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Lest I strip her naked.
Eastern divorce custom
It was the custom among the Jews when any married that what dowry they brought their husbands was written down in a table; and if afterwards the husband should divorce his wife, except there could be proved some gross and vile thing against the woman, she was to go away with her table, with her dowry; she must not go away empty, or naked. But if there could be proved some notorious villainy which she had committed, then she was sent away naked, without her tables, her dowry. Thus God threatens this people. “She is not My wife.” She shall be sent away without any tables, naked and wholly destitute. Observe--
1. The beginnings of great excellences are sometimes very low and mean. “Set her as in the day that she was born.”
2. God’s mercy is a people’s beauty and glory. When we have any excellency, any beauty upon us, it is God’s mercy that is all our beauty.
3. Though sinners deserve great evils, to be stripped of all comforts, yet God, in patience and clemency continues them a long time.
4. The mercies that God bestows upon a nation, are but common favours, not spiritual graces, they are such ornaments as a people may be stripped of. The great mercies a people have, they may wholly lose.
5. Continuance in sin, and especially the sin of spiritual whoredom, is that which will strip a nation from all their excellences, from all their ornaments and beauty.
6. It is time for a people to plead, when there is danger of desolation.
7. Those who will not be convinced by the Word, God has other means to convince them besides the Word. If pleading and convincing arguments will not do it, well then, stripping naked shall do it.
8. Whatever are the means of stripping a nation, it is really God that does it.
9. It is a grievous judgment for one that is advanced from a low to a high degree to be brought down again.
10. When God has delivered a people out of misery, and bestowed upon them great mercies, it is their duty often to think of the poor condition in which they were, and to use all the means they can that they may not be brought thither again. God loves this, that we should remember and seriously take to heart what once we were. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
It is not enough that God should choose any people for Himself, except the people themselves persevere in the obedience of faith; for this is the spiritual chastity which the Lord requires from all His people. But when is a wife, whom God hath bound to Himself by a sacred marriage, said to become wanton? When she falls away from pure and sound faith. Then it follows that the marriage between God and men so long endures as they who have been adopted continue in pure faith. Apostasy in a manner frees God from us, so that He may justly repudiate us. (John Calvin.)
I will not have mercy.
Threatening and pleading
(compare Hosea 2:2):--“Let her put away her whoredoms,” etc. What should we learn hereby, but that it hangs upon our own will whether God suspend the judgment or no? For we ought not to impute our own evil to God, or impiously think that fate rules us. In other words, this or that evil comes, not because God foreknew or foreordained it, but because this evil was to be, or would be, done, therefore God both foreknew it, and prefixed His sentence upon it. Why then does God predetermine an irrevocable sentence? Because He foresaw incorrigible malice. Why, again, after pronouncing sentence, doth God counsel amendment? That we may know, by experience, that they are incorrigible. Therefore He waits for them, although they will not return, and with much patience invites them to repentance. Moreover, individuals repented, although the nation was incorrigible. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
1. However the Lord may for a time spare sinners, and they be ready to sleep because of this; yet at last when their cup is full, and they have proven themselves incorrigible, judgment will certainly come.
2. However a carnal church may be ready to swell with conceit of her own enjoyments and excellences, yet the Lord needs no more to make her miserable, but take away what He hath given her, and leave her as He found her. Sin will prove a wasting plague to souls. (George Hutcheson.)
For she said, I will go after my lovers.
The sin of Israel
The sin of Israel was not simple whoredom, which may be done in the dark, but avowed, effronted idolatry. Whence learn--
1. Such is the stupidity of grossest sinners, that they neither see the ill nor danger of their way, unless it be much and frequently inculcated.
2. A visible church declining, will readily turn impudent in sin. The more corruption hath been hemmed in by the external bonds of order, it swells the more over all banks and bounds; and God justly giveth such up to be filled with their own devices.
3. It is a great aggravation of the sin of idolatry, that idols do become lovers, and do bewitch and draw the heart from God.
4. As it is a great sin to depart from God and His true worship, so especially it is a shameful way of departing from Him, when men’s ends are so low and base, that they will follow any way of religion for interest and advantage, and account the thriving way to be the best way.
5. It is also a great evidence of impudence, when men do not sin through infirmity or temptation, but deliberately, and do wilfully follow their resolutions, whatever may be said to the contrary. For, herein also she did shamefully, in that she said, “I will go after my lovers.” She avowed it, and was obstinate in it against all warnings. (George Hutcheson.)
Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns.
God puts forth restraints on the sinner here.
I. these restraints are manifold. “I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall.” The first metaphor is taken from a husbandman who to prevent the cattle from breaking away plants a prickly hedge. The ether is taken from architecture. If the thorns are insufficient, high and massive walls must be built.
1. The restraint of affliction.
2. The restraint of public sentiment. The most daring cower before the public voice.
3. The restraint of conscience. A Divine officer holding the sinner in.
II. These restraints are necessary.
1. For the sinner himself. Were it not for these he would go galloping to perdition.
2. For the world. What would become of the world if the wicked were not reined in?
3. For the Church. Had wicked men their full fling, how long would the Church last? Thank God for thorny hedges and massive walls, for all the restraints He puts on sinful men. (Homilist.)
Thorns and wall
A way may be found through a hedge of thorns, although with pain and suffering’; through a stone wall even a strong man cannot burst a way. Thorns may mean the pains to the flesh with which God visits sinful pleasures, so that the soul, if it would break through to them, is held back and torn; the wall may mean, that all such sinful joys shall be cut off altogether, as by bereavement, poverty, sickness, failure of plans, etc. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Blessings from apparent evils
The idea of disease being a messenger, or under orders from God, has long been a familiar one. Ancient history tells of a merchant who lost his all in a storm at sea, in which his vessels laden with merchandise foundered. The merchant went to Athens to study philosophy, having no capital to resume business. He was so happy in his studies that he was thankful for his losses. “If God had not taken away my fortune,” he said, “I had not gained that which is far better.”
The benefit of difficulty
A few days since there came to me a man whom I had known many years before as a person of good character, and who had made and saved money in business. He had been led to invest his savings in a partnership which had every guarantee of respectability and trustworthiness, but which within a few weeks became bankrupt, and left him not merely without a penny, but responsible for heavy debts. This happened some two years since; and for some time it was a question whether he and his large family must not go to the workhouse. In order to feed and clothe them he had to take to manual labour by day and by night at a very small remuneration; and since then things have somewhat bettered with him, though he is still a very poor man, instead of being, as he was, in very easy circumstances. But he said to me: “I would not for the world, sir, have it otherwise. My troubles have been nay greatest blessing in my whole life.” And then he reminded me how he had had a religious education, and he told me how he had forgotten God in his years of prosperity, and how he had been driven back upon God as his hope and refuge, and had found in Him more, much more, than he had lost in earthly things. His religious duties, prayer, the Bible, the Holy Communion, all had been forgotten, all had again been resumed, and with a sense of the truest support and strength. (Canon Liddon.)
Thankful for a thorn
Dr. George Matheson, of Scotland, is totally blind. He is one of the most learned and gifted men, and, above all, a cheerful and happy-hearted Christian. The following touching words from his pen ought to strengthen the Christian patience of afflicted ones: “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross, but I have never thought of my cross as itself a present glory. Thou Divine Love, whose human path has been perfected through sufferings, teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow. Reveal to me that my strength was the product of the hour when I wrestled until the break of day. Then shall I know that my thorn was blessed by Thee; then shall I know that my cross was a gift from Thee. I shall raise a monument to the hour of my sorrow, and the words which I shall write upon it will be these: ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted.’”
She shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them.--
The warning lesson of Israel’s apostacy
Hosea, who lived in a corrupt age of the Israelitish Church, was commissioned to show forth, with great faithfulness and plainness of speech, the gross departures of that people from the laws and service of God, and at the same time to exhibit the mingled actings of judgment and mercy wherewith God would visit His people.
