Prophets Part III – Words for Us and Them
Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah
Let’s look at the prophets set for today. All of them are concerned about the immorality in their society, the disregard of God and the inevitable punishment which will follow. But each of them also speaks of God’s mercy and his longing for his people to turn to him.
Hosea is a contemporary of Isaiah but unlike him his message was to the northern kingdom Israel. It was in a very sorry state. In 20 years there were 6 kings and 4 of them were killed by their successor.
- Idolatry was widespread. Hosea’s life became an illustration of Israel’s sin and God’s forgiveness.
- He was told to take a wife Gomer who would prove to be unfaithful. They have 3 children and each one is given a name which carries a message from God. Gomer has affairs and yet Hosea pardons her and takes her back as his wife . It’s an object lesson of God pleading with his people to return to him and of his willingness to forgive them. But it is all in vain.
- The Israelites give lip service to God but their love is like the morning mist, it has no substance. In chapter 11 God reminds them of how he had rescued them from Egypt and how they have now rejected him. They don’t deserve mercy but God does not want to destroy them. He is torn between justice which inevitably cuts them off from him and his love for them. Looking ahead we know that God resolved this through his son Jesus who made a willing sacrifice on the cross and took the burden of our wrong-doing on to himself and paid the price for all mankind.
We don’t know anything about Joel or when the book was written but again it is a book looking towards the day of judgement.
- When he pleads with the people to repent he calls them to “Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,” words which echo so many of the Psalms.
- Joel foresaw a day when God’s spirit would be poured out on all people not just on priests and prophets. It’s the passage which Peter quotes at pentecost “I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants both men and women I will pour out my spirit in those days.”
- The book finishes looking forward to a time when all evil will be done away with. When God will dwell with his people who at last are made holy.
Amos was a shepherd, a native of Judah but he was sent to the northern kingdom of Israel.
- He preached about the religious and social corruption, about dishonest scales and substandard goods. He used 2 particularly evocative pictures in his preaching, one of a plumb line, showing that Israel did not measure up to God’s standard and another of a basket of ripe fruit, saying that the time was ripe for Israel to meet God’s judgement.
- Yet in spite of all his book finishes with a promise that God will restore Israel.
Micah is contemporary with Isaiah and Hosea.
- He preached to both kingdoms, Israel and Judah.
- He denounced the rulers, the priests and the prophets in both and spoke of inevitable punishment for wrongdoing.
- He has a wonderful passage about the time when God’s kingdom will be established, a time of peace when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks a time when men will walk in the name of the Lord their God for ever.
- He also has the verse about the birth of the Messiah which the priests quote to herod at the visit of the magi. “ You Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.”
The book of Obadiah is a prophecy about the fall of Edom. The Edomites were descendants of Esau but there was no love lost between them and the Israelites. Obadiah denounced their pride and foretold their ultimate destruction. In contrast, Israel would eventually be restored.
Out of order, because Jonah shares with the others the theme of judgement and forgiveness, but this is not confined to Israel and Judah.
- Jonah probably lived in the mid 8th century BC, that’s the period covered by the 2nd half of 2 kings. His story concerns Nineveh the capital of Assyria, Israel’s enemy.
- Jonah received a message from God, telling him that he must go and preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. He knew that God is a God who forgives and he didn’t want the people of Nineveh to have the chance of forgiveness, he wanted this enemy of his nation to suffer so in disobedience of God he took a passage in a ship going in the opposite direction. A great storm blew up and the ship was in danger of sinking. Jonah took responsibility for having angered God and persuaded the sailors to throw him overboard so that they would not be contaminated by his sin. God did not let him drown, a great fish swallowed Jonah and he lived inside it for 3 days during which time he cried out to God in distress and repentance. The fish vomitted him on to land and with this second chance Jonah fulfilled his original commission. As he had half expected the people of Nineveh did repent and were forgiven by God. Jonah went off and sulked. Far from being delighted at the success of his message he was furious that the heathen enemies had not received their just deserts. He had no compassion for them.
- God gave him another object lesson. The tree under whose shade he was resting, withered and exposed him to the heat of the sun. God used that to make Jonah understand about pity.
- The importance of the book of Jonah whether we regard it as a parable or as a miraculous event is that it shows that God’s concern extends beyond his chosen people to the greater world.
What can we learn from these prophets? The book of Jonah reminds us that God ‘s love and care is for everyone, not reserved for a chosen few. It shows us God’s grief over wrongdoing and his longing for people to repent, to be saved from the consequences of their actions.
The other books we’ve looked at all carry on this theme. God is a god of justice but also of mercy. Judgement is not a popular theme today but we know that sin alienates us from God and that inevitably is punishment. That is not what God wants. Forget the Victorian picture of a wrathful God . Yes God has set standards for us, rules for living his way and if we disregard them we are flouting God and that deserves action on his part. But God is a God of mercy. He wants us to change and return to his love.
It’s the message Jesus carried on. He told his famous story of the son who asked his father for his inheritance and went off to do his own thing. Eventually he realised his foolishness and made the journey back home, prepared to work for his father as a servant. But his father was looking out for him, rushed to meet him, welcomed him back with great rejoicing. That’s the same god we see portrayed in these words of the prophets, a God waiting for the return of his children, longing for them to come back and forgiving them as soon as they do so.
Let’s finish by remembering some of the words of the prophets.
In Hosea, God says that repentance will bring blessing “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.” and Micah says of God “Who is a god like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression. You do not stay angry for ever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us, you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Through Jesus we can all accept and be given that love and compassion and forgiveness.
This sermon was preached by Joy Kiley on 16th August 2015