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Hosea 6:1.] Contains an appeal addressed by Israelites one to another. Some, as spoken by the prophet to the exiled and smitten people.
Hosea 6:2. Two days.] A proverbial way of expressing the certainty of an event in the time specitied: primarily applied to the conversion of Is: in fulness only realized in the resurrection of Christ.
Hosea 6:3. Then] i.e. the consequence of following, hunting and zealous seeking after, would be knowledge in its practical results (ch. Hosea 4:16; Jeremiah 22:15-16). Going forth] Heb. rising, applied to the sun (Psalms 19:2-3; Genesis 19:23); setting forth transition from night to day; the dawn of salvation before the orbed glory of heaven (Isaiah 53:8; Isaiah 60:2). Prepared] Lit. fixed, certain as the morning, an established law of nature, a special appointment of God (Genesis 8:22). The rain] Reviving and refreshing blessings (Deuteronomy 32:2; Isaiah 55:10). The latter] Lit. the crop-rain which fell in the middle of March or April to ripen the grain for harvest. Former] Spring rain, which fell from middle of Oct. to middle of Dec. Rain generally, and these two specially, promised by God (Deuteronomy 11:14); great blessings, without which would happen the greatest calamity in Pal. The blessings of Messiah are compared to rain (Psalms 72:6; 2 Samuel 23:4).
NATIONAL AMENDMENT.—Hosea 6:1-3
Man’s miseries are often messengers of mercy. When mild measures did not move Israel, God tried severe. Vengeance came at length, and they were carried captives by a cruel people, brought to a penitent state of mind, and they resolve to return to God.
I. Return to God is a necessity. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” An intimate acquaintance and fellowship with God are a moral necessity. Man cries for God as Father, Friend, and Helper.
1. Man has capacity to turn to God and enjoy him. He has power to discern right and wrong; to recognize the character and appreciate the claims of God. We have reason, conscience, and a moral nature. Though fallen and sinful, we have not lost our religious cravings and necessities. “The notion of a God,” says Tillotson, “is so inseparable from human nature, that to obliterate the one you must destroy the other.” The word of God appeals to our helpless condition, and invites us to return to God. The grace and the Spirit of God are promised to aid us in returning. Our life and enjoyment consist in friendship with God. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee.”
2. Man lines in distance from God. Not a mere natural, but moral distance; an alienation of heart and life from God. In affection and purpose, in thought and deed, man is at variance with his Maker. To be absent from a friend is grief; to be without food and shelter is sad; but to be without God is the greatest infelicity. “Having no hope and without God in the world.”
3. Man suffers in distance from God. Sin wounds the spirit and brings judgments upon the life. It vexes and enslaves; torments the conscience, and exposes to condemnation and death. Like Ezekiel’s roll, within and without it has written, “Lamentation and mourning and woe.” From its guilt springs fear; shame from its defilement; and destruction from its punishment. “It is that which puts thee out of the possession and enjoyment of thyself, which doth alienate and separate thee from God, the fountain of bliss and happiness, which provokes him to be thine enemy, and lays thee open every moment to the fierce revenge of his justice” Man has felt his distance and his misery, but could not heal his diseases and restore himself to God. Bleeding and burdened, the soul longs for restoration to its centre. “Oh that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat!”
II. Return to God is encouraged. “Come, and let us return,” says the prophet.
1. Mercy is held out. “He will heal us” and “he will bind us up.” The Assyrian could not heal, but they are persuaded that God who had smitten them could. He was Israel’s physician in the time of Moses, and preserved them from the diseases of Egypt, the death of the first-born, and the destruction which overtook Pharaoh. No sickness baffles his skill. He gives efficacy to medicine for the body, and his grace renews and sanctifies the soul. As Christ drove out demons and diseases from men, so God heals all our infirmities of body, mind, and heart, until sin is eradicated, and “the inhabitants shall no more say, I am sick.”
2. The certainty of this merry is relied upon. “After two days will he revive us.” The time is short, but God who promises will fulfil the promise. None need hesitate or despair of God’s mercy. It is offered to all, and may be received with faith. A firm persuasion of mercy will draw the penitent to God; without this he would despair or go from him. But the torn shall be healed, the dead quickened, and the humble and contrite received. “We shall live in his sight.” His face will no longer be turned away in displeasure nor anger. The returning sinner, who seeks his face, shall know God’s will, feel his love, and rejoice in the light of his countenance. “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.”