I. The sin of Israel. Their sin was departing from the Lord, and going after forbidden sources of dependence, and forbidden objects of desire. We need not a more striking proof of the depravity of man’s heart universally, than we find in this ungrateful conduct of Israel. The manner in which their sin is set forth is peculiarly striking. They are represented in the character of an unfaithful wife toward the most tender and affectionate husband. There is scarcely anything affects a well-regulated mind more painfully than an instance of unfaithfulness on the part of a beloved wife towards an affectionate husband. It excites in our minds mingled emotions of pity, sorrow, and indignation. How deeply should we feel the dishonour done to God by the unfaithfulness of Israel, and-how humbling a lesson should we learn of the depraved nature of our own hearts! The sin of Israel was summed up in this: departing from the God of love--setting at nought the love of God. This is our sin, nationally and individually. We have our national idols; we have our personal idols. The condition of Israel further represents the case of those who have had some experience of the love of God, yet forsake the guide of their youth, and become entangled with the world.
II. The chastisement of Israel. God’s forbearance and long-suffering with His people was very great. He was continually provoked to anger by their evil doings, but nevertheless He bare long with them. But the time came when it was necessary to throw obstacles in the way of their idolatry, and so hinder the accomplishment of their desires after worldly enjoyments, that they should be like persons hedged in with thorns and briars. This time came with the Captivity. The instruction of this fact belongs to us specially as a nation whom God has signally blessed with the pure light of Gospel truth. It is not, however, to be limited to God’s chastisement of nations. It applies to those amongst us who have been personally convinced of sin, and of our need of such a Saviour as Jesus. God’s rule of dealing with us is the same as with nations. God will make us feel the bitterness of sin. If ever you are saved, it shall be by first bringing you through the deep waters of soul affliction for sin. You must see yourself hedged in by the greatness and the number of your sins. It is a merciful chastisement which makes us feel the utter vanity of things of time and sense.
III. The blessed consequences of the chastisement. As regards us individually, God’s dealings with Israel find a perfect parallel. All the chastisements for sin issue in nearness to God, and peaceful communion with God, and holy confidence in His love. (James Cooper, M. A.)
Worldly pleasure, a vain pursuit
What has been the experience of every man, of every woman, that has tried this world for a portion? Queen Elizabeth, amidst the surroundings of pomp, is unhappy because the painter sketches too minutely the wrinkles on her face, and she indignantly cries out, “You must strike off my likeness without any shadows!” Hogarth, at the very height of his artistic triumph, is stung almost to death with chagrin because the painting he had dedicated to the king does not seem to be acceptable; for George II. cries out, “Who is this Hogarth? Take this trumpery out of my presence!” Brinsley Sheridan, of thrilling eloquence, had for his last words, “I am absolutely undone!” Stephen Girard, the wealthiest man in his day, or, at any rate, only second in wealth, says, “I live the life of a galley-slave; when I arise in the morning my one effort is to work so hard that I can sleep when it gets to be night.” Charles Lamb, applauded of all the world, in the very midst of his literary triumph, says, “Do you remember, Bridget, when we used to laugh from the shilling gallery at the play? There are now no good plays to laugh at from the boxes.” But why go so far as that? I need go no farther than your street, and possibly your own house, to find an illustration. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.
The design of affliction
Since we derive our knowledge through the medium of the senses, only by the aid of figurative language can spiritual truths forcibly lay hold of the mind. Nothing is more common in the prophecies than to express the relation between God and the Jews of old by the alliance of marriage. He was considered as their husband; hence they were laid under peculiar obligations to Him; and hence their sins had the character of violating the marriage-contract. Because of their unfaithfulness, calamities befell them. But while these were the effects of sin, they were also the means of bringing them to a proper state of mind. They are therefore considered eventually as mercies. The hedge here spoken of is the hedge of affliction, composed of some of those thorns and briars which sin has so plentifully produced in this wilderness world. The metaphor is taken from the husbandman, who, to keep his cattle in the pasture, and prevent their going astray, fences them in; and the sharper the hedge the better. Thus God resolves to make our rovings difficult. If we will go astray, we must smart for it. If lighter afflictions fail of their end, God will employ heavier. They may be foolhardy enough to break through the thorns, and may go on though wounded and bleeding, but they shall not get “over the wall”--I have stones as well as brambles--I will present insuperable difficulties. What a variety of troubles God has to dispose of. The passage reminds us--
I. Of our depravity. It appears in our proneness to go astray. We transfer to the creature those regards which are duo only to the Creator. We make earthly things our idols. These draw away our hearts from God. Let us not deceive ourselves, and judge of our declensions only by gross acts, but by the state of our minds. Where no vices have appeared in the life, there may have been many deviations from God in our thoughts and affections and pursuits.
II. Of the Divine goodness and care. He employs means, various means, to hinder and to reclaim us. Why all these expedients? Is it because He stands in need of us? Nay, but because we stand in need of Him; because He would not have us deceived, ensnared, destroyed.
III. Of the benefit of affliction.
1. Afflictions are designed to be trials. Let our earthly blessings be removed, and our reliance will quickly appear. If our dependence has been on them, we sink when they are removed.
2. Afflictions are excitements. They quicken to the exercise of grace, and to the performance of duty. When we become indifferent to communion with God, He will send some fiery trial to bring us to our knees.
3. Afflictions are spiritual preventions,--they are “to keep man from his purpose.” Disappointments in favourite wishes are trying, and we are not always wise enough to recollect--that disappointments in time are often the means of preventing disappointments in eternity. It is a most singular mercy for God to render the pursuit of sin difficult. If we are going astray--is it not better to have the road filled with thorns than strewed with flowers? There are some who are now rejoicing because their plans succeed, and everything favours their wishes, who, if they knew all, would see awful reason to weep and mourn. And there are others, who, if they knew all, would no longer be sorrowful because they cannot advance, but are checked in every path they tread. They would see that they are chastened of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world. How awful is it when afflictions are useless, and even medicine is administered in vain!
IV. Of the difference there is between our adhering to God and our forsaking him. Behold the declining Christian, seduced by the world. He would try deviating ways for himself. And God says, “Let him try,”--“that he may know My service, and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.” By and by, he begins to bethink himself, and compare the present with the past, and is miserable. Let those who have been led astray, and have fallen by their iniquity, consider the melancholy change that has taken place in their experience, and remember two things--
1. It cannot be better with them than it is until they return to God.
2. They should, in returning, guard against that despondency which would tell you that it will be in vain. Have any of you been restored? Turn not again to folly. Live near to God; your welfare depends upon it. (William Jay.)
The first husband
I. A resolution formed.
1. The marriage union. In such an union we look for the consent of the parties; reciprocal affection, harmony of interest, and oneness of spirit.
2. A violation of this union acknowledged. “I will go and return” is an indirect confession of unfaithfulness, due to a culpable inattention to Divine instruction, to a forgetfulness of the Divine law. It is evinced by forming attachments to other objects, and by a violation of their covenant with God.
3. A purpose to renew this union avowed. This purpose was rationally founded, was absolutely expressed, practically to be exemplified.
II. A reason expressed upon which this resolution is founded. Self-love is a powerful principle; it is the main-spring of human actions. The doctrine of, the text is, that fidelity to God is relatively” better than apostasy from Him; better in itself, and better for me.
1. As it is more honourable.
2. As it is more comfortable.
3. As it is more safe.
Infer from this subject--
1. How much saints should prize their privileges; how thankful they should be for them, and how careful not to forfeit them by stretching out their hands to a strange god.
2. The folly of apostates, and the reasons they have for returning to their first husband. (G. Brooks.)
Returning to God
1. In times of affliction the only rest of the soul is to return to God.
2. So long as men can have anything in their sinful way to satisfy themselves with, they will not return to God.
3. Returning to God, if it be in truth, though it be after we have sought out all other helps, yet God is willing to accept.
4. A heart effectually wrought upon by God, is a resolute heart to return to God.
5. Those who have ever found the sweetness of Christ in their hearts, though they should be backsliders, have something remaining that will at length draw them to Him.
6. There must be a sight and an acknowledgment of our shameful folly, or else there can be no true returning to God.
7. Though acknowledgment must go before, returning must follow. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
For then was it better with me than now.--
The way of simple faith best
There is a story told of Robert Robinson, the hymn-writer, which forcibly illustrates Browning’s words, “Stand back the man I am behind the man I used to be.” In his early ministry, Robinson, the Baptist minister at Cambridge, wrote that beautiful and well-known hymn--“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.” In the latter part of his life, Robinson’s views of evangelical truth had changed, and he seemed to have lost a good deal of his spiritual fervour. Riding one day on a stage-coach, a lady, who was quite a stranger to him, entered into conversation. The subject of hymns came up, and she asked, little knowing that he was the author, what he thought of the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing.” But he waived the subject, and turned her attention to some other topic; but, after a short period, she contrived to return to it, and described the benefits she had often derived from the hymn, and her strong admiration of its sentiments. At length, Robinson, entirely overcome by the power of his feelings, burst into tears, and said, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago; and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I then had.” (A. Hampden Lee.)
For she did not know.
There is a theory which is known to-day by the difficult name Agnosticism. A great deal of worthless thinking may be hidden under that dark term. The meaning is supposed to be “not-know-ism.” Men do not now say, “There is no God”; they say, “If there is a God, we do not know Him.” If this were an intellectual doctrine only, there might appear to be about it somewhat of the charm of modesty. But it is more. What great case does the intellect wholly cover? Is man all intellect? Agnosticism cannot begin and end where it likes. God cannot be expelled from the intellect without the moral quality of the whole nature going down; without the heart also being as agnostic as the mind. Agnosticism is a larger question than any that can be limited to the mere dry intellect. And agnosticism of this kind means not only deprivation of moral sensibility, as expressed in the action of gratitude, but it makes responsibility at once frivolous and impossible. Responsible to whom? Responsibility never reaches its true realisation until it touches the point of reverence--simple, earnest, continual dependence upon God. When a man denies God he cannot do his duty to his fellow-men. The man that does not know God does not know himself. No man can love God without loving God’s image as seen in human kind. Theology--not formal and scientific, but spiritual and inspired--is the fount and origin of beneficence and exalted morality. What is God’s reply to agnosticism? See Hosea 2:9. “Therefore will I return, and take away My corn,” etc. This is rational, just, and simple. Where God is not known, why should He continue His bounty? God never gives bread by itself. When God gives bread to the body He does not want to keep our bones together; He only feeds the body that He may get at the soul. God has therefore determined that if men do not know Him, or ask concerning Him, or recognise the purpose of His ministry, He will come down and claim His corn and wine and wool and flax. This is just. God must keep some control over things. It is good of Him now and then to send a bad harvest. Men begin to ask questions, and to wonder. And what is the issue of this agnosticism? See Hosea 2:11-12. This is not vengeance, this is reason; this is not arbitrary punishment, this is a natural consequence and necessity. Divine gifts are abused, are misunderstood, are in some sense resented; what if Divine patience should be outworn, or if only through a temporary suspension of his fortunes man can be brought to consideration 7 Providence is not an arbitrary beneficence, but a critical and discriminating ministry. And there comes a time when God will say to the cloud, Rain no more on that unthankful life; and to the sun, No longer shine on ingratitude so base and desperate. This is God’s method; it is not mysterious; it is simple, frank, direct, intelligible, and just. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The blindness of ingratitude
The superstitious sin twice, or in two ways.
1. They ascribe to their idols what rightly belongs to God alone.
2. They deprive God Himself of His own honour, for they understand not that He is the only giver of all things.
Hence the prophet now complains of this ingratitude. And this was an inexcusable stupidity in the Israelites, since they had been abundantly instructed that the abundance of all good things, and everything that supports man, flow from God’s bounty. (John Calvin.)
That I gave her corn, and wine, and oil.
The misimprovement of providential layouts
The particular offences here charged, are those of a wilful blindness with regard to the source of their temporal blessings, and a guilty perversion of them to sinful and idolatrous uses. They ascribed them to the agency of their heathen deities, to whom they were also in the habit of consecrating them in sacrifice. But the misimprovement of providential favours is very offensive to God.
I. When are men properly guilty of this conduct?
1. When they fail to recognise God as the sole bestower of them. This was the sin of Israel. Absolute ignorance of the source whence temporal blessings flow is not affirmed. It was that God’s agency was ignored. Israel rested in second causes. Men talk of their good fortune, or their luck, or their well-to-do ancestors, but God is not in all their thoughts.
2. When they withhold the due acknowledgment of them. Not to know a thing, in Scripture language, often means not to act in a manner corresponding with our knowledge. The people did not render to God according to that which they had received. For all His gifts God expects a proper return, the return of thanksgiving and service. But how universally is this withheld.
3. When they pervert them to evil and illegitimate uses. “They prepared for Baal.” The people took their blessings from God, and devoted them to the service of an idol. This was translating indifference into insult and defiance. And the guilt is as common now as in the olden time.
II. What are the features in it that:evince its peculiar sinfulness?
1. It involves the sin of inconsideration. It argues a mind wrapped up in utter heedlessness of all that is most adapted to awaken and engage its powers.
2. It is characterised by the basest ingratitude. This is a positive element. Ingratitude implies an actual check put upon man’s feelings--a sort of moral pressure brought to bear upon them, to prevent their proper exercise and expression. And man wills it. It is not simply the negation of thankfulness; it is the deliberate exercise of its contrary. And this is the sin of the many.
3. It is a species of practical atheism. It is animated by a spirit that militates against the very being of God. Or, if it stop short of this, it yet seeks to limit the extent of His rule, and to shut Him out of this earthly province of His dominions. Atheism is but the bud of dislike to God unfolded and outspread into the garish flower.
III. What is the punishment to which this conduct justly exposes? The misimprovement, by neglect or perversion, of Divine favours incurs the danger of their resumption by their great Bestower. Blessings unimproved will not always be continued. There is a point beyond which even the patience and forbearance of the God that “delighteth m mercy” will not hold out. Neglect, insult, and defiance must end in condign punishment. Then let us be warned. Let us search into our ways. Let us acknowledge our transgressions, and put away our sins from us. So, in wrath will He remember mercy, and avert the punishment that we have so righteously deserved. Timely humiliation, repentance, and prayer are never ineffectual. (C. M. Merry.)
God’s hand to be acknowledged in His good gifts
This was God’s charge against His ancient people, a very heavy charge. They were unmindful of their benefactor. The thanks which they owed to Him they paid to devils. This is human nature; it is what we still see continually. It is a great part of religion to see God’s hand in everything, to trace every instance of protection to His providence, of deliverance to His care, every good gift to His love. The Bible refers everything either directly or indirectly to God.
I. God is constantly represented as the author and giver of all good things (by Jeremiah 5:21-23). God is declared to be the author of all the fruitfulness and plenty which are so beautifully described in Psalms 65:1-13. Take St. Paul’s words to the people at Lystra, or Moses’ last charge to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). In these passages we have the rain, the harvest, the fruitfulness of the fields and the increase of the cattle, preservation in danger, support in want, power to get wealth, daily protection, the gift of children--all ascribed to God.
II. Examples of good men of old, who referred every blessing they enjoyed to God. Abraham’s servant, Jacob, Psalmists, etc. These men had an abiding sense of God’s interference in all their concerns. They looked beyond second causes, and fixed their thoughts at once upon the great First Cause. One feels how different from theirs is the way of speaking common among ourselves. We cannot, indeed, prudently use the name of God as freely as they did. But we may err with undue reticence. If God’s name is seldom in our mouths, there is reason to fear it is seldom in our hearts. It were well that God’s name were more frequently introduced, so it were done with reverence, when we speak of the good gifts which we enjoy. The fixed habit of ascribing all our blessings to God would--
1. Be the surest way to secure the continuance of God’s mercies, and to draw down more.
2. It would keep our faith in exercise. It would enable us to realise God’s presence as our friend and benefactor. It would bring us into sensible communion with God daily. It would draw out our love to Christ. Seeing God in all things helps to make the sunshine of life. To be forward in recognising God’s hand, and blessing Him for His good gifts, is an excellent help to diligence and zeal in God’s service. It only remains that we each press home upon ourselves this blessed duty; and especially that we make sure of our interest in the greatest of all God’s gifts, the gift of His dear Son. (C. A. Hewitley, B. D.)
1. How graciously their plenty was given to them. God is a bountiful benefactor.
2. How basely was their plenty abused by them.
(1) They robbed God of the honour of them.
(2) They served and honoured His enemies with them.
3. How justly should their plenty be taken from them. Those that abuse the mercies God gives them to His dishonour cannot expect to enjoy them long. (Matthew Henry.)
All is of God
On the forefront of the Royal Exchange in London are inscribed the words, “ The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” There is also stamped on all our coins of the realm the same acknowledgment, Dei gratis; it is all of God’s grace and goodness.
Jenny Lind always kept the 7th of March most religiously. She asked her friends--and she was a Christian--always to pray for her on the 7th of March. She kept it as a trysting-day with God. What was the reason? It was that on the 7th of March she rose from her bed unaware of the God-given gift that was in her. By the evening she had realised it; she had got the baptism of her life--she realised that God had put into her a gift of song, the notes of which seemed to have been stolen from an angel in the heavenly choir; and she went to her bed conscious that God had called her to the sacred service of song. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Everything from God
The scribe is more properly said to write than the pen; and he that maketh and keepeth the clock is more properly said to make it go and strike, than the wheels and pegs that hang upon it; and every workman to effect his work, rather than the tools which he useth as his instruments. So the Lord, who is the chief agent and mover in all actions, may more fitly and properly be said to effect and bring to pass all things which are done in the earth, than any inferior or subordinate causes, as meat to nourish us, clothes to keep us warm, the sun to lighten us, friends to provide for us, etc., seeing they are all but His tools and instruments, but as they are ruled and guided by the power and providence of so heavenly a workman. (H. G. Salter.)
In Madeira there is a grove of camelia trees. A gentleman went to see the flowers, and returned much disappointed, as not one was visible. He made a second visit, and was delighted when, looking up, as he had been told to do, he saw a canopy of large white and scarlet flowers, forty feet overhead. In times of difficulty we are apt to look round on earthly agencies for aid, forgetting to look up to God, who in spite of all His glory, is willing to be our helper. (J. Marrat.)
The worship of fortune
Archbishop Trench says, How prone are we all to ascribe to chance or fortune those gifts and blessings which indeed come directly from God--to build altars to Fortune rather than to Him who is the author of every good thing which we have gotten. And this faith of men, that their blessings, even their highest, come to them by a blind chance, they have incorporated in a word; for “happy” and “happiness” are connected with “hap,” which is chance; how unworthy, then, to express any true felicity, whose very essence is that it excludes hap or chance, that the world neither gave nor can take it away. Against a similar misuse of “fortunate,” “unfortunate,” Wordsworth very nobly protests, when, of one who, having lost everything else, had yet kept the truth, he exclaims--
“Call not the royal Swede unfortunate,
Who never did to Fortune bend the knee.”
Success rightly ascribed
“In all my career,” General Gordon once wrote, “I can lay no claim to cleverness, discretion, or wisdom. My success has been due to a series of (called by the world) flukes. When one knows the little one does of oneself, and any one praises you, I, at any rate, have a rising in the gorge which is a suppressed, ‘You lie!’ Who is he, or who is any man, that he should be praised? I do nothing. Do not flatter yourself that you are wanted--that God could not work without you; it is an honour if He employs you. No one is indispensable, either in this world’s affairs or in spiritual works.” “Do not send me your paper with anything written about me,” he said on parting. “I do not want to see it, or to have anything to do with it. These things are not in my hands, and mind, do not forget--no gilt!”
God the source of blessings
At the close of the cotton famine in Lancashire the mills in one village had been stopped for months, and the first waggon load of cotton which arrived before they recommenced, seemed to the people like the olive-branch, “newly plucked off,” which told of the abating waters of the deluge. The waggon was met by the women, who hysterically laughed and cried, and hugged the cotton bales as if they were dear old friends, and then ended by singing that grand old hymn--a great favourite with Lancashire people--“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”
Which they prepared for Baal.--
Political and social ungodliness
The sin of the nation, the misery which Hosea here laments, was this--the people worshipped their prosperity, unmindful of the God who gave it. Baal-worship was substantially a worship of the forces of nature. Ethically, Baal-worship was the enthronement of force; it was the worship of possession. The Jewish idea in calling Jehovah “Lord” was that of righteous authority. The character of God was His supreme claim to government. Baal, as “Lord,” was simply the mysterious unknown proprietor of powers of nature: a mighty possessor, to be honoured as one who could give, propitiated as one who could withhold, or trouble and afflict. Ungodliness in Christian nations corresponds to idolatry among the Jews; the refusal to recognise any higher law than the right of possession, to acknowledge any other rule of conduct than what is prescribed by the necessity of holding and increasing what one has. Baal-worship did not displace the worship of Jehovah, the two existed side by side. Jehovah for the inspiration of their loftiest sentiment; Baal for the meaner concerns of corn and wine and oil. A similar confusion of godliness and ungodliness is found in many a man, perhaps in the most immediately influential majority of the English people to-day. The Gospel has done too much for us to be lightly abandoned. We cannot afford to dispense with the sanctity, the inspiration, the ennobling thoughts and feelings which Christianity brings into individual and family and Church life. But then, how many would confine the Gospel to individual and family and Church life? For politics and society the New Testament morality is too far-fetched, too fine-drawn. This is what we mean by political and social ungodliness. Many a man is personally godly, politically ungodly. This is a fatal mistake. No amount of personal piety will buy God over to give us national and social prosperity while we contemn the principles of righteousness, and regard for men, which the Bible reveals. There is one God, one morality, one rule; the same for nations as for individuals; the same for our social relations with the world as for our Christian relations within the Church. Political ungodliness has to be rebuked by Christian people. We are called on to be watchful, even jealous, in our criticism of public men and measures. Your judgment on political matters will affect the integrity of your personal character, the clearness of your personal faith. Indifference to righteousness in any sphere will sap the foundation of your piety, and blight your spiritual life. Deal with social ungodliness in relation to the conduct of commercial life. We do not find any such toleration of immorality as is common in political life. The conscience of the community is quick to assert itself; the supremacy of righteousness is vindicated, but we do not find godliness absolute and supreme. Deal with the morality of strikes; the utter bewilderment in which the commercial complications of the day, have found men. How is social life presented to us in the Gospel? It says, “We are members one of another,” Every one of us lives in a community, for the benefit of which he has been called into being, and all social advantages are conferred on him for the sake of the community. We are here in the world to be trained into spiritual manhood, and all material advantages are conferred on us for the sake of the character they help to form and develop. Consider how commercial activity and social life tend to form spiritual character. Social godliness looks for the fulfilment of God’s will in all the action of society. Social godliness and ungodliness are measured if we consider how far we habitually exercise this spirit. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
Therefore will I return.
Changes in God’s ways with us
“Therefore will I return,” that is, I will change the way of My administrations toward them; I will go out of My way of mercy, and turn into My way of judgment; I will go back again. “I will take away My corn in the time thereof.” That is in the very time of harvest and vintage. “And will recover My wool.” I will snatch it away; I will spoil you of it. I will recover it out of the hands of usurpers. Or those creatures, corn, wine, wool, are now in bondage to you, and I will recover them out of your hands. Observe--
1. Though God gives mercy out of free grace without cause in ourselves, yet He takes not away mercy without cause.
2. Sin causes God to change the way of His administrations towards His people.
3. Abuse of mercy causes the removing of mercy.
4. God keeps the propriety of all that we have.
5. The taking away the good things which we enjoy is a means Of making us return to God.
6. There is an uncertainty in all things in the world; though they promise fair, yet they are ready to fail us when they promise most.
7. God often shows His displeasure to those who provoke Him, when they are at the greatest height of prosperity.
8. When men abuse mercies, they forfeit their right in those mercies.
9. All the time the creature serves wicked men, it is in bondage, and God looks upon it with pity.
10. God gives His blessings to us, not for luxury, but for necessity,
11. When abundance is abused, it is just with God that we should want necessaries. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
And take away My corn.
Blessings unimproved resumed by their owner
Two subjects for reflection; the goodness of God, and the wickedness of man. The Jews were fair specimens of human nature.
I. the source of our mercies. “I gave her.” Here we do not refer to those blessings which we call spiritual. We speak of temporal good things. “He giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” Never suffer instruments to keep your thoughts from God.
1. Unconscious instrumentality. This takes in what we call nature.
2. Voluntary instrumentality. Our fellow-creatures may do us good in a thousand ways. They act knowingly and freely in relieving us, and display the noblest principles of their nature. But here God has higher claims; for who placed these friends and benefactors in our way?
3. Personal instrumentality. Few of the good things of life are obtained without some exertions of our own. Indeed, if they were, they would not be half so sweet. But from whom have we derived our natural talents? Whose providence fixed us in a situation favourable to our efforts?
II. Our guilt in the use of our mercies. Here are two charges.
1. Ignorance. God does much more good in the world than is ever known. He has done us all countless acts of kindness of which we have never been aware. There are two kinds of knowledge, speculative and practical. The former is nothing without the latter; it is no better than ignorance.
2. Perversion. Instead of using God’s gifts in the service and for the glory of God, we appropriate them to the use of idols. This is worse than the former, as indifference is exceeded by insult. What would you feel more provoking than for a man to borrow of you, in order to publish a libel upon your character? Is not God perpetually thus affronted and dishonoured?
III. The removal. “Take away My corn,” etc.
1. We see how precarious everything earthly is.
2. God withdraws our comforts as well as gives them.
3. God does not relinquish His propriety in any of His blessings when He bestows them. Still they are His. When He comes for them He comes but to resume.
4. He often removes our blessings and comforts when they seem most attractive and most necessary, when their loss is least expected, and we are rejoicing to see them flourish.
5. God does not deprive us of our enjoyments without a cause. It is our non-improvement, it is our abuse of our mercies that endangers them.
6. His conduct, in the removal of our joys, looks forward as well as backward. He punishes, not for our destruction but advantage, and the very consequences of sin are made to cure. While this subject leads us to magnify the Lord, it should afford instruction and encouragement to those who are afflicted. No affliction will ever do us good unless it excite in us both fear and hope. The day of trouble is a period peculiarly eventful and important. Salvation or destruction may hinge upon it. (William Jay.)
The goodness of God and the ingratitude of man meet us everywhere, and in our own hearts are as prominent as in the world.
I. God’s mercies. All our blessings come direct from God. Whatever may be the instrument, the gift is of God.
1. There is nature.
2. There is human instrumentality.
3. There is personal exertion. “It is the Lord thy God giveth thee power to get wealth.”
II. Man’s abuse of God’s mercies. Here are two charges.
III. The just and inevitable result.
1. God reminds us that our mercies are only lent.
2. God only allots them to us on the condition of using them rightly. (Homilist.)
God’s gifts taken away
God shews us that His gifts come from Him, either by giving them when we almost despair of them, or taking them away, when they are all but ours. It can seem no chance when He so doeth. The chastisement is severer also, when the good things, long looked for, are at the last taken out of our very hands, and that, when there is no remedy. “Recover My wool.” God recovers and, as it were, delivers the works of His hands from serving the ungodly. While He leaves His creatures in the possession of the wicked, they are holden, as it were, in captivity, being kept back from their proper uses, and made the hand maidens and instruments and tempters to sin. It is against the order of nature to use God’s gifts to any other end short of God’s glory, much more, to turn God’s gifts against Himself, and make them serve to pride, or luxury, or sensual sin. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Necessaries of life withheld
So full and continual are our mercies that we are prone to forget the Giver in the enjoyment of the gift, until a voice of sternness calls us home. I heard recently of a young student at college, who became so interested in sports and other things that he neglected to write to his parents. The mother became exceedingly anxious and wanted the father to go to the city and learn the cause. But the father found a simpler method. The supply of money was withheld, and very soon a letter came. Even so, God sometimes withholds from us the very necessaries of life until we learn that while He is willing to supply our needs, He earnestly desires our fellowship. As in the case of the prodigal, He permits a mighty famine in the land where we are feeding swine, in order to bring us to the home table, where His bounty is spread. (Good Tidings.)
Trees, if the roots run too deep into the earth, must be cut shorter; if the branches spread too far, they must be lopped; and if canker or caterpillar once infest, and cleave to them, then they must be blazed and smoked. Thus, the children of God, when they be too much rooted by their affections in the things of this world, and with great and large boughs of their ability, wrong and impoverish their poor neighbour, or let their money like the canker eat into their souls--God will give them many a cutting, lopping, and fumigating; and as they cannot but naturally do tile one, so God, intending to heal them spiritually, will do the other; His care will be still for them, notwithstanding their several failings. (J. Spencer.)
None shall deliver her out of My hand.
The Lord’s sentence
I. Taking away things necessary to life, Learn--
1. However the Lord communicate of His bounty with the children of men, yet He still retains the dominion of all the creatures in His own hand, that He may dispose of them at His pleasure.
2. Men’s abuse of prosperity, especially to uphold a false religion, doth justly forefault their right thereunto before God, and doth provoke Him to take away abused mercies.
3. As God’s former bounty will not secure pros perity to the abusers of it, so He will take it away when it promises fairest, as when it is come to the harvest.
4. As outward mercies are given for the supply of necessities, and not for fostering of luxury, so it is a special cause of God’s stroke that men do so far miscarry, because of that, without which they would be so vile. These things were given to cover her nakedness, and she would be vile without them. Yet she abused them, and therefore God will take them away.
II. Making her vileness appear to her lovers. Learn--
1. How right soever sinners may appear to themselves or others in their prosperity, yet God will, by judgments, make it appear how lewd and vile their way hath been.
2. God is so strong a party as when He contends with sinners, all their confidences in idolatry, false worship, or confederates, will fail them, and not be able to help them.
3. Idolatry, and abuse of prosperity to uphold it, doth ripen a visible Church for very speedy destruction.
III. Cutting short mirth and worship. Learn--
1. Sin and mirth will not last long together, but were there never so much of mirth, sin will cut it all short.
2. God will not be mocked with external performances of solemn worship to Him, when they join gross idolatry with them.
IV. Destruction even of the sources of blessing. Not only their fruits, but the trees they grew upon. Learn--
1. Spiritual judgments and deprivation of ordinances will have but little weight with wicked men, unless some other rod be sent with them.
2. Such is the desperate stupidity and obstinacy of declining sinners, as no cutting off of present enjoyments will affect them, unless their future expectations be cut off likewise.
3. As God doth not cut off enjoyments from sinners, but when they do abuse them, so we should take heed of God’s quarrel under calamities, and especially the abuse of prosperity, in not acknowledging God, but strengthening ourselves in an ill way, because of it. (George Hutcheson.)
God’s punishments are just
Whenever God deals severely with men, He visits their sins, and inflicts a just punishment. For though men may consider themselves to be chastised by the Lord, they yet do not thoroughly search and examine themselves as they ought. Hence the prophet repeats what we have before met with, and that is, that this chastisement would be just. At the same time, he shows us as by the finger what chiefly displeased God in the Israelites, which was, that religion was corrupted by them: for there is nothing more necessary to be known, than that in order men may ever habituate themselves to worship God in a pure manner, this should be testified to them, that all superstitions are such an abomination to God that He cannot bear them. (John Calvin.)
I will also cause all her mirth to cease.
The conjunction of sin and mirth
Mirth is not happiness. It is but tile mimicry of real joy. There is but little happiness in the world, but there is much mirth.
I. The conjunction of sin and mirth is common. The voices of jollity and fun are heard everywhere through society.
II. It is incongruous. Gaiety and laughter in a sinner are most revolting when rightly regarded.
III. It is temporary.
1. The separation is certain. An old writer says, “If you will not take away sin from your mirth, God will take away your mirth from your sin.”
2. The separation will be solemn. Do not then confound mirth with happiness. Happiness will follow holiness for ever; mirth will only, like the ignis fatuus, flare about sin for a short time at most, and then go out. (Homilist.)
Mingled promise and threatening
The prophet seems in this verse to contradict himself, for he promised reconciliation, and now he speaks of a new repudiation. But the passage is very consistent, and there is in the words no contrariety. He has indeed promised that at a future time God would be propitious to the Israelites: but as they had not yet repented, it was needful to deal again more severely with them, that they might return to their God really and thoroughly subdued. So we see that, in Scripture, promises and threatenings are mingled together, and rightly too. It is necessary for men to be reproved not only once and again, but very often. (John Calvin.)
She decked herself with her ornaments and her Jewels.
The prosperity of the wicked
I. As prospering in the world. Vines and fig-trees stand for prosperity. Wicked men are allowed to prosper on this earth: they are often more successful in worldly enterprises than the righteous. They live for the world and to the world, and they have their reward.
II. As ascribing their prosperity to wrong causes. Israel ascribes to its idols or lovers. The wicked ascribe to fortune, chance, their own industry, their own scheming. The true source is God.
III. Devoting their prosperity to wrong objects. Israel is here accused of burning incense to Baalim, these Deii minores. Wicked men devote their wealth to their own selfish and superstitious ends.
IV. As deprived of their prosperity by the great God. The threatening here is, that God will not only destroy all their prosperity, but punish them for their idolatry. “The tinsel glare upon a sinner is too apt to offend the weak eyes of a saint.” (Homilist.)
And forgat Me, saith the Lord.
Such is the character of all engrossing passion, such is the course of sin, to which the soul gives way, in avarice, ambition, worldliness, sensual sin, godless science. The soul, at last, does not rebel against God, it forgets Him; it is taken up with other things, with itself, with the subjects of its thoughts, the objects of its affections, and it has no time for God. So God complains of Judah by Jeremiah, “Their fathers have forgotten My name for Baal.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably to her.
The original word is used of one readily enticed, as a simple one, whether to good or ill. God uses, as it were, Satan’s weapons against himself. As Satan had enticed the soul to sin, so would God, by holy enticements and persuasiveness, allure her to Himself. God, too, hath sweetness for the penitent soul far above all the sweetness of present joys, much more above the bitter sweetness of sin. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
God’s presence in loneliness
From the first dawning of conversion to the hour of death, it is in solitude mostly that God speaks to the soul. Here God spoke by His prophet to a nation which, like ourselves, had, in its prosperity, multiplied its idols, made gold and silver into gods to worship, had been unfaithful to its God, and abused His gifts. Of such God says, “I will allure her.” He vouchsafes to speak to us after the manner of men. He will give us, He saith, love for love. He speaks as we may best bear to hear, and is fittest for us. Blessed are those holy hours in which the soul retires from the world to be alone with God. God’s voice, as Himself, is everywhere. Only the din of the world, or the tumult of our own hearts, deafens our inward ear to it. Chiefly in the inmost soul He speaks, because there He dwells. To be alone is to feel the presence of God, in love or in displeasure, as a friend or a stranger. Until the soul will open its whole self to God, it shrinks from inward and outward loneliness. We must be alone in the hour of death, let us learn to be alone with God now. It is only afar off that the wilderness looks a waste, and terrible and dry. Until, in silence, ye enter into that sacred loneliness, ye know not whither ye are going. In loneliness a man knows himself and his God. Enter thou with Him, and by His grace, thou wilt not come forth as thou goest in. Cherished sin alone deafens us to the voice of God. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Christ allures to the wilderness
Apply these words to ourselves, as setting before us the way Almighty God will work upon our souls to bring us to repentance, or to a deeper knowledge of His ways.
I. He will allure the soul and bring it into the wilderness. This implies that it is elsewhere,--it is in the world. What is meant by the wilderness? It is spoken of our hearts. God will make us, even while living in this world, with all its pleasures and vanities around us, as dead to all as if we were in a wilderness. “I spake unto thee in prosperity, and thou wouldest not hear.” This is His lament. Therefore He will destroy all those things wherein we trust, that we may hear His voice and live. There is self-denial involved in following where the Spirit leads us. It allures onwards to the wilderness. Follow willingly.
II. If God has thus dealt with you, it is that he may speak to your hearts. In silence, in solitude, in the desolation of your hearts, He will come and build up their ruined breaches, and dwell therein Himself. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” God speaks to the heart; He allures it to Him; and when it has found no rest for the sole of its foot on the waters of this troubled world, bids it return to its true rest in His wounded side. (R. A. Suckling, M. A.)
God’s free grace
Therefore, because she will not be restrained by the denunciations of wrath, God will try whether she will be wrought upon by the offers of mercy. The design is plainly to magnify free grace to those on whom God will have mercy purely for mercy’s sake. (Matthew Henry.)
God’s wise and tender love to His people
In the Old Testament we see the struggle between the Divine love and the perverse human will. God will ever impose restraints and place barriers in the way of sin, and so would make sin difficult and painful. In addition to conscience, the inward monitor, there are outward checks placed by God to hinder men from the commission of sin. Toil is a restraint. It is a bit and bridle to the wayward and the vicious. The wave of prosperity often leaves behind it the rubbish and foam of licentiousness. Pain is also a restraint. There is pleasure in sin. It is not real, it is not enduring, but there it is, and the sinner is attracted by it. The forbidden tree is “pleasant to the eyes.” The sinfulness of sin may be inferred from its bitter consequences. Pain is a moral word. It implies punishment. It is the penalty of sin, it is therefore a restraint. But God not only checks, He draws.
I. He wins by his love. He “allures,” persuades, woos, attracts. God respects man’s freedom. God Himself cannot compel us to trust and love Him. He has constituted us moral beings. God influences the motives, the desires, the judgments, the affections, operates on the secret power of the will. The only power that can win men from their sin is love. Love has the key that fits every lock in the different chambers of the soul. Love can overcome the enmity of our nature. It will not be slain by any other weapon. And thus God deals with us.
II. He appoints and uses necessary means of discipline. Having been “allured,” drawn to God, we are then trained, disciplined. This wilderness state is a state of--
1. Solitude. A man must get out of the crowd in order to think. Men living in a crowd become mere echoes. In solitude man discovers himself, and realises the presence of God, and these involve a burden of personal responsibility.
2. Trouble. Chastisement was, and still is, the necessary discipline for God’s children. Why does God correct them? To make them feel that sin is terribly hateful. And He shews us the tendency of sin.
3. Preparation. The training of the wilderness was necessary. Had they entered Canaan at once, they would have been unfit to take possession of it. God brings us into the wilderness in order to develop our character. The faith that will stand in the storm is the faith that has been tried.
III. God speaks to us. Lit. “I will speak to her heart.” Not to the intellect merely, but also to the heart. But God’s words never reach the heart until we have been prepared for them. What are His words that reach the heart? Words of forgiveness, consolation, hope. Are we then making the right use of our Father’s discipline? (James Owen.)
Mercy, troubles, and end of the Church
I. The overtures of mercy. “I will allure her.” The natural heart is in a state of rebellion against God, and He sends an offer of free pardon to all that will submit to Him. He allures them by His mercies. God works upon men’s fears by shewing them their dangers, upon their affections by the offer of His grace.
II. Troubles that shall come after. “I will bring her into the wilderness.” When souls are delivered from their natural bondage to sin and Satan, they do not immediately taste all the sweets arising from the liberty of the Gospel. They often indeed suffer greater torments of mind, greater terrors of conscience, than ever they did before. But if God brings His people through a wilderness, He will speak comfortably to them at last.
III. The end of her troubles. Where God, by His Spirit, speaks comfortably to the heart, that is comfort indeed. If the heart be not at ease, nothing can give us comfort. It is one of the offices of the Spirit to comfort God’s people. (R. W. Dibdin, M. A.)
And I will give her her vineyards from thence.
God’s dealings with His Church
The Church of God means that blessed company of true believers in Christ, and true and faithful servants of God the Father, who are living by the influences of the Holy Spirit, a life of genuine devotedness to God and His Christ--whose religion is that of the Gospel, and who adorn that Gospel in all things--whose affections are set on the things which are above--who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness--who are living as pilgrims and strangers on earth, and who are looking for a city which hath foundations. These, however dispersed, form one body. Of this Church the Jewish nation was a type and representative. In considering such a passage as the text, it becomes us to exercise a sober discretion, lest we wander into the regions of fancy. We may view it as representing.
I. The gracious dealings of god with his church.
1. He allures them by the most gracious invitations, to turn to Him with penitence and prayer. God is love; and amongst the many proofs of this, are the gracious invitations by which He allures His rebellious creatures to seek His face.
2. To these invitations the Lord adds the most encouraging assurances to all who will seek His mercy, forgiveness of their sins, and acceptance with Him. But the Lord does more than this. He not only gently raises the desire of His favour, but He power fully strengthens and confirms it--“He brings her into the wilderness.” Some suppose this refers to the love of solitude and retirement as affording opportunity for more unrestricted communion with God. Others consider it as alluding to those various afflictive dispensations which are often the means employed by God in leading His people to the living fountains of waters. May we not regard them as denoting more especially that state of spiritual distress into which God in mercy brings the sinner? The Lord brings His believing people into the wilderness of conviction of sin and godly repentance. Conviction leads to consolation, and repentance prepares the new-born soul for the reception of the Saviour. No language can describe the comfort which springs in the heart of the convinced and contrite sinner from the assurance that the door of mercy is not yet closed against him, and that there is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. Then, indeed, he has reason for blessing God in that He has brought him into the wilderness.
II. The gifts which God bestows on the Church.
1. “I will give her her vineyards,” rich blessings and privileges. Through the wilderness is the road to the vineyards. He gives the privileges of children. He gives His Holy Spirit. He gives them peace passing understanding--joy and peace in believing.
2. He gives also “the valley of Achor for a door of hope.” The present comforts and privileges of God’s people are pledges and foretastes of future and more enlarged felicity, an exceeding and eternal “weight of glory.” (John Vaughan, LL. B.)
“I will do it,” says God. Observe the richness of the supply. Not her corn, which is for necessity; or grapes, which are for delight; or even a vine; but a vineyard. God concerns Him self not only with our safety, our welfare, our relief, our enjoyment; He would even fill us with all joy and peace in believing. Observe the strange way in which these indulgences are to be communicated. From whence are these supplies to come? From a wilderness. Who would expect to find the vineyards of Engedi in a wilderness?
1. Earth is a wilderness. It was not designed to be. The ground is cursed for man’s sake. By one man sin entered into the world. But to the Christian the curse is turned into a blessing. He has not only before him a land of promise, but even now, even here, he has a thousand alleviations and succours, and even delights.
2. Solitude is a wilderness. There is not only much to be done alone, but gained alone, and enjoyed alone. There we gain our best knowledge and our richest experience. There we enjoy the freedom of prayer and the most unreserved intercourse with God. They are never less alone than when alone.
3. Outward trouble is a wilderness. Many have been afraid to be brought into it, yet He has given them their vineyards from thence. They have been saved by their undoing, and enriched by their losses.
4. The state of mind produced by the conviction of sin is a wilderness. Who does not remember the surprise, the confusion of mind, the anguish, the self-despair he once felt; and who can forget the feelings induced by a discovery of the Cross, and the joy of God’s salvation!
5. The same may be said of that soul abase ment and distress the believer himself may feel from increasing views of his unworthiness, depravity, and guilt. The experience is truly lamentable, but will the humiliation hurt him? He giveth grace unto the humble.
6. The valley of the shadow of death is the last wilderness. There is much to render it uninviting and awful; and yet, when it has been actually entered, the apprehension and the gloom have fled: This has been the case generally, even with those who arc most subject to bondage by the fear of it. The place has been made glad for them. And what vineyards does He give them from thence! (William Jay.)
Vineyards instead of vines
He had “destroyed her vines” (Hosea 2:12), but now He will give her whole vineyards; as if for every vine destroyed she should have a vineyard restored, and so be repaid with interest; she shall not only have corn for necessity, but vineyards for delight. These denote the privileges and comforts of the Gospel. Note that God has vineyards of consolation ready to bestow on those who repent and turn to Him; and He can give vineyards “out of a wilderness,” which are of all others the most welcome, as rest to the weary. (Matthew Henry.)
The age of Hosea was one of great material prosperity, and one of deplorable spiritual decay. The time was at hand when prosperity was to end and privation begin. It is in view of the times coming that Hosea brings his message. And his message is a mingled one. He speaks of judgment impending, and of sin as the cause of it. Yet he has his tale of mercy. The very penalties announced by him have their side of mercy. Whether God wooed the sinful nation by means of His goodness, or chastised them by His righteous severities, He had the same end in view for them--their recovery to Himself, and it was only because the one mode had failed that the other began. The text is more than the tale of God’s dealings with Israel: it is the tale of His discipline with the Church, and with individual souls, as many as have forgotten their first love, proved false to their calling, played truant from their God.
I. Love’s artifice. “I will allure her.” What is the wilderness? A place of blasted ground--ground where life once was, but has withered. A place of desertion and solitude. Surely a strange place for Jehovah to choose as His meeting-place with His bride. This is in its favour, it is a place of silence. The wilderness of the prophet finds its counterpart in the life of the heart. There is blight, through the drying up of the hopes that refreshed you; there is solitude, the sudden awaking to the sense that you are alone, and your desert is a school of silence. It hushes the world, and hushes the heart. There is a blessing for those in the wilderness. The grace that was unsought and unmissed amidst prosperity and plenty, you will learn to recognise and regain amidst the wilderness privations; and the voice you were deaf to amidst prosperity’s clamours, you will hear and respond to in the wilderness silence.
II. Love’s language. “Speak comfortably to her,” speak to her heart. He had often spoken to the ear. Words of solemn warning, words of melting entreaty. But He had never before spoken as He speaks now. Now in her heartache and emptiness there is none can speak to her like her Lord Himself. What presses on her heart is her trespass against love, the thought that a grace so great has been slighted, and a trust so true and loyal has been betrayed. It is when a man’s sins have created a wilderness around him that the Saviour comes near and speaks to the heart. Wilderness discipline, with all its privations, and with all its pain, its remorse for the past, and its dread for the future, is well worth bearing if at the last it brings the Redeemer to speak to the heart.
III. Love’s tokens. The gifts which love bestows.
1. Blessings in possession. Of the self-same kind as the blessings which the bride had lost. God took away the vines. He grants vines again, and more abundant. Whether our wilderness discipline has its issue in temporal restorations or not, it may always be rich in spiritual blessing. There are grapes of grace to be gathered from the thorns of trial, and a meeting with Christ is always sufficient to turn the wilderness to a vineyard, where the chalice of the soul may be filled, and the strength of the soul be renewed by the fulness and exhilarations of God.
2. Blessings in prospect. Achor was a passage into Canaan. Fertile in itself, it was welcome to Israel as an earnest of the greater fertility of Canaan beyond. By its physical formation the valley of Achor was, in a most literal sense, a door of hope in front of the Israelites.
IV. The effects which love produces. “She shall sing there.” In the old times there had been unholy mirth. Now she fears to sing the song of the old innocent time. But those whom God pardons, He pardons freely; those whom He restores, He restores right royally. In the days of your Christian youth you could sing. But the glory died, you scarce know how. Grace languished, vows were forgotten, love grew cold, and you fell by degrees from habits of secret neglect into acts of open sin. But yours may be singing days still; for with new material for such singing, the Lord will restore you the heart that can sing, with more than the old love back again. The song will be different, but fuller and richer, set to a steadier cadence, touching a deeper note; the song not of those who are ignorant of sin, but of those who have sinned, and sinned deeply, but by God’s grace are forgiven. (W. A. Gray.)
The profit of affliction
The Jews are to be regarded as a typical people. Their history is all along a parable more or less descriptive of what befalls the Christian Church, whether collectively or in its individual members. The text belongs in a special sense to the Jew. It may, however, be taken in a secondary sense. Notice the expression “allure.” We are often actually allured into the wilderness. You may enter the wilderness by a rough path, or by a smooth path. In the majority of cases men are allured into the wilderness. It is in a chase after happiness that men find themselves lonely and wretched. He who follows what attracts him, and finds it end in disappointment, is certainly allured into the wilderness. There is hardly a person under affliction of which this is not a faithful description. God allures, not that He may speak harshly, but that He may speak comfortably. The text declares that afflictions may be made occasions of advantage, or be converted into instruments of spiritual benefit. We may appeal concerning the gracious uses of affliction to the living and to the dead. With one voice they will reply,--that their best lessons in spiritual truth, their clearest views of the glory of heaven, their largest apprehensions of the work of the Mediator, their fullest proofs of the preciousness of God, were all acquired under processes of chastening. From the reference to the valley of Achor we may learn that sorrows which are specially the chastisement of misdoings may issue in a firmer hope of salvation. “The valley of Achor is a door of hope.” It is when a man is quite confounded with the view of his own sins that he is fitted for the gracious announcement of a free pardon through Christ. The figure applies to cases of conversion and renewal of heart, and also to cases of backsliding. (Henry Mevill, B. D.)
