“With You is My Contention, O Priest”– Thoughts on Hosea 4

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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.

Hosea 4:6 (ESV)

I was pretty sure I knew the gist of Hosea: God tells his prophet to marry a hussy named Gomer; be a father to three children (two of which may or may not be his); watch her chase after other men; and then redeem her back. All this would be one big sermon illustration that would teach Israel about God’s unfailing love to His people despite their unfaithfulness (side note as a pastor: I’m really thankful God hasn’t come up with any object lessons like this for me so far. I’m happy getting my illustrations from YouTube and Tony Evans books). By the way, you should pause and read Hosea 1-3 if you aren’t familiar with it. Greatest. Love Story. Ever.

But in Hosea 4, the book starts feeling less like a Hallmark movie and more like the powerful prophetic word that it is. Chapter 4 begins with a devastating indictment against Israel. God has a bone to pick with the inhabitants of the land, says verse 1:

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
    and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
    they break all bounds, a

nd bloodshed follows bloodshed.

2017 MTV Video Music Awards - Show, Inglewood, USA - 27 Aug 2017
Host Katy Perry at the 2017 VMA’s

Sounds pretty descriptive of today’s headlines, doesn’t it? Or MTV’s  Video Music Awards.

Then, in language that parallels the blessing of Psalm 8:6-8 God pronounces judgment on Israel:

Therefore the land mourns,
    and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
    and the birds of the heavens,
    and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

But here is what stuns me as a minister. While God judges Israel, he doesn’t blame them.

He blames the priests. “With you is my contention, O priest,” he says in verse 4 (which seems to be a much more compelling and convicting translation than the NIV. I’d love for someone way smarter than me to help me understand the huge difference between the translations of verse 4, but that is a conversation for another day. If you are interested, check out the translation comparison from Blue Letter Bible.

God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge because you [the priest] have rejected knowledge.” And because the spiritual leader of the people rejected knowledge, God would reject him as a spiritual leader. (verse 6). And you won’t find a more challenging word for a pastor than Hosea 4:9:

And it shall be like people, like priest.

In the business world, the cliche is “Speed of the leader, speed of the team.” Pastors, we cannot lead anyone where we are not going ourselves. God’s people are being destroyed for lack of knowledge. But if we as spiritual leaders are forgetting the law of our God, then the spiritual condition of the nation is on us.

God have mercy.

Bad Move, Devil

Why it was really stupid of Satan to quote Psalm 91 to Jesus.

  

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

Psalm  91:11-13 (ESV)

I’ve loved using Desiring God’s Fighter Verse app to grow in the discipline of Scripture memorization (If you want to know more about it, I love telling people about it!) For the past few weeks, I’ve been working my way through memorizing Psalm 91. And this week, we come to verses 11-13. Many Christians are already familiar with verses 11-12, because this is the Scripture the devil tried to tempt Jesus with in Luke 4:9-11.

But here’s the thing: Satan should have known better than to quote that verse out of context. He should have known that Jesus would know ALL of Psalm 91, especially verse 13:

You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

And here’s the thing about the other thing: Psalm 91:13 isn’t the first or the last time God’s Word says something about trampling a serpent underfoot. The first time is all the way back in the Garden of Eden. The first sin has been committed. Adam and Eve have fallen. God is about to banish them from the Garden. But tucked in the middle of this narrative, in God’s curse of the Serpent, we see the first messianic prophecy–what theologians and all lovers of lots of syllables call the protoeuangellion:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

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“Virgin Mary Consoles Eve” painting by Sister Mary Grace Remington (notice the serpent!)

God, speaking to the serpent, says, “There will come a day when an offspring of this woman (other translations call Him “her seed”) will crush (“bruise”) your head. Where else besides in a virgin birth would one ever talk about the seed of the woman? This can only be talking about Jesus!

Can’t you imagine Jesus thinking of that prophecy every time he read Psalm 91:13? And don’t you imagine Jesus immediately thinking of Psalm 91:13 the minute Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 to Him? And don’t you think Jesus was already anticipating when the Holy Spirit would inspire Paul to write, in Romans 16:20:

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. 

Satan knows Scripture. But he doesn’t know the story. Let that not be true of us today!

Remembering my Aunt Helen: Leave the Pear Alone

Aunt Helen was never happy with this painting. But my mom wisely told her to leave the pear alone.

This past Saturday (June 4, 2016), I was with my mother, my brother, and one of my sisters in Parkersburg, West Virginia, to bury my aunt. Helen Hartshorn Youngblood: artist, wife, mother, deacon, sister, aunt, friend. My Aunt Helen had a profound influence on me. This is the first of what may be several blog posts I write as I think about what I learned from her.

2016-06-05 12.57.49There is a painting hanging in my mom’s kitchen that Aunt Helen painted. For years, every time Helen would visit my mom, she would want to take the painting back to Parkersburg with her and work on it some more. She was never happy with it. Specifically, she wanted to re-do the pear. But my mom wouldn’t let her. “This represents who you were when you painted it, not the painter you wound up being,” she told her. “I like it just the way it is.”

If you’ve lived at all, you have a few regrets. You have a few pears you wish you could paint over. Nobody paints it right the first time. And artists can look at paintings they did early in life and say, “But I’ve learned so much since then!” Poets cringe at the sappiness and naivete of their poems from high school. People who journal can look at entries from a certain day (or even a certain season of days) and be tempted to rip those pages out. In those times, we can all do well to remember my mom’s advice to her sister. The artist we were is not the same as the artist we become. Leave the pear alone, and don’t think twice about signing your name to the work.

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Paul tells us, in his letter to the Philippians, that he is confident of this very thing: that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Consistently in Scripture, we are reminded to forget what lies behind, and to press on to what is ahead (Philippians 3:13-14). That what we will be has not yet been revealed (1 John 3:2). And if there is a sermon you would have preached differently, or a poem you would have written differently, or a pear you would have painted differently, or a day you would have lived differently, then let them all stand as a testimony to where God has led you.

Jesus’ last words on the cross, according to John’s gospel, were “It is finished” (John 19:30). In the Greek, the word is τελέωIt carries the meaning of an action being fulfilled or accomplished according to a command. It’s the last act that completes a process. Significantly, τελέω is also the root of the word for “perfect” that is used in Philippians 1:6.

There will come a day when our work is accomplished, because there has already been a day when Jesus’ work was accomplished. When we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. My Aunt Helen had her work completed this weekend, and she heard her Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share in the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23).

pearUntil that day, we keep painting, composing, singing, dancing, building, sculpting, and journaling. We are artists, every one of us; contributing our stanzas and quatrains and couplets; our still lifes and studies and portraits and landscapes to God’s great masterpiece. The artists we were are not the artists we will become. But if we are gentle with ourselves, and if we leave the pear alone, we can see how far our God has brought us.