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Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation.
The east wind in Palestine
Coming from Arabia and the far East, over large tracts of sandy waste, is parching, scorching, destructive to vegetation, oppressive to man, violent and destructive on the sea, and by land also, having the force of the whirlwind. “The east wind carrieth him away, and he departeth, and as a whirlwind hurleth him out of his place” (Job 27:21). In leaving God and following idols, Ephraim fed on what is unsatisfying, and chased after what is destructive. If a hungry man were to feed on wind, it would be light food. If a man could overtake the east wind, it were his destruction. Israel “fed on wind when he sought by gifts to win one who could aid him no more than the wind; ‘he chased the east wind’ when, in place of the gain which he sought, he received from the patron whom he had adopted no slight loss.” Israel sought for the scorching wind, when it could betake itself under the shadow of God. “The scorching wind,” says St. Cyril, “is the burning of calamities, and the consuming fire of affliction.” “He increaseth lies and desolation”; for unrepented sins and their punishment are, in God’s government, linked together; so that to multiply sin is, in fact, to multiply desolation. Sin and punishment are bound together as cause and effect. “Lying will signify false speaking, false dealing, false opinions, false worship, false pretences for colour thereof, false hopes, or relying on things that will deceive. In all these kinds was Ephraim at that time guilty, adding one sort of lying to another.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Feeding on wind
This is a proverbial speech to note--
1. The following after vain, unprofitable things. When men please themselves in their own conceits and in their own counsels, and walk in ways that are, and certainly will be, unprofitable to them, they are said to feed on wind. When men think to please God with their own inventions, to escape danger by their own shifts, to prevail against the saints by their deep counsels and fetches, they feed upon wind; when men promise to themselves great matters by ways of their own, that are not God’s, they feed upon wind, and for all this the prophet rebukes the ten tribes.
2. The prevailing pride and elation of heart. According to the food, so will the body be; those that feed on wind must needs have hearts puffed up with conceitedness of themselves, and contempt of others that are not in the same way as themselves: they lie sucking imaginary content and sweetness in their own ways; they are full of themselves. They feed on wind, yet one prick of disappointment will quickly let out all the wind from such bladders.
3. Dependence on carnal creature comforts. Evil men that live upon the applause of men, upon honours, feed on wind, and are puffed up for awhile; but any prick of God’s appearing against them lets out the windy stuff, and quickly they are dead. Any member of the body that is puffed up with wind seems to be greater than any other part, but it is not stronger; no, it is consequently the weaker: and so it is with the hearts of men that are puffed up with windy conceits and with creature contentments, they have no strength by this inflation; though they seem stronger, yet when they are called either to do or to suffer for God, they then appear to be very weak, and therefore will change as the wind changes. Illustrate by the chameleon.
4. The turbulent, unquiet disposition of such. We know that the wind raises tempests and storms; and so men that are puffed up with, the wind of their own conceits are the men that raise such tempests and storms in the places where they live. The saints have better food to feed upon, food that makes them more solid and more staid.
1. Creature comforts will prove but wind. Those who seek to satisfy themselves with such, and to stay themselves on their own conceits, not only deceive themselves, and will be disappointed at last in their expectations, but they will find these their ways to be very pestilential, hurtful, and dangerous; they will find that they will undo them and bring them to utter misery.
2. It is a grievous thing, when troubles come, to have nothing within us to bear us out but the wind. Suppose men meet with the rough east wind, or storms and tempests befall them, yet if they have had solid food, whereby they come to get good blood and marrow and spiritS, they may be able to bear it; but when the body is empty and meets with tempests, this is very grievous to the poor frame. So it is with many when they meet with afflictions; but the saints have such solidity within them as bears them out, but other men that are empty, that have fed upon the wind all their days, have nothing to bear them out in great afflictions, but their hearts sink down in horror and despair. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Delitzsch renders, “Ephraim grazeth wind.” The idea is that it sought for support and satisfaction in those things which were utterly unsubstantial and worthless “wind.”
I. Sensual indulgences are worthless soul-food.
II. Worldly instructions are worthless soul-food.
III. Religious formalities are worthless soul-food. (Homilist.)
And will punish Jacob according to his ways.
None can sin with impunity
You are only under grace as long as you keep clear of God’s law. The moment you do wrong you put yourself under the law, and the law will punish you. Suppose that you went into a mill, and the owner of that mill was your best friend, even your father. Would that prevent your being crushed by the machinery if you got entangled in it through ignorance or heedlessness? I think not. Even so, though God be your best of friends, ay, your Father in heaven, that will not prevent your being injured, it may be ruined, not only by wilful sins, but by mere folly and ignorance. (Charles Kingsley.)
And by his strength he had power with God.
This story has a strange fascination for most Bible readers, due, in part, to the vividness with which it is told; in part, to the deep spiritual truth which it half reveals and half conceals. Jacob recalls in his prayer the time when he passed this very place twenty years before as he fled from the wrath of Esau. God has been with him, and prospered him. Let us picture again that weird night scene. The almost oppressive silence was only broken by the roar of the shallow Jabbok, which writhed and struggled between obstructing rocks as it plunged and tumbled to the Jordan valley two miles below. We can see the rough waters gleam under the torches as drove after drove of animals splashed and ploughed their way through,--the goats and the sheep, the camels and the cattle, the asses and their foals are carefully arranged in successive relays, to appease the wrath of Esau. Then, in two companies, his frightened household followed, and the sounds died away again until nothing was left but the deepened roar of the turbulent stream beside him, which seemed to intensify the dead silence all around. Jacob was left alone. He was anxious, and apprehensive of what might happen. He was a greedy man, and he stood to lose, at one stroke, the wealth which represented the struggles of twenty years. He was an intensely affectionate man, and it seemed as if wives and children might be snatched away from him at one fell swoop: “I fear lest Esau come and smite me, the mother and the children.” Then, through the long night there wrestled with him man till daybreak--till the reach of the Jabbok flashed again in the sudden Syrian sunrise. As he lay there in the growing light, thrown, exhausted, he knew it was no man who had striven with him. In the sunrise he had seen God face to face. So he called the place Peniel--God’s face. But that is only the outside of the story, the body of this experience. What is its inner meaning? An instinct tells us that this is the record of a moral and spiritual struggle, which doubtless has its counterpart in the human life of these breathless days. That shrivelled tendon was the mark left in Jacob’s body of a moral and spiritual struggle--the crisis of his history. We know the long night ended in tearful and penitent prayer. What makes me feel certain that this is the record of a moral and spiritual struggle is the undoubted fact that from that day a great moral change came over Jacob--a change represented by his new name. He was no longer Jacob--sly, subtle, crafty, tricky Jacob, he was an Israelite, indeed, in whom there was no guile. He was Israel, God’s prince, for he had prevailed. He not only had a new name, but a new nature. The blessing which came with the dawn was the highest blessing which can ever come to any man--the assurance that his better self would become increasingly his truest self. He was a prince of God. It is not difficult to see that Jacob’s whole life had been one long wrestle, a tough, hard struggle with others. He had wrestled for bread, for love, for justice. Yes; and he had prevailed. He had succeeded, he had reaped the fruit of struggle--strength. He had gained what comes with victory--self-confidence. He had outwitted the crafty Laban. He went to his uncle a penniless tramp; he left him a wealthy man. And now he comes back to the land which was promised him. And here, on the very border and frontier of it, just as he is about to grasp what seems to be already his, he is brought up suddenly face to face with an old sin; and, as old sins are wont to do, it unnerved him. Do you know men who sinned--twenty years ago? They have been successful in spite of their sin--nay, by means of it, and God has given no sign. Then, after twenty years, they are brought face to face with the consequences. They do not ask now: What will it mean to me? There is a question which cuts deeper than that: What will it mean to wife and children? If no one else were involved, if the man knew definitely what it would mean and how it would end he could face it. Though it brought ruin and exposure and shame, he could meet it like a man, But when the vague dread of it hangs over his life, and he lies awake at night and goes over all the possibilities and chances of what may happen, and wonders if any contingency has been left unprovided for, till the heart is sick with a nameless dread--then suspense becomes anguish. Now, that was Jacob’s case. He had done all that foresight and long experience could devise. He had sent messages, intended to convey to Esau the impression that he was a man of some consequence--obsequious messages, toe, to “my lord Esau.” And “my lord” sent back a soldier’s answer: “Esau cometh to meet thee with four hundred men.” With great astuteness Jacob divides his household into two companies, so that if Esau falls on one, the other may perhaps escape. His trouble drives him to his knees, for with all his subtlety and shrewdness Jacob was a praying man. He appeals, in his extremity--like many a trickster since--to his father’s God. And yet, apprehension of his loss breaks through his very prayer. He is a rich man now, and has much to lose “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies which Thou hast shewed unto Thy servant,. . . deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother.” In the very act of prayer his subtle brain is scheming how he will send presents to Esau--not in a lump, but first one, then another, drove after drove. He knew very well how to appeal to the frank, generous heart of the rough twin-brother. What a mixture the man is!--craft and prayer, cunning and faith, daring and dread!. . . “Then Jacob was greatly afraid, and was distressed.” Does all this let any light on some past experience of your own? You were walking, as you thought, in the way of God’s leading--in obedience to His call--to some land of promise, and on the very border of it you are suddenly brought face to face with some past wrong. The power in which you trusted--the result of long experience--fails you. Your self-confidence is rudely shaken. You betake yourself to prayer, and yet you will not trust wholly in that either; you do all that foresight can suggest--and stretch a point in doing it--to make quite sure that the blessing shall be yours. You try to deal with God as you have dealt with men. Is that the meaning of Jacob’s wrestling? You come to the very border of your land of promise. It is almost your own. And you will make quite sure of it by human means,--as if God could be tricked and managed, as if the blessing must be wrested from unwilling hands. Then you find that you have more than Esau to deal with. There is another Antagonist--unknown, mysterious, persistent. So you struggle on through the darkness, unwilling to cast aside the powers which have never failed when dealing with your fellows. Does not your own experience interpret this story for you? Then, at daybreak, with one touch the nameless wrestler shrivels the strongest muscle in Jacob’s body, and shows what He might have done at any moment. The strong man falls back spent and thrown. His self-confidence is broken, he has met more than this match.
