Heart trouble

At the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry, the city of Jerusalem was active in its worship of the LORD. After king Josiah made a covenant “to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments,” a Passover celebration took place that included every citizen of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:31; 35:18). It says in 2 Chronicles 35:18, “And there was no Passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the Prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a Passover as Josiah kept.” And yet, the LORD challenged Jeremiah to try to find one upright man for whose sake he might pardon the entire city. He told Jeremiah, “And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely” (Jeremiah 5:2).

Although the people  of Jerusalem were practicing their religion, God could see their hearts were not in it. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved, thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3). Jeremiah’s reference to the peoples’ faces being harder than rock was actually a reference to their hard heartedness. The Hebrew word translated harder, chazaq (khaw – zak´) is the same word used to describe Pharaoh’s hardened heart when he refused to let the people of Israel leave Egypt (Exodus 7:13). In reference to Pharaoh, chazaq means “to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all the avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (2388).

When the people of Jerusalem celebrated the Passover, they were only going through the motions. Their true motive for participation was a free meal at the expense of king Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:7). God could see the people had become complacent and were no longer concerned about his judgment of them. It was as if they believed God was unaware of what they were doing and could not hold them accountable for their sin. In order to show them the foolishness of their decision to reject his offer of salvation, God intended to let his children experience the fruit of their own labors. He declared through the prophet Jeremiah, “A wonderful and a horrible thing is committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jeremiah 5:31).

 

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Exempted

A key component of the Israelites’ sacrificial system was the Passover. The Passover was instituted on the eve of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Prior to that night, the Egyptians had experienced nine plagues because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go into the wilderness and worship their God. The plagues were intended to demonstrate God’s miraculous power. The LORD told Moses, “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5).

During the plagues, God made a distinction between the  Israelites and the Egyptians. God told Pharaoh, “I will put a division between my people and thy people” (Exodus 8:23). The Hebrew word translated division, peduth is derived from the word padah. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition” (6299). Padah is usually translated as redeem or ransom. God was letting Pharaoh know that his people were no longer subject to Pharaoh’s command and would be exempted from the rest of his plagues.

The last plague God brought upon the Egyptians was the death of all their firstborn. Even though the Israelites were exempted from this plague, they had to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their home as a sign to God that he should pass over that household (Exodus 12:7). The lamb was later referred to as the Passover (Exodus 12:27) and the Israelites were expected to celebrate this event annually in remembrance of God’s deliverance. After the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, the Passover celebration was for the most part ignored or forgotten. It wasn’t until king Hezekiah ordered the people to observe it, that the Passover was kept as it was originally intended to be (2 Chronicles 30:5).

In 622 B.C., after the book of the law was found and read to all the people, king Josiah kept the Passover exactly as it was prescribed by Moses. Every person that was living in Judah and Jerusalem participated in the celebration (2 Chronicles 35:17). This may have been the only complete observance of the sacrifice since it was celebrated in Egypt. Josiah  himself provided 33,000 animals for the sacrifice, indicating there were probably only 100,000 – 200,000 people residing in the nation at that time. Around 800 B.C, there were 300,000 men alone in Judah, 20 years old and above that were able to go to war, suggesting the total population was over one million.

The significance of king Josiah’s Passover celebration was that it occurred within a generation of when Judah went into captivity. There were three kings that followed Josiah; all of whom were his sons. It seems as if the first Passover and this last Passover celebration served somewhat as bookends to the Israelites’ freedom. The only way God could get the people to celebrate it was through the threat of death. Given that the Passover exempted the Israelites from all punishment of their sins, you would think they would have been more diligent about its observance.

Boasting

Psalm 135 begins with the statement, “Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 135:1). The Hebrew word translated praise in this verse is halal. In its simplest active form, the word halal means to boast” (1984). Everyone knows how to boast and most people do it on a regular basis, and yet, boasting about God is not something that happens naturally. The reason we are told to praise the LORD is because “the LORD is good” (Psalm 135:3).

Goodness is not a measure of quality, but a characteristic or attribute of a thing or person. When he was referred to as “Good Master,” Jesus responded, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17). What Jesus was saying was, it is impossible for a human to be or become good. The best we can do is live by God’s standard and give him the credit for the result.

The anointing

One of the characteristics of the first kings of Israel was they were anointed by a prophet before their reign began. The anointing served a dual purpose. First, it was a visible sign the man was God’s chosen representative on earth. Second, the anointing activated the spirit of God to work in and through the king to accomplish God’s will for the nation of Israel. After God promised king David that his descendants would reign over Israel for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), the anointing was passed from generation to generation through the king’s selection of a successor to the throne. Eventually, the anointing was overlooked as an important aspect of successful leadership and was disregarded as a requirement for being king.

When king Saul and king David were anointed to be king it was noted that the spirit of the LORD came upon these two men (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). There is no mention of this type of confirmation with any of the other kings of Israel or Judah even though the king was the earthly representative of God and was considered to be an important religious figure (4427). Speaking about Israel’s ultimate deliverance, Isaiah foretold, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1). Isaiah was referring to the Messianic age when God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth.

The anointing of king Saul and king David was meant to produce the righteousness characteristic of the Messiah’s reign. The term righteousness is derived from several Hebrew words that deal with justification. The primary root word, tsadaq (tsaw – dak´) “is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663). The word Isaiah used to describe the Messiah’s reign was tsedeq (tseh´ – dek). “It is a relational word” referring to the “relationship among people and of a man to his God” (6664).

By the time Isaiah’s ministry came into effect, it was clear that the kings of Israel and Judah had failed to bring the people closer to God. In fact, within a few hundred years of king David’s reign, the people were in total rebellion against God and practiced idolatry in his temple (2 Kings 16:15). The outcome God had been working toward was completely missed. Isaiah declared regarding the Messiah’s reign, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17-18).

The harvest

The universal law of the harvest, sowing and reaping, applies to all areas of life and experience (2232). Referring to Israel’s idol worship, the prophet Hosea declared, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). In this instance, the wind “may be a suggestion of purposelessness, uselessness, or even vanity (emptiness)” (7307). The wind is regarded in Scripture as an emblem of the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God, therefore, the whirlwind or hurricane, suggests a spiritual storm that would snatch away the peaceful existence of God’s people.

The Israelites’ idolatry centered around two golden calves made by king Jeroboam I after Israel was divided into two kingdoms (1 Kings 12:28). The worship of these calves was most likely connected to the 400 years Israel spent in Egypt in slavery. Shortly after they were miraculously delivered from Pharaoh’s army, the Israelites made a golden calf and their leader Aaron declared, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8). King Jeroboam I spoke similar words about his golden calves (1 Kings 12:28). God’s sentence against the Israelites specifically condemned this practice:

Of their silver and their gold have they made their idols, that they may be cut off. Thy calf , O Samaria, hath cast thee off, mine anger is kindled against them…The workman made it, therefore, it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces. (Hosea 8:5-6)

While the Israelites were dwelling in the Promised Land, they had enjoyed the benefit of God’s blessing and were given something no other nation received, God’s mercy. What this meant was that even though they had sowed wicked deeds like everyone else, the Israelites were not punished for their transgressions. Their sacrifices cancelled the record of their debt and they were blessed by God even though they didn’t deserve it. Because they turned their backs on God, things would to change.

Now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins…The days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come; Israel shall know it. (Hosea 8:13, 9:7)

The northern kingdom of Israel received harsher treatment than Judah because their idolatry was blatant and continuous from the time of king Jeroboam I until the people were taken into captivity by Assyria. In particular, the capital city of Samaria had a reputation for paying tribute to foreign kings and relied on its army rather than God to deliver her from her enemies.

Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity, ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men. Therefore shall a tumult arise among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled. (Hosea 10:13-14)

Unfaithful

The prophet Hosea was given the difficult task of modeling for everyone around him the relationship between God and Israel. Hosea’s choice of a mate was symbolic of God choosing the nation of Israel to be his people. Because Israel had been unfaithful to him, God told Hosea, “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredoms, departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2).

The harsh picture drawn of the Israelites was meant to be a sort of shock treatment to get them to realize how God felt about their idolatry. Not only did God want them to know how disgusted he was with their behavior, but he also wanted them to know that in spite of their unfaithfulness, he still loved them and wanted them to come back to him. The names of Hosea’s children were used to convey a message of detachment and punishment for their inappropriate behavior. Beginning with Jezreel, God’s awareness of his children’s sin was made public so that his intentional rejection would not be mistaken for a lack of love on his part.

God had a right to be angry because he had gone to such great lengths to deliver his people from their sins, and yet, they made no effort to follow his commandments. In fact, the Israelites openly worshipped other deities and gave them the credit for their success. The seriousness of their transgression was reflected in the name of Hosea’s third child. “Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for you are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9).

In spite of Israel’s lack of interest in having a relationship with the LORD, God did not want to permanently cut them off. His intention was to show them that their idol worship was pointless. In order to bring them to their senses, God allowed Israel to reap what it had sown, ruin, and destruction. Speaking of Hosea’s unfaithful wife Gomer, the LORD said, “Therefore behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now” (Hosea 2:6-7).

More than wanting to punish Israel for its unfaithfulness, God wanted to restore the relationship that existed between him and his people when they first entered the Promised Land. God was capable of forgiving them, but he would not allow his people to worship other gods. The end result that God expected was sincere devotion to him and him alone. He said, “And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (Hosea 2:23).

Spiritual reform

Hezekiah’s intentional effort to revive his nation’s worship system began immediately after he became king of Judah. It says in 2 Chronicles 29:3, “He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.” During his father Ahaz’s reign, idolatry had replaced worship of the LORD and the temple of God had been desecrated by foreigners (2 Kings 16:17-18). Hezekiah took responsibility for his nation’s spiritual reform and acted quickly to make things right again.

Hezekiah saw the connection between Judah’s trouble and the neglect of God’s temple. Hezekiah’s personal commitment to the LORD resulted n a national revival at a time when there was little to no interest in God’s blessing (2 Chronicles 30:10). Much of what Hezekiah did could be attributed to supernatural circumstances or divine intervention. After the temple was restored to daily activity, it was noted that it happened suddenly, as if in the blink of an eye (2 Chronicles 29:36).

The primary focus of Hezekiah’s spiritual reform was restoration of the Passover celebration. The Passover was key to the Israelites relationship with God because it not only represented their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, but also signified their forgiveness of sin. The Day of Atonement was a national celebration in which the priest made reconciliation in order to atone for the sins of all Israel (2 Chronicles 29:34). The sacrifice literally wiped the slate clean for the entire nation in a single moment.

The positive effect of having their sins forgiven resulted in the people of Judah giving generously to support the priest and Levites who served in the temple. It says in 2 Chronicles 31:5, “as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.” The people brought so much stuff to the temple that it took four months to process and store their offerings (2 Chronicles 31:7).

Hezekiah’s spiritual reform shows that the kings influence had a significant impact on the people. His actions were described as “that which was good and right and truth before the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 31:20). But, perhaps the best testimony to Hezekiah’s positive spiritual example was the condition of his heart. It says in 2 Chronicles 31:21, “in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart.”