The Book of James
Introduction: Unnatural Act
The mind, someone said, is never satisfied, never. That’s because it faces a cruel paradox: the mind, which can contemplate the eternal, is composed of matter that isn’t eternal-and, worst of all, the mind knows that it is not eternal. Like chickens and oysters, we are going to die. The difference, however, is that chickens and oysters don’t know it. We do-and that realization causes us a great deal of anguish and suffering.
How did we get into this mess? The answer is, of course, one word: sin. Sin leads to death. Humans sin-therefore, humans die. It doesn’t get simpler than that.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12, NRSV).
Yes, humans die. And here’s the rub: we were never supposed to. We were originally created for eternal life. The plan, from the start, was that we would live forever. Death, then, is an intruder-the most unnatural of all acts. We’re so used to death that we take it for granted; we just accept is as “part of life.”
Death as part of life? If that sounds absurd and paradoxical, it’s because it is. Death is the negation of life, not some aspect of it.
In this context, we come to this quarter’s lesson. Perhaps it can be best expressed by the famous quote, in which Ellen G. White writes that the great theme of the Bible is “the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself”-Ellen G. White, The Faith I Live By, p. 109.
And what is it that God does for us that we don’t have the power to do for ourselves? Of course, it’s to save us from the most unnatural of acts, death; the eternal death that would be ours were it not for God’s grace as revealed in the plan of salvation. In other words, it’s the call to us, both as individuals and as a church, “to seek the Lord and live.”
That’s the theme we are going to study, that of God doing for us what we can never do for ourselves, which is to give us the gift of life, eternal life in Jesus. We are, however, going to explore it in a place where we don’t often go, the “Minor Prophets,” the twelve short books that end the Old Testament. These prophets have been dubbed “the Minor Prophets” not because they are of less importance than the Major ones but only because their books are much shorter than those from the other Old Testament writers.
Indeed, whether through the marriage of Hosea to an unfaithful wife, or Jonah’s attempt to flee God’s prophetic call (or at least trying to), or Zechariah’s amazing vision of Joshua and the angel (and with all the others, as well)-the Minor Prophets together have a powerful message, one that comes through again and again, which is about God’s grace toward undeserving sinners. The message is that God wants to save us from our sins, to save us from the devastation that sin, rebellion, and disobedience bring. Over and over in these books we see the Lord pleading with His people to repent, to put away their sins, to return unto Him and to find life not death, salvation not damnation, hope not despair.
There is nothing “minor” about that theme. It’s present truth-God’s message to us today just as it was a message to those who lived in the time of these twelve writers who, though long gone, still speak.
The question is, will we listen? The answer is, for sure, for it is a matter of life and death.
Zdravko Stefanovic teaches Biblical Studies at Adventist University of Health Sciences in Orlando, Florida. He is married to Bozana, a math professor, and they have two sons. The family treasures fond memories of their twelve-year mission service in East Asia and also their twelve years of teaching at Walla Walla University.
(This is the Introduction to this Quarter's lessons on Minor Prophets from our Index page)
Read for This Week’s Study: Hos. 1:1-3, Ezek. 4:1-6, Hos. 2:12-18, 4:1-3, James 5:1-7, Rev. 14:6-12.
Memory Text: “‘I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called “Not my loved one.” I will say to those called “Not my people,”“You are my people”; and they will say, “You are my God”’” (Hosea 2:23, NIV).
Key Thought: Even amid spiritual adultery and divine judgment, God’s love for His people never wavers.
The prophet Hosea ministered at the close of a very prosperous period in Israel’s history, just before the fall of the nation to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. At that time, God’s chosen people no longer worshiped the Lord alone but also serves Baal, a Canaanite god.
Placed at the head of the Minor Prophets, Hosea’s book addresses the central question of the prophetic proclamation during this time of apostasy: Does God still love Israel, despite the spiritual harlotry? Does He still have a purpose for them despite their sins and the coming judgment?
Hosea’s personal story and prophecy are inseparably tied into his book. Just as the prophet had forgiven his unfaithful wife and was willing to take her back, God is willing to do the same for His people.
What can we learn from the experience of Hosea and the Lord’s way of dealing with wayward Israel?
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 6.
“When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’ So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.” (Hos. 1:2-3, NIV).
For centuries, students of the Bible have debated the nature of this command, asking questions such as: Was Gomer a prostitute or just an unfaithful spouse? Was she immoral before her marriage to Hosea, or did she become unfaithful afterward?
We do not know for certain. One thing, however, is sure: when the Lord spoke to Hosea and through him, He wanted to turn people’s attention from Hosea’s story to God’s love story with Israel. Because Gomer was an Israelite, the story of her marriage to the prophet blends with the story of God’s covenant with Israel.
There are important parallels between Hosea’s story and God’s experience with Israel. On a human level, Gomer was adulterous against Hosea; on the spiritual level, Israel was unfaithful to God. Just as Gomer’s immorality hurt her husband’s heart, so Israel’s idolatry grieved the great heart of God. Hosea was called to endure a broken heart and a broken marriage. He must have suffered public indignation and disgrace. Yet, the more he experienced Gomer’s unfaithfulness, the deeper was his understanding of God’s pain and frustration with Israel.
God often asked other prophets to do something beyond preaching.Read the following passages and explain how the prophets’ actions symbolized God’s dealings with His people. (Isa. 20:1-6, Jer. 27:1-7, Ezek. 4:1-6).
What kind of witness for the Lord are not just your words, but also your actions? What is it in your life that reveals not simply that you are a good person but that you are a follower of Jesus?
When Hosea’s wife, Gomer, committed adultery against him, he suffered the agony of betrayal, humiliation, and shame. To the neighbors and friends who saw his pain, Hosea delivered a divine message through words and actions: Israel, God’s wife, was just like Gomer. The chosen people were committing spiritual adultery.
The prophet Jeremiah compared God’s unfaithful people to “a prostitute” who lived with many lovers despite everything that God provided for them (Jer. 3:1, NIV). In a similar way, the prophet Ezekiel called idolatrous Israel “an adulterous wife” who had departed from her true husband (Ezek. 16:32, NKJV). For this reason, idolatry in the Bible is viewed as spiritual adultery.
Read Hosea 2:8-13. What warning is given here? In what ways could we, as Seventh-day Adventists, be in danger of doing the same thing in principle?
The expression “grain, new wine and oil” also is used in the book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 7:12-14, NIV) to describe Israel’s staple produce that people enjoyed in abundance in accordance with God’s promises as given through Moses. In Hosea’s time, the people were so ungrateful to God, so wrapped up in the world around them, that they were presenting these gifts, originally given them by God, to their false idols. What a warning this should be to all of us that the gifts we have been given should be used in the service of the Lord, and not in ways that never were intended for them (Matt. 6:24).
“How does God regard our ingratitude and lack of appreciation of his blessings? When we see one slight or misuse our gifts, our hearts and hands are closed against him. But those who received God’s merciful gifts day after day, and year after year, misapply his bounties, and neglect the souls for whom Christ has given his life. The means which he has lent them to sustain his cause and build up his kingdom are invested in houses and lands, lavished on pride and self-indulgence, and the Giver is forgotten.”—Ellen G. White, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 7, 1886.
Think about how easy it is to take the gifts given you by God and use them selfishly, or even in an idolatrous manner. What are practical ways of preventing this sin in our lives?
Read Hosea 2. What is God's basic message to His people here? How is the gospel revealed in this chapter?
Hosea’s message presents the profound truth of God’s steadfast love for an undeserving people. Hosea 2 contains a lengthy speech by the Lord about Israel’s apostasy, which is then contrasted with God’s unfailing love for His people. After the punishment, the husband will lead the wife on a trip to the wilderness, where they will be remarried.
Thus, the chapter ends with a portrayal of a future time beyond the judgment when God will woo Israel to love Him as before (Hos. 2:12-15). The wild animals of the field will no longer devour the wife’s vines and fig trees, but will become partners in the new covenant (Hos. 2:18). In addition, all the children will be renamed, revealing again God’s willingness to heal and forgive the past transgressions of His people.
God freely offers to pardon our sins. How much does forgiveness cost God? What was the personal cost of this lesson to Hosea? Hos. 3:1-2.
Growing up as a male in Israel, Hosea was destined to enjoy a privileged status in that patriarchal society. But this privilege came with a great responsibility. A man in ancient Israel would have had to make a tremendous effort to forgive and take back an unfaithful wife, not to mention accept as his own the children who may have been fathered by another man. To stand by his wife and her children and, thus, endure social rejection would have to have been one of the most difficult of life’s experiences.
Hosea, however, “bought” her back. God, in a sense, did the same thing for the human race, but the cost was the death of Jesus on the cross. Only by looking at the Cross, then, can we get a much clearer picture of what it cost God to buy us back from the ruin that sin has caused.
Hosea 4:1-3 presents God as one who brings a charge or a legal dispute (Hebrew rÓb) against Israel. The chosen nation stood guilty before her God because the people had failed to live up to the terms of the covenant. Truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God were to be qualities of Israel’s unique relationship with Him. According to Hosea 2:18-20, these are gifts that God bestows on His people at the renewal of the covenant.
Due to sin, however, Israel’s life was devoid of these gifts of grace. The crimes listed by Hosea had brought the nation to the brink of anarchy. The religious leaders, priest and prophet alike, shared responsibility in the current deterioration of Israel’s life and were held accountable for it. Theirs was a heavy responsibility. If they did not confront the abuses and did not condemn the acts of injustice, they themselves would be condemned by God.
In the Old Testament, idol worship was considered to be the most serious sin because it denied the role of the Lord God in the lives of the nation and the individual. Due to the dry climate, rains in the land of Israel were a matter of life and death. The Israelites came to believe that their blessings, such as life-giving rain, were coming from Baal. Thus, they built shrines to foreign gods and began mixing immorality with worship.
At the same time, social injustice was rife in the land. The rich classes in Israel exploited the peasants in order to be able to pay tribute to Assyria. Many resorted to fraud and cheating (Hos. 12:7-8). It was through this that the formerly peaceful and prosperous period led to a time of political and social turbulence. The country was at the brink of total chaos.
“Poor rich men, professing to serve God, are objects of pity. While they profess to know God, in works they deny Him. How great is the darkness of such! They profess faith in the truth, but their works do not correspond with their profession. The love of riches makes men selfish, exacting, and overbearing. Wealth is power; and frequently the love of it depraves and paralyzes all that is noble and godlike in man.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 682.
Read James 5:1-7. How do these words fit in with present truth as expressed in the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12? Whatever our financial position, how can we protect ourselves from the dangers that money always presents to the followers of Christ?
The name Hosea in Hebrew means “the Lord saves,” and is related to the names Joshua, Isaiah and even Jesus. The prophet calls the people to reject sin and find refuge in their Lord God because He is their Creator and Redeemer. The purpose of the divine judgment was to remind the sinners that their life and strength come from the One to whom they must return. Thus, even amid all the warnings and pronouncements of judgment, Hosea’s book presents the themes of both human repentance and divine forgiveness.
The prophet urges the nation, which was perishing in sin “‘for lack of knowledge’” (Hos. 4:6, NKJV), to press on to know God fully and live in harmony with His eternal principles. It was the people’s lack of knowledge, the knowledge of God, that led them to rebellion and eventually resulted in judgment.
In contrast, through faith and obedience they could come to know the Lord for themselves. This knowledge can be close and intimate too. That is precisely why, time and again, marriage is a symbol of the kind of relationship that the Lord wants with us.
That is also why the Christian life consists primarily of a relationship with the living God. That is why the Lord calls people to know Him and follow His will for their lives.
The sin problem brought a fearful separation between God and humanity. But, through the death of Jesus on the cross, a way has been made so that each one of us can have a close walk with the Lord. We can, indeed, know Him for ourselves.
What is the difference between our knowing about God versus our knowing God? How is this difference reflected in our everyday living? If someone were to ask you, How can I come to know God, what would you answer? What do the following passages teach about the importance of “knowing the Lord”?Exod. 33:12-13
“Only by living through in his own life what the divine Consort of Israel experienced, was the prophet able to attain sympathy for the divine situation. The marriage was a lesson, an illustration, rather than a symbol or a sacrament.”—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (Mass.: Prince Press, 2001), p. 56.
“In symbolic language Hosea set before the ten tribes God’s plan of restoring to every penitent soul who would unite with His church on earth, the blessings granted Israel in the days of their loyalty to Him in the Promised Land. Referring to Israel as one to whom He longed to show mercy, the Lord declared, ‘I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.’”—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 298.
Eight-year-old Sharoon [shah-ROON] leaned forward in his seat as his Sabbath School teacher told a Bible story. She asked a question, and Sharoon’s hand shot into the air. The teacher called on him, and Sharoon answered her question.
Sharoon loves Sabbath School, especially the Bible stories his teacher tells. The church Sharoon attends meets in a house that’s been remodeled to make a church. It’s not big, but it’s clean and bright.
Sharoon and his family live in Lahore, a large city in Pakistan. Most people in the country are Muslims. There are few Christians and even fewer Adventists.
Someone donated Bible story felts so that the teacher has something to show the children when she tells the Bible story. The children enjoy watching the story unfold in pictures as the teacher tells it. When a missionary visited the church, she noticed that the children didn’t bring their Bibles to church. “Next week please bring your Bibles to Sabbath School,” she encouraged with a smile.
“But Teacher,” one girl said. “I don’t have a Bible.” Other children shook their heads too. Sharoon added, “My daddy has a Bible, but I don’t think he will let me bring it to church.”
The missionary was surprised that the children had no Bibles. “Let’s memorize some Bible texts so we take God’s words wherever we go,” the missionary suggested. The teacher agreed and printed Bible texts on sheets of paper. The children worked hard to learn the Bible texts. And they prayed for Bibles of their own.
Someone sent some money to the missionaries to buy Bibles for the children. The children eagerly waited for their Bibles to arrive. At last they came. The teacher opened the box and gave each child a Bible. She helped them write their name inside the cover.
Now the children eagerly read the Bible stories in their own Bibles. They have memorized the books of the Bible and can repeat many Bible texts from memory. The children are so eager to learn more about God that some of them arrive an hour early for Sabbath School so they won’t miss a thing!
Sharoon treasures his Bible, but he knows that other Adventist children in Pakistan don’t have a Bible. He’s excited to learn that part of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will help buy Bibles for children in Pakistan, and in Israel and Sudan, too.
Three years ago Adventist children around the world gave a special children’s offering for Thirteenth Sabbath to buy Bibles for children in Pakistan, Israel, and Sudan. Today thousands of children have a Bible and can learn for themselves that God loves them. Thank you!Dowell Chow is the Adventist Mission coordinator in the East-Central Africa Division, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Adventist Mission. email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.adventistmission.org
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