Nay, but I yield, I yield;
I can hold out no more!
Is that the end, then? It would have been with some men, but Jacob clings with all his remaining strength to his great antagonist, until he wrings a blessing from the struggle. It was after his defeat, you observe, after he was worsted and thrown, that he prevailed. Look at the text again (R.V. margin), “In his strength he strove with God; yea, he strove with the angel, and prevailed.” But how? In this way: “He wept, and made supplication unto Him.” He supplicates the possession he cannot win. The blessing he sought to wring from God was his in a free and gracious gift. The sun rose on a changed and chastened life. But the long struggle had left its mark on him. He halted on his thigh. He lost the proud, self-confident swing in his gait. He was a humbler and a better man. Is that an old story I have been telling you? Is it not your story? Yours and mine? Do you remember that dark and troubled day when the Unseen asserted its rights--when you wrestled, but not with flesh and blood? And you found that the tricks and quirks which avail in that warfare were no use, for you were dealing with God. Is that the explanation of some struggle in the darkness which is going on here and now? Have we never heard of the striving of the Spirit? Is that the meaning of some bitter disappointment which comes unexpectedly into the life of some self-confident man who has hitherto never known what failure means? The power which wrestles with you is a power which longs to bless. If you will cling with all your strength, it may be you will come out of that struggle crowned and with a new name, because in the struggle you have learned His name, and in defeat you have learned to pray. (A. Moorhouse, M. A.)
The strength that God puts into us, though it be God’s own, yet when we have it, and work by it, God accounts it as ours; it is called Jacob’s strength, though the truth is, it was God’s strength. It is a great honour to manifest much strength in wrestling with God in prayer. In this was the honour of Jacob, with his strength he prevailed with God. We should not come with weak and empty prayers, but we should put forth strength; if a Christian has any strength in the world for anything, he should have it in prayer. According to the strength of the fire, the bullet, ascends; so according to what strength we put forth in prayer, so is our prevalence. This strength of Jacob was a type of the spiritual strength which God gives His saints when they have to deal with Him. See Ephesians 3:16. Surely the strength is great that is by the Spirit of God, but such strength shall manifest the glory of the Spirit of God. This is the strength attainable for Christians, even here in this world. Let us not be satisfied with faint desires and wishes, when Jesus Christ is tendered to us as the fountain of strength. But do you walk so that your strength manifests that such riches of the glory of God dwell in you? Christians should seek to be strengthened with all might, according to the glorious power of God. The way to prevail with men is to prevail with God. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Jacob’s victory and our duty
The prophet takes the opportunity of showing the difference between their conduct and that of Jacob, after whom they were called. His design in doing so was to make them know that, if they expected to be saved, it was not by proving their descent from Jacob, but by acting as did that pious patriarch when he was in danger and was suffering from the effects of his former misconduct. Reference is to the scene of wrestling with the angel. We use it as an example of the mode and nature of faithful and successful prayer. All must pray, and to be heard must pray aright, in the same persevering manner as Jacob, and in the same holy temper. We are taught, in other parts of Scripture, to address our God with penitence, holiness, faith, and perseverance; and all these essentials of acceptable devotion are illustrated in this narrative. (Beaver H. Blacker, M. A.)
Israel unlike Jacob
Alas! a nearer view of Judah shows that all the descendants of Jacob, in Zion as in Samaria, provoke judgment. How unlike the early devotion and fervent faith of the pilgrim-patriarch their father! From the strong prayer amidst the stones at Bethel, where the eternal pathway between heaven and earth was opened in vision, and from the wrestling of supplication at Peniel, what moral degeneracy a idst the wealthy traffic adopted in Canaan! And what a cry to God may not the prophet raise for a restoration of the old simple tent-life, when it seemed natural to men that God should raise up speakers of His will, and quicken their spiritual life by fervent preachers! In those days of prophets Israel dwelt safely: under her kings she sins and suffers. God spared the ten tribes, notwithstanding that Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, made them sin. Now, since idolatry multiplies, since Baal is worshipped, and perhaps even human bloodshed, either to Moloch, or through contagion of Moloch worship, notwithstanding Abraham’s purer faith had sought better propitiations, the nation drifts like chaff, stubble, smoke. All God’s appeals are in vain. Stolid and obstinate, the nation which God called to for a new birth of a pious generation, and for new thoughts and hope, stands gazing on its idols. God would have saved them from the Assyrian sword, and would have foiled the besieger, and bidden death and the grave stay their devouring. But since sinners do not repent, God cannot relent. (Rowland Williams, D. D.)
Bethel and Peniel
The house of God and the face of God. God is here. God is mine.
I. Jacob’s first conversion. At Bethel Jacob cannot be called a “religious man.” He had come into no personal relations with God. He acknowledged, but did not know, his father’s God. His character had, as yet, received no shakings, so it had thrown down no personal and independent rootings; there were no signs of the sway of any central and unifying principles. He could still be described as “without God in the world.” But out of the very consequences of his wrongdoings come the beginnings of nobler things. The vision gives us the time when Jacob first entered into personal relations with God. It may help us to understand in what our conversion to God essentially consists--a revelation of the personal God to the soul; and the acceptance, by the soul, of the responsibilities of that revelation. Jacob’s new life begins with a personal revelation of God. This is the Divine arrest of the man in the very midst of his wilfulness and selfishness. God guides him with the hand of His Providence, and sets him just where He can best reveal to him Himself. We have no record of Jacob’s struggling after the light, and at last reaching, after long efforts, to the light of God. In his case there is no growing of knowledge into the wisdom of God, no unfolding of moral feeling into spiritual life; but upon him, while actually in his heedlessness, the revelation of God comes: a new fact of his existence is impressively disclosed to him: this fact, that God, his father’s God, Abraham’s God, was with him. That fact at once, and altogether, changes the principle and spirit of his life. Religion is not a development; it is not an education; it is not something which man can himself start and nourish. It is the effect of a Divine salvation; an intervention of God; a gracious mode of bringing man into conscious and happy relations with God. It was a vision of God, and an assurance of the Divine nearness to him, and care of him, that bowed Jacob down with the profoundest awe and humiliation. The ungodly soul felt that God was about him, close to him. The vision opened Jacob’s eyes--
1. To see God’s relation to his life. The vision showed God caring for sinful, wandering Jacob, watching over his slumbers, peopling the desert for him with ministering angels, and assuring him of unfailing guardianship. He could never be the same man again when this fact had been brought home to his very heart.
2. To feel a conviction of the Divine claims of God is here, I must wait, listen, obey.
3. To realise the Divine love, the sovereign fulness and freeness of Divine grace, Jacob woke in the morning to feel--God loves me, even me.
II. Jacob’s second conversion. The wrestling represents the highest point in the spiritual history of Jacob. It was the time in which Jacob learned the mystery and the joy of trusting wholly, committing himself entirely to the Divine love and lead. The wrestling at Jabbok is the close of a scene of which each part requires careful attention. Anxious and scheming as he came within sight of Canaan, he had the vision of the guarding angels to recall him from his schemings to trust. He had hitherto only seen his helpless company and the approaching peril, and like the prophet’s servant in later times, God opened his eyes to see, closer than any danger, the two angel-bands of watchers. Recalled thus to the thought of God’s nearness, Jacob feels that he must blend prudent schemes with prayer, and the prayer he offers is full of humility, thankfulness, and pleading, that makes it in many ways a model of prayer. But it is easily overestimated. It is the prayer of one who is still rough too self-conscious, of one who has not yet quite given up his guileful ways: there is still something of Jacob’s old mistake of “making terms with God.” He is evidently learning his great life-lesson, but the prayer shows that he has not fully learned it yet. It was a kind of drama of his life which was acted through that night. It was a gracious way of shewing Jacob what had been the mistake of his whole career. He had always been wrestling. Now in his heart he was even wrestling with God. But He will find that a very different thing. If it does seem that a man’s wrestling brings mastery, it is only because God does not put forth His strength in the conflict. When He does and Simply touches Jacob, the confident wrestler, is prostrate and utterly helpless; he can wrestle no more, he can only cling, he can only say, “Give me the blessing”; he gives up at last all self-efforts to win the blessing. (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial.
The name Jehovah as a memorial
To stir them up to present duty, Hosea describes God, who did all this, and spake to Jacob, as the true God and God of armies. It teaches--
1. Christ is, without all controversy true God, the same in essence and equal in power and glory with the Father; for this Angel (verse 4) is even Jehovah, the God of hosts.
