Stumbling and Slackening

Stumbling Christians

Shallow preaching produces stumbling leaders and followers. The prophet Hosea wrote, “The prophets stumble with you” (Hos. 4:5, NIV). Then he affirmed the  destruction of people for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6).

The stumbling of prophets refers to the failure of spiritual leaders to lead God’s people towards “faithfulness or steadfast love” and “the knowledge of God” (Hos. 4:1, 6, ESV). The prophets stumble. They fail to stand up for God. They do not preach and live the Word. The perfect tense speaks of action as perfective. This means that the writer views this act of stumbling as a whole event. They “shall stumble” (Hosea 4:5, NKJV).

Malachi wrote, “You have caused many to stumble by your instruction” (Mal. 2:8, RSV). The context of Hosea gives us another reason. The people stumble, not just by false instruction, but also by the lack of true instruction (Hos. 4:6). The prophets failed to bring the people back to the fear of God. Instead of calling people out of sin, they became part of it. Thus, they stumbled with them. The spiritual state of the people closely connects with the spiritual condition of their prophets. Where you find followers who lack the knowledge of God, there you find leaders who also lack it.

In the same breath, Hosea also prophesies God’s judgment for both priests and people. He wrote, “Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your  children” (Hos. 4:6, NIV). Here, “priests” refer to Israel as God’s priests to the  nations (Ex. 19:6). They have willfully rejected God’s law. Their prophets have failed to teach and obey the knowledge of God. They committed idolatry with the people. They tolerated and participated in people’s sins (Hos. 4:6-19).

Hosea then continued, “It will be, like people, like priest; And I will punish them for their ways, and will repay them for their deeds” (Hos. 4:9, WEB). Sadly, followers usually mirror the behavior of their leaders. Indeed, it will be—like priests, like people. Preachers therefore face a heavy responsibility (James 3:1). They are to know, obey, preach, and model the knowledge of God. Whether they do it or not, their followers become like them.

Slackening of Values

Finally, shallow preaching will bring about a slackening of values. Without the knowledge and fear of God, people will do their own thing. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). The old English word, “vision,”(Heb., hazon) denotes “a revelation”87 or “disclosure from God.”88 The term “perish” (Hebrew, para) in the Niphal stem denotes, “to let loose,” or “lacks restraint.”89 Thus, a more precise translation is, “cast off restraint” (NKJV), “unrestrained” (NASB), or “undisciplined/get out of hand.”90

The Hebrew verb form for “undisciplined” is Niphal imperfect.91 The imperfect tense indicates unfinished and continuous action.92 This means that where there is no revelation of God’s Word, the people are now undisciplined and will continue to be unrestrained.

It is also simple passive.93 The verb performs upon the subject. Thus, the people are unrestrained. Their moral compass is destroyed. Their spiritual discipline is removed. They are letting go of their moral values. They are allowing depravity to spread. What causes this behavior? The text says that it is the lack of knowing and obeying the revelation of God.

Proverbs 29:18 continues, “But blessed is the man who keeps the law” (NIV). There is a contrast here. The first part of the verse tells of “revelation.” The second part mentions the “law.” The former states, “no revelation.” The latter speaks of “keeping the law.” The previous part predicts “destruction.” The subsequent part pronounces “blessedness.” Thus, for those who do not know and follow God’s revelation, they will continue to be unrestrained. Yet for those who know and keep His law, they will be blessed. The reason for a lack of revelation can either be ignorance of God’s Word or willful disobedience to it.

The Bible uses the same Hebrew word to describe the loose behavior of the Israelites when they made the golden calf. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he “saw that the people were out of control [para]” (Ex. 32:25, NASB). They were “broken loose” (ASV), “unrestrained” (NKJV), and “running wild” (NIV). According to Walter C. Kaiser Jr., the people “were ‘running wild’ casting off all restraint as they shed their clothes and went into religious prostitution around the golden calf, much to the horror of Moses.”94 Some people are unrestrained out of ignorance. In the case of the Israelites, however, they willfully cast off restraint, despite knowing God’s Word against idolatry (Ex. 32:7-10).

Thus, with no revelation of God’s Word through preaching, the people will break loose. Without this revelation, there can be no fear of God. The fear of God is the beginning of the knowledge of God (Prov. 1:7). Without the fear of God, there can be no knowledge of God (Prov. 2:5). Hence, without the knowledge of God, believers will expose themselves to various destructive teachings of the Devil. They will become unrestrained in their doctrine and behavior. They will run wild, doing their own thing.

When left to ourselves, we cannot become truly spiritually healthy, even with our high intelligence and academic degrees, programs, and culture.95 Only through a daily diet of God’s Word can we really live healthy, happy, and fulfilled lives. Thus, to neglect to preach the Word is to invite spiritual disease, disaster, and destruction on God’s people.

“Should not the shepherds feed the flock” (Ezek. 34:2, NASB)? God has called the preacher to help His people understand the Word, apply it, and live it (Neh. 8:7-8; 1 Tim. 4:6, 11; 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). He did not call the pastor just to smile, shake hands, stand up, and speak on Sundays. It is the solemn duty of the preacher to dig out the meaning of the text first (exegete). He is to describe (expound) and design the message (prepare) according to the text. He must then deliver (preach or proclaim) it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

_________

87 TWOT, Vol 1, s. v. “da’at” by Jack P. Lewis.
88 Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching, 18.
89 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew in Bible Windows CD. The word is in the Niphal stem.
90 TWOT, Vol 2, s. v. “para” by Victor P. Hamilton.
91 Groves et. al, Hebrew in Bible Windows CD.
92 Isidro, “Hebrew I,” 5, 18.
93 Ibid. The Niphal stem is simple passive.
94 Kaiser Jr., Preaching, 176.
95 Kaiser Jr., Preaching, 176.

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