Trouble and Hope

Scripture Focus: Joshua 7.25-26
25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

Hosea 2.14-15
14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

Reflection: Trouble and Hope
By Erin Newton

The memorial stones marking Achan’s death were called “The Valley of Achor” or fully translated, “The Valley of Trouble.” The name was fitting. Trouble came to Israel through Achan. One man’s sin caused the downfall of the community.

Joshua describes Achan’s sin as coveting and stealing. After Jericho, he took items destined to be devoted to God. Implied sins include pride and deceit. It was pride that led Achan to assume authority over what belonged to God. It was deceitfulness that caused Achan to avoid confessing until the very end.

Now just a pile of stones, thrown by the betrayed community and commanded by the betrayed God, Achan’s memorial would serve as a warning to Israel. The justice of God was not something to be overlooked. The warnings about disobedience were important.

God as a wrathful, vengeful deity is a typical assumption when reading the Old Testament. Some people reduce the testaments to the opposing picture of God: wrath in the Old, mercy in the New. This conclusion, however, neglects the fuller picture of God from Genesis to Malachi.

In Joshua, one sinful man is led into the wilderness as punishment. In Hosea, God leads the sinful people into the wilderness as a pathway of hope. The Valley of Achor reveals a more comprehensive view of God’s character: justice and mercy. Two sides of the same God.

Faced with this complex tension of two opposing characteristics, we tend to downplay one for the sake of the other. Our minds struggle to grasp how God can be completely just and completely merciful. It is a dichotomy we will never fully grasp.

How does trouble turn into hope? How does the punishment of disobedience become a beacon of mercy in the wilderness?

Justice and mercy converged on the cross. Like the punishment heaped upon Achan, the weight of our guilt was cast upon the body of Christ. But this monument of justice suddenly becomes a crimson beacon of hope. The justice required after the first Adam is covered by the mercy of the second Adam.

Whereby one man’s sin caused the downfall of humanity, the one Son of God caused the redemption of all creation.

We are not so different from Achan. Our sin would have us trudge into the wilderness to endure justice. But we are also like Israel, we are lured into the wilderness with a promise of restoration and mercy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments.
Great peace have they who love your law: for them there is no stumbling block. — Psalm 119.165

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Joshua 7 (Listen 4:58)
Colossians 4 (Listen  2:21)

Read more about Distrust of God and Fraud
It is the unbelief and contempt of heaven, which make men risk it for the poor commodities of this world.

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The Sins Behind Sexual Sins—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on October 30, 2020, based on Hosea 4.1-3
It was selected by reader, Casey.

Scripture Focus: Hosea 4.1-3
1 Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.

Reflection: The Sins Behind Sexual Sins—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Gomer’s sexual sins of prostitution and adultery were not just an analogy for idolatry. The people of God were metaphorically and literally committing adultery and participating in prostitution as part of worshiping Ba’al. However, idolatry doesn’t have to involve sexual sin to cause similar damage.

When we read about sexual sins in the Bible, we need to take care not to automatically think of sexual sin as the only sin involved. Sometimes sexual sin is also a symptom or a tool of other sins.

The entire point of worshiping a fertility god or goddess in an agrarian economy is financial blessing. The sin behind the sexual sin was a desire to manipulate the economy. The blessing to be expected from Ba’al was a higher ROI.

Sex to gain power is a sin of lust, but it is a lust for power not for flesh. Sex in exchange for money or influence, likewise, is a sinful means to a sinful end. Sex to display power, such as rape or sexual harassment and abuse, is a sin of domination and control.

People commit today the exact same kind of sins as the Israelites who worshiped Ba’al in pursuit of better crops. When we are willing to kiss any ring, shake any hand, or endorse any person in order to gain power, get elected, make a deal, cut out a competitor, or monopolize an earning opportunity we are prostituting ourselves in lust whether or not there is sex involved. The Israelites attributed their profits and success to their efforts in worshiping Ba’al. We attribute our success to our “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” It is the same sin of idolatry with a different object. 

Many times sexual sins are a symptom of other sins such as greed, selfishness, inequality, and oppression. Prostitution, adultery, and other sexual sins rise with poverty rates because the sins of greed and oppression create the circumstances under which women resort to prostitution and men seek dominance and control.

May we confess and weep over all our lusts, not just lusts of the flesh.
May we weep for our greed.
May we cry to be delivered from selfishness.
May we ache for healing for our addiction to power.
May we humble ourselves in repentance from our pride.
And, yes, may we turn in faithfulness toward a biblical sexual ethic that divorces sex from the abuses of sin.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word.
Bless the Lord, all you his hosts, you ministers of his who do his will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion… — Psalm 103.20-22

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Lamentations 1 (Listen 4:44) 
2 Corinthians 12 (Listen 3:54)

Readers’ Choice is Here!
Thanks for sharing with us your recommended posts from the last 12 months. We always enjoy hearing from you!

Read more about Prayers God Hates
The sin at the top of God’s list isn’t adultery or any sexual sin…it is systemic oppression of the most vulnerable members of society.

The First “Last Supper”

Scripture Focus: Hosea 14.2, 4
2 Take words with you
    and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
    “Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
    that we may offer the fruit of our lips.

4 “I will heal their waywardness
    and love them freely,
    for my anger has turned away from them.

Reflection: The First “Last Supper”
By Erin Newton

Each year, my dad texts me to say The Ten Commandments is on TV. A 1956 classic (although flawed in many ways), this movie was my favorite. Many Christians know of the story of Moses and the plagues but forget how that relates to the New Testament story of the death of Jesus.

The Hebrews were connected to God in a special way, covenanted to him through their lineage from Abraham. They were God’s chosen people, promised a blessing of land, progeny, and honor. But as time tends to reveal, the errors of a few people created ripple effects among the whole. Despite the promise of blessing, they became slaves to a brutal nation.

From Egyptian oppression, God heard their prayers for help. He raised up Moses to lead the people. Plagues tormented the land. With each plague, the Pharaoh continued to harden his heart until he became an immovable force. The final plague would cost the life of each firstborn child. It was to be the greatest tragedy of their day, “There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again” (Exodus 11.6).

But there was hope for the Israelites. Despite the edict that death would visit every family, a way of salvation was given. God told the people to sacrifice an unblemished lamb spreading the blood on their doors. The lamb would die so they could live. This day was to be remembered for generations. “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians’” (Exodus 12.26-27a).

The Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover honored the day which God looked upon the blood of an innocent lamb and averted his wrathful judgment. This same meal is what Jesus and his disciples celebrated at the Last Supper.

As Good Friday approaches, remember Passover. This celebration was given as a picture of atonement that would one day be fulfilled in the death of Jesus Christ. Because of his death, judgment passes over us. We are safe, veiled behind the blood of the Lamb.

Let us pray just as the book of Hosea ends, taking words of praise to God. He loves us freely and his wrath has turned away.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let them know that this is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. — Psalm 109.26

Today’s Readings

Hosea 14  Listen – 1:39)
Psalm 148  (Listen -1:28)

Read more about Fasting and Feasting
The one biblical feast most Christians know about is Passover or Pesach. This celebration is a combination of fasting and feasting.

Read more about Names of Jesus—Priest, Lamb, and Vine
He is called lamb, because of his perfect innocence; a sheep, to symbolize his Passion.

The Broken Power of Death

Scripture Focus: Hosea 13.14
14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; 
I will redeem them from death. 
Where, O death, are your plagues? 
Where, O grave, is your destruction? 

Psalm 146.3-5
3 Do not put your trust in princes, 
in human beings, who cannot save. 
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; 
on that very day their plans come to nothing. 
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God. 

Isaiah 25.8
8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. 

1 Corinthians 15.54-56
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

     55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
         Where, O death, is your sting?” 

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Broken Power of Death

By John Tillman

Hosea and Isaiah’s ministries overlapped and their writing echoes each other. Paul paraphrases their promises of resurrection into one of his brightest, most hopeful refrains. This chorus of hope comes most directly from one of the darkest chapters of Hosea.

Rather than rely upon God, Israel and Judah had turned to political alliances and the gods those allies worshiped. But these “princes” would soon commit atrocities. These sound eerily familiar to ones committed by today’s powerful countries who bomb maternity wards and civilian evacuation corridors.

Death is not only dispensed at the whim of greedy empires but is carried on the wings of disease and aging. What hope can we have against death? This question is common to the people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah and Hosea’s day, to downtrodden outcasts under Rome’s rule, and to those targeted by empires and dictators today.