2. Great is their advantage and their dignity who have converse and keep communion with God, who hath being of Himself, and who hath all creatures ready as hosts at His command, as there is need. For this sets out Jacob’s advantage, that in his wrestlings and other intercourse he had to do with the Lord God of hosts.
3. God is unchangeably still the same, as kind, able, and exorable to His people as ever He was at any time, if they would come and make use of Him; for He did all that to Jacob, not only for present use, but that, proving Himself to be Jehovah, this might be His memorial for the use of His Church in all generations; and upon this ground it is that in the next verse they are exhorted to turn to Him. See Exodus 3:15.
4. The Lord needs no images to keep up a memorial of Him; but His name and nature are manifested in His word and works sufficiently to keep them who converse with these in remembrance of Him; for Jehovah, and His manifesting Himself to be so, is His memorial. (George Hutcheson.)
Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and Judgment, and wait on thy God continually.
Instructions to the unconverted and to the converted
As encouragement to repentance, the example of the patriarch Jacob is presented. Let the descendants of the patriarch copy his example; let them seek God and walk with Him, as Jacob had done, and they would surely find Him, and receive a blessing from Him in their turn. The advice was most seasonable. It directed them to turn to God; and then to walk with Him in the duties and comforts of true religion.
I. The instruction to the unconverted. Turn thou to thy God. An unconverted person is one whose heart is not changed and turned to God. Every person who is habitually proud, sensual, or covetous, indulging a self-righteous spirit, or following sin with greediness; or leading a worldly life, careless of his soul and eternity; every ]person who sins without remorse, and has, in fact, no other rule for his conduct but his own interest, gain, or will--every such person is an unconverted person. All unconverted persons are turned from God., They are estranged from Him in heart and affections. Those who are turned away from God must be miserable the first step in real religion is conversion, that is, the turning of the heart to God. There can be no real religion till this step be taken. Do you inquire the way? There is but one way, even Jesus Christ. He is “the way” Would you then turn to God, you must come to Him by this way. You must draw nigh to God in faith; and pray to Him for Christ’s sake to be reconciled unto you. You must beseech Him to grant to you the Spirit of Christ, to work in you true repentance. Thus turning to Him, you will be graciously and favourably received. He never casts out any souls that turn to Him through Jesus Christ.
II. The instruction vouchsafed to those who are already converted. “Keep mercy and judgment and wait on thy God continually.” The converted are those who, having through grace renounced the ways of sin and the course of this world, have turned unto God by faith in Jesus Christ their Saviour; with penitent hearts have joined themselves unto Him, and, being justified by faith, have peace with God. The instruction divides itself into two parts--
1. “Keep mercy and judgment.” All who turn to God should be careful to maintain good works. They are called with a holy calling, and their life and conversation should accord with it. In mercy. In exercising kindness and compassion to all. In judgment. In doing justice and righteousness; in rendering, to all their due; in making restitution for wrongs or injuries committed.
2. “Wait on thy God continually.” To wait upon God is to depend upon Him; to exercise a believing expectation of receiving from Him all those supplies and succours of which we stand in need. (E. Cooper.)
The “power room”
The quietest room in a Lancashire cotton mill is the engine room. It is significantly called the “power room” of the mill. But from that quietest room emerges all the force which speeds the busy looms in their process of production. Let the engine be neglected, let countless looms be added without proportional increase of power, and the mill breaks down. We have been neglecting our quietest room, our power room; we have been adding to the strain without multiplying the force, and the effects are seen in weariness, joylessness, and ineffectiveness. We must not work less, but we must pray more. (Life of C. A. Berry, D. D.)
He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress, etc.
I. Fortunes badly used.
1. Here there is no recognition of human co-operation. No man comes in possession of wealth without the efforts of some men either living or dead. Wealth, in most cases, is the result of the efforts of a large number of human workers But the possessor oftentimes takes no note of this. He thinks only of himself.
2. Here there is no recognition of Divine agency. All fortunes come of God. Out of His materials, out of His seasons, out of the activity of His creatures. Many fortunes are held and employed in a spirit of haughty egotism.
II. Fortunes badly made.
1. Here is fraud. There is deceit everywhere. In all fabrics, groceries, trade commodities. Deceit in making, deceit both in the buying and the selling.
2. Here is oppression. Fraud is oppression, in some form or other.
3. Here is cunning. Ephraim--this typical fortune-maker--took such care to conceal all that was unfair and nefarious in his operations that he was certain no wrong could be found in his doings. Many who have made a fortune by a swindle have so guarded the transaction that they have clapped their hands and said, “None will ever find it out.”
III. Fortunes badly ended. To all such fortune-holders and fortune-makers retribution must come sooner or later. (Homilist.)
