Once you were not a people…

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1Pe 2:10 NRS).

This scripture was part of the Kerygma Bible study, and for some reason it struck me. Peter is paraphrasing a passage from Hosea, a prophet from the 8th Century BCE, originally delivered to Israel. The letter was written probably between 70 and 90 CE, so the book of Hosea was already about 800 years old. He wrote to five provinces in what is now Asia Minor, or Turkey. Israel, culturally, was as far removed from them as you can imagine. And yet, the churches in these territories were reading the Hebrew scriptures. That in itself is remarkable when you think about it.

I tried to place myself in the shoes of a Gentile Christian of that time. You don’t know much about Judaism, but somehow you’ve come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. As you gathered with other believers, you learned that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah promised in the Jewish scriptures. You’re a Gentile in a province of Asia. Besides living under Roman rule, what do you have in common with the Jewish Christians in your congregation? Just one thing: you believe in Jesus, and you have heard from those who knew him that everything he did and said was to fulfill scripture, including the way he died, his being betrayed by a close friend, and his rising from the dead.

You’ve heard letters from Paul and stories of Jesus called Gospels. All of them cite scripture after scripture that Jesus fulfilled, so you’ve learned more and more of the Hebrew scriptures. Maybe you have a vague sense that it is connected to you somehow. It is about Jesus and how he was revealed to be the Messiah. But it seems above you or beyond you. It comes out of a history that is alien to you.

In joining one of these churches, you had to renounce whatever gods you had worshipped before. Maybe you have been ostracized from your family. Your associates have stopped doing business with you. Your friends don’t understand why you won’t sacrifice to the same gods now, or why you won’t eat the meat they offer you. You have lost your identity. You are one of the “no-people,” a stranger and alien in what used to be your home.

Then you hear this from Peter. He’s quoting – or actually paraphrasing – some Jewish scripture, but this time it’s not about the Jews or even just about Jesus. It’s about you.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1Pe 2:10 NRS).

And it hits you: I am one of God’s people. You have found who you really are. A history that began thousands of years before you were born, a history that includes Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth and David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and all the prophets, that history doesn’t just belong to the Jews now. It belongs to you. The promises God made to Israel throughout history are to you as well. You and this church and every church everywhere are the people of God just as much as the Jews now, all because of Jesus. This isn’t just their story anymore. It is our story. It is your story. And now you can finally begin to understand who you are. You are a part of God’s people.

You are not just an individual who was born and one day will die for who knows what purpose. You are a part of a people that stretches back through history, long before you were born and will continue long after you are gone. A living history you can build on and contribute to and leave something for the next generation. You are not just an individual in some province of the Roman Empire.

You are one of a people that is in every locality, every city, every province, and is continuing to spread all through the empire and beyond even where Rome can reach. A people of every race, tribe, tongue, and nation who have one thing in common: You have all come to believe in Jesus Christ and his Resurrection power. And because of that, you are all God’s people and citizens of God’s kingdom.

For some reason, all of this came over me at once. Imagining what it would have meant to one of those original recipients of this letter, somewhere in Asia Minor, it came to me in such a clear and overwhelming fashion. I can’t help feeling my words have not even begun to capture it.

Maybe you have had a similar experience, where you were reading the Bible and suddenly you realized God wasn’t hiding somewhere in the pages of history in some elusive mystical experience but was right there with you. Or suddenly you realized you weren’t reading about people buried in two or three thousand years of history. You were actually reading about yourself, your people, your history. If so, I would love it if you would share it in the comments below.

Grace and peace to you.

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How I blew my pastor’s mind

David Anderson

In our Kerygma Bible study, we came across this verse in Hosea:

And the LORD said to [Hosea], “Name [your child] Jezreel;
for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel (Hos 1:4 NRS).

I said this verse surprised me, because it most likely refers to the murder of Jezebel. Most Israelites probably thought killing Jezebel was a good thing, but here it seems God doesn’t agree. Is this the first occasion in the Bible when God told Israel He didn’t necessarily consider it a good thing to go around killing their enemies? Then I asked, “Could this be what Jesus was thinking of when he taught us to love our enemies?”