III. Return to God should be urged as a social duty. “Come, and let us return.” We should not only seek God ourselves, but try to induce others; in times of sorrow urge repentance, and of revival incite to duty. The sympathy of numbers is great. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” In business and common themes men unite and take counsel; should not Christians aid and mutually cheer each other? Sin has separated men or debases their intercourse; but religion unites them in love and confidence. Jewish doctors say that men are to go in haste and with speed together to the synagogue, but return very leisurely. So we should “walk in company,” and with enthusiasm to God, but never forsake him. This duty is urged for many reasons.
1. All have need to be stirred up. The careless and impenitent must be roused from slumber, the inquirer directed, and Christians excited to greater love and activity. “That they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”
2. As social creatures we can influence one another for good. Example is most potent. Precept points out the way, but example carries us along. Great is the power of goodness to charm and command. The pious man is a king, drawing all hearts after him. We all love the brave and the magnanimous; derive inspiration from them; and incited to action by them. “We live in an age that hath more need of good examples than precepts,” said George Herbert. And entering upon the duties of life he resolved: “Above all, I will be sure to live well, because the virtuous life of a clergyman is the most powerful eloquence, to persuade all who see it to reverence and love, and at least to desire to live like him.”
3. It should be our aim to stir up others to do good. The humblest and most obscure may do this. Wealth and position are not necessary. A warm heart will create and communicate enthusiasm, energy and zeal will evoke courage and devotion in the cause of God. If we return to God others will follow our example. By prayer and holy life we may persuade men and help on that happy time when “the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts; I will go also” (Zechariah 8:21).
IV. Return to God will result in great blessings to a people. “Bliss from the Creator and duty from the creature answer to one another,” says a writer. We live in love, action, and God. Life is a delight and success in the degree in which it is consecrated to God. The greatest happiness is found in God’s presence and service.
1. Quickened life. He “will revive us.” “He will raise us up.” Spiritual death is overcome by God’s grace. The sinner is raised from a death of trespasses and sins; the saint is revived in heart, hope, and duty. Action begets strength, and faith leads to conversion from sin and deliverance in trouble. Spiritual life is first imparted, then supported and increased. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being.”
2. Practical knowledge. “Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord.” True knowledge is obtained by experiment. Experiment is a test of scientific truth. In Chemistry it is a guide, discoverer, and test. The existence of light, heat, and electricity is indebted to it. Christianity claims to be tested by experiment, and when thus tested it is found to be true. No learning and wealth are required. Love, and you shall know God; believe, and you shall feel. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” This know is (a) experimental, (b) practical, and (c) progressive; beginning in the heart, manifest in the life, seen in duty and daily progress.
3. Constant fertility. “He shall come unto us as the rain;” in its refreshing fertilizing showers. The early and latter rain, beginning the good work in the heart, carrying it on in the Christian Church, and reviving it in the nation. Both are required and given; rain from the first to the last; one shower falling after another upon thirsty pastures and desert ground, filling the pools and clothing the hills with verdure. “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.”
MAN’S HIGHEST SOCIAL ACTION.—Hosea 6:1
Man as a member of society has much to do with his fellow-men; he should contribute to the advancement of general knowledge, to the progress of political purity and freedom, and to the augmentation of the general health and comfort of the kingdom. But there is a higher work than this for him in society: it is that of stimulating the community to which he belongs “to return unto the Lord.” Taking the words in this application they imply—I. That society is away from God. Not locally, for the Great Spirit is with all and in all, but morally. Away from him in its thoughts; it practically ignores his existence and claims. Away from him in its sympathies: its heart is on those things which are repugnant to his holy nature. Away from him in its pursuits: its pursuits are selfish and carnal gratifications and aggrandizements. Far gone, in truth, is society from its centre—God. It is like the prodigal in “a far country.” II. That estrangement from God is the source of all its trials. Because the prodigal left his father’s home he was reduced to the utmost infamy and wretchedness. Moral separation from God is ruin. Cut the branch from the root, and it withers; the river from its source, and it dries up; the planet from the sun, and it rushes to ruin. Society has left God, its root, source, centre,—hence the terrible evil with which he by his government “hath torn” it. Nothing will remove its evils but a return to God. Legislation, commerce, science, literature, art, none of these will help it so long as it continues from him. III. That return to Him is a possible work. Were it not there would be no meaning in the language, “Come and let us,” &c. With some estranged spirits in the universe a return may be impossible for ever; not so with human spirits on earth. There is a way, a true and living way, by which all may return; repentance towards God and faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Conclusion. Who are the greatest social benefactors? Those who are the most successful in exciting and stimulating their fellow-men to come back to God, the Great Father of love who awaits their return. He says, “Come now, let us reason together,” &c. To bring society back to God is pre-eminently the work of the gospel minister; to this he consecrates his power, his time, his all [The Homilist].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Hosea 6:3. We follow on, confessing that it is he who maketh us to follow him, and draweth us to him. We know, in order to follow; we follow, in order to know. Light prepares the way for love. Love opens the mind for new love. The gifts of God are interwoven. They multiply and reproduce each other, until we come to the perfect state of eternity. For we know in part only; then shall we know, even as we are known [Pusey].
I. The end in view—to “know the Lord.” It is objected that we cannot know him. We are only finite creatures: he is infinite and omnipotent. We cannot know God perfectly, only in part. None by searching can find out God to perfection. But God has revealed himself in his works, word, and Song of Song of Solomon 1:0. We are capable of knowing and loving God.
2. The knowledge of God is a moral necessity. “My people perish for lack of knowledge.”
3. A personal, practical, and experimental knowledge of God should be our aim.
II. The method of attaining this end. “If we follow on,” &c.
1. We must not be satisfied with present attainments. “This one thing I do,” &c.
2. We must meditate more. Study the works and ways, the word and Christ of God. “Some have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame.”
3. We must practise more. This a law of nature. To get more you must use what you have. “To him that hath shall be given,” &c.
III. The success guaranteed. If we follow on to know, “then shall we know.”
1. It is not a vain pursuit.
2. Success is promised.
3. Success is realized. This proved from personal experience and the fulfilment of God’s word. If probability actuates men in pursuits of earth, how earnestly should we follow God, who gives such blessings and gain.
Whether we consider these words as an excitement and encouragement addressed by the godly to one another, or to their own souls, they remind us of an important aim; a necessary duty; and an assured privilege. The aim is “to know the Lord.” Nothing can be moral or religious in disposition and act, that is not founded in knowledge; because it must be destitute of principle and motive; and the Lord looketh at the heart. Real repentance must spring from proper views of the evil of sin in Christ. Faith is impossible without knowledge. It is not a philosophical knowledge of God as the Almighty, the maker and upholder of all things; nor a knowledge of him as holy in his ways and righteous in his works. Such views would gender dread and aversion in the mind of the sinner. The grand thing is to know that he is reconcilable, and that he has given proofs of his love in Christ. Neither is this knowledge speculative, but experimental. The necessary duty is “to follow on” to know the Lord. This includes the practice of what we already know. Neglect only increases sin and condemnation. It also includes diligent use of appointed means. Hearing and reading the word, and prayer. It means perseverance in this course. Nor shall this be in vain. “Then shall we know,” &c. The privilege is sure as the word of God, confirmed by history and experience, can make it. Let this full assurance of hope influence us first in regard to ourselves. Keep the way. Perplexities will be solved and doubts removed. Ye shall know more of him in his word, providence, and grace; more of him as the strength of your heart, and your portion for ever. Second, in regard to others. Be not impatient if they cannot embrace your views. In grace, as in nature, there must be infancy before manhood. God will enlighten them and finish his work. If their heart be broken off from sin and the world, and they are asking the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, they shall not err therein. “Who hath despised the day of small things?” [Jay].
God as the morning. I. Prepared as the morning. It is fixed and regulated in its hours—prepared and in readiness. Nothing can hinder its rising. “Seed time and harvest,” &c. II. Gradual as the morning. Light comes in no haste. God is never in a hurry. What a difference between the dawn of light and perfect day! Fretfulness and impatience will only cloud its brightness and darken the soul. III. Silent as the morning. Silent in its progress and influence; gliding over city and hill, glittering on the dew-drops, and brightening the landscape all around. IV. Joyous as the morning. Night a time of fear and danger; the sun brings morning and revives all nature. The birds sing, flowers open, our health and spirits are improved. “Truly the light is sweet,” &c.
God as rain.
1. Divine in its origin.
2. Refreshing in its nature.
3. Comprehensive in its end. The early and latter rain, as the beginning and end; the sum and substance of Christian experience and national revivals. “Both together stand as the beginning and the end. If either were withheld the harvest failed. Wonderful likeness of him who is the beginning and the end of our spiritual life; from whom we receive it, by whom it is preserved unto the end; through whom the soul, enriched by him, hath abundance of all spiritual blessings, graces, and consolations, and yieldeth all manner of fruit, each after its kind, to the praise of him who hath given it life and fruitfulness” [Pusey].
Chirist the Day-Dawn and the Rain. Looking upon his personal coming, as represented by the morning, and his coming in the Holy Spirit as symbolized by the rain, we have—I. The common resemblances which they have.
1. The same manifest origin.
2. The same mode of operation on the part of God.
3. The same form of approach to us.
4. The same object and end. II. The points of distinction between them.
1. A general and yet a special aspect.
2. Constant and yet variable.
3. With gladness, yet also with trouble.
4. But they tend to a final and perfect union [John Ker].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Hosea 6:1-3. Conversion. In conversion the sinner has a deep sense of his distance and desert, a full persuasion that God will forgive and restore him, and perseverance in seeking God. He will strive to return and carry out his resolution like the prodigal, in confession of sin. “I will return to my home; my father will forgive me,” said a wandering disobedient son. He was forgiven, and restored to parental favour.
Morning. The morning breaketh forth in crimson, and the beauteous-flowers of the field spread wide their odorous cups to drink the blooming influence of the rising genial sun [G. S. Green].
Rain. What would nature be without rain? We are entirely dependent on the grace of God. But under the influences of his word and Spirit we revive and grow as the corn. These influences are always needful; but observe, there are two seasons when they are peculiarly experienced. The one is connected with the beginning of the Divine life—this may be called the former rain. The other with the close of it—this may be called the latter rain [Jay].
Hosea 6:4.] Begins a bitter complaint. What] Both in mercy and judgment (Isaiah 5:4). God was constant and kind, Isa. inconstant. Goodness] Godliness, Heb. mercy, kindness, all virtues towards God and man; love which fulfils the law (Romans 13:10). Morning cloud] Evanescent and uncertain. Dew] Generated by the cold of the night, it appears with the dawn; yet appears only to disappear. The Jewish people a type of many amending and relapsing. God’s mercy is first set forth, and then men are upbraided for neglecting it, committing those sins which will be their ruin. Israel’s piety was “quickly assumed and quickly disused.”
Hosea 6:5. Hewed] Cut off, cut down like a tree (Isaiah 10:15); or to hew out a stone into the right shape. Israel was obdurate, and was hewed by the prophet, and hammered with the word (Jeremiah 23:29). Slain] The word has power to kill and to make alive (Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 49:2). “The stone which will not take the form which should have been imparted to it, is destroyed by the strokes which should have moulded it” [Pusey]. Thy judgments] Lit. that thy judgments might be as the light. Penal justice is conspicuous, clear as the sun; every one should take heed (Zephaniah 3:5); lightening (Hender. trans.; cf. marg. Job 37:3; Job 37:15).
JUSTICE OR MERCY?—Hosea 6:4-5
These words express intense love, parental discipline, and reluctance to punish any more. God hesitates, seems perplexed, and condescends to ask the sinner himself, to specify a mode of treatment which will answer the purpose. “What shall I do?” When justice was about to punish it was prevented by repentance. When mercy was about to bless it was hindered by fickleness and relapse. God’s kindness was constant, but their goodness was evanescent as the dew. “What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?” Nothing more to bring Israel to himself could he have done, therefore nothing remains but to adopt the treatment mentioned. God knows best what will answer the end in view.
I. Justice and Mercy had failed. Warnings had been given and judgments had fallen heavily upon the nation, but that did not answer. Mercy had shone forth in all its splendour, like the noon-day sun, but that prevailed not. Gentle means did not win them. The greater his favours, the more they forgot him and sacrificed to other gods. Then vengeance came, and they were torn by the enemy and carried into captivity. This is a picture of many whom God has blessed with mercy upon mercy. Long health, continued prosperity, and all the world calls good, have been poured out upon them. Their cup has run over. But they have forsaken God and abused his mercies. Now he is changing his ways with them. Health has decayed, business has failed, children have been taken in youth and hope, and all is black and threatening. “His wrath lieth hard upon me, I cannot look up.” But do not envy, and misconstrue this chastisement. There is goodness and loving-kindness in this treatment. It is designed to draw you to God and wean you from sin. “It lightens the stroke,” said an afflicted Christian, “to draw near to him who handles the rod.”
II. Mercy was withheld. Their goodness was like the morning cloud and early dew; which promised only to disappoint. Mercy was withheld, from their false and hypocritical conduct.
1. They were vain in their pretences. Professing to worship God and offer sacrifices, when their hearts were far from him. Their religion was outward show and formality, empty sound and waterless as a cloud. Like the morning cloud, full of colour, yet driven away by the heat of day. Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, in origin, principle, and aim, you “shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
2. They were fickle in their principles. Sound principles are a necessity in life. Without principles a man is like a cloud driven by every gust of wind; like a ship without rudder or compass, drifted hither and thither by every tide. There can be no rule, order, or government without true principle. “Moral principles,” says Hume, “are social and universal. They form, in a manner, the part of humankind against vice and disorder, its common enemy.” But the goodness of some is like the “early dew,” sparkling as diamonds for a while, but not to last. Reverence and religion disappear in extremes; we have the form, but not the power of godliness.
3. They were unstable in their conduct. Repenting and relapsing; smitten and returning; resolving and forgetting; ever beginning and never finishing. There was a fair show of leaves, but not any fruit. Most men are good for a time. In visitation from God, at the prayer-meeting or in the class, they are under deep impressions; but these wear away, and the last condition of these men is worse than the first. There must be no sham, but reality. Principle must be powerful and supreme. Goodness must endure under the burning heat of the sun. It is the incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever.
III. Justice is the only alternative. “Therefore have I hewed them,” &c. Kings and rulers, prophets and priests, past misery and present mercy, seemed not to influence them. What more shall I do? Iniquities had not exhausted, but only limited God’s love. “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens,” &c. There remains nothing but further chastisement in their desperate condition, a just retribution in kind. “Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away” (ch. Hosea 13:3).
1. The word which might have saved shall punish them. (a) God would “hew” them by the prophets. God’s work is identified with that of his servants. The word is the instrument for the accomplishment of his will. The word disturbs in sin and produces conviction; it reproves and corrects, and “like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces,” (b) God “slays” them by the words of his mouth. Denunciations of wrath had disquieted them and broken their spirits. The word had been “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” to slay their hopes and joys. Men will either be better or worse, quickened or slain, under the preaching of the gospel. “To the one we are a savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life.”
2. The judgments which they unheeded shall consume them. “And thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.” They might have been delightful as the morning, but they shall be terrible as lightning. (a) Clear and visible; palpable to the senses, and a warning to those who see them. They will break out like day-light upon all men. (b) Just and equitable. What they deserved, and what they should not murmur at. They despised the mercy, and now they must behold the severity of God. (c) Terrible and severe; sudden and overpowering as lightning. Christ comes the first time to save, the second to judge and destroy. Duty is clear. The sinner is without excuse. God at last will be a consuming fire.
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Hosea 6:4. Morning cloud. Evanescent goodness, generated by the chill of affliction, full of promise, but vanishes away. Many in childhood affectionate and beautiful, do not always realize what they promise. Men in sickness and bereavement vow what they do not perform. The evening does not accord with “the morning of life.” Dawn does not ripen into day.
Hosea 6:5. “Hewed them.” Moral statuary. What sculpture is to a block of marble education is to the mind and religion to the character and life. The word presents us with—I. An insight into human nature. Rough and deformed. Hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. II. An expression of God’s design. God, the Great Sculptor, seeks to correct, cut into shape and symmetry. To bring “an angel out of the stone,” make “corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace,” to prepare “lively stones” for his great spiritual temple (1 Peter 2:5; Ephesians 2:21). III. A description of the word. A hammer wielded by a Divine hand, authoritative and efficient in breaking the rock, the hardest heart, to pieces. Hence (a) energetic in its nature, (b) varied in its effects, to slay men or make them alive. IV. A suggestion concerning the ministry. Ministers have not to soothe men in sin, nor fear to wound the conscience. As hewers of wood and stone-masons, they have to cut and hammer men. They meet with rough stones and obdurate hearts which must be humbled and hammered. Luther said that faithful ministers labour and sweat more in a day than husbandmen do in a month. With hard blows and sharp instruments have they to work, for men neither receive the image nor submit to the will of God.
Judgments as the light.
1. Revealing sin and exposing the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:13).
2. Warning men in duty and danger, ignorance and sin.
3. Destroying rebels, on whom they burst with sudden terror. “In this life also God’s final judgments are as a light which goeth forth, enlightening not the sinner who perishes, but others heretofore in the darkness of ignorance, on whom they burst with a sudden blaze of light, and who reverence them, owning that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” [Pusey].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Hosea 6:4. Transitoriness. When Daguerre was working at his sun-pictures, his great difficulty was to fix them. The light came and imprinted the image; but when the tablet was drawn from the camera, the image had vanished. Our lamentation is like his, our want the same, a fixing solution that shall arrest and detain the fugitive impressions. He discovered the chemical power which turned the evanescent into the durable. There is a Divine agency at hand that can fix the truth upon the heart of man,—God’s Holy Spirit [J. Stoughton].
Hosea 6:5. I presume the Lord sees I require more hammering and hewing than almost any other stone that was ever selected for his spiritual building, and that is the secret reason of his dealings with me. Let me be broken into a thousand pieces, if I may but be made up again, and formed by his hand for purposes of mercy [R. Hall].
