Squinting Through The Stereogram

Beard for book chaptersLast night I was invited to give a devotional for the Northstar Church Network board, and it was really great to meet and connect with so many leaders there.  Below are the comments that I shared with them from my book, Lead: Leadership Lessons from the (Not So) Minor Prophets.  I hope it challenges you today as well!  

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A stereogram is a 3D image that is hidden within another picture.  You look at them and stare and stare and stare, and hopefully, eventually, your eyes adjust and all of a sudden you see it!  It was not clear before, but with more and more focus, the picture shows through.

I believe that the most neglected books in all the Bible are those known as the minor prophets.  People read them and read them, but many times walk away more confused than when they began.  One of my passions has been to help people see them as they really are – incredible repositories of wisdom, inspiration, and truth.

The prophets lived in a world very different than hours – their culture is foreign to us, their eastern mindset can be very confusing to our western minds, and they spoke a language that’s very different than ours.  They lived in a time and place, though, that was just as real as ours, and by understanding them in their culture and in their time, we can see through the cultural and historical stereogram and learn so much that I believe God wants to teach us through them.

Tonight I want to look at just two verses from one of these not so minor prophets – Hosea.

Have you ever done something stupid and wrong? Have you been forgiven of it but still find it hard to forget, to put it out of your mind? I know I have and do, and I don’t think I’m alone.  Individuals, churches, and organizations tend to have long memories of the past and of our failures. And through Hosea, God speaks to that very situation.

I want to focus on two verses in particular in chapter two, verses fourteen and fifteen:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achora door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” (NIV)

Up to this point, God’s been dealing with the failures of His people and talking about the judgment that He is pronouncing on them.  But in this section of chapter 2, God begins to move from judgment to restoration. We begin to hear grace notes amidst the chords of judgment and failure.  God says “I will give her back her vineyards,” – that’s a reversal of the judgment declared in 2:12. But then Hosea mentions the Valley of Achor. What is that about?

The Valley of Achor is tied to the events of Joshua 7. When the people of Israel, under Joshua’s leadership, began to move into the Promised Land, they first encountered Jericho. God fought for them, and the city was destroyed. The people were given very specific instructions not to claim any of the plunder of Jericho for themselves, but instead to devote it all to destruction as an act of worship and gratitude to God for what He had done. All the people obeyed except one, a man named Achan. Achan took some of the plunder for his own, unbeknownst to any of the other people of Israel, and he hid it under his tent.

Next they came to the city of Ai, and the people were utterly confident. Some of the men told Joshua that it wouldn’t even take the whole army to go out this time. Joshua agreed and sent out a smaller contingent, but instead of victory, the people were routed! What happened?

Joshua went in prayer to God, asking Him that very thing. And God responded by telling Joshua what had been done; someone had taken some of the plunder of Jericho, thus bringing sin into the camp. God takes sin seriously.

Joshua immediately went out, sought out who had done this thing, and found Achan out. When Joshua confronted him, Achan confessed to taking a robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels and hiding them under his tent. Joshua sent someone to get the plunder, and it was brought back and laid out before all the people and God.

Joshua then commanded that everything that belonged to Achan and his family was to be all put into one big area, and then he and all of his family and possessions were to be stoned, burned, and then covered over with a large pile of rocks. That place became known, even hundreds and hundreds of years later in the days of Hosea, as the Valley of Achor, which means valley of trouble, because of the trouble that Achan brought on the people of Israel in that place.  It was a place of failure.

Why would Hosea mention that here?

Because God is a God who turns failure into hope.

God said through Hosea: “I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.” What they saw as a place of shame and failure, God would redeem and make into a door of hope through which they could walk into a new day. They had a long memory of failure associated with the name Achor. God would take that memory and transform it into a name associated with hope.

Too often, our memory of past mistakes and failures can cause us to freeze, to stop moving forward into what God calls us to.  We forget that we serve the God who made the Valley of Achor into a door of hope, where the future is not tied to the past and hope can be seen in front of us.

My encouragement to you from this not so minor prophet is this – remember that God is a God who can turn failure into hope.  He spoke of it through Hosea for the people of Israel, and He hasn’t changed.  As you lead, remember that failure doesn’t have to be final; God can redeem our worst moments and our worst mistakes.  He is in the business of changing stories, in the days of the not so minor prophets and in our day too.