Conclusion – Chapter 14: Little By Little
Narrated By: Devan Lindsey
Book: That You May Prosper
Topics: Doctrinal Studies
Library: Gary North Library
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“I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and possess the land” (Exod. 23:30).
We come to the end of our study of the covenant. The final question to be answered is, “How do we establish a society based on the concepts presented in this book?” I raise it because I do not want there to be any confusion about how a Christian society is created. I do not want the reader to leave this book thinking a covenantal culture comes from the top down, meaning by some “theocratic elite” forcing everyone to be a Christian, or believe a certain way. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
God told the Israelites that their Biblical culture would come “little by little.” It did not come suddenly, or overnight. It came gradually. The covenantal society that I have proposed can only come the same way. That is, if it is to survive, it must come about from the bottom up. Sure, the reader can implement the covenant structure in his home and can seek to establish it in his church. But its fulfillment in society-at-large will be much more difficult. It can only successfully come about (and stick), if it takes hold at a grass-roots level through evangelism.
The expansion of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome serves as an example. Jesus says at the beginning of Acts, “You shall receive My power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This verse summarizes the spread of the Gospel from one part of the world to the rest. It began in Jerusalem, and ended up in Rome. The method was little-by-little evangelism, just like the land of Canaan.
Yes, Acts parallels the Book of Joshua. Joshua is the account of the conquest of the land; Acts is the story of the conquest of the world. But there is one striking contrast. Joshua took the land by use of the sword, even though it played a secondary role. None of the Apostles used the sword to spread the Gospel. Why the difference? Joshua, although a type of Jesus Christ, was under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was a covenant of the flesh, graphically portrayed in the sacrament of circumcision. And, if anything, the Old Testament teaches that the kingdom of God could not be established in the flesh, meaning by the sword. The garden of Eden was sealed off by a “flaming sword” (Gen. 3:24), prohibiting re-entrance. Man could not return to that particular garden by a carnal weapon because his sword could not stand against God’s. Even David, a great man of God, was unsuccessful in creating God’s kingdom. He was a man of war, so he was not allowed to build the Temple (I Kgs. 5:3). When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6), they were expressing their confusion about the nature of the kingdom of God. They still thought it would be a political order, that is, a kingdom established by the sword.
They were wrong. The next verses in Acts speak of a new regime. The New Covenant kingdom is created by the Spirit. God had conquered Jericho by His might, to be sure. But the Holy Spirit had not come in all of His historical fulness. Christ had not yet come in history. Israel needed to use the sword, but Israel ultimately failed. The Church succeeded. In Acts, the Spirit of God went forth and created the beginnings of a Christian world from the bottom up.
The instrument the Spirit used was evangelism, witnessing. The role of the witness is twofold. Positively, he stands before men and the courts of the world, and he testifies of the Resurrected and Living Christ. Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul all became witnesses in the courts of man. Indeed, Acts tells how God sent them before
Jewish and Roman courts, and even into prison for this reason. The task of evangelism is the challenge of being a witnesses in the unbeliever’s place of holding court. As we see in Acts, this can be a place of education or doing business, as well as an official court for passing judgment (Acts 19 and 16). The idea is that God sends His witnesses before man’s seats of judgment to proclaim God’s judgment, particularly through Jesus Christ.
Much has been said and written about evangelism, so I will not spend any more time on this phase of little-by-little covenant expansion. Besides, I have already spent some time developing this point in the fifth point of covenantalism (Chapter Five). The sword cannot hold the inheritance for the future; only education, missions, and evangelism can. Also, I pointed out in the Great Commission mandate that the Gospel was to be spread household by household, a very bottom-up approach to witnessing.
It is the other bottom-up aspect of being a witness that I need to address, a negative side that is virtually unknown, or neglected. Bringing testimony can also become a covenant lawsuit. Taking dominion in a pagan society is frustrating at times – these days, most of the time! One of the greatest concerns is the “wicked people” – abortionists’ pornographers, statist politicians, etc. – who stand in the way of the visible reign of Christ (Heb. 2:8ff.). How should they be dealt with? Because the Biblical covenant commands Christians to be lawful, they are not allowed to use violence, except in the event of self-defense and a legally declared war by proper civil magistrates. Are they, therefore, left only with what some Christian activists call “a smile and a ‘God loves you’”?
