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The Days Of Visitation
Even an utter worldling is relatively happy as compared with a saint of God away in heart from Him whose child he is. This is what the opening verse emphasizes. “Rejoice not, O Israel, for joy, as other people: for thou hast gone a whoring from thy God.” Nations who had never known the Lord might go on with a measure of rejoicing, in their ignorance and superstition; but for Israel, that could not be. Having once become the object of His loving-kindness, to whom He had revealed Himself as the one true and living God, they could never be happy in their sin again.
The very recollections of past joys, of hours and days when the soul delighted in God and found precious food in His Word, but make all the more cheerless the restless, unhappy experiences of the backslider in heart as he becomes filled with his own devices. And what a mercy to us that it is so! How grateful we may well be to our God and Father that we cannot be in the enjoyment of true peace and genuine happiness while out of communion with Him to whom we are indebted for every good we have.
It is true the soul away from Him may find a certain excitement and pleasurable exhilaration in the follies of earth; but they are only the “pleasures of sin for a season,” and not to be compared to those precious realities which were before the soul of the psalmist when he sang, “At Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore!”
And so of fallen Israel, we read that the floor and the winepress should not satisfy them, and the new wine should fail. Nor should they dwell in the Lord’s house, but return to Egypt, and feed on the unclean in Assyria. Having despised the service of the Lord, they should be cut off from His temple, and should not eat of His sacrifices (vers. 1-4).
Then he presses home the question, “What will ye do in the solemn day, and in the day of the feast of the Lord?” when, scattered among the heathen, they thought of past seasons of blessing, and remembered that once more a solemn feast-day had come round, but they were cut off from its privileges; what then would they do, and how would they be able to satisfy their souls?
How seldom do the people of God think of these things as they should! Lured on by the world, fired by unholy ambition and stimulated by pride, believers often allow themselves to be drawn away from the simplicity that is in Christ! Soon they who once took sweet counsel together as they wended their way to the gathering-place of those who loved their Saviour and the truth of God, are widely sundered. Souls who once were filled with sweet contemplations as they sat at the table of the Lord, remembering His love to us in His sufferings unto death, are now drifting away in darkness. What must be the feelings of such when, on the Lord’s Day, they call to mind, amid scenes of worldly religiousness, or of irreligious worldliness, the sacred seasons once spent before the Lord with holy joy! To remember that, at the very hour when they are engaged in something which cannot have the Lord’s approbation, saints once well known and loved are communing one with another, and with Himself, at the feast His loving heart led Him to institute to remind us of Him when He had passed from human sight-surely in such tender recollections there must be mingled a grief and a remorse not easily overcome!
Such, in their measure, should be the nature of Israel’s memories as the appointed seasons for the passover, the solemn atonement-day, or the gladsome feast of tabernacles, came round; and they were scattered among strangers, and unable to participate in privileges once held so lightly. Gone from their land, a spoil to Egypt (typical of that world from which the believer has once been delivered), their precious things would be a prey to their enemies (“their silver shall be desired,” see margin), and they themselves wounded by thorns and nettles-pierced through with many sorrows (ver. 6). What a desolate, yet graphic, picture of that which every backslidden soul must prove!
And in all this they would be but reaping as they had sown. They had said (and in solemn irony they are reminded of it), “The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad!” So they had tried to quiet their consciences because of the multitude of their iniquities. Now, when all these things would have come to pass, they should know that “the days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come” (ver. 7).
The watchman of Ephraim, who had sought to turn them from their evil way, was with God. But they had said, “The prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways,” because of their hatred against the house of his God11 (ver. 8). So easy is it to denounce one who faithfully rebukes sin, and strives to hinder declension in the soul. The leaven of Gibeah’s wickedness (the record of which we have in the last chapters of the book of Judges) was still at work among them after these centuries. Sin never dies a natural death; it must be thoroughly judged. Like leaven, it is stopped by fire-by “judgment,” self-judgment or God’s judgment; for sin ever works on until it is judged. When indulged in by an individual, or permitted in a company, it continues working, though often imperceptibly, until it is judged, either in oneself, or by God’s people, or by God Himself. This is the solemn lesson here inculcated. Doubtless those addressed here had forgotten all about the days of Gibeah, or might have pleaded that the trouble at Gibeah happened centuries before they were born, and it was therefore useless to concern themselves about it. But God’s holy eye saw deeper than this. He saw that the self-will and corruption manifested at Gibeah were still rampant among them, and called for humiliation and self-judgment before His face. This they ignored. Therefore He must visit them and remember their sins (vers. 8 and 9).
All this is intensely solemn, and may well exercise us in the present season of the Church’s deep failure and ruin. Are we not a part of that house of God set up in responsibility upon earth? Do we bear on our hearts the sense of God’s dishonor in that house, of which we form a part? May God give grace to both reader and writer to let the truth of it penetrate the heart and arouse the conscience; thus leading to a godly discernment as to what is opposed to the holiness that becometh His house, and self-judgment because of the part one has taken in helping on what is not of Himself. It is easy to judge others. We are called upon to judge ourselves. But true self-judgment will lead one to go back over the path of declension trodden by the people of the Lord with whom I am united in blessing and responsibility. This involves a quickened conscience, and is the very opposite to ecclesiastical pretension and spiritual pride.
In verse 10 God lingers lovingly over the early history of His people, when He found Israel like grapes in the wilderness-precious fruit for Himself in a dry and thirsty land. But, alas, how soon did that early freshness disappear! It was not long till “they went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto that shame.” Balaam’s wretched counsel was only too literally followed when he “taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block” before the separated nation. The daughters of Moab effected what all the enchantments of the false prophets could not do; “and their abominations were accordingly as they loved.” Let the reader carefully study the whole account in Numbers 25:0, and 31:16, compared with Revelation 2:14.
From the very beginning Ephraim had proven himself untrustworthy. Therefore his glory should fly away like a bird, and they should be bereaved till none were left. “Yea,” said God, “woe also to them when I depart from them” (vers. 11, 12).
It should ever be borne in mind that the Spirit of adoption-the indwelling Spirit-who seals all true believers in the present dispensation of grace, will never depart from those whom God thus marks as His own-much as they may fail: but there is what evidently answers to it; namely, the Holy Spirit grieved, communion interrupted, and the Lord ceases to own one as a testimony for Himself when waywardness becomes characteristic.
Ephraim, once “planted in a pleasant place,” could no longer be blessed with children. “Fruit-fulness” is what the name Ephraim signified. But they should become fruitless and barren; or if children were born they would only be appointed to death (vers. 13, 14). Communion with God and fruit for God go together. Where the first is lacking, the desired result will be absent likewise.
Gilgal, once the place where the reproach of Egypt was rolled away, and the witness to their sanctification to the Holy One of Israel, was now but a testimony to their wickedness. Therefore He whom they had so dishonored would drive them from His house, and disown them, because of their revolt from Himself. When He says “I will love them no more,” it is not that His heart or purposes had changed, but He would not openly interfere for them. He would give them up to their enemies as One who, so far as they could see, loved them no longer (ver. 15).
Thus, as above noted, Ephraim should belie his name. Smitten in chastisement, “they shall bear no fruit;” and even if they brought forth, His hand would be against them for destruction. In this way would God vindicate His holiness, casting them out of His sight, that they might become wanderers among the nations (vers. 16, 17). Moses had warned them of this from the beginning; but they had given no heed to what should have been ever before them if they had had eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. Therefore they must learn by discipline, because they had despised the word of the Lord. Are we, with so much greater light, any wiser than they? Let us search ourselves before Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and answer as in His own holy presence.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Hosea 9". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter