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Joined To Idols
The statement we have just been considering (that Israel should abide many days without an image or teraphim), seems all the more remarkable when we remember the gross idolatry into which they had fallen at the time when Hosea was divinely called to declare the mind of Jehovah regarding their state. Idolatry was then the characteristic condition; and from it, as from a parent-stem, sprang all the other evils for which the prophet was obliged to rebuke them.
Because truth had departed, and with it, mercy and all knowledge of God, Jehovah had a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. His holy eye beheld only swearing, lying, murder, theft, and adultery, in place of holiness and fidelity to Himself. The covenant entered into at Sinai had been broken in every particular. Not one of the ten words remained inviolate on their part. For all this He must set His face against them in His righteous government, as He had warned them He would, through the lips of the law-giver himself (vers. 1-3).
So utterly fallen and wretched were they that none was fit to reprove another. All were alike sharers in the common guilt. The leaven of idolatry openly introduced in the wilderness, though secretly carried from Egypt and even from beyond the Euphrates (Joshua 24:2), had been working unjudged until they were utterly perverted; -so true is it that “evil communications corrupt good manners.” They had become like those who “strive with the priest:” that is, they persistently refused to subject themselves when the mind of God was made known (ver. 4).
The lesson for us is a solemn one. Another has well said that evil never dies of old age. Sin unjudged among the people of God becomes like a fretting leprosy or a cancerous sore, ever working and extending its ramifications till the whole mass becomes denied.
With Israel it was not ignorance that led to their downfall in the first place; though, necessarily, light refused resulted in darkness. They were like those who fall in the day, even their prophets doing likewise. Hence they must be cut off (ver. 5).
“My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge.” Such was Jehovah’s lament. But the lack of knowledge was the certain result of their own refusal to hearken. He had pressed His truth upon them, but they would have none of it. Therefore He adds, “Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to Me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (ver. 6). Light rejected results in deeper darkness than ever, and involves the offender in sore trouble, and rejection from God.
Often in the history of the Church has a similar state existed to what we have here, and always the issue is the same. When in the 16th century God raised up Luther to sound, with clarion voice, the battle-cry of the Reformation, “The just shall live by faith!” the mass of the professing Church had no ear for the message, and sank into deeper superstition and folly. The Wesleys and their co-laborers, later, were ordained of God to arouse the lifeless profession of their day with a call to repentance, but the majority refused to hearken, and formalism became more formal and ritualism gained its harvest of lost souls.
When at the beginning of the last century the truths of the unity of the Body of Christ and the presence of the Holy Ghost were recovered, the apostles of what were incorrectly called, “The new doctrines,” were ridiculed, abused and reproached. As a result, Christendom is rapidly going into apostasy, and the presence of the Holy Ghost is unknown in many places. The Scriptures are rejected as God’s revelation and put on a par with human writings, while pride and arrogance are the order of the day. The Lord’s words are having a solemn and awful fulfilment, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23).
Is the reader one to whom light has come, which you are afraid or unwilling to obey? Remember that when you act in accordance with the mind of God as made known to you through His Word, your path shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. On the other hand, revealed truth wilfully ignored, or still worse, refused, has a hardening effect upon the conscience. We have known of persons who had learned from Scripture certain truths which, if acted upon, would have delivered them from worldly ways and worldly religious associations, and given them liberty to go forth unto the rejected One, bearing His reproach. They hesitated because of possible worldly loss, or of probable family difficulties. Seeking an easier path to that marked out in the Book, they argued down their consciences and quenched the Spirit of God. Behold the sad result! Bereft of spiritual power, shorn of their strength, the truths they once enjoyed have become as a dead letter to them; their consciences are calloused and their testimony for God is over. In vain they may talk of, and endeavor to make sacrifices on other lines, but this will not do for Him who has said, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
Israel’s solemn history may well be a warning to us of the dire consequences of resisting the truth, “As they were increased, so they sinned against Me: therefore will I change their glory into shame” (ver. 7). Prosperity had not turned their hearts to Him, but the contrary, so He must deal with them according to their deserts. Delighting in their iniquity and ignoring God’s word, He would give them up to destruction; and priest and people should suffer together. In their path of self-pleasing they should learn to their cost that there is nothing satisfying apart from going on with Him. Their unholy ways would but “take away the heart,” and they should stumble and fall “because they have left off to take heed to the Lord” (vers. 8-11).
They were ready to ask counsel of their idols, but were too haughty and self-sufficient to turn to Him to whom they owed every blessing! It has often been noticed that when people get away from God they can be most punctilious about self-imposed rites and superstitious observances, while counting it a hardship to obey the voice of the Lord. The same is true as to credulity and faith. He who finds it difficult to trust the simplest statement of the Holy Scriptures can accept with amazing ease the most remarkable hypotheses and notions of unbelieving theorists. So was it with Israel at this time. Nothing that their false gods were supposed to demand was too much for them; but the law of Jehovah they could not away with; “Therefore,” said He against whom they had so openly transgressed, “the people that doth not understand shall fall” (vers. 12-14). These things are among those “written for our admonition.” Oh, for grace to learn and act accordingly. It was this the prophet sought to press on Judah. “Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend!” (ver. 15). But, alas, later on we find the southern kingdom in like apostasy to the northern.
Because Israel had been given over to sliding back, “like a backsliding heifer,” God would, as it were, give them their way. They should be as a lamb feeding in a large place, left free to go all lengths, but with certain judgment coming: for though they thought they were pleasing themselves, they were like lambs fattening for the slaughter. The word had gone forth, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone!” (vers. 16, 17).
“Joined to idols: let him alone!” Nothing can be more solemn than this. It is as though God had exhausted every possible means for their recovery, save one, and that one the giving them up to learn, by bitter experience, what they would not take to heart in any other way. In the New Testament it answers to being “delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (See 1 Corinthians 5:0.) When a soul proves utterly stubborn and wilful, God may at times say of him as of Israel, “he is joined to his idols.” Further reproof or brotherly correction is useless. Let him severely alone, till he learns in Satan’s sieve how far he has got from God and how low he has fallen. Observe: it is only after the failure of all other means to recover the wanderer that God so deals with souls. It was when His patience had come to an end, as it were, that He gave up Ephraim. From the first He had borne with them, ministered to them, chastened, entreated, and disciplined them; but all had been in vain. They were set on having their own way. At last, because He loved them too much to finally give them up forever, He says, “Let them alone.” Now they are where they shall learn by sad experience the full result of departure in heart from Himself. They should be given up to their own hearts’ lusts till they should “be ashamed because of their sacrifices” (vers. 18, 19).
How deep the love that breathes through all this unhappy description. How tender the grace that persisted to the end in seeking the restoration of those so worthless and so undeserving!
And for us too, it is precious to know that His grace is unchanging; and if saved by that precious blood of Christ, we are the objects of that
“Faithful and forbearing love
That never turns aside.”
Surely, nothing should have so powerful an effect upon our ways, as the fact that our waywardness has not, cannot, quench His love. No change in us results in any corresponding change in Him. Therefore we are bidden, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” It is not to grieve Him away, as people often mistakenly insist it means, for then the words would be in the nature of a threat, instead of the exhortation to every child of God, which comes home to us with the force of so tender an entreaty. How base the soul who would take advantage of love so immeasurable to follow its own bent, and thus do despite to the Spirit of grace!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Hosea 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24