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Testwood Baptist Church - Old Testament survey Session 4 - The Prophets

Contents


The Prophets

This week - the last in our series of evening seminars - takes a look at the Old Testament prophets. The books of the prophets make up the last third of the Old Testament, and as organised in a standard Bible come after the Wisdom literature and before the New Testament. A very small number of Bibles arrange the books more in chronological order, which is actually quite an interesting idea and makes for some surprises when reading through the Bible. We get very used to seeing things in a specific order, and from time to time it is useful to shake things up a little. Anyway, the books vary enormously in length, from the 80 pages of Jeremiah down to Obadiah who barely makes it onto page two. They also vary enormously as regards their time, circumstance, and personal background, as we shall see in a while.

The truth that makes men free is for the most part

 

the truth that men prefer not to hear...

Tonight's quotation is from a man called Herbert Agar, an American poet and writer of the 1940s. Not the best-known man in the world, but what he said on this occasion captures something of the feel of the prophets - they were speaking truth that men needed to hear, but for the most part they felt themselves to be speaking to deaf ears. A fair number of them either came to a sticky end (for example Jesus tells us in Luke 11:51 that Zechariah was killed between the altar and the sanctuary of the Temple) or else faced tremendous opposition and persecution during their time of ministry. Being a prophet in Israel was a hazardous profession. This was principally because they were saying things that people did not want to hear. Many were speaking during times of prosperity, and people giving high-profile warnings that the lifestyle was wrong were not welcome.

The idea that comes to most people's minds when they hear the word "prophet" is information about the future. However, this in fact makes up a relatively small proportion of the Old Testament prophets' messages. Most of their time was spent challenging people about the present - how they were living their lives right now. In fact, this session neatly draws together the threads of the previous two weeks. The main function of the prophets of Israel was to remind the people about their covenant commitment to God, and urge them to live it out in practice. If the gentle reminders of the Book of Proverbs was not helping the people at large to live a godly life, if the examples of the poets and psalmists was not being an effective inspiration to live up to the covenant promise ... then the prophets were there as God's advocates. "This is who God is... this is what He is like... this is His character, to discipline and give hope".

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Personal change

So first of all the prophets were urging personal change, repentance and a return to a godly lifestyle. Along with that, they were urging a social change. JB Philips is best known for carrying out translations of the New Testament, but he also worked with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, and once said "To a prophet of the calibre of these men it is not enough to drop a coin into the beggar's palm: you must ask yourself, 'How far am I responsible for his being a beggar at all?'". Personal change is a start, but social change was vital to the prophets. To them, the fact that some of the people were living in destitution was a criticism on the state of the entire nation. It is worth remembering here something we talked about on the first week. The two kingdoms of Israel and Judah went into exile for their collective attitude towards God and the covenant relationship he had offered. Within the nation were people, perhaps many people, who as individuals had maintained faith. The fact that the prophets spoke critically of the nation as a whole does not mean that every single person in the land was hostile to God. Unfortunately, the influence of these people was inadequate to change the course of the nation, and inadequate to change the outcome pronounced over the nation by God. Repentance from personal wrong-doing is absolutely vital to the Christian life - indeed there is no Christian life without this. But we are also called to become involved with tackling structural, institutional, social wrong-doing. This is an area where the Israelites failed, despite the repeated urgings of the prophets.

But of course the prophets did, as part of their message, speak about the future. This is one of the things that often grabs people first about their words - it did for me, and the fact that we base our Christmas services around these parts of their message suggests that this is a common response. It is rather extraordinary to find these people saying things, which hundreds of years later came to pass. Prophecy is a notoriously difficult area of the Bible to grasp, and has in the past led people into a rather obsessive compulsion with what is after all only a small part of the whole - but it is an important ingredient in both Old and New Testaments.

Finally we are going to take a quick look at one of the prophets, to see how we can piece together the book in question.

Dating prophets Here is a timeline outlining when the different prophets lived and spoke. It should be emphasised that in some cases we have no definite idea of their setting. Some prophets start their books with exact details "The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah" (Isaiah 1:1). But others go straight into the content of their message: "The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai" (Jonah 1:1). Now, to be sure there are other clues in some of the messages - particular cities whose fall is mentioned, or the advance of particular armies. But there are a few, including Jonah and Joel, where there are a number of possible periods of history where they could go, and not enough clues in the writing to be sure. But you can see from this that the great period when the prophetic line in Israel was flourishing was from about 800 BC to about 500 BC.

