commends the church at Pergamum—a city “where Satan’s throne is“—for “holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me,” (14) even when one of their members, a certain Antipas, was martyred. Nevertheless, he continues, “I have a few things against you,” (14a) His complaint is that there are some “who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.” (14b) This is proof that some idols just never go away—including today in our age of individual spiritualism and the Oprah gospel that we can find all the resources we need if we just look deeper inside ourselves.

Moreover, there “are some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”  (15) Which I take to be an aberrant, even heretical form of Christianity. In short, the heresies that infected the church then still infect parts of the church today.

John takes the same “here’s-what-I-like-about-you-but-you-have-some-problems” approach to the church at Thyatira. They have sterling qualities—“your love, faith, service, and patient endurance” (19)—but apparently are also in the thrall of a certain female prophetess: “you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants  to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (20) I’m guessing that Jezebel wasn’t her real name and that John is making his point in pretty harsh terms.

Like Thyatira, too many churches today are held in thrall by false prophets. The entire edifice of the prosperity gospel and those popular televangelists who claim to heal people or preach a sunny self-actualization message come to mind.

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