The pastor said, “This is getting too deep for me.”

I didn’t think I could say anything he’d never heard of, so I was probably more amazed than he was. How did this happen? Let me walk you through it.

Jehu was anointed king of Israel (2Kings 9:1-13)

The year is about 843 B.C. Jezebel is queen, and her son Joram is king in Israel. Jehu is one of the commanders of the army. God sends the prophet Elisha to anoint Jehu king. It was dangerous business to anoint one man king when another was already sitting on the throne, so God told Elisha to take him to a room and speak in private.

Then take the flask of oil, pour it on his head, and say, ‘Thus says the LORD: I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee; do not linger (2Ki 9:3).

As the LORD instructed, Elisha anointed Jehu king of Israel and immediately fled the scene. The army fell in behind Jehu, and he led them to Jezreel.

Jehu killed Joram (2Kings 9:14-29)

Joram was in his palace in Jezreel, recovering from a battle against the Arameans. From the watchtower, the sentinels saw an army approaching. They sent messengers to ask if they were coming in peace, but the messengers joined the army. The sentinels knew Jehu was leading them, because “he drives like a maniac!” (2Ki 9:20 – one of my favorite lines in the Old Testament).

Despite his injuries, Joram went out to meet him.

When Joram saw Jehu, he said, “Is it peace, Jehu?” He answered, “What peace can there be, so long as the many whoredoms and sorceries of your mother Jezebel continue?”

Then Joram reined about and fled, saying to Ahaziah [king of Judah], “Treason, Ahaziah!”

Jehu drew his bow with all his strength, and shot Joram between the shoulders, so that the arrow pierced his heart; and he sank in his chariot (2Ki 9:22-24).

Jehu went on to kill Ahaziah, king of Judah, who had joined Joram in the fight against the Arameans.

Jehu killed Jezebel (2Kings 9:30-37)

When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window (2Ki 9:30).

I’ve often heard people use Jezebel as a synonym for “painted hussy.” I think this verse is where that comes from. The window must have had a sizeable balcony, because there were at least two or three eunuchs with her. At Jehu’s command, they threw Jezebel off the balcony, and it must have been a long way down, because some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her (2Ki 9:33).

To secure his position, Jehu went on to kill all of Jezebel and Joram’s kin (2Ki 10).

“I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel”

So in Jezreel, Jehu killed Jezebel in very gruesome fashion. God told the prophet Hosea to name his first child Jezreel, because He will punish the house of Jehu for killing the painted hussy – I mean Jezebel. Here, you need to know a little about Hosea. He was a prophet who married a temple prostitute. You didn’t expect to hear that from the Bible, did you? Not only that, he was sympathetic to Jezebel. That sympathy was gone by the time his second child was born. But for a while, at least, he was a prophet of Israel who was sympathetic to one of its most hated enemies.

Why? Maybe he thought the manner of her death was unnecessarily cruel. Maybe he saw similarities between the hatred directed at his wife and at Jezebel. Maybe he saw the folly of a system where one person could claim the throne by wiping out the royal family. He doesn’t say any specific reason.

But a move toward love of enemies is clear. The wholesale slaughter of Jezebel and all her kin, in Hosea’s mind, was not something God approved. Why else would he say, I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel?

Love your enemies

Once I made that connection, it did not seem a great leap to Jesus when he said,

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Mat 5:44-45 NRS).

Jezebel was as unrighteous as they come. Yet God never stopped the sun from shining where she was. God never stopped the rain from falling – well, except for one 3-½ year period, but that was on all Israel, not just Jezebel (1Ki 17-18). This is one way God shows love, even to the wicked. Even to those who hate us. We want to believe God hates them just like we do, but Jesus throws a great big monkey wrench and jams up those gears. Annoying, isn’t it?

Love your enemies…so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.