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Cords and Bands
Hosea 10:0 , Hosea 11:0
"In a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off" ( Hos 10:15 ).
There are various interpretations of this vivid passage. The one which is to be, in my judgment, preferred is that which regards the king of Israel in the light of one who has risen upon the troubles of his nation as the dawn rises upon the darkness. Hoshea was the last king of Israel. When the people hailed him on his accession they said in their hearts, This is he who shall bring liberty and joy and fame to Israel. They regarded him as a morning after a long weary night. They said, This same shall comfort us; he is a strong man and wise, and his heart is bound up with the fortunes of Israel, and he shall be the deliverer of the people. They were doomed to disappointment; the bright dawn perished, the light of hope went out the sky that was to have been filled with glory carried with it a sullen cloud. The king of Israel was cut off, he disappointed the people; whatever talents he had were not spent in the interests of his nation; whether incapable or false, he let fall the fortunes and destinies of his people. How many men there are who have disappointed their families! If we said, There are many men who have disappointed the world, the sentiment might be received with general applause it is one of those heroic deliverances which leave every person unharmed but we say, How many people there are who have disappointed their families! Then we come closely home to men; then we set up a process of self-examination, ending in a process of self-conviction and self-reprobation. See, however, if this be not true. The parents have said concerning the child, "This same shall comfort us," and he has failed to shed one beam of light on the kind old hearts. The parents have said, "This same shall be wise, honest, honourable, chivalrous, heroic; men shall know that he lives and shall bless the day of his birth," and suddenly the light has set, the promise has sunk in disappointment, and they who prophesied gracious things of the child are broken in heart. If what is called, atheistically, fate has anything to do with the disappointments which we inflict upon our kindred and our country, we must in some degree submit. We need not, however, be parties to the disappointment; we can be good if we cannot be great; we can be faithful if we cannot be brilliant; we can help a child if we cannot teach a king. The only thing we have to aim at in life is to win the recognition, "Well done, good and faithful servant," not Brilliant soldier, Splendid genius, Unprecedented statesman, but Good and faithful servant, making the best of everything, watching every opportunity, rising early to catch the light and to prevent the singing lark, to go before as if to seek out occasions of beautiful, unselfish, yea, self-sacrificing service. Blessed is he whose early promise comes to noble fruition, and blessed are they who own him as their child. Do not let us be discouraged because we cannot do great things. All good things are great; the moral is the eternal.
The Lord continues his lament over his chosen one, and puts his plaint into the tenderest form of expression:
"When Israel was a child, then I loved him" ( Hos 11:1 ).
The meaning is not, necessarily, when Israel was an infant, a child in mere years, but when Israel was a child in spirit, docile, simple of mind, sincere of purpose, true in worship. When Israel lifted his eyes heavenward and sought for me, then I stooped over him as a man might stoop over his child to lift him into his arms and press him closely to his heart. There is a unit of the individual; let us take care lest we rest there, and so miss the ever-enlarging revelation of the divine purpose in human history. There is not only a unit of the individual, there is a unit of the nation. Israel is here spoken of as if he were one man, a little child; though a million strong in population, yet there was in the million a unit. This is one aspect of divine providence. We must not regard nations as if they ceased to have status and responsibility, name and destiny before God. A nation is one; a world is one; the universe is one. What does God know of our little divisions and distributions into pluralities and relationships? The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof, and the sea is one, and all his creation is dear to him as an only child. So the nation may have a character. The Church is one, and has a reputation and an influence. So we come upon the divine handling of great occasions. The Lord is not fretted by details. All the details of his providence come out of and return to one great principle of redeeming Fatherhood. The locks are innumerable; the key is one, and it is in the Father's hand: let him hold it. Father in heaven, never cease to hold the key thyself with thine own right hand!
Sometimes the Lord condescends to tell what he has done for the world. When men forget him he must remind them of what they have seen and what has been done for them. Ingratitude has a short memory:
"I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them" ( Hos 11:3 ).
The picture is one that befits the life of the nursery. We have seen how a child is taught to walk; we have watched, partly with amusement, and partly with apprehension, early efforts at locomotion how unsteady the eye, how uncertain the action of the little limbs. Still the lesson was to be taught; it was the beginning of a career. It is easy to measure the first walk, but who can lay a line upon all we do which that first walk begins? Devious is the way of life; a thousand paths break away from the central road, and some adventurous spirits go down by-paths to get their first sight of the devil. God's complaint is that "they knew not that I healed them." We have given up in many instances the divine personality, the living, loving, redeeming Fatherhood of God; and with what are we now satisfied? With fine words, with pompous syllables, with the continuity of law. Many a man will accept the theory of the continuity of law as if he were accepting the simplest proposition. The continuity of law is as great a mystery as the continuity of God. Yet we are deceived by names. Law is abstract, law is impersonal, and is something to be talked about, but never to be seen; but personality means criticism, companionship, benediction, reproach, malediction, heaven, hell. Men do not like to be pressed upon so forcibly. Think of any man in full possession of his senses supposing that continuity of law is a simpler expression than the Fatherhood of God. We never saw God; we never saw law; we never saw anything. We might see more if we looked more closely; we might see further if we cleansed the lense through which we look, that lense the heart; and blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. They are sensitive, they are responsive; every ray of light tells upon them; every whispered word, though it has been millions of ages in coming from world to world, falls on them like a gospel, and they answer it with praise. We now put away the personality of God, and accept the law of development. The mystery is, that so many persons should imagine they have given up the complex for the simple, whereas they have simply stepped out of dawn into midnight, out of sunlight into nolight; they have needlessly created mysteries, and needlessly forgone the tenderest charms, companionships, and benedictions of life. "They knew not": there is moral obstinacy, denseness, stupidness; they did not know the divine touch. Had it been a rude touch, a violent seizure, they would have exclaimed and inquired about it; but who has soul enough to know a touch, a whispered word, a sign meant for the deepest recesses of the spirit? Who does not outbody God, outflesh him? What soul there is is so deeply buried in the flesh that men do not know God in the light of the morning, in the glory of the noonday, in the harvest that ripples like a golden sea in the autumn; they do not know God in the morning meal, in the nightly rest, in the wind that seems to be a spirit of pity when it blows around the shorn lamb.
"They did not know." Is there any word we dislike more in the family than the word "I forgot"? Can the heart forget? forget to open the window, to assist the child, to take a message, to speak kindly to the sick and the ailing and the feeble. Forgot! O blank heart, foolish, foolish mind! Yet we who are so justly irritated by human and social forgetfulness are charged in many a chapter of divine history with not knowing that the Lord has filled both our hands, and caused to flow before our dwelling-place a river of blessing; nay, more, we have been curious in our mental action, for we have suggested a thousand conjectures to get rid of God. This desire to thrust out the Lord is one of the clearest proofs of the real moral condition of mankind that we could have. The charge against Ephraim is the charge made against ourselves.
"I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love" ( Hos 11:4 ).
The figure is that of subjugating the heifer. Beasts were drawn with cords, it may have been with iron or chains; they were forced into servility; they were beaten and chastised into humiliation; they were made to obey the human will. The Lord represents himself as drawing his people with cords of a man, with bands of love; he will persuade them, he will lure them, he will reason with them, he will sit down and comfort them, he will gently lead his people into truth and righteousness and security. None can chastise like God; our God is a consuming fire; a whip of scorpions is nothing to the thong with which he could flagellate the human race if he pleased; but he will love man, come down to man, make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant that he may save man. Call this poetry it is poetry that touches the heart, that inflames the imagination, that satisfies the soul when the soul realises most truly its own personality, necessity, and destiny. The whole gospel scheme is a scheme of persuasion. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us"; herein is the mystery of love that man should die for his enemies. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be." Everywhere there are the cords of a man, the bands of love, the elements of persuasion, a wrestling, entreating, persuasive God. Regard it in what light we may, there is nothing to compare with it for ineffable tenderness, for the sacred unction that touches the heart when the heart most needs a friend.
"And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels" ( Hos 11:6 ).
The Lord takes the wise in their own craftiness; he allows men to work up their programmes, and bring them to a fine point; he permits builders to go so far up with their tower; he allows men to whet their swords, and to lift those weapons of war as if in defiance, but he will only allow them to take down the sword in such a way as to bring the gleaming point of it into their own heart The meaning of this passage is that the very opposite shall occur to that which the counsellors proposed. Men shall dig pits for others, and fall into them themselves; men shall build a gallows on which to hang their enemies, and they shall swing from the gallows-tree themselves, and none shall pity them as they perish in the air; the bad man shall plan his plot, and lo, when he would go home to watch the outcome of it, he cannot lift his feet: he made the snare, let him break it if he can. Here is the action of a mysterious power in life, that men are always made, when they oppose God, to do the very things they did not want to do; they will build a place in which they will be secure from the Lord God Almighty, and lo, they are obliged to see that very tower that was to have excluded the Eternal turned into a sanctuary for his adoration.
Another complaint is very graphically and tenderly expressed:
"And my people are bent to backsliding from me" ( Hos 11:7 ).
The figure is that of a man who seizes a crossbeam; holding to that beam with his hands, he swings from it; there is an oscillatory motion, but there is no progress; the hands clutch the crossbeam. So the Lord says, "My people are bent to backsliding from me"; they seem to be making progress, but are making none; the centre is always the same, the movement is pendular; it passes from point to point, but the points are always the same; the centre never changes: they are bent on iniquity, they are attached to lies. Who has not seen this very figure personalised in his own case? We have wanted to do two different things at the same time, and that miracle has lain beyond the possibility of our power; we have wanted to keep the Sabbath day, and do what we like on the day succeeding, and the days would not thus be yoked together by our evil hands; we have wanted to be nominal Christians and real downright atheists, and the Lord would not permit this infamous irony. My people are bent upon backsliding from me; they keep hold, and the body moves as if progress were being made; but I judge not by the oscillation, but by the clutching fingers, and these fingers are still laid upon things that are forbidden. What then will the Lord do? He will suddenly destroy these men; he will burn them with unquenchable fire; he will treat them as chaff is treated they shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace, and go up as smoke. Nay, hear the Lord, and say if that prophecy be true:
"How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together" ( Hos 11:8 ).
This is the voice of a pleader. Ephraim had done wrong, but the Lord said, He may still do right, and I will not give him up utterly. How shall I deliver thee, Israel, when I have set my love upon thee, and fixed mine expectation upon all thy progress? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? (two cities of the plain, salted with fire, devoured and poisoned with brimstone.) How shall I burn Ephraim? There are some things we do not want to burn; we hold them long over the fire before throwing them into the hungry flame; we say, Let us try once more, let us begin again? How shall I burn Ephraim? How shall I reduce Israel to ashes? How can I set fire to my only son to the prodigal that wounded me, to the life that disappointed me? Even yet the prodigal may come home. I have burned Sodom and Gomorrah; I have burned Admah and Zeboim; I have choked the plain with brimstone, but I cannot give up these hearts, though they grieve me every day. How shall I, how shall I, how can I? That is the voice of eternal love. God never willingly destroys. He is a God of salvation; he wants the worst to be saved; he wants none to be burned. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. The Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. Nothing would be easier for God than to burn up the universe; but to save it what does that require?
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Hosea 11". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20