Oct 13 2010

Hosea 14

UP-Upper-Tahquamenon-Falls-023Tonight I’ll be wrapping up a Bible study on the Book of Hosea at the church where I serve.  This book, like all of the prophetic volumes, contains a lot of harsh words of judgment.  It is obvious that God was upset with Israel for turning to other gods and that He felt they needed to be punished.  But punishment was not the final word in Hosea.

In the concluding verses of this book God speaks of healing Israel’s waywardness and loving them freely.   God then goes on to use several references from the natural world to explain His intentions.  He says, “I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.  Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send his roots; his young shoots will grow.  His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.  Men will dwell again in his shade.  He will flourish like the grain.”  Finally, God says “I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me.”

Each reference here to items from the natural world has significance.  In the mention of dew, for example, God revealed that His presence would bring fruitfulness and support life.  Dew in a desert region can represent the difference between life and death.   The shade provided by plants is symbolic of God’s protection provided for His people.

Scholars are uncertain exactly what specific tree is intended at the end of this text.  Some translate the Hebrew word used here “fir tree,” others use “pine tree.”  What is clear is that a coniferous tree is in mind, a tree which is always green and not diminished with the changing seasons.  Old Testament scholar James Luther Mays suggested that this biblical reference “is used not so much as a particular species as a type of tree of life.  In Yahweh alone Israel may find life!”

Israel’s primary problem in Hosea’s time was that they had turned to the fertility god Baal.  They thought mistakenly that it was Baal that brought life and fertility to the earth.  Through the prophet Hosea God reminded Israel that it was He who had created the earth; it was He who sustains it.  In the end God points to particular elements of His Creation to remind Israel of His never-ending love and care for them.  If God is “the same yesterday, today and forever,” as the Bible says, then my guess is He still wants us to see in His Creation the evidence of His love and concern for us.  Perhaps as we all enjoy the beautiful foliage of fall, now would be a good time to do just that.


(I took the image above of Upper Tahquamenon Falls last fall in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.)

Sep 29 2010

Loving Neighbors Across Time

UP HNF Irwin Pond 539When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 30-31)  Today I want to focus on the second commandment which is, in essence, the flip side of the first.

As Christians we are called to love our neighbor.  Most people know this.  But just who should we consider our neighbor?   I’ve heard lots of different answers to this over the years and almost all of them have had to do with people living in the present.  Almost twenty years ago I came across a book that helped me understand Jesus’ commandment in a whole new light.  That book was Robert Parham’s Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Guide to Protecting the Earth.  In this book Parham claims “the looming environmental crisis demands that we revisit the governing principle of love for neighbor, expanding it from a purely spatial perspective.  We must think about love for neighbor in terms of time.”  He insists that “we must see those who live in the year 2050 as our neighbors, as real neighbors.  Our unseen great-grandchildren and those of others are as much our neighbors as our present family members and the family living next door.”  When you think of it this way it soon becomes clear that “the only way we can love our neighbor across time is to leave them a decent place to live.” 

In the conclusion to one chapter he says, “Global warming, ozone-layer depletion, and multiple forms of pollution are three massive earth threats.  They assault human life everywhere and jeopardize our entire ecosystem.  However, their impact on today’s world is probably far less adverse than it will be on future generations.”  Parham believes the time to act is now and that “we must view present-day reforms and initiatives as an insurance policy for the future.”

I realize that the concept of loving neighbors across time will be new to many but it makes perfect sense.  If we are going to fulfill what Jesus called “the greatest commandment” then we must take better care of the earth now so that those who come after us will be able to enjoy, benefit and be blessed by it.  Love demands we do no less.


(The image above was taken at Irwin Pond in the Hiwatha National Forest.  The beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan must definitely be preserved for future generations!)