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ETERNAL LIFE OVERCOMES DEATH: THE MIGHT OF THE MESSIAH
I The Post-Christian Child, Caught in the Womb of Culture – Hosea 13:13
We would do well to consider Hosea 13:13, as we ponder anguish and ecstasy, and the Mastery of the Messiah. The message of this verse needs some searching out, but it is this, that Israel should not have lingered long in the place where children are born, for child-birth pains will come to it. This the prophet proclaims.
In Hosea, Israel is being challenged for its errors, both progressive, in that they move to their conclusion in evil, and retrogressive, in this, that they are backing away from righteousness and truth. It is like a progressive dance in which each partner is worse, till the last is a virtual embodiment of evil. Here following such a challenge earlier, together with a pungent commencement to this very chapter, the confrontation is on their continuance without repentance, while judgment looms. Caught in the turmoils of their situation, they linger where devastation enquires, as to its time of arrival!
Israel is castigated for its prolongation of error, its procrastination, its inaction. With this is the tenderness of remembrance of their earlier days when they were far more teachable, better reachable as in Hosea 11: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." Yet as the prophets called them on their way down the centuries, they went not to them, but rather from them. It was the Lord who "taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them."
The Lord reveals the intensity of His love: "How shall I give you up, Ephraim ? How shall I deliver you, Israel ?" (Hosea 11:8). Yet the continuation of provocation, the encompassment of evils as with a net, these leave Israel where judgment looms, like a tidal wave beginning to rear already. Later, after further excoriation in view of their witless national recalcitrance - and what leaders some of their kings were, such as Manasseh! towards the end of it all, before Judah too was devastated. To Israel He cried: "O Israel, you have destroyed yourself, but in Me is your help" - Hosea 13:9, but He knows what the end is to be, the middle and the way; and trouble is not far away.
Lingering in the midst of this array of folly is not safe; you might as well follow the withdrawing sea, when it moves backwards before the tidal waves washes all before it! It is not wise to linger there, in the mud revealed by following retrogression. You must singularly separate from all the evil and wholly divorce from the calamitous culture.
They should not stay where the children break forth from the womb: this is not natural situation, but one where a trembling comes, and a disaster rushes. In the last days of the kingdom of Israel, the northern section above Judah on the map, there was such a succession of murder and lust in the rulers, and such a wild folly of idolatry (II Kings 17:6ff.) that evacuation from such follies was the only way, spiritual certainly, moral of course, and perhaps even national, to Judah. Then the Assyrian would come as Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 7, and great would be the crushing of Israel, the North, never to be returned as a separate and distinct people. Perhaps to Judah they would have been wiser to go, those who loved the Lord.
But even Judah would later move downwards also, and her end was not so final as that of Israel to the North, but yet, it involved devastation in her Jerusalem, of her Temple and an exile for many in Babylon.
Perhaps then it is also referring to the much prophesied onslaught of Babylon, when Jerusalem was destroyed precisely because it would not surrender, despite the Lord’s strong urging that they accept His rebuke, rather than destruction (Jeremiah 38:17). In his own earlier day, Hezekiak made the huge mistake of having something like fellowship with the Babylonian envoys, wishing him good health after sickness, and showed them all the wonders and treasures of the temple (Isaiah 39). In due course, the predicted downfall of the increasingly erring Judah also came (Isaiah 39:5ff., Isaiah 14). What a turmoil of untruth, a tedium of rebellion, an obsession of sin, an ocean of evil did Hezekiah's son, Manasseh unleash; and this proved the fatal development, like a cancer reaching fatal depth in the layers of the skin! (II Kings 21:10ff.).
To be sure, there would be a remnant, but there was need for divorce from what divorced itself from the Lord. You see this in principle mentioned in Isaiah 10:20ff..
"And it shall come to pass in that day
That the remnant of Israel,
And such as have escaped of the house of Jacob,
Will never again depend on him who defeated them,
But will depend on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.
"The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob,
To the Mighty God.
For though your people, O Israel, be as the sand of the sea,
A remnant of them will return;
The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
For the Lord God of hosts
Will make a determined end
In the midst of all the land."
"Surely," says Jeremiah in 15:11, in the name of the Lord, "It will be well with your remnant." Yet to be in that remnant, you do not linger long where its life pulses. Jeremiah prophesied to the nation which still was called to the Lord's praise (Isaiah 43:21), and was put in a well, with sinking mud for his feet! He confronted the king, and was in danger of death continually, not having fellowship with darkness, but rather rebuking it (Ephesians 5:11). The mass of the people however continued in the confines of wickedness, in the rule of their ruinous culture, no more separate than is well shaken milk, from its cream; or a turbulent river, from its mud.
The lessons for our day are crucial to learn.
There is a need to avoid such commingling with what is spurious as communion with Roman Catholicism or those who accept it as valid, the sects or those who throw away the moral principles and rules of God (I Corinthians 6:9); and where such error is made, it is perilous indeed to linger. Indeed it is forbidden (Romans 16:17), and unwise are they who transgress these orders of the Lord, because 'souls are being saved'; when it is fact in many cases they are falsely spawned and ready for the teeth of the wolves in sheep's clothing!
Let us however return to the day of calamity which came to Jerusalem, at length.
Those Jews who were either captured early by Babylon or went and surrendered would be spared; but the city had a fearful famine and devastating end, when it resisted. It was two-faced, claiming to belong to the Lord, but departing far from His ways (cf. Isaiah 1, II Chronicles 33ff.).
Staying long in that mess was a murderous business.
There had been, as noted, a further aggravation of this unspiritual potion that came after Hezekiah, before the end, when Manasseh, astonishingly his son, one of the most wicked products of spiritual perversion and child abuse available, ravaged the land, the people with their king inviting divine wrath for their puniness of spirit, the rapacity of mind and the pollutions of religion. They were, in a national scene, rather like a parallel to the works of today, in an increasingly large percentage of the ecclesiastical scene, with the national one holding the flag of culture for the vultures of life, inculcating loyalty to this heavily dynamised decline (cf. News 122, News 132, Tender Times for Timely Truth Ch. 8).
Refusing both realism and realisation, the many now as then, moved truculently, or trundled, depending on their case, more and more into the impenetrable fog of polluted darkness, some using the names of gods that are not God, some their own, all in a turmoil of mystic confusion.
So have we had a warning from poor suffering Israel. They erred devotedly as the end drew near and refused to be corrected. In this they lingered, as they had loitered in now this decline, now that, in the case of so many of the rulers over the centuries, with some blessed exceptions.
Hezekiah alas in his one moment of weakness, had helped foster this diversion of the stream until, thrust onwards with its initial force of self-assertion in things religious in this nation, it became a tumultuous torrent, savagely seizing many as the land was plunged, drowning in destruction amid dereliction, in one awful synthesis of sorrow. If the terms here used are metaphorical in part , the judgment was wholly literal! Jerusalem was ruined, the temple destroyed and gives the dynamic of this doom in its pathos and its vileness.
Indeed, you see its end-product in Jeremiah's book of Lamentations, a review in profound sorrow and grief like a gimlet in his spirit, when the end came and Babylon invaded. Nor was this invasion contrary to divine determination, but BECAUSE OF IT (cf. Jeremiah 37:10, Ezekiel 21:20ff.).
In the former case, we learn that even if the whole Babylonian army were to be wounded, so that rejoicing and victory for Israel would seem assured, yet such was the wrath and judgment of the Lord against Israel, for too long lingering in the place of child-birth, yet with too little birth, rather post-mature children born into weakness, that victory would still be denied Israel. Rather, the wounded army of assault would, each on his arm, despite the wound, still arise and with amazing energy proceed to overcome the sinful and unfaithful nation!
the latter, Ezekiel, we have a graphic presentation of a picture, Nebuchadnezzar,
the marauding king of Babylon, examining the auspices,
consulting the liver and going through the meaningless search for guidance from
animal organs. On what then is the king seeking guidance in this
vision ? It is on the question is this: Will he invade the remnant of Israel, or take another site for his victorious crusade?
It appears that the auspices said NO! not Jerusalem. Despite, however, the apparent deliverance from the result of the sacrificial enquiry, its negative result, it would not help. The 'answer', that now he would not attack Jerusalem further, this would be ignored, bypassed because of the sins of Israel; and the LORD HIMSELF would prevent such a thing. Instead, deeming the auspices to be at fault, the enemy king would resolve to attack Jerusalem in any case!
Thus neither woundings nor workings of providence would help; and even though any circumstances might seem propitious for Judah's deliverance, these would fail. The mind of God was clear, decisive and His discipline as sure as the continuance of the existence of the earth.
That then is the first lesson, not to stay in the midst of spiritual follies, departing from the Lord, testing Him out: but rather to depart from the midst of what is contrary to Christ, His word and His ways, as in I Timothy 6, Ephesians 5, Romans 16:17, II Timothy 3 and I Timothy 4.
What however is the second lesson to be learned from Hosea 13:13 ? It is this: that you accept divine discipline. You see this at some length, in Hebrews 12! If the Lord has something to correct in you, try not to resent this, but rather to relish it. If Zedekiah had listened, he would have spared his eyes, which were ultimately gouged out by the king of Babylon, resentful of his breach of covenant; and delivered from the death of his sons before them!
Let us take a contemporary illustration.
Last week, when waiting to see a specialist, one happened to notice two children. Their comparatively kindly and caring mother allowed them to sit at a child's table in the waiting room, and play. The boy was excitable, exclaiming as he sat, having thrown some pencils tempestuously and delightedly about the floor, Oh this is fun! His living seemed at accelerated tempo, and his focus himself virtually to the exclusion of anything else. His little sister, however, wore the air of a middle-aged nurse (they were about 5 years old).
To her ALONE the mother spoke, asking if she would pick up the pencils, to which she thoughtfully rather than tempestuously, replied no, she would not. However she listened, whereas the boy seemed beyond the limits the mother imposed on herself in this public place, and so was given no word at all, except perhaps some general kind of invitation to the children to pick things up. After this, more were thrown.
The little girl despite her earlier refusal to obey, decided to come to her mother with need of affection and reassurance, which was freely given, and asking to be seated on her lap, she was drawn up, and kissed, told that her mother loved her. After a time, the boy being obstreperous continually, the Mother suggested to her daughter, Come, we'll both pick the things up together!
This they contentedly did. It is better to obey late than to turn tempestuousness into tantrum, or mood as adults say!
Thus there has to be a responsible attitude, a willingness to change one's ways where this fits the situation or the principle; and where this is not the case, then disorder and fiasco await, leading to more and more situations, as when a teacher tells the children to report any parent who smacks, thereby helping to ensure the decline becomes dramatic. It is one thing to inhibit violent temper and vicious parental tantrums; it is quite another to reduce domestic discipline by dramatising sound wisdom as something else. So does ignorance demand folly, and so does the fruit show itself increasingly in our society, where the means of correction so readily become mere engines of aggravation.
The boy in the illustration noted, then, was not interested in listening; the girl was not interested in obeying, but when given example, did heed. These elemental lessons from the elementary phase of child life are instructive. Lingering in such a situation without correction is decisively evil for the parent, who becomes engulfed in a disorder and evil which can grow till it appears devilish; and the appearance in the eye and face of some of the shouting, screaming children sometimes seen at super-markets sometimes suggests just that wild destructiveness which occurred in the day of Christ (Mark 9:14ff.).
II WHERE SPIRITUAL CULTURE IS VULTURE
To linger in such a SPIRITUAL situation is not wise; and it is this same spirit of disobedience, rebelliousness and spiritual rambunctiousness which afflicts so many in Australia and the US, and indeed in Canada, to mention but three, where children are becoming gods; and since they are not what they are being made, they can turn readily enough into people with an unfortunate past, and blighted future.
In such ways, whether illustrated from the elementary level, or the regal, we see the danger of being where you are excluded, so including in your life and worship what God abominates. In the end, the continuance of the nation of Judah in such vile alienations from their Maker led to their en bloc devastation, except for a remnant who had escaped, or surrendered, or in some way been collected and taken away before the end came, with its horrific famine.
Lingering where death stalks, sin swaggers and unspirituality staggers is forbidden; but it seems so fitting to those who do not know God, do not fear Him, or have no concern to keep His commandments. Thus the day is wasted in work where the field is other; and the drugs of devilry begin to become popular, until there is no remedy (cf. II Chronicles 36:11ff.). Consider these words of assessment following the destruction, in Chronicles (emphasis added by colour).
"Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord. And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear an oath by God; but he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel.
"Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the Lord which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.
"And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.
"Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand. And all the articles from the house of God, great and small, the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his leaders, all these he took to Babylon.
"Then they burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious possessions. And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years."
Jeremiah made this prediction of 70 years of judgment, as recorded in Jeremiah 25, and it was duly fulfilled for Israel, which came back at the end of it, Daniel have been in intercession to the Lord that He would fulfil His own word and send them home (Daniel 9).
The book of Lamentations is very helpful here; for it gives such a picture of the desolations, the grief of Jeremiah and the sense of profound and unnecessary loss, that it is most moving, and indeed you see in Josiah, the King who had led a revival before the final fall, a type of Christ (Lamentations 4:20), with the whole dereliction of Jerusalem and the people producing a scene that acts a a type of the crucifixion.
The difference is simple: for Jerusalem the profound woes were deserved and indeed earned! With Christ, they were virtuously and indeed vicariously borne as part of the remedy which He constituted, and were not His own (I Peter I John 4:14). Nevertheless, the scene of sin glutted in judgment speaks (Lamentations 1:12):
"Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by ?
"Behold and see, if there be any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been dealt me,
with which the LORD afflicted me in the day of His blazing wrath." *1
What anguish lies here, where before the ecstatic if unsavoury delights of being gods to themselves, or making them, or at any rate following them as they chose, led to the slithering slide to the abyss! What mastery however in the very face of such things, the LORD showed, having determined it before time was in this world, or indeed the world itself was in existence, just as He brought it to pass (Ephesians 1:4, Revelation 13:8).
Loss brought to the Cross can be turned to a crossing out of loss, and a beauty of divine harmony in a peace which passes understanding. The culmination of Israel's revolt from God was in due course, in Christ at Calvary, to become the crescendo of divine grace and the consummation of mercy. Yes indeed, it all became the epic of verification as well.
On the way, each day weighed. The steps are detailed, decisive, incisive, requiring depth, wisdom and power. Each taken, none falters. Shafts polished with the oil of venom, slide from all sides, but are turned aside as if pointless, their bluntness dashed by a divine clarity (as in Matthew 22). Torment of fury comes (as in Luke 11:52ff.), as they lie in wait with their legal minds. They remain frustrated. Religious observance comes up as an issue, it wilts in the light of spiritual understanding (Matthew 12:9ff., Mark 3:1ff., 2:23ff.). The very point and pith of things, in the latter case, lies exposed as if by a surgeon, and their littleness of understanding snaps like a twig.
Miracles are called for ? (Mark 2:1-10), to illustrate the point He has in mind ? He does them. If ONE of these had failed, His mission would instantly have been over. When the claim is deity, the performance is 100% or failure; and this was realised (John 10:29-33, 8:58). Where foxes and furies lurked or assailed, answers and power, not to harm but to expose truth, these worked; and not one snap gripped His flesh, till it all became a literal assault, there being no other way but to kill.
Here, was this, even this a failure in power ? Not at all, it was the culmination of plan as announced for 10 centuries! (cf. Joyful Jottings 22-25).
Was He to be available for inspection on the third day after the mock trial and the legislated murder ? Of course not, did He not SAY as did the word of God already published, that it would be on the third day that He arose! How then would He be available on that day! Hence He was not. In death, He prevailed, even in the arithmetic (cf. Matthew 17:9ff., 23). Find Him ? they could not. Exhibit Him ? It was not possible. The testimony of ages became the moment of truth.
Was their political intransigeance ? He met it with address (John 18:33ff., 11:49ff.). Was there judicial corruption and weakness (John 19), manifest and open malfeasance in high places ? They merely lowered Him to the rocket tower for launching, for far below Him was the Cross, over which moreover He ascended forever.
Was He to demonstrate pity (Isaiah 53:12), even in being illegally crucified, in anguish of heart as He bore sin ? Of course, and so He did as He continued to cry, Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing! (Luke 23:34), as the Greek tense shows. Was He to be killed in the presence of criminals as Isaiah 53 foretold ? He even won one of them to His kingdom while He was being killed (Luke 23:42-43).
This leads us to enquire further. Just how did Christ redeem, so that instead of having Jerusalem in its grievous desolation, a type and indeed example of the judgment which truth puts on sin, and the unredeemed sinner, it presents Christ as OUR JERUSALEM, our vicarious victim. This brings us to Hosea 13:14.
III The Divine Cost and the Human Calamity it Covers … Hosea 13:14
HOW is hell itself and the grace that for so many leads to it, to be covered since its exclusion zone, apart from God, is deserved ? It is by a DIVINE RANSOM. God is not willing to ignore sin, but is willing to pay adequately for it, and cover its cost for each sinner IF and WHEN it is repented and life becomes the resultant, even from Christ (Luke 13:1-3, John 6:40, 6:50ff., Romans 8:32, II John 2:1-2). The power of the grave and of hell ? it is justice and judgment; and the ransom, it is divine taking of a body by the eternal Word of God, so that as the Messiah He was dressed to die vicariously for man, even as many as receive Him (John 1:12).
The power of these mangling evils that He met, it is very great. It breaks the iron man, and reduces even the statue to symbolic ruin as in Russia, where one to Eternal Life for Man was foolishly built and collapsed! It is however both merciful and natural that the power of God is greater, since death is His own sentence on sin (Romans 6:23); and the supernatural is both source and criterion for the natural, the product of God Himself. He can cover what He made.
What then do we learn from this ? Flying in the face of death is like cruising at 600 mph, into a tornado; but being evacuated from it is rather like finding a deep sea submarine near you, when you are being crushed in diving too deep, and cannot suddenly break the surface without courting death. The intimate horror which sin is, has its placard, its poster in this, that God Himself sees fit to pay RANSOM to exclude this death and hell (Matthew 20:29).
Man’s image from God is a cause of sublimity and of the infernal alike, and ONLY GOD can make the difference, and at that through redemption, even one paid for by God Himself (cf. Hebrews 9:1-12)! Nor was this all, for the purity of life which made such a sacrifice as that of Christ on the Cross, meant vigilance, self-discipline and overcoming all mockery and persecution with fire and grace alike. Such is our Saviour.
IV The Divine Destruction Hosea 13:14
Not only however is the divine cost to be met, but in paying in this way, the Lord Himself will even CONSTITUTE in person the removalist of plagues, and in Himself the destruction of hell and death. It is not a matter of bearing sin only, but of bearing it PERSONALLY so that its acids if you will, its poisons etched themselves into the very peace of Christ, producing such a clamour of horror as they confronted His dying gift of life, that He even felt forsaken, as it was predicted He would in Psalm 22, which He quoted as He came near to death!
How horrible is a plague, but
God taking the form of a servant,
became a plague to the plague,
and did so by entering into its menacing dynamic, and stilling it. It is like a doctor entering your cancer tumour and confronting it with His own power, on site! Hell and the grave that is its anteroom for so many (Matthew 7:15ff.), these were destroyed in all final impact and power by making them irrelevant; for death and damnation has no case when its penalty is met; and Christ met it!
V The Divine Determination
Such a lowering of the glory of deity, such an exposure to horror, this could lead to review ? Not at all.
“Pity is hidden from My eyes”, or “Repentance is hidden from My eyes.”
In other words, a change of mind, of heart about paying such a cost is certainly something that could be brought to bear, as indeed it was by Peter when he challenged Christ NOT to die! (cf. Mat, 16:21-23). In reply to Peter’s short-sighted but large-hearted urgings that Christ avoid the death, He replied:
“Get behind Me Satan.
You are an offence to Me,
for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Agony it was (Hebrews 5:7), even to contemplate it; but He met it, with all the purity of divine passion and all the result of His power. Anguish agitated (Hebrews 5:7, Luke 22:41ff.), as He made strong cries in earnest entreaty as the shadow of a death neither deserved nor natural for the Son of God, became thick with the sight of its appalling smog, worse than that of any industrial town, even Gary Indiana, as one passed through it in 1969 or so.
Yet the Mastery of the Messiah was as active then as ever, the robust passion carrying Him past the pain in prayer to His Father, and to a submission to His will which neither weakness, nor an inadequacy of love, nor the incandescence of light by sheer repugnance for ANY sort of darkness, could remove. Failure was always at hand; success in spirituality, however much the world deemed failure the very heights of attainment, and in the very face of its caustic mockeries, it was this that ruled. In combat with enemies, in combat with Satan, with death or disease, He ruled. Every flicker of possibility dawned like a day of trial; and every light of performance held lustre like a glorious sunset on the day. At the Cross the ultimate test became like a wide viewing screen for all and any to see. The result was the same.
Here was love solemnised in mastery, courage in conquest and pain in sacrifice. Yet not to all was it so clear as the aweful day loomed.
How Peter erred here! He vehemently urged Christ to desist from His way to death, not to accomplish any such things, and for his pains had the famed retort of Christ (Matthew 16:23),
behind Me Satan! You are an offence to Me ..."
Rome’s ludicrously claimed first Pope, the spiritual ‘Father’ whom Christ forbad as name for ANY but God Almighty, surely was as far from infallible then as later! Christ did what He came to do, the man born to die, not merely as a penalty of sin but as a procedure of passion in love, a vicarious victory to liberate flesh from folly, and man from ruin. He set His face like a flint to get it done (Isaiah 50, Luke 9:53). NOTHING would seduce Him from this glorious procedure, better than prayer for it MADE IT HAPPEN, that whosoever believed in Him would not perish but have eternal life, and be raised up on the last day (John 6:40ff.).
How does this claim our Christian ears and indeed hearts! for if God has set us to a task, let us finish it; as to the testimony for Christ let is ever be on our lips and in our lives; if His commands set us a challenge, let us meet it in His own promised power (Romans 5:17 and 8:1-10), not wavering like wind-socks at the airport, not wandering like lost sheep; but let it be done as we are led by the Good Shepherd, pitiful, compassionate, refreshing, defending, delighting in His people (Jeremiah 31:18-20, John 10:27-28). Finally, ponder the poem provided from Anne Catherine White, “The Morning Cometh”, and remember the Lord’s Supper is in memory of Him UNTIL HE COMES! (I Corinthians 11:26).
THE MORNING COMETH
A trumpet note!
A glorious presence in the azure sky!
A thrill of joy,
And we are with Him in the twinkling of an eye!
An upward look,
Caught up to be with Christ forevermore!
The dead alive!
The living glorified!
Fulfilled are all His promises that came before!
His joy supreme
Our souls find rapture only at His feet!
Without a spot!
We enter into heaven’s joy complete!
Oh, sound His praise …
We know Him as we never knew before!
God’s matchless grace!
‘Twill take eternity to tell why we adore!
Anne Catherine White
On this parallel, between a stricken Jerusalem in its sins, and a stricken Christ FOR sins not His: see Diamond of Light Ch. 11.