And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance.--
I am rich
Literally, I am simply rich, in all my labours they shall find none iniquity that is sin. It was the custom of the trade; that is how it is. In forty pounds weight of calico put sixteen pounds weight of china clay--it is the custom of the trade: a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Sell for ten yards of cloth nine yards and seven-eighths. A man likes an eighth of a lie; a little fraction of falsehood is a kind of condiment in his supper; it is the custom of the trade. And especially if a man, after doing this, can take the chair at a missionary meeting, and speak lugubriously and tediously about the condition of the heathen he has never seen, but often cheated; he feels that there is none iniquity in him that is sin; he says, Business is business. He always says that when he wins; when he loses he says, There ought to be some morality in business after all. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Keeping up appearances
I. The hiding of sin. Ephraim is in truth most unrighteous, but he contrives to sin in such a way that he appears innocent. And do we not attempt by many subtilties to hide the real qualities of our actions, to shelter ourselves from their just penalties?
1. Men sin deeply, and yet keep within the civil law. National and international law were scrupulously observed by Ephraim. Men still flatter themselves that they keep the law of the land. A man may do that and still be an infinite scoundrel. He may be guilty of gross dishonesty. He may keep the civil law with very little sense of generosity. We may be guilty of deep cruelty to our fellows, and the law of the magistrate takes no cognisance of our actions. Often the very worst escape, whilst those far less guilty are denounced and punished.
2. Men sin deeply, and yet keep within public opinion. A public opinion exists which is more strict and pervasive than the civil law. This public opinion we are bound to respect, we do respect it, and some of us are abundantly satisfied if we succeed in meeting its exactions. But how much personal, commercial, political immorality is yet untouched by public opinion! A man may be a rascal, and yet a gentleman. With a plausible tongue, a polished style, with fine phrases and fine manners, a man may be guilty of fraud, cruelty, uncleanness, and yet remain throughout popular in society! Rotten at the core, he is painted on the rind, and the world sees the skin and not the soul. Some of the handsomest butterflies have the strangest tastes--they turn aside from the most glorious flowers to sip filthiest messes.
3. We sin deeply, and yet maintain the sense of personal dignity. Ephraim hid the fact of his guiltiness by looking at his successfulness. Men still forget their sinfulness in their prosperity. A man may be a conqueror, and yet his glory be his shame; he may attain honour, and his scarlet robe be the fitting sign of his scarlet sins; he may grow rich, and every coin in his coffers witness against him. “His honour rooted in dishonour stood.” Proud, selfish, dishonest, sensual men flatter themselves in their own eyes until their iniquity is found to be hateful.
4. Men sin deeply, and yet keep within ecclesiastical discipline. Ephraim would do no iniquity that were sin from an ecclesiastical point of view. Yet all the while he was guilty of falsehood, robbery, injustice, uncleanness; he called himself Israel, but God called him a Canaanite. A man may be a terrible sinner, and yet observe all the ceremonial law.
II. Mark the inevitable exposure and punishment of sin. Cleverly disguised as sin may be, it will surely suffer detection. God knows nothing about appearances; He knows us as we think in our heart. And what stands revealed is bound to meet with just retribution. “Then in all life let us--
1. Aim at the highest; and--
2. Test ourselves by the highest; let us judge ourselves in the sight of God, and by the absolute standard. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast.
The feast of tabernacles as a type
This feast was the yearly remembrance Of God’s miraculous guidance and support of Israel through the wilderness. It was the link which bound on their deliverance from Egypt to the close of their pilgrim life, and their entrance into their rest. The passage of the Red Sea, like baptism, was the beginning of God’s promises. By it Israel was saved from Egypt and from bondage, and was born to be a people of God. Yet, being the beginning, it was plainly not the completion, nor could they themselves complete it. The wilderness dangers had to be surmounted. It was a time of the visible presence of God. It was a long trial time, and they were taught entire dependence on God; a time of sifting, in which God proved His faithfulness to those who persevered. Standing there, between the beginning and the end of the accomplishment of God’s promise to Abraham and to them, it was a type of His whole guidance of His people at all times. It was a pledge that God would lead His own, if often, “by a way which they knew not,” yet to rest with Him. The yearly commemoration of it was not only a thanksgiving for God’s past mercies; it was a confession also of their present relation to God, that “here we have no continuing city”; that they still needed the guidance and support of God; and that their trust was not in themselves, nor in man, but in Him. This they themselves saw. “When they said, ‘Leave a fixed habitation, and dwell in a chance abode,’ they meant that the command to dwell in tabernacles was given to teach us that no man must rely on the height or strength of his house, or on its good arrangements, though it abound in all good; nor may he rely on the help of any man, not though he were lord and king of the whole earth, but must trust Him by whose Word the worlds were made. For with Him alone is power and faithfulness, so that whereinsoever any man may place his trust he shall receive no consolation, from it, since in God alone is refuge and trust.” The feast of tabernacles was also a yearly thanksgiving for the mercies with which God had crowned the year. The joy must have been even the greater since it followed, by five days only, after the mournful day of atonement, its rigid fast from evening to evening, and its confession of sin. Joy is greater when ushered in by sorrow; sorrow for sin is the condition of joy in God. The Feast of Tabernacles was, as far as it could be, a sort of Easter after Lent. At the time when Israel rejoiced in the good gifts of the year, God made them express, in act, their fleeting condition in this life. It must have been a striking confession of the slight tenure of all earthly things, when their kings and great men, their rich men and those who lived at ease, had all, at the command of God, to leave their sailed houses, and dwell for seven days in rude booths, constructed for the season, pervious in some measure to the sun and wind, with no fixed foundation, to be removed when the festival was passed. Because, says a Jewish writer, at the time of the ingathering of the increase from the field, man wishes to go from the field to his house to make a fixed abode there, the law was anxious lest, on account of this fixed abode, his heart should be lifted up at having found a sort of palace, and he should “wax fat and kick.” Therefore it is written, “All that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths.” Whoso begins to think himself a citizen in this world, and not a foreigner, him God biddeth leave his ordinary dwelling, to remove into a temporary lodging, in order that, leaving these thoughts, he may learn to acknowledge that he is only a stranger in this world, and not a citizen, in that he dwells as in a stranger’s hut, and so should not attribute too much to the shadow of his beams, but “dwell under the shadow of the Almighty.” Every year the law was publicy read in the feast. Ephraim was living clean contrary to all this. He boasted in his wealth, justified himself on the ground of it, ascribed it and his deliverance from Egypt to his idols. He would not keep the feast, as alone God willed it to be kept. While he existed in his separate kingdom, it could not be. Their political existence had to be broken that they might be restored. God then conveys the notice of the impending punishment in words which promised the future mercy. He did not then make them to dwell in tabernacles. For all their service of Him was out of their own mind, contrary to His will, displeasing to Him. This, then, “I will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles,” implies a distnt mercy, beyond and distinct from their present condition. Looking on beyond the time of the Captivity, He says that they shall yet have a time of joy, “as in the days of the solemn feast.” God would give them a new deliverance, but out of a new captivity, The Feast of the Tabernacles typifies this our pilgrim-state, the life of simple faith in God, for which God provides; poor in this world’s goods, but rich in God. The church militant dwells, as it were, in tabernacles; hereafter, we hope to be “received into everlasting habitations” in the Church triumphant. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The days of Moed
1. Explanation. Of ancient agreement, or according to appointed days; for God had promised to give the land of Canaan to the posterity of Abraham for their perpetual rest. Explanation--
2. Israelites are here reproved, because they neglected the command of God, who had instituted a festal day, on which they were to commemorate yearly their redemption. Explanation--
3. The prophet threatens the Israelites, as though he said, “God will again drive you out, that you may dwell in tents, as you formerly did in the desert.” Explanation--
4. “Inasmuch as your former redemption has lost its influence through your wicked forgetfulness, I will become again your redeemer; I will therefore make thee to abide in tents as formerly; as your first redemption avails nothing, I will add a second, that you may at length repent, and know how much you are indebted to Me.” (John Calvin.)
I have also spoken by the prophets.
The responsibility of having the revealed Word of God
This is a further declaration of God’s goodness to this people, and an upbraiding of them for their wickedness, when they have had so many means.
1. It is God who speaks by the prophets. Though the prophets and the messengers of God are mean, yet so long as they speak to you in His name, the authority of what they say is above any. They may be under their auditors in many ways, but the message they bring is above them; though they are weak, the power of God goes along with what they speak, to make it good. The Word does little good till men come to apprehend this, that it is God who speaks by His messengers.
2. It is a great mercy to a people for God to reveal His mind to them by His prophets. What would all the world be but as a dungeon of darkness, were it not for the prophets and ministers of God?
3. God will take account of what becomes of the word, labour, and pains of His prophets. So He here upbraids Ephraim with them. God will take account of all the spirits that His ministers spend, of every drop of their sweat, and of all their watchings in the night; I sent My prophets, rising early. God will take account of all, and you shall know that there has been a prophet among you; the ministers shall be brought out to say and testify, “Lord, I was in such a place, and I revealed Thy mind thus unto them; they could not but be convinced, and yet still they continued in their wickedness.” (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
And used similitudes.
The figurative and literal in Scripture
There is a strong tendency of the mind to delight in figurative descriptions above literal statements. Unless all the powers of the mind are equally cultivated; unless there is a due balance of the faculties preserved in all mental operations, the imagination will certainly prevail; and there will be felt a reluctance to relinquish the splendid object of contemplation in which the imagination is interested, for what might be called a cold contemplation of truth in its literality. We never rise to the fountain-head of truth till we have seen it literally; till we have stripped it of all figurative dress, till we have seen it in its own soberness and its own simplicity, we have never seen it as it is; and figurative language is employed for the purpose of giving to the mind such an interest in the truth to be understood, as will lead to the literal contemplation of it. Many things operate in the production of figurative language. Such as the limited vocabulary of uncivilised and early nations. The state of things in Eastern countries, luxurious vegetation, etc. What are we to lay down as the principles on which we are to deal with figurative language? We have to inquire whether the language is employed in reference to a vision, or whether it is the mere result of prophetic inspiration. Figurative language in visions is not to be taken literally. A great number of predictions are delivered in figurative language. By a “similitude” we under stand something resembling what it is desired to describe. Orientals frequently selected things to be the signs of words, instead of words themselves. Parables, though often taken literally, are nothing more than similitudes. Parables are sometimes intended to illustrate simply one idea, and meaning should not be forced into the mere parts of a parable. A safe rule would be, always to take the language of Scripture literally, except when that would involve an absurdity. How often has the cause of God been traduced by its adversaries, how often burlesqued by the infidel, in consequence of the extravagant and figurative interpretations Of its own friends! The figurative interpretation, that is, taking figures for liberalities, began with a pagan school of philosophers, who, when converted, brought their mystical philosophy into their interpretation of Scripture. Unfortunately this method has come to be styled “spiritual” interpretation. Those who offer these interpretations to the people, and often bewilder their minds by them, interpret by no rule, and on no principle: just what they like they deem to be meant; just what they feel to be beautiful is accepted by them; just what they feel to be interesting is declared, to be true. (John Burnet.)
Among the rest of God s agencies for striking the attention and con science of the people, was the use of similitudes. The prophets were accustomed not only to preach, but to be themselves as signs and wonders to the people. God is every day preaching to us by similitudes. Providence is God’s sermon.
I. Begin with the early morning. This morning you awaked, and put on your garments. By a similitude God reminded you that you needed a garment for your soul. Taking meals. Going to business. Returning home in the evening, all are similitudes.
II. All the year round god doth preach to man by similitudes. Seed-time. Then the time of blade; of ear, of full corn in the ear. The migration of birds. The wind, heat, etc.
III. Every place to which you journey, every animal you see, every spot you visit, has a sermon for you. Journeying, the mountains, the sea, all have their lesson for us.
IV. Every man in his calling has a sermon preached to him. Illustrate from the farmer, the baker, the butcher, the brewer, the salesman, the writer, the doctor, the builder, the jeweller, etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Despising God’s Word
God speaks after the manner of men. It is enough to take away every excuse from men to allege the fact, that they obey not the Word, and offer not themselves to God as submissive and teachable, when He by His prophets exhorts them to repentance. It is an enhancing of sin when God says He has uselessly spent all His efforts to collect the dispersed Israel, through the labours of His prophets. (John Calvin.)
God’s method in teaching the great teachers of the world
God is the great Teacher of mankind. He teaches the best lessons in the best way and for the best purpose. God has always employed prophets in His great school for humanity. The text indicates His method of teaching them.
I. By visions. He gives to these men inner revelations, unfolds to them spiritual realities, opens their spiritual eyes, and bids them look. What wonderful visions Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, and John had. These visions serve to show three things.
1. The distinguishing glory of the human mind.
2. The accessibility of the human mind to God.
3. The reality of spiritual things.
II. By similitude. He showed them the invisible by the visible, the spiritual by the sensuous. He gave them parables. There are good reasons for this mode of teaching spiritual truth.
1. It makes the spiritual more attractive.
2. It makes the material appear more Divine. (Homilist.)
“Take heed how you hear”
The Lord takes account of the manner of men’s preaching as well as the things they preach. Men may have their sins aggravated, not only for standing out against the Word, but against the Word so and so delivered. The main necessary truths of God are made known to all, but to some they are given in a more sweet and winning way, in a more convincing manner than to others. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Therefore shall He leave his blood upon him.
The blood-figure: sin and guilt left upon the sinner
That is, he shall bring his sin upon his own head. Those that be wilful in sin, their blood be upon their own heads that is the meaning. Never stand excusing any more, you have warning enough. If you will go on in your way, the blood be upon your own head, you will undo yourselves, and there is no help. Mark the phrase, “Therefore shall He leave his blood upon him.” When God brings the guilt and punishment of sin on a man’s own head, and there leaves it, that is sad indeed. It is happiness when it may be said of God, He has made the sin and the guilt to pass away from the sinner. But on the other side, when God leaves the sin, with its attendant guilt, upon the sinner, there is woe indeed. The Lord many times brings His saints unto the fire of afflictions, but He will not leave them there; but when He brings the wicked into the fire, there He leaves them. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany