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

Psalm 135:1–12: Today is Thanksgiving and although it’s a secular holiday, this psalm gives thanks and praise to God, who deserves it, reminding us that all our blessings come from him. It is written to be sung in the courts of the temple itself: “O praise, you servants of the Lord,/ who stand in the house of the Lord,/ in the courts of the house of our God.” (2) The psalmist gives thanks that God “has chosen for Himself Jacob,/ Israel as His treasure.” (4). Then, radiating out to encompass the heavens, the psalmist and we “know that the Lord is great,/ and our master more than all the [other] gods.” (5).

God is the Creator and “all that the Lord desired He did/ in the heavens and on the earth,/ in the seas and all the depths.” But God did not simply create and then leave the scene, he continues to be active in the here and now as “He brings the clouds up from the ends of the earth/ lightning for the rain He made.” (7)

The psalmist then remembers that it was God “Who struck down the firstborn of Egypt” (8) and defeated “Sihon, the Amorite king/ and Og, king of Bashan,/ and all the kingdoms of Caanan.” (12) And for Israel, the greatest gift of all outside God himself: “And gave their land as an estate,/ an estate to Israel, His people.” (12). In short, the psalmist is thankful for the history that brought them to be able to praise God in the temple.

The blessings of God, creation, the natural world, and the nation–and even our history–are all things for which this psalm gives thanks. And so should we. Our blessings are not only our family, our shelter, daily sustenance and shelter. We cannot forget our ancestors, our nation, nature, and creation itself. Without those, there could have been no thanksgiving for the simple fact that we are here alive to give thanks.

Hosea 2:16–4:19: Hosea, commanded to take the whore Gomer as his wife, understands that Gomer represents the sinful Israel. But through the sancity of this marriage, there will come a day when “you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Baal.”” (2:17). The prophecy envisions a time when God “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 magnificent vow of the marriage between a repentant Israel and God must surely have been on the minds of the New Testament writers when they speak of the church as the bride of Christ. Marriage is the strongest possible metaphor of the nature of the relationship between God and Israel–and between the church and Jesus Christ. For marriage makes all things whole and complete, and blessings (and children) arise form marriage.

In marriage, God will show mercy to sinners, and Israel will respond, just as he shows mercy to Hosea’s children: “And I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah,/  and I will say to Lo-ammi, “You are my people”;/ and he shall say, “You are my God.” (2:23). In fact, to show just how great God’s mercy is, he commands Hosea to “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”  (3:1) [Gotta love that bit about the raisin cakes!] Because God will still love Israel even though it continues to sin. And eventually, “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.” (3:3)

As is the nature of prophecy, it often loops back and recapitulates themes that have already been elaborated upon, in effect starting over. In Chapter 4, God again lists the manifest sins of Israel:
   There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
    and no knowledge of God in the land.
   Swearing, lying, and murder,
    and stealing and adultery break out;
    bloodshed follows bloodshed. (4:1, 2)

And once again, the image of Israel as prostitute appears because of its relentless attraction to idolatry:
   They shall eat, but not be satisfied;
       they shall play the whore, but not multiply;
   because they have forsaken the Lord
    to devote themselves to whoredom. (4:10)

As always, there are new themes among the old, and here Hosea cautions Judah not to take up Israel’s evil ways: “Though you play the whore, O Israel,/ do not let Judah become guilty.” (4:15) But as for Israel itself, there is almost a loss of hope on God’s part because “Like a stubborn heifer,/Israel is stubborn.” (4:16a)

And of course, we ourselves are just as stubborn in our attraction to our own idols. We may say we love God, but these verses are a stark reminder that if we give our own idols–wealth, power, status, material possessions–a higher status than we give God, then we are whores just as much as ancient Israel.

Revelation 2:12–23: The church at Pergamum is living “where Satan’s throne is,” but it is remaining faithful “holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me” (13) even in the face of the martyrdom of one of its leaders, Antipas. Nevertheless, “I have a few things against you,” including even the “teaching of Balaam” (14) [My, I didn’t realize that Baal worship persisted down through the centuries!]  There are other heretics in the church as well, who hold to “the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (15)

The church at Pergamum is a reminder of the necessity for hewing to the theological straight and narrow. Avoid other cults (Balaam) and avoid those who add to the core message (Nicolaitans).  This is one reason why I’m a big fan of church hierarchy such as synods and accountability to bishops. It reduces the possibility of drifting away from the core message, beliefs and doctrinws of our faith. I have seen too many “independent Bible churches” drift off into bad theology and ultimately into heretical waters.

The issues at Thyatria are similar to those at Pergamum. For the most part the people are faithful and “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.” (19). However, they are being led astray by a charismatic preacher, “Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (20)

This person has refused to repent and will be punished. John uses the same metaphor as Hosea: she is a whore and “I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings.” (22) The lesson here for us is clear: we must be ever alert to corrupting influences in the church, especially those who like Jezelbel at Thyatria have an alluring but ultimately corrupting message. Once again, those preachers who hawk the prosperity gospel come immediately to mind.


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