Now, when we use the word prophet, we generally think of the great lone figures, the ones who stood up in isolation to declare the word of the LORD. We know that in addition to the key ones who left books named after them, there were others who are just mentioned in passing. But as well as that, we also read of other prophets who operated in groups. Saul, first king over all Israel, was once caught up with such a group. Obadiah, said to be a devout believer, hid a hundred prophets in caves to protect them in a time of persecution. A little later, in the reigns of Ahab and Jehosaphat, Ahab called together a group of 400 prophets from the northern kingdom to give advice about a military campaign. A single prophet - Micaiah - from the kingdom of Judah was found, whose word conflicted with the big group. On this occasion the group was in the wrong, but the idea of calling together prophets en masse was typical.


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The prophet and the king

The principle of the prophet having the ear of the king was important. I said earlier that Moses can be seen as the first in the line of prophets of Israel, but his role was rather unusual in that he was leader of the people as well as (occasionally) prophet. It was when the line of kings arose in Israel, and with the relationship between David the king and Nathan the prophet, that the pattern was established that would then be followed for half a century - until the kingdom was swept into exile. The relationship between king and prophet was close, though sometimes tense. Nathan was responsible for passing on to David the great news about God's covenant promise concerning his descendants, and was also responsible for challenging his conduct regarding adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the death of Uriah. This twin role of providing advice and challenge is seen through the whole history of Old Testament prophecy.

Prophets of other nations Now, on a superficial level, we see prophecy being carried out in other countries too. We have records of individuals sending word to the king about events in the nation - sometimes these people were part of the religious priesthood of their country, other times they seem to have been private individuals. Although we don't have extensive records in the way that the Old Testament has preserved for us, it does seem that particular people built up a reputation for speaking from the gods, so that their words carried greater weight. Often these people were basically interpreters of dreams, or else of signs and omens rather like astrologers. We do see encounters with such people recorded in the Old Testament - Moses contended with some at the court in Egypt while negotiating with Pharaoh, and the failure of some to interpret a dream of Nebuchadnezzar led to Daniel's rise to power. So, the ancient world knew about people who were entrusted with insight into the hidden meaning of current events, or had glimpses into the future, or who were esteemed for an ability to interpret dreams and omens. These people were also able to catch the ear of the king. However, what we do not find from other countries are two key features of the Old Testament prophets: first, a strong basis of moral conduct (which for Israel was based on the covenant with God we talked about in week 2), and secondly, a liberty to confront a ruler directly whose conduct was not appropriate. The material we have from other countries tends to be either congratulatory ("yes, lord, the king will defeat his enemies") or else generalised in the same way that newspaper star-sign readings are today. In fact, if you read the account of the 400 prophets speaking to Ahab that I mentioned earlier (1 Kings 22), their presentation to the king is very like what we read in other documents. Only Micaiah, the prophet called to the meeting by Jehosaphat of Judah, spoke in dissent. His words were unpopular, and at odds with the delivery of the 400 - but they were correct. So, Old Testament prophecy, although seemingly similar to that of other countries, is in fact very different when you start to probe into it. Yes the idea of the prophet was a universal one in the ancient world, and yes there are certain similarities in how they conducted themselves, but in terms of the moral foundations, their freedom to confront, and the accuracy of detail given, they are worlds apart.


Prophets sent outside Israel When we were talking about covenants, I mentioned that during the Old Testament period, there was very little incentive or action on Israel's part to go into all the world. The times when they undertook great journeys were usually because some sort of external circumstance forced them to - famine, or an external invader, for example. We see the same pattern with the prophets, where by and large their message was delivered to Israelites. After all, if the covenant message had not been delivered to a nation, it would hardly be just to challenge them for not adhering to it. We do find criticism of other nations where their behaviour did not conform to the commonly expected standards of the region - for example Amos records the LORD's judgement on Gaza "because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom" - and we certainly find the Israelites being forewarned that the aggressive rulers of Assyrian and Babylon would be paid back for their cruelty. But these are not intended to be delivered to the people in question, they are assuring God's people that, despite the short-term appearance, their God is indeed concerned about justice and will indeed right wrongs.

The only apparent exception is Jonah, where out of the blue he is told to go to Nineveh, one of the major cities in Assyria and for long periods of time the capital of this nation, and preach against it. We are never really told what he was to say - the simple declaration "forty days and Nineveh will be overturned" hardly seems compelling enough to persuade a whole city to change their ways! Indeed, the main thrust of the book is not so much the salvation of Nineveh (though that was clearly on God's heart) but the hard-heartedness of the prophet. The recurring theme of the book is "God provided ... and everything did as He wanted" ... except for the prophet himself who spends much of the book doing the opposite of what was wanted, and ends up sulking. Both his reluctance and anger are (humanly speaking) quite understandable, as Assyria had a reputation for cruelty, and a history of attacking Israel and the other countries along the Mediterranean shore. One can imagine Jonah thinking first, "am I going to survive this?" and secondly, "why spare all this lot so they can attack us again?" So even this book is not really about evangelism in the Christian sense, not about going into all the world and making disciples, it's more about the people of God learning obedience under all circumstances.

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Personal renewal

So the first element of the message of the prophets is personal renewal, a need for repentance and return to principles of godly living. Isaiah says "These people come near to me with their mouth, and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me... Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder" (29:13-14). He is basically saying that the fact that their response to him is superficial, skin-deep only, and makes them no different to the Egyptian leaders at the time of the Exodus, who had to suffer his wonders before releasing the Israelites. The wonders here are not things of fun and entertainment, they are things to make a people stop and consider their insignificance before an Almighty God. The style of making analogies like this was followed by Jesus "Woe to you, blind guides... whitewashed tombs..." (Matthew 23:16). The prophets - and the Lord Jesus - did not mince words, and they often compared God's people to some generally despised nation in order to make a point. But before we all rush off outside to start declaiming, it is worth noting that these strongly-worded texts were not addressed to the outside world, but to God's people at times when they had grown spiritually deaf and blind. There are also issues of keeping things in balance which we shall come back to in a few minutes.

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Social renewal

Early prophets This slide shows an expanded version of the timeline we had before. It shows the time of the first four prophets - two in the north and two in the south - who left writings of their own, against the background of the two kingdoms. We usually think of the reign of Solomon as the time when Israel was richest, but in fact at the start of this period the wealth of the nation was spread more widely, at least in the north. Solomon is certainly presented as extremely rich, but the wealth was concentrated in the hands of just a few at this time. A couple of centuries down the line it was more dispersed, at least through the upper layers of society. The treaty I have mentioned several times, between Israel and the city of Tyre had provided wealth through trade. This wealth was, in fact, the cause of social problems which were not being addressed. Problems that - sadly - we regard as normal parts of life, such as greed, corruption, dishonesty, abuse of power and position, had emerged into Israelite life, and the social side of the prophets' ministry was to challenge this. As I said earlier, "it is not enough to drop a coin into the beggar's palm: you must ask yourself, 'How far am I responsible for his being a beggar at all?'". This was not being addressed by the Israelites, and arguably is not often addressed today.

Modern social writers and charity workers (both religious and secular) recognise that injustice and abuse can be built into the structures that society rests on - trade, employment, class boundaries, and racial inequality. I expect many of us saw video footage recently, of American police officers beating black youths with their truncheons as they were arrested. How far was that a legitimate way to contain a dangerous person, and how far was that a simple abuse of a position of power? There is no shortage of well-informed material nowadays to help us as Christians make godly choices about what we buy, who we support, how we conduct ourselves to our fellow human beings in this country and across the world. It is not a comfortable subject - it is so much easier to follow the normal routine encouraged by a greedy society and just carry on buying with eyes shut. But if we do that, we must face the words of the prophets just as much as the people of Israel had to in the 8th century BC.

Again, it was a matter of covenant principles. The Torah of Moses had laid down principles of justice, principles for dealing with the weak, dealing with hardship, dealing in a godly manner with the underprivileged or those who had fallen on hard times. This was not a new message that the prophets were proclaiming, it was a simple assertion that the people should be following a rule of life, but that they were conspicuously failing to do so. It was something they should have known and were not living out. It is the same principle as the rather disconcerting words of Jesus "If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15). We are vassals in God's great covenant, he is our suzerain, and our duty is to follow his pattern.

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Offering hope

You may well be forgiven for thinking so far that the prophets were a grim lot, trying rather to terrify their audience into obedience. But this is only part of the story. Some of the most wonderful messages of hope are found in the pages of the prophets:

"I will be like the dew to Israel, he will blossom like a lily" (Hosea)

"In that day I will restore David's fallen tent" (Amos)

"You will again have compassion on us, you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea" (Micah)

and so on. The message of the prophets was never unrelieved doom and gloom. These were men granted profound insight into God's plan, and after the storm coming shortly - in some cases knocking at the very doors of their listeners - they could see the peace and comfort, they could see the bottomless love and compassion of God's heart towards his people. This is the balance I mentioned earlier. It will sometimes be our responsibility as individual Christians, or as church collectively, to make certain unpleasant facts known to others. The Good News of Christianity involves exposure to bad news as well, bad news about the consequences of bad lifestyle, unrepentant living, social injustice and cruelty. But the bad news is never unrelenting, never presented just for its own sake.

It is easy to do one of two things - either gloss over the bad bits so we don't frighten people away or get a bad image, or focus exclusively on the ills of the world and fail to see hope and the stirrings of new life. The prophets managed to balance both. They certainly highlighted wrongdoing when they came across it, but always in the context of an existing relationship with the people, always backed up by a consistent personal lifestyle ... and always, always with a clear message of hope and a path to restitution. This is not a simplistic happy ending to a sad story - it is insight into the mind and heart of God, and confident trust that his capacity to somehow combine justice and mercy is more than adequate to the immensity of the task.

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Looking to the future

It would not be right to ignore the fact that the prophets did make statements about the future. This is a big subject in its own right, and we are not going to delve very far into it tonight. These parts of their message are woven together with the other aspects we have already discussed, and sometimes it is hard to follow their mental leaps. There seem to be several reasons for this. First, they had an immediate audience. Although their words are profoundly significant to us, and to every generation, their first point of reference was the group of people right in front of them. These people often needed some very immediate sign of the prophet's authenticity. It was said of Samuel "the LORD... let none of Samuel's words fall to the ground" (1 Sam 3:19). A lot of the future-looking words of the prophets have a quite short-term fulfilment. Even the verses we associate with the birth of Jesus "a young woman shall be with child and will give birth to a son... before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste" (Isaiah 7:14,16) are almost certainly of this kind. The lands of the two kings feared by Ahaz, king of Judah, were Israel and Syria ... and indeed we can see from the picture above that the king of Assyria was to lay waste these lands within a short time. Whoever the young woman was that Isaiah had in mind, we must presume it was someone known to Ahaz. The words of the prophet's were relevant to the circumstances of their hearers.

Now, this verse is especially interesting as it shows us something else. Of course as Christians we are used to thinking of the "young woman" of these verses as Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. The Greek word used in the New Testament does indeed mean a virgin, but the Hebrew usually means simply a young woman, possibly but not necessarily an unmarried virgin. Now, we are not wrong to see Mary in these words, and Ahaz was not wrong to see a young Israelite woman of his own time in them. Isaiah's inspired words do not apply just to one or the other, but to both. The immediate fulfilment gave hope to the immediate audience, and the longer-term fulfilment gave hope to the world. This is a very common feature of the prophetic predictions. It is as though they saw not just a single, simple event, but rather a pattern stamped across the future. Something was coming up soon ... but something much greater was coming up in the future, showing the same signs, the same fingerprints of the handiwork of God. It's not a case of either/or, but both.

Along the same lines, what we also find are situations where the prophet compresses large spans of time, as though peering down the wrong end of a telescope. Again, what they are concerned about is the overall pattern, the whole shape of God's activity from beginning to end. The incidental fact that there are large blocks of time separating one event from another is irrelevant to these people - it is the shape of the whole movement, and the certainty of conclusion, that matters to them, not the accidents of time and space in which the separate stages occur.

Some of the prophets' future predictions are made in an absolute, unconditional way. "Such-and-such an event will definitely happen" - we are not always told when, or how, but the happening is certain. But some of the predictions, on the other hand, are conditional. If this doesn't change, then the consequence will be... It's not always easy to tell one from the other. For example, it is clear that Jonah's prophecy was in fact conditional. The people of Nineveh heard him say "forty days and this city will be overturned" .. but they changed their ways and the city survived. It was not overturned in forty days. So this was a conditional prophecy - but it did not seem that way to the people of Nineveh. In between, of course, the people changed, they conformed themselves to God's pattern for them. You could say that human repentance always opens up new possibilities. Something that seems inevitable, something that seems a foregone conclusion, some situation that appears hopeless - the repentance of the key people in the situation can change any of it. Repentance moves a situation from following an inevitable path into the orbit of God's endless creative compassion.

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Prophecy today?

What about the role of prophesy today? Of course the New Testament makes it clear that prophecy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and one to be desired. "Be eager to prophesy" says the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, but what does he mean by this? Of course, in part he was echoing Moses "I wish that all God's people were prophets" (Numbers 11:29). Does he mean that all of us should be like Isaiah or Jonah? Well, in a word, no. The New Testament makes a distinction between individuals who are called prophets (men or women), and the general prophetic edge that is intended to be the birthright of everyone in the Christian church. There are prophets in the special sense, and there is the general responsibility to be a prophetic people. This is no different to other kinds of official task within the church. There are people called specifically to be pastors - and there is the general responsibility of God's people to have a pastoral heart of care towards others.

Working towards personal change

Working towards social change

Offering hope


Pointing beyond the limits of this world

What does it mean, then, for us to be a prophetic people? Well, we are no longer in the business of writing Scripture! The great prophets whose books we read in the Old Testament were a line apart. No-one today, not since the completion of the New Testament books, is operating on anything like the same level. But the principles by which they conducted themselves are still alive and active. These principles are on the slide here. To be a prophetic people is to be working towards personal change. This means seeking change in ourselves, to live in a more consistently godly way, and fostering change in other people. Our message here is that individual change is both possible and necessary.

But we cannot leave the message on this level. Our culture tends to promote the needs and rights of the individual above that of the whole, but the prophetic books of the Old Testament balance these two factors differently. Being a prophetic people includes a dimension that challenges injustice and complacency on a wider scale as well. We are called to provide new directions for society as a whole, not just for individual people. Jesus spoke of a need for his people to be salt and light on the earth. Salt in the ancient world was a thing of value - our word salary comes from the same root - and it also stands against corruption. Light does not just dispel darkness, but it also illuminates new directions. These words of Jesus are in a context of high-profile visibility - a city set on a hill, or a lamp set on a lamp stand. To be sure, each of us has different abilities, and some people are more publicly confident than others. Not everyone is called to take on a prominent position in the public eye .. but we are all called to be salt and light, to make a difference amongst the group of people we mix with. All of us have some group of people amongst whom we can be salt and light, all of us somehow interface with the larger world, even if only through the contents of a shopping basket.

Being a prophetic people also means that we are offering hope. People cannot change their life's course without having a sense of hope that the new direction is possible and - after a while at least - fruitful. To change, to move out of a familiar path, is difficult, and hope is the beacon that lights the way. Our prophetic role is not to minimise or excuse the difficulties of the immediate situation, but to offer a genuine hope for the future. Jesus uses the image of a vine-grower to express something of God's work in a person. The vine-grower prunes the parts of the vine that are not fruitful. I'm sure that the vine, if it knew what was happening, would prefer not to be pruned. The immediate payback of growing foliage would seem so much more gratifying than having it trimmed back and waiting for fruit another time, another year. The vine that has hope, can trust the wisdom of the vine-dresser through the short-term difficulties until the longer-term benefits start to be seen. Our role is to impart that hope to others.

And finally, our role is to point beyond the things of this world, towards the things of eternity. People unaided can achieve a measure of personal change, they can campaign for a more just society, they can have some sort of hope in a better world, or a better society. All of these are possible to people at large, ultimately because all of us are made in God's image and display something of his character. The prophets made sure that their hearers knew that the ultimate source of those things needs to be found outside the realm of nature, outside the culture of mankind. It is rooted in the everlasting, unchanging person of God. They are not dealing in self-help methods, they are not dealing in social theories, they are not providing a buoyant optimism - they are drawing their audience into a deeper understanding of the character of God. Ultimately, being a prophetic people means broadcasting in increasing measure, but on a human scale, the qualities of God.

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A brief look at Hosea

I want to finish tonight by looking briefly at one of the prophets - Hosea. The Old Testament does not tell us where he came from, but long-standing Jewish tradition says he was from Beth Shemesh in the region allotted to Issachar. This was a town overlooking a ford across the River Jordan, a few miles south of Lake Galilee. The name suggests that it had been a centre for Canaanite worship of the sun. So, he lived and spoke in the northern kingdom of Israel, only a few years before the Assyrians invaded. Israel was still comparatively wealthy, though there had been a decline since the time of Amos, a generation earlier. For some years the nation had been paying tribute to Assyria (we know this from Assyrian records as well as the Old Testament), but around this time an attempt was made to break free of that, cease paying the tribute, and set up a treaty with Egypt. Judah refused to go along with this - a wise move as events transpired, and the background to the passage about the young woman we looked at earlier from Isaiah. In 725, the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser 5 advanced. Egypt failed to provide help and after a 3 year siege, the city of Samaria fell. The northern kingdom fell and many of the Israelites were taken into exile.