Hosea 6:6. Sac.] which they brought. Mercy] which they lacked; a comparison by negatives; things less worthy are rejected. Moral obedience is better than ritual offerings (Matthew 9:13). Knowl.] experimental and practical, which is more than empty service. Internal is put before external worship; the prophet, a teacher and interpreter of the law, rebukes apostasy.
Hosea 6:7. They] Eph. and Jud., God’s professed people. Like men] Lit. like Adam in covenant relation to God, have wilfully transgressed, are guilty of a breach of fidelity. Others, like men generally, who break lightly every day compacts with their fellows. God sought to preserve Adam and Israel in intimate relation to himself. Sin is a violation of the covenant—Israel contradicted their destiny as the people of God. There] Wherever and whenever sin is committed, the place is known to God and pointed out by the Divine finger.
MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE.—Hosea 6:6
There are two sides of religion, the outward and the inward: Israel depended upon sacrifices, ritual forms, rather than moral life, the knowledge and love of God. If men offer “sacrifice” to God without joining it with “mercy” to men, or offer it in fanatical zeal and unmercifulness, he will reject it. He prefers “mercy” which contains cheerfulness and self-sacrifice. Looking at these words in their connection, learn—
I. God desires to give mercy rather than accept sacrifice. Israel would give to God rather than seek the healing mercy required. But God will take nothing from them, desires to impart mercy to them. It is for us, first and above all, to seek pardon; confess and forsake sin. “The less is blessed of the better,” without any contradiction. God requires no sacrifice from us. Our offerings cannot enrich or bless him. Pagan sacrifices were considered feasts to the gods. “If I were hungry,” says God, “I would not tell thee; for the word is mine, and the fulness thereof.” He can provide for himself, and will never be suppliant to his own creatures. “The cattle upon a thousand hills” are his gifts, are not our own; and faith in the offering without love in the heart represents God as beholden to man. “Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offering.” No form of burnt-offerings can purchase Divine favour; no banners and music and incense will be acceptable “without truth in the inward parts.” God will have mercy and accept a broken spirit. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
II. God stamps mercy with more value than sacrifice. God does not reject all, only heartless sacrifices. They must not be neglected nor despised, but offered in the right spirit. Christ commends the scribe for giving due place and proportion to the ceremonial and moral service. Sacrifice is good for its own sake, required by God and reasonable in man. But “go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). The ritual must not be esteemed above the moral. We must not be religious before God and immoral before men; alive to the letter, but dead to the spirit of the law; scrupulous in the formalities, but negligent in the moralities of life. He who finds mercy from God, will be kind and compassionate to men. We must “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” “The tithing of cummin must not be neglected,” says Gurnal, “but take heed thou doest not neglect the weightiest things of the law—judgment, mercy, and faith: making your preciseness in the less a blind for your horrible wickedness in the greater.” “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
III. Sacrifice must not be substituted for mercy. No amount of offerings can replace the everlasting principles of morality. But how easy to present the one for “the living sacrifice” of the other. The Corban gift stands in the place of filial piety. The present on the altar atones for the offence to a brother. Love to God whom we have not seen covers charity to man whom we see day by day. Temple service is honoured above godly life, and sacrifice is offered before mercy. God delights in showing mercy, and “earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.” God is better pleased with the relief of suffering than gold and silver offered in the church. Transient enthusiasm, fashionable benevolence, and party spirit must not supersede love to God and man. The first commandment is like unto the second. One cannot supersede and must not be placed instead of the other. “To love him with all the heart, and all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.”
IV. Sacrifice and mercy must ever be united together. One is the outward form and fruit of the other. “He who prays as he ought, will endeavour to live as he prays,” says Dr Owen. There is a balance of moral as of natural forces. Religion unites what philosophy could not—supreme devotion to God and paramount obligation to man. Faith and works, piety and charity, contemplation and activity, heaven and earth, are reconciled in Christian life. The life hidden with God is the life that diffuses blessings among men. Without love to man, love to God grows languid. They are inseparable and essential to each other. This union was perfect in the life of Christ, and constitutes the keystone of morality. All true philanthropists have worked in his spirit and carried out his teaching. Howard in the prisons of Europe, Judson in benighted Burmah, and Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, were devoted to God in their sacrifices for humanity. A life of purity is a life of public duty. The man who loves God will not serve his country less. “Allow them to pray to God, they will not fight the worse for it,” was said of some. The heat and the light can never be separated from the sun; benevolence to men can never be cut off from love to God. What God has joined together let not man put asunder. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
COVENANT BREAKERS.—Hosea 6:7
In this verse we have a reference to the fall of man and the first covenant with Adam. God stood in covenant relation to man. Israel was bound by God’s goodness and their own oath. But they sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression. God was constant and faithful, but they were inconstant and treacherous, they broke the covenant. Notice—
I. The guilt of which they were accused. They “have transgressed the covenant.”
1. Out of irreverence to its authority. If it be only a man’s covenant, there is something sacred and binding (Galatians 3:15). But God’s word is supreme and of Divine authority.
