God’s Pattern of Prophetic Speaking
The following was also shared in the primer article. It is worth sharing again here because much of what God says to the Northern Kingdom fits this same pattern of speaking.
- God gives warnings of coming judgment and punishment
- This always happens well in advance providing opportunity for repentance
- Judgment is established and sentencing is pronounced
- This always applies the principle of multiple witnesses who speak at the proper scope. In most cases, the scope is national (northern or southern kingdom)
- During the time of punishment a way of escape is provided for those who return their hearts to God
- A strong reason to hope is provided for the future which foretells recovery, restoration and a bright future
- In many cases, this hope is pointed towards the millenial kingdom and eternity after the return of Jesus Christ
Notes About God’s Speaking
- God is an appealer, not a tyrant
- God is full of love towards His people
- God will not allow His people to remain on a sinful path forever
These things are confirmed and demonstrated through the law and commandments, the prophets and their speaking, the full history of Israel and through Jesus Christ both in word and deed.
Here are the key themes that God speaks to the Northern Kingdom through the prophets.
Key “Word Pictures”
Here are some of the “Word Pictures” God uses to convey His message through the prophets. The underlying meaning of these “Word Pictures” has to be interpreted to derive the main themes.
There are other “Word Pictures” God uses in Isaiah, Amos, Hosea and Micah but three of these are mentioned twice by two different prophets. A mapping from each prophet to each “Word Picture” is provided. There is a fourth item that I have added which is only mentioned by one prophet. Hosea addresses the historical event at Gibeah which God recalls and maps to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Because God refers to some of these “Word Pictures” multiple times by multiple witnesses we can understand that they are very important to consider for the people God is speaking to in the Northern Kingdom.
The Details, If Interested…
The following sections are a bit long-winded. They provide more details about the key “word pictures” shown in the diagrams above. This includes the relevant scripture references and additional context & analysis.
Baal-Peor (aka Shittim)
There are two references to Baal-Peor (aka Shittim) provided separately by Micah and Hosea. In both cases, God is reminding the Northern Kingdom of this particular event as warning and instruction for their current situation. God is pointing backwards in time hundreds of years to an event that many in Israel know about because it was recorded in Moses’ writings (the Pentateuch). He is assessing their current situation and letting them know that His judgment against the Northern Kingdom will be similar to the situation at Baal-Peor.
You can read the whole chapter 9 of Hosea to get a sense of what God is saying. God refers to the Northern Kingdom in this chapter as Ephraim.
10 Like the grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like early ripened fruit on the fig tree in the first season, I saw your ancestors. They themselves came to Baal Peor, and they consecrated themselves to shame. And they became detestable things, like the thing they love.Hosea 9:10 (LEB)
In Micah 6, God instructs His people to remember the situation at Baal-Peor (referred to as Shittim in this passage, but it is the same event and location).
5 O my people, remember what Balak the king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, so that you might know the righteous acts of Yahweh.”Micah 6:5 (LEB)
What Happened at Baal-Peor (aka Shittim)?
God wants them to remember Baal-Peor (aka Shittim) and what happened to the ancestors of the Northern Kingdom. He is asking them to remember because from God’s point of view He is seeing the Northern Kingdom in the same kind of situation.
1 When Israel dwelled in Shittim, the people began to prostitute themselves with the daughters of Moab. 2 And they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and worshiped their gods. 3 So Israel was joined together to Baal Peor, and Yahweh became angry with Israel. 4 Yahweh said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang them before Yahweh in the sun, so the fierce anger of Yahweh will turn from Israel.” 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill his men who are joined together with Baal Peor.” 6 And behold, a man from the Israelites came and brought to his brothers a Midianite woman before the eyes of Moses and before the eyes of all of the community of the Israelites, and they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of assembly. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest saw, he got up from the midst of the community and took a spear in his hand. 8 He went after the man of Israel into the woman’s section of the tent, and he drove the two of them, the man of Israel and the woman, into her belly. And the plague among the Israelites stopped. 9 The ones who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.Numbers 25:1–9 (LEB)
This was an extreme situation. Let’s focus in on how serious this situation was…
- What?!? The people began to prostitute themselves with the daughters of Moab and they (the daughters of Moab) invited the people to sacrifices of their gods, AND the people ate and worshipped their gods.