Hosea's message extended over several years - although he names only one king of Israel in his preamble, he names several kings of Judah, spanning a number of years. The usual assumption is that he did not wish to recognise the rule of certain kings by naming them. The impression we get of the land from his writing is one of uncertainty and doubt, mixed with stubbornness. Hosea uses the difficult circumstances of his own life as a picture of the wider problems of the nation. He marries and has children with a woman he knows will be unfaithful, and her abandonment of him in this liaison is a reflection of the way Israel has abandoned God. Like many of the prophets, Hosea does not just use sermons and speeches to convey his meaning. But in other ways, his language is more like what we find in the book of Proverbs than in the other prophetic works - these are sometimes fluent and well written, and sometimes terse and blunt, but on the whole what we read are connected blocks with easy-to-spot divisions. In Hosea, we find short bursts of very emotion-laden words, presumably brief extracts or highlights from a number of longer sermons. It is hard to work out when each might have been spoken in comparison to the changing political scene.

We do not know anything about Hosea's background and upbringing, but he is clearly well-versed in Israel's history. He draws imagery from the times of the patriarchs, from the Exodus and time in Sinai, and from the establishment of the monarchy. He sees the behaviour of the Israel of his time as a simple consequence of rebellious behaviour in the past. He evidently loves the nation, despite its problems and faults, and sees his love as a pale reflection of God's love.

He acts scenarios out in front of his audience, showing how the human drama of a family can illustrate the wider sweep of history. It's a good method - people can grasp the dynamics of a couple, or a family, they can identify with the feelings and struggles of one party or the other. Some of the prophets were more radical still, carrying out symbolic gestures in front of the people. Jeremiah, at one of the points of lowest ebb of hope in Israel, bought a field. He went through the whole process of legally taking ownership, knowing that the immediate reality was that the conquering Babylonian armies would make the contract futile. Indeed, the armies were just outside the gates, besieging the city of Jerusalem. The fall of the city was imminent. But "this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel says: 'Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land'". Beyond the immediate catastrophe was the future certain hope of restoration. Now, he could have simply said the words, but by actually carrying out the transaction for real, how much more would the gesture have meant to the people around him.

Amidst Hosea's general background of difficult times for Israel, there are bursts of hope. 11:8 records a passionate exclamation from God "How can I give you up, Ephraim, how can I hand you over, Israel ... I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim". The book closes with a chapter of hope, a vision of the future in which Israel will return to God in genuine repentance and abandonment of other false sources of help. It is a promise of healing, restoration, and renewed fruitfulness. This chapter, as well as being the most consistently hopeful part of the book, is the most simply written and fluent of the whole. The prophet has found peace for himself as well as assurance of survival and hope for the nation.

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Personal exercise

Tonight's activity gives you a chance to think about areas of your life, and of society at large, that need to change. We have picked out two main areas for change - in individuals and in society as a whole. So the first thing to consider is ourselves - what most needs change in us? I've split "society" into two questions - what most needs change, and what is most likely to change. It may well be easy for us to see something that ought to be changed, but it seems such a big thing we don't know where to start. That's the first or the two questions. The second comes down to where we can play our part in assisting change to happen. By looking at something that may well change for the better within a year, we can then start to consider what we need to do about it. As with all these exercises, you are free to share your thoughts with others or not - some people may want to look at these issues, especially the personal one, with the help of another person.

Participation exercise - thinking about change

What would I most like to change in me?

Think about actions and attitudes. Think about habits of thought or action that seem to be ingrained and unable to be changed. It should be the thin that comes to mind that is most in need of change.

What would I most like to change in society?

This should not be something that is simply inconvenient to you, but something where today's society is clearly out of line with Gods plan for a nation. It should be the thin that comes to mind that is most in need of change.

What do I think is most likely to change for the better in society within a year?

This is looking a bit more practically at the near future. The last question was about what you thought was most needing to change - this one is about where change is most likely to happen soon. Is there anything we can do to speed this up?


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