2. In forgetfulness of their own promise and privileges. Israel solemnly took an oath to keep all the words of the law—not to forsake God; but they sacrificed to other gods, and were base and perfidious in their conduct. Men who break their promise and despise their obligation bring shame and disgrace upon themselves, and deserve not the confidence and esteem of their fellow-men. Truthfulness should shine in every word and deed.
II. The spirit in which they indulged. “They dealt treacherously.” They not only rebelled, but aggravated their guilt by falsehood and treacherous dealing. They disregarded most singular privileges, thought most sacred obligations of no consequence, and covered most heinous sins in the garb of religious forms. They sinned (a) wilfully, (b) obstinately, and (c) deceitfully. “For the house of Judah and the house of Israel have dealt very treacherously against me, saith the Lord.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Transgressing like Adam.
1. Violating sacred obligations.
2. Justifying sin when committed—charging it upon God or their own nature, upon circumstances or fate. “Man, as man, that is as sinful man, desireth that there might be a seal set or a vail put upon all his sins. It is as natural to man to be a sin-coverer as a sin-committer; and he had rather make some poor shift of his own to cover it than go to God (whose privilege and glory it is to cover sin) to have his sin covered. Neither Adam nor the woman denied what they had done; but both thought they were very pardonable in doing it. Both made a confession, yet theirs was a faulty confession. They covered while they acknowledged their sin, and hid it in their bosoms while they held it out upon their tongues. Thus did Adam the first man, and thus do the sons of Adam excuse their sins, and increase their guilt and punishment” [Caryl].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Hosea 6:6. The outward service of ancient religion, the rites, ceremonies, and ceremonial restraints of the old law, had morality for their end. They were the letter, of which morality was the spirit; the enigma, of which morality was the meaning. But morality itself is the service and ceremonial of the Christian religion [Coleridge]. The artist may mould matter into forms of surprising beauty, and make us feel their elevating and purifying influences: but what is the marble Moses of a Michael Angelo, or the cold statue of his living Christ, compared to the embodiment of Jesus in the sculpture of a holy life? What are all the forms of moral beauty in the Pharisee of religion, compared with the true and holy life of the heart of the devoted Christian? [Bishop Thompson].
Hosea 6:8. Gilead] A city of refuge, the residence of priests, and the centre or metropolis of the hilly region beyond Jordan, yet polluted and the leader of ruin!
Hosea 6:9.] Even priests acted like predatory bands, to murder and surprise travellers on the way. Destruction was met where safety was sought. By consent] Lit. with one shoulder, as oxen yoked together (Zephaniah 3:9). The sanctity of the place and the privileges of the priesthood did not check them in banding together for mischief. Lewdness] Heb. from a root to form deliberate purpose; deliberate crime, enormity (Marg.). “The word literally means, a thing thought of, especially an evil, and so, deliberate wickedness, be thought of and contrived. They did deliberate wickedness, gave themselves to do it, and nothing else” [Pusey],
Hosea 6:10. Horrible thing] Heb. from a word meaning to shudder, be astonished. Whoredom] spiritual and literal singled out as the chief sin—“In another nation, idolatry was error. In Israel, which had the knowledge of the one true God, and had received the law, it was horror” [Pusey].
Hosea 6:11. Harvest] Not a harvest of joy, a promise of ingathering of Israel, but a ripeness for Divine judgments to be inflicted by Assyrians. When] I would, upon their repentance, have turned away the captivity of my people. Judgment might have been averted, but will end in captivity. The Heb. is used of restoration also (Deuteronomy 30:3; Psalms 14:7); hence many take it in this sense, as in harmony with the beginning of the chapter—“a promise of restoring their captivity in due time, which yet imports a sentence of banishment tor sin to be inflicted before” [Hutcheson].
A SAD TRANSFORMATION.—Hosea 6:8-11
We have now particular proofs of the charges brought against Israel. Special places, certain persons, and the whole people are faithless and polluted. The best become the worst.
I. Sacred places become polluted with sin. Regarding Gilead as a city of refuge, or the country beyond Jordan, it “is a city of them that work iniquity.” God had hallowed the place, and made it a city of safety; an institution of heaven, designed for special good. But this place of justice and protection, the glory of the land and the centre of distinguished privileges, was polluted with crime. Its inhabitants had stained its name and filled it with blood. Cities are blessed or cursed by the character and conduct of the inhabitants. Wealth and population, genius and prosperity, fade away by vice and debauchery. Great cities may be filled with great sins; exalted to heaven with privileges, they may be cast down to hell for abusing them. Rome and Paris have been by-words, and Nero and Robespierre have left a stain in history. “By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted; but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.”
II. Ministers of religion become abettors of murder. The priests, who should have been examples of virtue, fostered abominable sins and were guilty of murder. It was their duty to save life, but they killed both body and soul. They were—
1. cruel in their designs. They sought to lie in wait and murder pilgrims on their way to the city.
2. Crafty in their designs. They plot “as troops of robbers wait for a man.”
3. Deliberate in their designs. They thought of their schemes, and deliberately adopted and carried them out.
4. Confederate in their designs. “By consent.” They were one in sympathy, agreed in sentiment, and banded together in purpose. They were taken from the lowest of the people, intruders in office, and were a curse to the land. Of all societies of men, none are more vile and mischievous than ministers corrupted by office or evil. The sweetest wine becomes the sourest vinegar, the whitest ivory burnt becomes the blackest coal; so the best men, the noblest institutions, may be transformed into the most disgraceful and criminal. “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane.”
III. The noblest design perverted to destruction. The way to the cities of refuge, by God’s command, was to be prepared (Deuteronomy 19:3); clear and kept open without hindrance or danger to fugitives; but it was filled with robbers and tracked with blood. Those who fled for life met with death. What power in the human will and in human conduct to corrupt the ordinances and hinder the designs of God! Means of grace perverted to motives of crime, and sacred places changed to scenes of corruption. The devil gets into the church, and the foulest crimes are committed in the garb of religion and a good name. In Christendom now we see religion made the tool of priests and governments: its sanctions brought to support schemes of aggrandizement and oppression; and plans that display God’s wisdom and benevolence employed to prostrate our nature, to pollute the land, and make it “desolate and a perpetual hissing.”
IV. A chosen people degraded with punishment. All these crimes were done “in the house of Israel,” an elect nation. Whoredom was widespread, and the whole land was defiled.
1. The enormity of their sin was great. “An horrible thing,” enough to make one shudder; “a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth shall tingle.” Ordinary sins are evil, but the sins of Israel were gross abominations. Sins against light and privileges, the warnings of prophets and the judgments of God. Heathen nations could not commit such crimes, the greatness of which can only be estimated by God. But ancient Israel and modern Churches, pre-eminent above other peoples, exchange God for vain idols. Holy heaven is amazed at the monstrous folly of men. “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid; be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.”
2. The punishment of their sin was disgraceful. The people of God were bereft of their glory and defence; carried captives and humbled by a foreign foe. The seed was reaped in an awful “harvest” of punishment by both Ephraim and Judah. God is no respecter of persons—the highest and the lowest, the priest and the peasant, are alike judged for their sins. He makes them “base and contemptible before all the people.” Sin sinks the most exalted to the most degraded. It is a blot in the escutcheon of the mightiest nation which no worldly glory can efface. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
The substance of these verses may be summed up in few words.
1. Man has a tendency to abuse the best and highest things. This is proved from history, Scripture, and observation.
2. When the best and highest things are abused they become the worst. Moral order and distinctions are confounded. A downward course is begun. Conscience must be quieted, moral feelings be suppressed, and bold extravagance required to cover and defend sin.
3. Abuse of the best and highest things greatly increases the guilt. When men check religious impulse and resist good they go at a faster rate than merely doing wrong. The effect of sin must be measured by the power of moral sensibility. Perfection of guilt and punishment is gained by using the truth and ordinances of God, to do the bidding of selfishness and lust.
I have seen an horrible thing. God discerns sin when covered by craft and counsel, by excuse and ignorance. The smallest sins and the most horrible crimes are detected by him, and will be discovered to the perpetrators. Men may cover their ways and hide their sins, but they cannot prosper.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Hosea 6:8-11. Best and worst. The best things when abused become the worst: there is no devil like a fallen angel; no enemy to the gospel like an apostate Christian; no hate like the “theological hate;” no war like a religious war; and no corruption like religious corruption. The reasons are not far to seek. The best things are the strongest: they can do most always, most evil when used in an evil way. Bad men know this: Simon the magician was not the only one that has cast a covetous look at Christianity and said, “Give me also this power” [A. J. Morris].
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hosea 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany