God Promises to Bring His People Home

In Hosea, the northern kingdom is depicted by an adulteress. God uses ugly and emotional pictures to show Israel how terrible it is that they, as a nation, have ignored his commands and chased after false gods. But in this passage, God also promises that a day will come when the people of Israel will again return to him.

In chapter 1, Hosea was commanded to marry an unfaithful wife as a symbol of God and Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness. In chapter 3, Hosea goes and redeems his wayward wife from slavery, lovingly rescuing her from the trouble she had gotten herself into. And God uses that picture to make a promise for the future.

Hosea 3:4-5 – 4 For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

God knew what he was doing with Israel. He knew that the northern kingdom would be taken captive. He knew that the southern kingdom would be overrun by the Babylonians. And God knew that a time would come when Israel would feel like they were fully separated from the promises of God.

In truth, the northern tribes were carried away from the land and have not returned. The southern tribes lost the temple, rebuilt the temple, and then lost it again. But the promise here, a promise for the latter days, is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled.

When the Father sent Jesus to bring about the New Covenant, he did something beautiful. Jesus came and completed the sacrificial system. Jesus now reigns, King of kings, a descendant of David, and the Son of God. And Jesus welcomes all who will come to him in faith. Thus, once Jesus came, all physical descendants of Israel, captives in foreign lands and returned exiles, are invited by God to find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Jew and the gentile are welcomed into the family of God and to service under the throne of David, now the greater throne of Christ.

This prophecy is being fulfilled, as people all over the world from all nations are becoming part of the family of God in Jesus. And I suspect that it will be fulfilled in a greater way near to the time of the physical return of Christ. Paul gives us hints of God bringing ethnic Israelites into his family through Christ once the full number of the gentiles has come in (cf. Rom. 11:23-32).

When we see this promise in Hosea, we should see the kingdom of God in Christ promised and delivered. It should call us to rejoice in the grace of Christ. It should cause us to pray that God would spread the gospel over the globe to bring all his elect into his kingdom. We should long for Christ’s return. We should long to see those who have been blind to the gospel suddenly given sight by Christ. And we should marvel at the glorious plan and faithfulness of God.

Two Unfamiliar Truths in a Familiar Prophecy

In Isaiah 7, the Lord presents to us a prophecy that we know well. We see it quoted in Matthew 1 and we think about it a lot at Christmas time. This is the prophecy regarding the virgin conceiving and bearing a son.

But I fear that many Christians are so far from knowing the history of Israel and Judah that they miss what the prophecy originally told us. That lack of knowledge for many opens us up to a couple of errors that can slip in and leave us vulnerable to attacks from those who would attempt to attack the faith.

First, the history. There are some simple facts you must have if you are going to understand the prophecy in its original context. The nation of Israel, the people of God, was divided into two nations around the year 930 BC. The northern kingdom, comprised of ten of the original 12 tribes of Israel, was often identified as Israel, Ephraim, or Joseph. The southern kingdom continued to be ruled by descendants of King David, and was known as Judah for the most part.

When Isaiah spoke to King Ahaz in the southern kingdom during the 8th century BC, Judah was being threatened by a combined force. The northern kingdom was allying with the nation of Syria to come and attack the southern kingdom. This was a major threat, and the king of the southern kingdom was terrified. But Isaiah came to tell Ahaz that this was not going to be a problem. Syria and Israel would not conquer Judah. The Lord would not let that happen. And, quite soon, God would bring the nation of Assyria into the picture to deal with both threats.

With all that in mind, read the prophecy now.

Isaiah 7:14-17

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

The prophecy is simple, but it uses an interesting illustration to show the king how short the time will be until the Lord fulfills his promise. For a moment, do not hang up on the word “virgin.”
A woman will be pregnant and have a child. Before that child is old enough to know between good and bad, the threat to the southern kingdom will be gone. So, within a couple of years, the thing that is terrifying the people of Judah is going to be wiped out by the sovereign hand of God working through the Assyrians. And, so you know, God did exactly what he promised.

Why is this important? There are two things we need to learn from this about the Bible and about interpreting prophecy that will protect us today. And, that is all beside the fact that we see, in this prophecy, that god, the Sovran One over all, is able to tell us exactly what the future holds and to use anyone he chooses to accomplish his will.

First, note that prophecy in the Old Testament can have more than one type of fulfillment. This prophecy had both an immediate and a future fulfillment. Isaiah’s words to King Ahaz were fulfilled in less than five years. A child was born. Before that child was old enough to make moral decisions, Judah was free from the threat of the Syrian and northern armies.

Second, in order to help us understand how that prophecy could be fulfilled in the years of Isaiah, we do need to know that the Hebrew word here translated “virgin” can mean simply young woman, and it does not have to imply physical virginity. In Isaiah’s case, it looks like the word is a reference to Isaiah’s wife whom we see have a son in Isaiah 8.

Wait! Does that mean that those who would attack the New Testament claim of the virgin birth have a leg to stand on? Nope. You see, even though this word is a word that could mean young woman in Hebrew, when Matthew wrote it in a citation of the prophecy, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, he used a word that means virgin in the way we understand and use it today—virgin, not just young woman. Plus, when you read the accounts of Matthew and Luke, there is no question whatsoever that these biblical authors are intending to communicate to us that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and literally born of a woman who was literally, physically a virgin. So, that Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14, a word with a broader semantic range, in no way speaks against the truth of the way that Matthew claims the prophecy with a Greek word with a more narrow semantic range. Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. And all this was by the miraculous working of our holy God.

When you understand the two facts I just mentioned, the Isaiah 7 prophecy and those who try to oppose its application to Jesus make far more sense. Prophecies can have an immediate and a later fulfillment. Isaiah spoke of his wife and, as we see in Matthew, of a virgin to arrive centuries later. And the glorious way that God inspired the prophecy makes it apply perfectly to both.

What True Prophets Do

What is a prophet? How can you tell if someone is a prophet? On television, there are charismatic faith healers who claim the gift of prophecy. There are prosperity preachers who use a supposed prophecy to bilk their followers into giving them loads of cash. But what are we to think of prophecy and supposed prophets?


If we look at Deuteronomy, we can see a couple of standards regarding prophecy as well as what God says about those who speak falsely as they pretend to be prophets.


Deuteronomy 18:18-22 – 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.


Looking at this section, we see that God promised to raise up a prophet like Moses for the people of God. This is both a promise of a future leader like Moses, Joshua, who will carry the nation forward into the land and a Messianic promise of one who will bring the true word of God to all his people. Jesus is that prophet in ultimate fulfillment as God in flesh, the Son of God, the Messiah who came (cf. John 6:14; Matthew 21:10-11).


Notice that, when God talks about a true prophet to come, that one will speak God’s word to God’s people. Before the canon of Scripture was closed, it was possible that such a man would speak to the people a new word from God. Now that the canon of Scripture is complete, however, a true prophet of God will speak to the people and clearly communicate the already articulated word of God. If that seems new, go back and look at the words of the prophets throughout Scripture. Quite often, prophets did not predict the future or give new words from God. Instead, regularly, the prophets would cite already given revelation from god, words of the law, and apply them to the present generation. Prophets would warn of the coming judgment of God on the people for disobeying the law of God, but that judgment had already been promised in the law.


While true prophets communicate the word of God to the people of God, there will be, as Moses tells us, false prophets who will communicate lies. There will be a temptation for a person to try to elevate himself above others by claiming a supernatural gifting from God that they do not have. Like fairground psychics or fortune-tellers, these people will claim a mysterious knowledge that others lack in order to get others to do what they want. But God gives us a couple of ways to see if they are false.


First, here in Deuteronomy 18, the word of God is clear that a supposed prophet who claims to speak a word from God must be tested. If that word they speak does not come to pass, the prophet is false. If they predict a future event, and if that event fails, the prophet is not from God.


There is a second way to test a prophet, though, that is not related to success in predicting a future outcome.


Deuteronomy 13:1-5 – 1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.


If a prophet predicts the future, and his prediction actually comes to pass, and then the prophet directs the people of God to disobey the word of God, the inspired Scripture, that prophet is also false. Thus, while failing to accurately predict the future proves a supposed prophet to be false, accurately predicting the future does not prove a prophet to be true. Rather, what has always made a prophet to be true is that the prophet, gifted by God, directs the people of God to follow the clearly inspired, already-given word of God. A prophet of God will direct people to the Bible and clearly communicate its commands and standards to the people so that they will obey it and honor the Lord.


What does God think of those who claim to speak for him but who are false? In both Deuteronomy 18 and 13, God gives the same command regarding false prophets. In ancient Israel, to claim a word from God that was not a word from God was to earn the death penalty. That nation was not to tolerate, even for a moment, a person who claimed to speak for God but who did not. God hates it when people claim he said something he did not. And even in the New Testament, even as late as the book of revelation, Jesus demanded that his church not tolerate false prophets. (cf. Revelation 2:20-23).


Now, let us tie this all together. Prophets speak the word of God. Quite often, prophets, even when the canon of Scripture was incomplete, simply cited and applied the word of God. Now the canon of Scripture is complete. Thus, prophets today are those who will rightly cite and apply the already-spoken word of God for the people of God to understand and obey. God is very strongly opposed to anyone claiming that he said anything he did not say. And god commands his people not to put up with those who claim that God said things God did not say.


Our test for those claiming the gift of prophecy is simple. Is what they are saying found in Scripture or in Scripture rightly applied? If what a person says is found in Scripture rightly understood and applied, follow that word. If what a person says is simply mystical and non-scriptural, you have no calling to follow it or the one who claims it. Let us learn to follow the Lord by holding high his perfect word just as did the true prophets of old.