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The Ministry of Sorrow
A wonderful book is this prophecy of Hosea [b.c. 800-725]. The man himself at once attracts our sympathy and regard by his personal sufferings. There is no teacher of divine truth to be compared for one moment for excellence so deep and great as trouble. You can learn but little in the schools. Information, except for temporary purposes, is worthless. Well-informed men, if they be nothing more, are oftentimes hindrances and discouragements to those who, not having had their advantages, are conscious of aspirations and possibilities which do not lie within the range of mere intelligence, and which cannot be satisfied or realised by any amount of information. A well-informed man may be a nuisance; his information may tend to the increase of his vanity; but when information is followed by a sanctified moral excellence it becomes valuable and helpful for educational and religious purposes. Hosea had an infinite sorrow at home; therefore he was so great and tender a teacher of divine truth. He read everything through his tears; hence the enlargement, the colour, the variety, the striking beauty of his visions. Men who have never been in the valley of the shadow of death may amuse us, delight us, cheer us, and in some subsidiary ways may help us; but sorrow only can enrich the voice. When the sorrow is home grief it assumes a tenderer quality; yea, there is on it a bloom such as can only be wrought by the ministry of the sun at midday.
Hosea had sorrow of the deepest kind. Gomer the daughter of Diblaim was the daughter of the devil. Hosea had no peace, no rest, no singing joy within the four corners of his own house. He lived in clouds; his life was a continual passage through a sea deeper than the Red Sea; if we may vary the figure, his wandering was in the wilderness, unblessed, cursed by the very spirit of desolation. He had children, but they had evil names; their very names were millstones round the prophet's neck. If one of them had a name historically and ideally beautiful, it was to be used for the expression of judgment and vengeance; for even Jezreel, so glorious geographically, was to be a very tragedy in the judgments which it introduced and exemplified. As for the others, one represented the vanished mercy of God, and the other represented the alienation of the people from God, and the alienation of God from the people. Sometimes when there is no joy between the adults of the house, there may be a kind of intermediate joy in consequence of the presence of the children; they will laugh and say childish things, and will touch some vein of humour or fancy; they who look sourly at one another, and with the bitterness of distrust, may be melted into sympathy because of the miracle wrought by infantile genius. It was not so in the house of Hosea. A common sorrow like an unbroken cloud rested upon the house and upon its weary life. This man will do us good then.
Only sorrow should read some parts of the Bible, because only sorrow could have written them. How many sing the words of poets they never understand! You cannot sing a man's music properly until you know the man himself; until you are familial with the genius of the musician; until, indeed, you have some acquaintance with his deepest experiences. Notes are more than notes. A fool can be taught the staff; but who can be one with the musician, live with him, in the sanctuary of his genius, in all the variety of his experience; who can be wild with his madness, sober with his gravity, sullen with his melancholy, and joyous to rioting and trumpeting and rapture with his ineffable gladness? Then we may begin to sing something of what he has written. But the great psalmists of the age are not to be interpreted by frivolous children; they can only be interpreted, rendered, and expressed by those who have been comrades of their sorrow and companions of their joy.
Hosea will have a tone of his own; he will talk like nobody else; he will be an eccentric, peculiar individual; he will begin when he pleases, and he will take a circuit marked out for him by an invisible guide; but now and again he will come down to the road we travel, and will present us with flowers and fruits, and will say little sweet sentences to us that shall be as angels, covered with light, and tremulous with music. The sorrow of Hosea was symbolic. The Lord meant it to be so. All sorrow, as well as all joy, is meant to be typical. Hosea's cloud was not meant for his own house alone; he was to hear voices in that cloud which he was to repeat to all Israel, and all Judah, and all time. We divest the little books of the Bible and the great books of all their noblest meaning by dwarfing them into local pamphlets, tracts which referred only to the passing day, with its darting showers and glancing sunbeams and variety of nothingness. Whoso has sorrow is meant to be a teacher; whoso has joy is meant to be a gospeller, an evangelist, a good-news-man. You have no right to the exclusive use of your own sorrow; you weep that you may shed tears with the common trouble of the world. Men are not to be laughed out of their losses, their gains, their troubles, and the clouds that overshadow and overweight them; they will know the voice of comradeship; they will say instantly: This is the language of truest experience and richest friendship; the man who speaks to me now speaks from a great height; he is eminent, if not in the manner of his words, in their spirit and accent and emphasis. You have no right to the exclusive proprietorship of your own household joys. They were meant to make the people in the other house as glad as you are. You cannot drink that goblet of joy, and then dry your lips as if nothing had happened; what you have imbibed of gladness should be an inspiration to all who come within your influence. Weep with them that weep; rejoice with them that do rejoice; enter into the common fellowship of the world, and make your contribution ungrudgingly and lavishly and eagerly, as if you had been waiting for the opportunity.
Sorrow should only be silent for a time; by-and-by it should find all its words, refine, enlarge and dignify them, and pass them on as messages, bright as gospels, rich as the oldest wine of heaven's infinite vineyard. Thus the Bible maintains its supremacy. At noon of summer's longest day we do not ask for the Bible; the open air is enough, the green leaves, and the singing birds, and the blushing flowers, and the garden that seems to multiply itself until it occupies the whole earth these are quite enough for us; but when the company breaks up, and the leaves fall and the birds begin to go elsewhere for they, poor little faithless ones, follow the sun, they do not follow men; they never say, Here is a little cluster of men gathered in garden party, let us sing to them; not they, they follow the light, and when the birds have gone and the flowers are dead and the garden has withdrawn, then we want comfort, cheer, hospitality, stimulus. Where can we find all these as in the divine old book? It is because it speaks to men in their deepest experience that it cannot be deposed from its primacy of spiritual influence. It knows us; it searches us through and through; it has the noblest words for our sorrow, the purest music for our joy, and all the notes between it can utter with a precision and exquisiteness impossible to all other books. Hosea would, then, in a sense, share his sorrow. But for his own sorrow he never could have understood God's grief. Again and again God asks us to look at him through ourselves: "Like as a father... so the Lord": that is the key of the Bible; that is the key of Providence; that is the key of the Cross: omit that basis line from your theology, and your theology is a cloud without water; only a shadow, dark, spectral, barren, promising much and giving nothing. You could never understand God's love until you found that your own child had stabbed you to the heart; you never knew the meaning of sorrow as it is experienced in heaven until you looked round and found your disappointed eyes confronted by emptiness. When it was told you that the vacant chair would not be filled that day because the prodigal had gone, then you read the Bible as no lettered priest or scribe ever read it. You knew nothing of life until you had been desolated by death. When there were only two of you in the house, and one lay dead and speechless, then you knew what the critics could never tell you of Bible truth, divine presence, and divine purpose; then you saw beyond the veil, and there stole into your soul a courage that loved the very image of death; there came into your spirit an inspiration that made death itself a silent friend.
So the Lord will put Hosea to school; and so he will put all his prophets and apostles through their education. Happy they who come up out of household trouble, public disappointment, and social criticism, and loss and desolation, to pray larger prayers, and offer to those who are outside a larger hospitality of love and rest. If sorrow make us narrower in thought and purpose, then sorrow has failed to convey God's meaning to the soul. Sorrow should open the heart-door, so that no man can shut it, that all may enter in who need comfort and quietness, and peace and hope.
Yet the Lord cannot be angry all day. He breaks down like a woman; he thunders in terrible judgment, and at the end of the thunder he pronounces the benediction. Hosea is full of but's and yet's and therefore's, which the critics say ought to be nevertheless's; but after all these words there come gospels broad as dawning day, dewy as the eyelids of the morning. After such words as the Lord puts into the mouth of the prophet you would say a gospel was impossible; yet as the rippling plough goes before the sowing hand, so God's judgment goes before God's mercy, God's desolations prepare the way for God's benefactions. When I am weak, then am I strong. After poverty shall come wealth; after well-borne disappointment shall come sunny contentment, serenest tranquillity and peace: "But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them." We knew he would break down. Jonah knew it, and was angry. The Lord said, Art thou angry because I have had compassion upon that great city? And Jonah said, I am. The Lord said, Doest thou well to be angry? And Jonah said, I do because Jonah was little, incomplete, imperfect, infirm in temper, wanting not only in imagination, but in the true compassion which would sacrifice all heaven if by doing so one poor lost child could be brought home again. Prophets like their own prophecies to be fulfilled. Jonah did not like to be made a fool of; it was very important that Jonah, having gone up and down the streets of Nineveh, saying, "In forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown," should be looked upon in the evening of the last day as a very respectable person. He studied the dignity of the ministry. Jonah's respectability was infinitely greater than Nineveh's salvation. So he was petulant and furious and wholly absurd.
How will the Lord carry out his purpose of mercy? Already he begins to be spiritual in his method of salvation "not by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen." This is a point in history. All outward, visible, material salvations are driven away; a grand supersession of these is now to take place. For a long time men could understand no salvation but that which was physical. When they heard that ten thousand horses were coming down the hill they began to feel, as it were, safe; when some quick-eared sufferer caught the first blast of the trumpet of an approaching host they who were in prison began to sing, because they were made perfectly sure that their salvation was at hand. There came a time in the history of the world, as given in the development of the Bible, when God dispensed with all manner of mechanical auxiliaries, as bow and sword and battle, and horses and horsemen. God hath chosen the foolish things and the weak things and the non-existent things that he may work out all his glorious purpose. Without a single horseman on the field he will open the gate and deliver the prisoner, and give joy to those who have only fed on tears and bread of affliction. The Lord delighteth not in the legs of a man; the Lord is not dependent upon the strength of a horse, though his neck be clothed with thunder, and his nostrils be scarlet with energy. The Lord delivers spiritually; he comes invisibly; a thousand angels start on their journey when he bids them arise and depart, and save those who are in extremity. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea." Amid all the seas, oceans on oceans piled, and thunder on thunder heaped, there is a river, a little silver stream, that maketh glad the City of God: the river shall be more useful than the sea, the stream shall have in it more water than the Atlantic; there shall be a deeper calm amid the apparently little inheritance which God gives to his people than there is in all the plentifulness of antiquity.
Then we come upon one of Hosea's yets. Lo ruhamah had been weaned, Lo-ammi had been born, and it seemed as if the night continued in all its wild and stormy darkness; but in Hos 1:10 we have "Yet." What weaving is this, of storm and peace, winter and summer, wilderness and paradise! what wondrous weaving have we here! Oh, that flying busy shuttle! What is it doing? now a judgment, and now a hymn of peace. What is to come of it all? How will the day end?
"Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God" ( Hos 1:10 ).
What a chapter! How like an April day, beginning in anger, in swift darting showers, every drop a spear point; and ending in brightest June, in such a wealth of light, in such an infinity of peace. This may be an apocalypse, a hint. This may come true of us. We have had sorrow, difficulty, toil, travail, misery: who can say that at eventide there shall not be light, and in the calm sunset we shall not forget the battle of early day?
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Hosea 1". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19