- What?!? The Lord said, “take ALL the leaders of the people and hang them before the Lord in the sun, so the FIERCE anger of the Lord will turn from Israel”
- What?!? Moses said to the judges of Israel, “each of you kill his men who are joined together with Baal Peor”
- Whoa?!? When Phinehas saw a man of Israel openly taking a woman to bed Phinehas got a spear and drove it through both of them
Phinehas’ action quelled God’s fierce anger and His original request to kill all the leaders did not have to be fulfilled. The behavior of some of the Israelites was so egregious that a righteous punishment was to kill ALL the leaders and kill ALL the people who entered into this sin.
Additional Context & Analysis
Important Point #1 – Baal-Peor/Shittim the Last Stop before the Promised Land
There were some other bad situations, but this situation had some unique attributes and it was one of the worst (if not the worst). Consider the following points.
- The entire process from Egypt to the Promised Land took more than 40 years.
- There were 38 years of wandering in a big circle in the wilderness
- The children of Israel faced repeated challenges as follows (Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 for Paul’s summary of their experiences). They were learning through these failures, but this didn’t stop them from having repeated problems.
- Wanting things (i.e. selfish lusts) – food, life back in Egypt, power, etc.
- Falling to temptation and provoking God to punish them
- Moses appealing to God for mercy
- God granting a solution (way of escape) which required them to turn their hearts back to God
- Numbers 33 records most of the stops the children of Israel had between Egypt and the Promised Land. There were about 40 of them.
- The very last stop is this situation at Baal-Peor/Shittim.
- In all but one of the bad situations where the children of Israel encountered in the wilderness, the temptation came from within the children of Israel. It didn’t come from an outsider. At this very last stop (Baal-Peor/Shittim), the temptation came from an outsider (an enemy, Balak).
Take a moment to review these facts one more time and then consider the following.
Important Point #2 – Israel’s Enemies Realize They Can’t Win
There were 5 battles with enemies for the children of Israel in the wilderness.
- (Before Mt Sinai) Battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:8-16) – Israel is victorious
- (When spying out Promised Land) Battle with Amalekites & Canaanites (Numbers 14:40-45) – Israel is defeated. God did not give them permission to fight in this case. This battle happens after they spied out the Promised Land but most of them came back with a bad report and God said they would have to wander for 40 years in the wilderness.
- (Heading to the Promised Land) Battle with Canaanite king of Arad – Israel is victorious
- (Heading to the Promised Land) Battle with Sihon of the Amorites – Israel is victorious
- (Heading to the Promised Land) Battle with Og of Bashan – Israel is victorious
Notice that all the battles once Israel was headed towards the Promised Land (after wandering for 38+ years) are victorious.
What comes next is the famous story of Balaam and Balak. This is a story that God speaks about multiple times in Scripture at much later times. Balaam is the prophet of God whose donkey speaks to him because an angel is blocking their path. The path being blocked is the one leading to Balak (king of Moab) who is trying to figure out how to defeat Israel as they head towards the Promised Land.
Balak offers to pay Balaam and implores him multiple times to curse Israel. Balaam does not curse Israel because God does not curse Israel. Balak is left frustrated. He cannot get Balaam’s help to figure out how to defeat Israel in battle.
But! Balak is not dumb and the Bible says that “Balaam’s teaching” instructs Balak on what to do. If you read the encounter between Balak and Balaam, you will not find any specific instruction on what Balak should do to defeat Israel. However, Balak’s actions demonstrate that he was “instructed” by Balaam.
There is an old adage. If you cannot beat them, join them. Balak did something similar to this, but possibly more insidious.
Important Point #3 – Turning or Falling Away from God through Seduction
Balak was not dumb. He understood from Balaam that he could not beat Israel in battle. He turned to another strategy… Seduction.
1 When Israel dwelled in Shittim, the people began to prostitute themselves with the daughters of Moab. 2 And they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and worshiped their gods. 3 So Israel was joined together to Baal Peor, and Yahweh became angry with Israel.Numbers 25:1–3 (LEB)
The only way this happened was that Balak sent out the “daughters of Moab” to seduce the Israelites. They were seduced and fell into the terrible sins of fornication and idolatry including the worship of the gods of Moab.
This seduction of Balak (i.e. the Enemy of Israel) worked. The children of Israel were brought to a low place. It was not everyone, but enough of them to warrant a severe judgment from God.
This same type of strategy can be employed by the true enemy of God and God’s people down through the ages including today. When Satan realizes he is not winning, He altars his strategy to seduction to produce a falling away from following God.
What does Bashan Picture?
There is only one reference among the prophets to the Northern Kingdom about Bashan, but it is very clear. It refers to the “cows of Bashan” pointing to the wives of men from the Northern Kingdom who are enjoying their wealth rather than using it in a way that would be more pleasing to God (helping others and ensuring justice). I believe this reference to these wives from Bashan (i.e. cows of Bashan) is both literal and representative of the Northern Kingdom as a whole. The wives a living well when there is a need to pay attention to the needs of others.
Definitions & Bible Dictionary Entries
Bashan – Soft; sandy soil; i.e., a soft rich soil. The shame of them.
The land of Bashan is a broad plateau with an elevation of 2,000 feet above sea level. It was created by volcanic eruptions and lava flows during the Pleistocene period and is covered with rich soil of decayed basalt. Bashan receives relatively high annual rainfall (28–32 inches), making it a very fertile region.
Jamir, M. S. (2016). Bashan. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.
The region (“Hauran,” Ez 47:16, 18) is mostly a fertile tableland 1,600 to 2,300 feet in altitude. Its rich volcanic alluvium is well-watered because the low hills of southern Galilee to the west allow the rains to sweep farther inland than in most other places along the Palestinian coast. Today, as in ancient times, it is an agriculturally productive region.
Vos, H. F. (1988). Bashan. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 267). Baker Book House.
1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who live on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the powerless, who crush the poor, who say to their husbands, “Bring something so that we may drink!” 2 My Lord Yahweh has sworn by his holiness that, “Behold, the days are coming upon you when they will take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishing hooks. 3 And you shall leave through breaches in the wall, each one in front of her. You will be dragged off toward Harmon,” declares Yahweh.Amos 4:1–3 (LEB)
There are other verses that refer to these same themes in the prophets to the Northern Kingdom, but the theme is pictorally portrayed through Bashan. See:
- Amos 5:7
- Micah 3:8
- Hosea 3:1-6
What Happened at Gibeah?
9 They deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah; he will remember their sin, he will punish their sins.Hosea 9:9 (LEB)
This refers back to an especially horrific event in the history of Israel when a man was traveling with his concubine and needed a place to stay. He could have stayed in a city of foreigners (and that probably would have been better). Instead, he stayed in a town called Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. Take a little bit of time to read Judges 19:1-30 to get the full picture of how heinous the behavior is that God is referring back to with this event.
Important Point #1 – Only an Outsider Behaved Properly
First of all, no native born Israelite offered them hospitality. Instead a foreigner who was living in the town saw them in the city square and offered them a place to stay. This foreigner living in Gibeah told them, “Peace to you. I will take care of your needs; however, you must not spend the night in the open square.” (Judges 19:20). Then he took them in and fed them.
Important Point #2 – Many Native Born Residents Had Become Depraved
While the traveler and his concubine visited with the foreigner living in Gibeah, the native born (Israelite) men of the city came and pounded on the door. They demanded that the traveler (not his concubine) be brought out so the men of the city could have sex with him. The foreign host appealed to them not to do this and offered his own daughter and the man’s concubine instead. They took the man’s concubine and raped her until she was dead.
This was inside Israel, but it sounds exactly like what happened in Sodom in Genesis when Lot tried to prevent the men of that city from raping the men who had come to visit him.
The situation INSIDE Israel had become like one of the worst examples in the entire Bible, the city of Sodom.
So, God is saying to the Northern Kingdom that the level of depravity among them was like the “days of Gibeah”.
Does this mean that everyone in Gibeah was acting so heinously? No, it doesn’t. However, their heinous and murderous behavior to fulfill their sinful desires was on open display and no one stood in their way. Even the foreigner living among them knew he could not stop them as demonstrated by his offer of his own daughter and the traveler’s concubine as substitute. This is also horrific, but it helps paint the picture of deep wickedness in Israel.
In the New Testament, God is clear that once man’s desire is overcome with depravity, He (God) will give them over to their sinful passions.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to degrading passions, for their females exchanged the natural relations for those contrary to nature, 27 and likewise also the males, abandoning the natural relations with the female, were inflamed in their desire toward one another, males with males committing the shameless deed, and receiving in themselves the penalty that was necessary for their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to recognize God, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do the things that are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greediness, malice, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malevolence. They are gossipers, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boasters, contrivers of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 senseless, faithless, unfeeling, unmerciful, 32 who, although they know the requirements of God, that those who do such things are worthy of death, not only do they do the same things, but also they approve of those who do them.Romans 1:26–32 (LEB)
This was the situation in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This same situation has occurred in various nations throughout time, including today in America (and other places). Our “pursuit of happiness” employed in selfish and sinful ways has led to much degradation. The sad reality is that this applies to many believers in God through Jesus Christ and not just those who have not received salvation.
What do Gilgal & Bethel/Bethaven Picture?
In order to understand God’s communication in some cases, we have to look at several items related to the places or events he refers to when speaking to Israel.
- What is the meaning of the name of the person, place or event referred to by God?
- What is the history of the person, place or event referred to by God? — note: this question is usually just about the place
- What is the picture God is painting with His words? — note: this may require trying to transport yourself back in time and try to look at things based on the way life worked during the time of God’s speaking and then mapping it back to valid modern parallels.
- For example, God often speaks of the people going after other Gods. In most of these cases, the people are seeking their own peace and prosperity apart from God. So, Baal worship which is often referred to as a very bad type of idol worship maps to many people today who seek financial security apart from God. Baal was a weather God who brought rain which equated to financial security in an agricultural society. As one example, in modern society, people chase after stock markets to achieve financial security. Stocks are not sinful. The real issue is the heart of the person who seeks the financial gain and whether or not they pursue money (aka financial security) with God’s permission or on their own.
Definitions & Bible Dictionary Entries
Gilgal – circle (probably a circle of stones)
A number of significant things happened at Gilgal. Most of them are good, but then false worship was established and sanctioned by the king of the Northern Kingdom as their history progresses.
- (Good) First encampment after crossing the Jordan entering the Promised Land
- (Good) Monument setup to commemorate crossing the Jordan
- (Good) National circumcision of all Israelite men after entering the Promised Land
- (Good) First Passover held after crossing the Jordan (Joshua 5:10-11)
- (Good) Provision of manna ends after first passover after crossing the Jordan (Joshua 5:12)
- (Good) Judgment seat of Samuel for that area of Israel (1 Samuel 7:16)
- (Bad) Saul anointed king over all of Israel – this is bad because God did not offer a king to Israel. The Israelites desired a king and God agreed to their request with some warnings (1 Samuel 12)
- (Bad) Saul and Israel offer sacrifice to the Lord, but not according to the instruction of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:4-15)
- (Bad) Saul is rejected as king of Israel for not following the instruction of God through Samuel regarding how to defeat and destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15)
- (Bad) Denounced by the eighth-century prophets as the site of a national sanctuary under royal patronage with a corrupt sacrificial cult (Hosea 4:15; 9:15; 12:11; Amos 4:4; 5:5; Micah 6:5)
Bethel – house of God
A number of significant things happened at Bethel.
- (Good) Named Bethel by Jacob as a result of his dream from the Lord. Jacob also constructed an altar there (Genesis 28:19; 35:1-7)
- (Bad) King Jeroboam (1st King of Northern Kingdom) setup a golden calf (1 Kings 12:26-33)
- (Bad) Established as a royal sanctuary sometime after Jereboam setup the golden calf and the latter times of the Northern Kingdom (Amos 7:12-13)
Bethaven – house of vanities (i.e. idols), house of iniquity
- The references to Bethaven appear to be a linguistic tool of communication. God is substituting Bethaven for Bethel. Hosea 10:5 refers to the calf of Bethaven, but the calf is in Bethel. Jeroboam setup two golden calves (one in Dan in the northern part of the Northern Kingdom and one in Bethel in the southern part of the Northern Kingdom).
- God is indicating that the location called “House of God” has become the location of idolatry and iniquity.
Summary & Analysis
In the Old Testament, there was only ONE right place to worship God. First it was a tent that moved around some and it became a permanent temple which was homed in Jerusalem. By the time of the divided kingdom, the ONE right place was the temple in Jerusalem.
Any other location for trying to worship God was not right even if the people tried to worship the right God (Yahweh) and/or the right way of worship (observing Moses’ commands given to him by God).
Bethel/Bethaven and Gilgal were the wrong place. The leadership of the Northern Kingdom was substituting incorrect locations for worshipping God. This means that even if they claimed they were worshipping the right God it still wasn’t okay from God’s point of view.
There was also the wrong kind of worship happening in these locations.
In summary, God expects the RIGHT worship to happen in the RIGHT place to the RIGHT God.
From a New Testament point of view, this is still very important. Jesus makes it clear when he speaks to the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus clarifies that worshipping the right God, the right way, and in the right place is a matter of spirit and truth. It has transitioned to a spiritual matter, but the principle remains the same.
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, that an hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for indeed the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.John 4:19–23 (LEB)
In summary, the situations related to Bethel/Bethaven and Gilgal are not an Old Testament only situation. They give us a model for understanding the importance of how things should function under the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant the matters of worshipping the right God, in the right way, and the right location are INVISIBLE, so it is hard to judge. However, this does not change the underlying principle of the kind of worship God is interested in from His people.
There are a number of verses which refer to Bethel/Bethaven and Gilgal. Take some time to read them and consider reading the surrounding context for each of these verses.
15 Even though you, O Israel, are playing the whore, do not let Judah become guilty; do not enter Gilgal, or go up to Beth-aven; and do not swear, “As Yahweh lives!”Hosea 4:15 (LEB)
- Some commentators believe the use of “Beth-aven” is a play on words by God who is referring to what the Northern Kingdom is doing in Beth-el. Beth-aven means “house of vanity; i.e. idols” whereas Bethel means “house of God”
- He is telling tm
15 Every evil of theirs began at Gilgal, so I began to hate them there; because of the evil of their deeds I will drive them out from my house. I will love them no more; all their officials are rebels.Hosea 9:15 (LEB)
- This is pointing back to the the appointment of Saul as a king over Israel. God did not desire for them to have an earthly king. He was enough for them as their God, but they wanted to be like the other nations. God concedes and gives them what they want, but this new class of leadership almost immediately goes bad.
11 If in Gilead there is evil, surely they will come to nothing. In Gilgal they sacrifice bulls, also their altars will be like stone heaps on furrows of the field.Hosea 12:11 (LEB)
- At a minimum, in Gilgal, they are making sacrifice of bulls in the wrong location (God prescribed Jerusalem). However, it is likely that even the type of bull sacrifice they were making was also incorrect.
5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble for the calf of Beth-aven. Indeed, his people will mourn for it, and his idolatrous priests will wail over it— over its glory because it has departed from it.Hosea 10:5 (LEB)
4 “Come to Bethel and transgress; to Gilgal and multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices in the morning and your tithes on the third day. 5 And bring a thank offering of leavened bread, and proclaim freewill offerings, pronounce them, for so you love to do, O people of Israel,” is the declaration of my Lord Yahweh. 6 “And I in turn gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities and lack of bread in all your places. Yet you did not return to me,” is the declaration of Yahweh. 7 “And I also withheld the rain from you when there were still three months to the harvest. And I would send rain on one city and send no rain on another city. One tract of land will be rained on, and the tract of land on which it does not rain will dry up. 8 So two or three cities wandered to one city to drink water and they were not satisfied, yet you did not return to me,” is the declaration of Yahweh. 9 “I struck you with blight and with mildew. Frequently the cutting locust devoured your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees, yet you did not return to me,” is the declaration of Yahweh.Amos 4:4–9 (LEB)
4 For thus says Yahweh to the house of Israel, “Seek me so that you may live.” 5 But do not seek Bethel or go to Gilgal or cross over to Beersheba, for Gilgal will certainly go into exile and Bethel will come to disaster.” 6 Seek Yahweh so that you may live, so that he will not break out like a fire against the house of Joseph! And it will devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.Amos 5:4–6 (LEB)