No. The Bible specifies a special kind of lawsuit that can be filed with God against the wicked called a covenantal lawsuit. This Biblical concept is consistently used by the prophets, many of their books being structured according to the Deuteronomic covenant. With a covenantal lawsuit, however, the five points of covenantalism are all turned toward accusations against lawless covenant-breakers and enemies of the Church, calling down God’s sanctions on them. Yes, a covenant lawsuit asks God to kill the wicked. God destroys the wicked one of two ways: by conversion or destruction. So, a covenantal lawsuit is not “unloving.” But it is the Biblical method for taking dominion when opposition is met! I began the “Dominion” section with the covenantal mandates. I close with what is perhaps the Christian’s greatest weapon in the face of opposition: not a “carnal” weapon but a “spiritual” one (II Cor. 10:4), the covenant itself turned into a lawsuit before God. I use the Book of Hosea as a model. Before considering it, let us learn something about the prophets and Hosea in general.
Hosea: Prophet of the Covenant
When Solomon apostatized, the number 666 was used for the first time as the number of apostasy (I Kgs. 10:14). He became the “classic” example of Adam, who was created on the sixth day, and who departed covenantally from the Lord. Solomon’s apostasy was nothing new, however, because Solomon was like the old Adam, who was the first man who gave up everything at the enticement of a fallen woman. In Solomon’s case it was fallen women. God’s judgment was to divide the nation, the same thing that was done at the Tower of Babel. Division is an effective way to restrain the power of sin. God used it time and again in the Old Covenant until Christ could come in history to reverse the powerful effects of sin.
The nation of Israel was divided into two separate countries: Israel to the north with ten tribes, and Judah to the south with two tribes. Although Israel to the north had more tribes on its side, it fell the fastest. There was not always safety in numbers. But Judah was not far behind. Neither was there safety in “small” numbers. When in sin, it really does not make any difference whether a group is large or small. During this period, God sent prophets to bring lawsuits against His divided nation. Some were sent to the north, and some to the south.
Hosea was a prophet sent to Israel, the ten tribes of the north, in the eighth century before the birth of Christ. He was sent at a time which should be considered the last “saving effort” toward Israel.
Jeroboam II was on the throne. Although this king was evil, God made one last attempt to turn the nation from its sin (II Kgs. 14:25-27). Hosea was part of that “last call.”
Years prior to this, God had promised Jehu that his sons would sit on the throne until the fourth generation (II Kgs. 10:30). Jeroboam II was the last king to be succeeded by his son. All six of the following kings were either succeeded by means of assassination or themselves succeeded an assassinated king. God gave Jehu four generations. Hosea’s message was the final invitation in the fourth generation. This was the amount of time allotted for cursing (Ex. 20:5). At the end of these four generations, Israel was cut off and dispersed around the world, never again to be assembled as one unit. Israel did not hear the message of Hosea, so God turned blessing into cursing.
Before developing the themes of the Book of Hosea, I need to explain the role of the prophet. He did basically two things. First, he was a counselor to God and man. The first time the word prophet is used in the Bible comes in Genesis 20:7. Abraham had gone back down to Egypt. God told Abimelech not to harm Sarah because Abraham was a “Prophet, and he will pray for you, and you will live.” The role of prophet was to intercede for man. He could go into the presence of God’s high council-court and receive special entrance. He would then be sent back to man to offer counsel.
Second, he delivered covenant lawsuit from God against man. He was a special messenger bringing God’s “prophecy.” Prophecy is a covenantal action. It delivers blessings and cursings. A better description is that prophecy is promissory in character, being in part conditional and in part unconditional. The promises are conditional in that they depend on covenant-keeping or covenant-breaking. Sometimes, for this reason, what God says will come to pass does not happen. When God said to Jonah that Nineveh would be destroyed in three days, it did not take place. Why? Nineveh repented during the forty days given them (Jon. 3:10). Did God lie? Did He just not know what was going to happen? No, on both counts. God cannot lie (Nu. 23:19). God knows what will happen ahead of time because He plans everything that does happen (Eph. 1:11). But, God is a covenant-keeping God. His prophecies, given through His messengers, are in terms of the covenant – always. He is hurling a lawsuit in the face of covenant-breakers.
Also, the promissory character of prophecy is unconditional whenever messianic in direction. For example, one of the marks of a prophet is that his word always comes true (Deut. 18:14-22). Whenever the prophet makes a specific prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, or anything to do with Him, it has to come to pass. If not, he is not a true “Messianic” prophet.
Hosea was an instrument in God’s hand; he delivered the lawsuit to Israel. The form of this lawsuit is classic, being in the structure of the covenant. Not all the prophets follow the complete pattern, but they all began with this basic format. For example, they might start is called an ordeal of jealousy (Nahum). But the fact that the prophets veered from the structure in such set forms indicates that the covenant formed the background to their lawsuits.
Also, each prophet seems to speak to a particular commandment that is being broken. It is not as though other commandments are not being violated. Rather, all the given sins of the nation are viewed in terms of one key commandment. Hosea is an example of this. The primary commandment being broken is the seventh: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Through the book we will see that other commandments are being abused, but they are all arranged in terms of the seventh. Even so, however, Hosea follows the covenant to build his case – God’s case – against the spiritual and ethical adultery of Israel.
The covenant lawsuit should be viewed as both a prayer to God and a declaration to the corrupt society. So the outline of Hosea, as a model lawsuit, should be understood as a guide for the Christian who wants to know what needs to be declared publicly.
The Covenantal Structure of Hosea
- True Transcendence: 1:1-11
- Hierarchy: 2:1-3:5
- Ethics: 4:1-7:16
- Sanctions: 8:1-9:17
- Continuity (Inheritance): 10:1-14:9
- True Transcendence (Hos. 1:1-11)
The first point that needs to be made in a covenant lawsuit is that God’s offenders have failed to acknowledge God as the transcendent Lord of the world. The prophet Hosea begins this way.
Three of the transcendent/immanent themes come through in the first chapter. First, the name of the book is “Hosea,” a variant of “Joshua,” meaning Yahweh is salvation. This is the idea of redemption. God sends a prophet to redeem Israel whose very name is redemption. He is the “incarnation” of the Word of God to them. In his person he portrays a God who is distinct and present.
Second, the very first sentence of the book is, “The word of the Lord which came” (Ho. 1:1). Does this sound familiar to “In the beginning God created” (Gen. 1:1)? It should, because the same idea is intended. “Out of nothing” He created them, and “out of nothing” He redeemed them from Egypt. The “word,” or revelation, came from God, distinct from man, to perform both functions.
Here we see a very important prophetic principle. Interpretation precedes fact. God’s Word is before history chronologically. His interpretation of history is before time, space, and everything (Eph. 1:4). All of life moves according to God’s interpretation. Rejection of God’s interpretation leads to cursing and acceptance to blessing. Either way, God’s interpretation is first. Man is presuppositional. His presupposition is that the God of the Bible is true (Rom. 1:18ff.). He may be in rebellion to this interpretation, but he still knows it is true in his heart of hearts.
Third, the first chapter presents God as the One who names. God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute. Why? Hosea is a covenantal head. Because he is not like the individual, we should not try to build a case from Hosea for marrying prostitutes, just as Ezekiel’s running “naked” is not a model for individual behavior. What happens to Hosea is a symbolic message for Israel. This “incarnation” is in the negative. Out of his marriage to the harlot comes children. Specific names are given to them. In a play on words after Gomer has given birth to a son, God tells Hosea, “Name him, ‘Lo-ammi.'” “Lo-ammi” means not my people. The point is that God’s prophet who names gave his son a name implying loss of identity. He has the power to name and the power to take away a name. If Israel hears the message, the covenant will be re-created. If not, it will be destroyed. Only the God of the Bible could perform such transcendent/immanent actions.
- Hierarchy (Hos. 2:1-3:5)
The second part of the covenant lawsuit should make clear that God’s hierarchy has been violated. The real issue is a mediated system of judgment. God stands behind His authority; He stands behind it in history. Since hierarchy involves history, specific historical events of God’s faithfulness should be cited, as well as a record of disobedience on the part of the individual or group of individuals being filed against.
Hosea’s lawsuit indicates the relationship between judgment and history by emphasizing the relationship between covenant faithfulness and peace with all the enemies around Israel.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her. Then I will give her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. “And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi [My husband] and will no longer call Me Baali [My master]. For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, so that they will be mentioned by their names no more. In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and injustice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord” (Ho. 2:14-20).
Notice the “I will”/fulfillment pattern, and how God refers to re-creation, making a new covenant with the animals of the earth. In the Adamic covenant, this is the hierarchy section (Gen. 2). Here, God speaks of making a new creation out of Israel. He even compares it to redemption from Egypt.
The end of this passage highlights the major sins of Israel: idolatry and adultery. Notice that these two sins go together in Hosea’s mind, just as they did at the end of the hierarchy section of Deuteronomy (Deut. 4:15-24). Remember also that the second and seventh commandments fall into the hierarchical category. To worship another God is to pursue another “groom.” Hosea’s bride symbolized the very kind of adultery God’s “wife” (Israel) was committing.
- Ethics (Hos. 4:1-7:16)
God likes to be reminded of His laws, and He desires that these laws be held up in front of the guilty. When John the Baptist, the last Old Covenant prophet, saw Herod in sin, he went before him in public and confronted him (Matt. 14:1ff.). So this part of the lawsuit should include a specific list of the infractions against God’s Law.
Chapter four of Hosea mentions for the first time actual commandments that have been broken.
For the Lord has a case [lawsuit] against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing, and adultery (Hos. 4:1-2).
Hosea also begins to do something else in this section that falls in the ethical category. In the very last verse of the third chapter, Hosea referred to David and the “sons” of Israel. This forms a transition into the first verse of chapter four that starts off with an address to the “sons of Israel.” Both references turn our focus to the theme of “sonship,” or image-bearing. “Sonship” is defined in terms of bearing God’s image. The two main ways of bearing God’s image are through the offices of priest and king.
The ethical section concludes with chapter seven, but eight forms a transition: “They have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law” (8:1).
- Sanctions (Hos. 8:1-9:17)
The fourth part of the lawsuit asks God to pour out His sanctions on the wicked. Deuteronomy tells how God “blesses” and “curses.” Both should be asked for, but in the case of the lawsuit, the specific curses should be requested and mentioned. Also, it should be kept in mind that Revelation speaks of “plagues” that are not referred to in Deuteronomy. These would also be appropriate sanctions to ask for.
The first verse of chapter eight opens, “Put the trumpet to your lips! Like an eagle the enemy comes against the house of the Lord” (8:1). This is how the sanctions section of Revelation began (Rev. 8:1-2). It starts with a series of angels blowing trumpets. This instrument announces, as in the case of Jericho, the coming judgment of God. In the case of Hosea, the judgment is coming against the once-faithful covenant nation, Israel.
The last verse of chapter eight continues the theme of judgment when Hosea says of Israel and Judah, “I will send fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings” (8:14). Although the whole book refers, off and on, to the judgment that will come to God’s people, chapter 9 seems to be devoted entirely to the subject. It starts off, “Do not rejoice, 0 Israel, with exultation like the nations! For you have played the harlot” (9:1). Hosea goes on for the first time to mention the actual words “punishment and retribution” (9:7). Hosea’s thrust is sanction.
Because Israel has “played the harlot,” she will be disinherited. The last verse of chapter 9 says, “My God will cast them away because they have not listened to Him; and they will be wanderers among the nations” (9:17). The judgment has been passed and this means disinheritance. This sounds like the end of the judicial section in Genesis where Adam and Eve were cursed and sent out of the Garden. But, they were taken into a new inheritance because God had re-clothed them. Hosea’s emphasis carries us smoothly into the next section.
- Continuity (Hos. 10:1-14:9)
Finally, the lawsuit requests of God that He re-establish His covenantal continuity with the proper people and land. Furthermore, in the course of this prayer and announcement, God is asked to disinherit the wicked and drive them away through conversion or destruction.
The opening verse of chapter ten starts on the theme of inheritance. He says, “Israel is a luxuriant vine; he produces fruit for himself. The more his fruit, the more altars he made; the richer his land, the better he made the sacred pillars” (10:1). Israel appears to be rich in inheritance, but Hosea is mocking them. The richer Israel became, the more it used its inheritance to build liberal and pagan religion. The chapter follows with several declarations of disinheritance.
The great disinheritance God will bring will be judgment on Israel’s children. He says, “Therefore, a tumult will arise among your people, and all your fortresses will be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Betharbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed in pieces with their children” (10:14). This sounds cruel. But we must remember that God judges covenantally. As families are brought into the covenant as family units, so they will be judged together. This happened throughout the history of God’s covenantal people. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were judged together with their families (Nu. 16). Achan’s family was burned with him (Josh. 7), and Ananias and Sapphira were judged as a covenantal unit in the New Covenant (Acts 5:1ff.). But, in each case, God gives the family opportunity to take a stand against the sinful covenant head. The covenant is made with individuals as well as groups.
As we have seen in each covenant, however, God makes for a way of escape. He offers a new inheritance. The last chapter of Hosea is one of the most beautiful expressions of God’s promise of new salvation. But, it is conditional (14:1-3). Israel must return to the Lord to have all the blessings. Hosea closes with the following:
I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; He will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim [symbol for firstborn son], what more have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; From Me comes your fruit.
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them (14:4-9).
Here the book ends with two classifications of people: covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. These are the only two, each having opposite inheritances. The covenant-breakers may appear to be blessed on the “front end” of life. But in the end, they will lose everything forever. The covenant-keepers, on the other hand, may appear to have nothing on the “front-end” of life. But in the end, and even in this life, they have everything. Covenant-keepers get to be like Job: greatly tested but richly blessed in this life and the one to come.
Who Files the Lawsuit Today?
We should not leave our discussion of Hosea without bringing it into the New Covenant. The question is, “Who files the lawsuit today?” Can any individual curse someone he doesn’t happen to like? Does the State file the lawsuit? Does the Church?
Jesus sheds some helpful light on these questions when He says, “Where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). Two things stand out. First, the reference to “two or three” is a formula used for legal testimony in the Old Testament: “On the evidence of two or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence [literally “mouth”] of one witness” (Deut. 17:6). Second, Jesus applies this formula at the end of the section on Church discipline.
Thus, we should conclude that a covenant lawsuit can only be brought in the context of a Church court, or worship service (also a Church court before God’s throne), since the imprecatory (judgment) psalms (Ps. 83, 94) were intended to be used in worship. Individuals need witnesses in order to file a valid lawsuit with God, and certainly the State has no function in filing a covenant lawsuit before God. If someone wants to file an imprecatory lawsuit, he should appeal to the officers of the local church. If that church will not listen, one that will should be sought out. The imprecatory psalms are not to be treated lightly, nor autonomously. They have a two-edged nature to them. If they are abused, they could kill the user!
Hosea comes to an end on the theme of legitimacy, concluding our study of the covenant as a lawsuit. Each step of the way, I have tried to show the pattern of the covenant. Is it wrong for Christians to use the covenant lawsuit? Are not Christians supposed to “love the sinner and hate the sin?”
No! God hates the sinner as well as his sin (Ps. 11:5). And since the Church is the New Israel, Paul commands it to pray and sing the psalms (Eph. 5:19) – all of them, especially the imprecatory psalms that call down God’s destruction and conversion of the wicked (Ps. 83, 74, etc.).
I have chosen a prophet to confirm that as Israel was built by the covenant, it was torn down on the basis of the covenant. Man gains dominion by covenant, and he loses it by breaking the covenant. Once again, as I have attempted to explain both the covenant and its application for dominion, we are reminded with richer understanding of Moses’ words, “So keep the words of this covenant to do them that you may prosper in all that you do” (Deut. 29:9)! Now we know the words of the covenant are kept and applied in society little by little.
 See Appendix 7.
 Walter Brueggemann, Hosea: Tradition for Crisis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1968), pp. 55-105. In these pages, Brueggemann categorically proves that the prophets were using the Deuteronomic covenant as a model for their dealings with apostasy among the people of God. See also, James A. Sanders, Torah and Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), pp. 54-90.