The poor and the powerless are overrun by death. They have no defenses and little strength to resist or slow its advance. They are helpless.

Wealth and power do much to extend life. The wealthy can easily flee conflict and the powerful are welcomed to new countries rather than crammed into inhumane camps. Experimental and expensive life-saving and life-extending medical treatments are common among the powerful. Absent these extreme examples, even simple, quality of life differences add years to the lives of the wealthy. However, in the end, the rich, the powerful, and the poor all die. The teacher of Ecclesiastes would call these efforts meaningless or absurd. (Ecclesiastes 3:19)

To the unbelieving world, for whom mortal life is all there is, death is ultimate. It is the worst thing that can happen to a person and there is no remedy.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it does not have the final word in our lives but that does not mean we should not grieve it. Lazarus was only four days in the grave, yet Jesus wept. (John 11.35) We weep and mourn death, but not without hope. (1 Thessalonians 4.13)

While we flee or delay death, scripture describes death’s defeat. God promises the grave will not be our final destination. We will only pass through and when we leave, we will be led by Christ himself. For those in Christ, death is a toothless predator, a limbless wrestler, who cannot hold us down for long.

Death which swallows all, will be swallowed up.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Short Verse
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God, “who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” — Revelation 1.8

Today’s Readings
Hosea 13  Listen – 2:26)
Psalm 146-147  (Listen -3:09)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
In Christ, we’re made to be like him
Too much for Death to hold
Grasped by him for a moment
But he cannot hold our souls

Read more about Stealing Death’s Sting
Untie our grave clothes and strip us of the trappings of this world.
Let us walk into the light and follow your loving voice.

Confessing Hostility—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Hosea 9.1
1 Do not rejoice, Israel; 
do not be jubilant like the other nations. 
For you have been unfaithful to your God;

Reflection: Confessing Hostility—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

We originally published this prayer during the contentious week of the 2020 election in the United States. We need this confession no less now than we did then. 

May we continue to seek repentance, patience, peace, and faith. Pray for these things over this weekend using words adapted from today’s reading from Hosea. 

Confessing Hostility
Lord, we confess that our sins and hostility have been great.
We have been
Hostile toward leaders
Hostile toward our brothers and sisters.
Hostile to mercy and justice

The days of punishment are coming, 
the days of reckoning are at hand. 
Let Israel know this. 
Because your sins are so many 
and your hostility so great, 
the prophet is considered a fool, 
the inspired person a maniac. — Hosea 9.7

Prophets spoke against violence. We called them foolish.
People were inspired to protest. We called them maniacs.

The prophet, along with my God, 
is the watchman over Ephraim, 
yet snares await him on all his paths, 
and hostility in the house of his God. — Hosea 9.8

Preachers spoke the truth. We shouted them down.
Watchmen called out warnings. We attacked them.

Because of their sinful deeds, 
I will drive them out of my house. 
I will no longer love them; 
all their leaders are rebellious. — Hosea 9.15

Like rebellious, prodigal children, our hostility breaks fellowship with you and with our brothers and sisters.

What will you do on the day of your appointed festivals, 
on the feast days of the LORD? 
Even if they escape from destruction, 
Egypt will gather them, 
and Memphis will bury them. 
Their treasures of silver will be taken over by briers, 
and thorns will overrun their tents. — Hosea 9.5-6

We have loved religious posturing and procedures rather than our neighbors and trusted in ceremonies for righteousness while denying justice.

My God will reject them 
because they have not obeyed him; 
they will be wanderers among the nations. — Hosea 9.17

May you relent, O God. Do not reject us as we deserve.
May you hear our repentance and sorrow, Lord.
May you run to us, prodigals returning.
May we humble ourselves under your rule, no matter what king you place over us.

May renewed faithfulness make us jubilant in obedience to you.
May you restore us to fruitfulness and joy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds; they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

Today’s Readings
Hosea 9Listen – 2:52)
Psalm 140-141(Listen -3:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Hosea 10Listen – 2:47)Psalm 142-143(Listen -2:35)
Hosea 11Listen – 1:53)Psalm 144(Listen -1:56)

Read more about God Changes—Guided Prayer
As ones who deserve your judgment, Lord, we cry to you.

Read more about Have Mercy—Guided Prayer
Have mercy on us, O God
You are our only holiness