Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Valley of Jezreel in Prophecy

A view of the Jezreel Valley from Mt. Carmel

Hosea 1 tells of the awesome importance of the Jezreel Valley both in prophecies already fulfilled and others that will be fulfilled in the future.  What will happen here, and how are these things connected with God’s plan and our future? 
 
In the cycle of Bible readings used by the Jewish people, the section read from the prophets this last week (the Haftarah portion) was Hosea 1:10-2:20.  This includes an amazing prophecy about the future.  But to understand this portion correctly, we must start with the beginning of chapter 1.

Most discussion about the prophet Hosea is concerned with the wife that God told him to take, a “wife of fornication (or prostitution)” (Hos. 1:2-3).  That’s a pretty strange thing for God to command.  Would God really tell someone to marry a fornicator?  So a lot of time has been spent trying to figure this out.  Does it mean she was a prostitute (or loose woman) before he married her, or after he married her, or what exactly does this mean?  From a spiritual point of view there is more agreement, that this marriage is a symbol of faithless Israel that was committing spiritual fornication against God by worshiping false gods.  

But rather than worrying about that issue today, I want to get into the substance of Hosea’s prophecy.  This was given in about 767-760 BC, many years after Solomon’s apostasy, when his kingdom was split into two parts.  One part in the south, called Judah, was ruled by the descendants of David.  The other, larger part in the north, called Israel, was ruled by others, who were not of the line of David.  This second, northern kingdom is what Hosea is talking about when he mentions “the kingdom of the house of Israel” in Hos. 1:4.  

When Hosea’s wife had a son, God told him to name him Jezreel (“God sows”).  The reason for this name was that God was going to “punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel” (Hos. 1:3-4).  The “house of Jehu” was the family ruling the northern kingdom at the time (Jeroboam II was the grandson of Jehu; Hos. 1:1).  

The city of Jezreel was located on the low green hill in the foreground on the right.
The valley of Jezreel is to the left.
If you remember the story of Jehu (2 Kings 9-10), he was told by God to take over the northern kingdom, but he went too far in shedding blood.  This bloodbath started in the city of Jezreel, located at the edge of the large, fertile valley of Jezreel in the north of Israel.  Its most famous victim, Jezebel the queen mother, was thrown down from an upper window.  But now, because of that bloodbath, God said that he was going to “put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel”; the northern kingdom was going to be destroyed (Hos. 1:4).  

The power of the northern kingdom would be broken in the valley of Jezreel (“I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel”; Hos. 1:5), in the same place that Jehu had started his bloody purge.  This is just what happened about thirty years later.  In 733 BC, the Assyrians invaded northern Israel and defeated the northern kingdom, taking the area of the Jezreel Valley and everything north of it (2 Kings 15:29).  The Israelites living there were taken captive to Assyria, and the area was put under Assyrian provincial administration.  One of the centers of this new Assyrian administration was at Megiddo, another important city in the Jezreel Valley.  This defeat greatly weakened the northern kingdom of Israel.  It literally “broke the bow” of the northern kingdom, just as Hosea had prophesied.

Pastor Jeff teaching at the gates of Megiddo
In Hosea 1:6, the prophet’s wife had a daughter that God had him name Lo-ruchamah “for I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel.”  (Lo-ruchamah means “she has not received compassion.”)  What would this mean for Israel?  The last phrase of vs. 6, sometimes translated “that I should ever forgive them” (NAS, NIV), is better translated, “for I will surely take them away” (KJV, NKJ).

This, too, is exactly what happened.  The Assyrians invaded again, this time into the heart of the northern kingdom and besieged the capital city of Samaria.  When Samaria fell in 722 BC, the kingdom of Israel came to an end and all the people were taken into exile (2 Kings 17:5-6).  

These are the “Ten Lost Tribes” that were then scattered throughout the earth and among all the peoples of the earth.  Because of this, you and I are descendants, at least in some small way, of the kingdom of Israel.  

But the situation was different for the southern kingdom of Judah (“the house of Judah”).  In Hos. 1:7, God said that he would have compassion on them and deliver them, but not “by bow, sword, battle, horses, or horsemen.”  Do you remember what happened?  In 701 BC, about sixty years after this prophecy was given, the Assyrians attacked the southern kingdom of Judah.  They set up a siege around the city of Jerusalem.  But that night, the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of the soldiers in the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35).  The Assyrian army left without Israel having to fire a shot, just as Hosea prophesied.  

Then, in Hosea 1:8-9, his wife had another son.  This one was named Lo-ammi (“Not my people”) “for you are not my people and” (it says literally in the Hebrew) “I will not be ‘I am’ to you anymore.  ‘I am’ is one of the Biblical names of God.  God used it to explain the meaning of the name YHWH (Yahweh) to Moses (Ex. 3:14; also "I am that I am").*  God was saying that he would not be their God anymore.

* ‘I am’ is also a name that Jesus often used to refer to himself. In the Greek of John 8:24,28,58; 9:9; 18:5,6,8, etc., sometimes translated “I am he,” though the word “he” does not appear in the Greek.

God's separation from the kingdom of Israel is often explained as God divorcing the northern kingdom (Hos. 1:9).  But in the very next verse, he promises that they will one day be restored.  “…in the place where it is said to them ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God’” (Hos. 1:10).  Notice that he says this will happen in the same place where the “divorce” took place, in Israel.  Notice, too, that he says in the first part of the verse that Israel will multiply greatly.  This has already happened through Israel mixing with and spreading among the nations of the earth—including you and your family.  

This is exactly the sense in which the apostle Paul understood this verse, applying it to Gentile believers in Jesus:  “…but also from among Gentiles.  As [God] also says in Hosea, ‘I will call those who were not my people, ‘my people’…and it will be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God’” (Rom. 9:24-26).  Peter also mentions this verse in 1 Pet. 2:10:  “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In the next verse of Hosea, the prophecy continues, “And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together” (Hos. 1:10).  What’s this talking about?  What’s going on in Israel right now?  The sons of Judah are being gathered back to the land of Israel, along with some of the Ten Tribes that have preserved their Israelite identity (such as the B’nei Menashe [sons of Manasseh] of India that are now returning to Israel), while the rest of the Ten Tribes, the Gentile Christians, are starting to turn back from their former anti-Semitism to recognize their connection with Israel and the Jewish people.   

The verse continues, “and they will make for themselves one leader” (Hos. 1:10).  What’s this talking about?  Messiah Jesus (Yeshua).  It’s talking about that day when the Jewish people will accept Jesus, as they see him coming in the clouds (Zech. 12:10-13:1, Matt. 24:30), and we will all be gathered together (Matt. 24:31).    

And where will we be gathered?  Hosea continues, “And they will go up from the land” (Hos. 1:10).  What is this talking about?  When we, together with the Jewish people, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16-17).  

And then, at the end of this verse in Hosea, it says, “For great will be the day of Jezreel” (Hos. 1:10).  What is this talking about?  What happens after the believers are gathered to the Lord?  The nations of the earth will gather to attack Israel.  And where will they assemble themselves?  “And they gathered them together to the place that has been called in Hebrew Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16).  Armageddon in Hebrew means the ‘mountain of Megiddo.’  As we saw before, Megiddo, like the city of Jezreel, sits right at the edge of the Jezreel Valley.  The nations will assemble in the Jezreel Valley.  

This is when God will begin his counterattack to destroy the nations of the earth (Rev. 16:19-21).  His victory in the Jezreel Valley will restore both the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel to their land and to unity with one another (at the beginning of the Millennium).  Notice that he will restore the sons of Israel by destroying the armies of the enemy in the very same place where the “bow of Israel” was originally broken:  the valley of Jezreel.

Some are teaching that this restoration and reunion of Israel and Judah should begin right now through Christians obeying the Law of Moses.  But this opinion misses a very important point.  Hosea clearly describes God’s rejection of Israel as a divorce:  God was removing them from being his people.  This was because of Israel’s spiritual adultery with foreign gods.  Would God—or could he even—simply take them back after that? 

The answer is found in the Law of Moses.  When a man divorces his wife, and she goes and becomes the wife of another, can he take her back again, even if the other man dies?  “Her first husband who sent her away may not return to take her to be his wife after she was defiled, for it is an abomination before the LORD; and you will not cause the land to sin that the LORD your God gives you as a possession” (Deut. 24:4).  God cannot simply take Israel directly back again.

So how can Israel be restored to God and the prophecy be fulfilled?  Only if Israel is betrothed to another.  This is the apostle Paul’s point in Rom. 7:4 in a similar context:  “Therefore, my brothers, you, too, have been put to death to the Law through the body of Christ, resulting in your becoming another's who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”  The solution to the problem is Messiah.  He is the way—the only way—for Ephraim to be restored to God:  the “one leader” that they will make for themselves (Hos. 1:11).  This is also how the prophet Ezekiel foresaw the restoration of Israel and Judah:  not through the Law, but through “…one king [who] will be king for them all, and they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms anymore” (Ezek. 37:22, also 37:24-28).  

Instead of going back to the Law, Gentile Christians must move forward in Messiah, to bring as many as possible back to himself before the day arrives when this prophecy is fulfilled.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff...first I have come to this site. I'm studying Hosea 1. I looked at a number of commentaries on this. I agree with your read. I'm fascinated by "and they will go up from the land" Hebrew "alah" to ascend...and "great will be the day of Jezreel" , a clear reference to Armageddon in my mind. I will look for your book on The Revelation.

    Steve Fry, Charlotte NC.

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