The loving discipline of God
This is the language of metaphor, borrowed from the facts of history. God is in all history. In the history of Israel He manifested Himself in an especial manner. In the Old Testament the historical passes readily into the typical. When Hosea wrote the children of Israel were once more sunk in idolatry. They were forgetting Jehovah and yielding themselves up to the self-indulgences and immoralities of heathen life. But the principles of Divine government were the same as ever. God made them feel that the land of sin is the land of bondage. He would cause them to experience the miseries that flow from idolatry. Then He would come to their rescue and reveal His compassion. He would win them back to loyalty by the twofold manifestation of His righteousness and mercy. He would make the valley of humiliation the avenue to victory.
I. The constancy and tenderness of the Divine love. Observe how the nation of Israel is personified. A faithful husband cannot become indifferent even to a faithless wife. Blended with the Divine wrath against idolatry--yea, lying at the very root of that wrath- is the Eternal Love. These words not only reveal constancy, they also breathe tenderness. Speaking to the heart reaches the affections, thrills the soul, awakens responsive echoes there. Thus God receives the penitent when they plead for pardon. The term “allure” expresses that kind of influence, the very strength of which lies in its subtlety and gentleness. In the Bible the word is generally used of evil enticements (e.g., Samson and Delilah)
. Men are gradually led into sin, step by step, through a seductive fascination which is far more potent than any obtrusive force. But there is a holy as well as an unholy “allurement.” God has His indirect methods of reaching the human will. Goodness, as well as evil, woos the soul. The love of God, as here set forth in its constancy and tenderness, is a substantial verity. The Bible speaks of Divine love in the terms of human affection. Man is made in the Divine image, and therefore, through the affection of our own souls, we can rise into some conceptions of the eternal love. God’s love is the inspirer of all true affection. His love is the very fountain of ours. By our wanderings God is grieved. God really does wish you to reciprocate His love. God does allure.
II. The beneficent purpose of the Divine discipline and chastisement. The wilderness is typical of the discipline to which God subjects His people. The Arabian desert was the school in which the Israelites were trained for the exercise of freedom. In Hosea’s time Israel needed a repetition of the old lesson. She would, therefore, be brought again into the wilderness. God does not subject us to hardship for hardship’s sake. It is needful for us that we be led into the wilderness. To give us the vineyards at once might be only to enervate us--to loosen the fibre of our moral being to intoxicate, instead of exhilarating, our souls. And so, in one form or another, all men have to pass through discipline. Through all forms of trial there runs the same beneficent purpose. God designs to bring us into a true and safe prosperity; and so He seeks, by strengthening our character, to prepare us for entering into the land of “vineyards” The “valley of Achor” may be taken as typical of the Divine chastisements. The afflictions with which we are visited often assume to our consciences the aspect of correction. Our calamities, bringing us into the light of God, bring us also face to face with the sins which that light condemns. Sometimes we can trace the connection between our troubles and our transgressions. But accept your trouble as the chastisement of One who loves you, the “valley of Achor” will be made to you a “door of hope.” Never murmur under any of the Divine dealings. Realise the constancy and tenderness of Ills holy love. He is a “jealous God”; but is there no such thing as a righteous and holy jealousy in man? God cannot love us and be indifferent as to whether we love Him or not. Cling then to hope, even in the midst of severest trials. These trials are either to chastise us for our transgressions, or else to mould our characters after a nobler type. In either case a loving purpose underlies them. (T. Campbell Finlayson.)
The rod of mercy
The text describes the way God takes with those offenders to whom He has “thoughts of peace and not of evil.” Apply this to the spiritual Israel, to all who are called into the fold of Christ.
I. The way in which those whom God loves are rebuked and chastened by Him. “I will allure her,” etc. The wilderness was to the Israelites an emblem of affliction. It was a wilderness in which their forefathers had spent forty years of trial and chastisement. Into the wilderness of trouble the Lord brings every member of His family, both at the time of their conversion and after it. God often calls the Christian off from the path of ease and satisfaction, and makes him feel the thorns and briers of affliction, because he is loving earthly things too well, and losing sight of God, cleaving to the creature more than to the Creator. But the afflictions of God’s people are not like the afflictions of the world. God does not drive His people to the wilder ness, He brings them there,--that is to say, He goes with them Himself. Believers are, in a certain sense, “allured” to trouble, for they are well assured that their Lord knows better than they do what is really good for them.
II. The comfort which attends God’s chastisements. “Speak comfortably to her.” The Lord speaks thus to the newly awakened soul, and He has comforts for every after stage of experience. Never does He “bring them into the wilderness” of trouble but He comes down and talks with them. In distress of mind they may think God has forsaken them; but it is not so, for He is by, and full of tenderness, though He seem to deal with them severely. Soon they know and feel this, for His comforts flow into their hearts.
III. The good fruits which follow the afflictions of God’s people. Vineyards from a wilderness! A crop of grapes from a barren and dry land! In the spiritual wilderness of trouble and affliction such wonders do occur. Had the sinner never smarted for his sins he never would have reaped the fruits of a Redeemer’s love. The text is true with respect to all the wildernesses which the Christian enters in his pilgrimage through life. Never does he cross the desert land of trouble but he gathers fruits there. The believer is enriched by his afflictions. When the Lord straitens him in one respect, He enlarges him in another. The spiritual Achor becomes a door of hope. He expects great things from a God whose mercies and whose loving-kindnesses he has found so plenteous.
IV. The thanks givings which God’s chastened people are sure to return, in the issue, unto him who smote them. “She shall sing there.” This first refers to the Israelites, and recalls the song at the Red Sea. Applied to the Lord’s people generally, it signifies that their troubles also should-issue in a song of praise. What believer is there who would not sing, with all his heart and soul, the hymn that should bless God for his afflictions? He would never have known his joys but for his sorrows. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
The Christian in the wilderness
The “wilderness” became, for the Israelites, another word for trouble and sorrow.
I. The author of affliction. God forces Himself on our notice as the source Of His people’s troubles. Why this anxiety in a God of love to stand thus forward as the author of misery?
1. Because we are so backward in affliction to discern His hand.
2. We can get no good out of affliction, and no real comfort under it, till we view it as sent to us from Him. When we discern God at the very root of our sufferings, then the knee bends, the prayer goes up, and the blessing comes down. Then, for the first time, we are quieted and subdued. When we see that a Father’s hand has mingled the cup of bitterness, we soon do more than say, “Shall I not drink it”
II. Why God afflicts us. The text discovers to us one of the most frequent causes of our sorrows. It is our forget fulness of God, and that not in His judgments, but in His mercies, a failing to recognise His hand in them. It may be you have lost some of your earthly mercies; but you know why God has stripped you bare, as well as though His own voice sounded it from heaven in your ears. You had forgotten Him in His gifts. You tried to live “without God in the world.” In jealousy for His own honour, in love for your souls, He withdrew the gifts you had abused. He made you feel once again that you need Him. God never deprives us of things without a cause. But if you will not see Him in the enjoyment of them, He will make you see Him in their loss.
III. How God sometimes afflicts us. Gradually, compassionately, tenderly. Sometimes His judgments appear to come suddenly. This is His way usually with the strong. He carries the weak and inexperienced “into the wilderness.” A mother’s tenderness could not equal His. He shows them how much they need affliction, and how much good they will derive from it, Other men are driven into the wilderness, the Christian is allured into it.
IV. The comfort which the Lord imparts in the wilderness. Others speak comfortably to us in our sorrow, but if that sorrow is deep, what power have their words! God speaks to the heart, and then everything comforts, for God speaks by everything.
V. The supplies which God furnishes in tribulation. He represents Himself as more than a Comforter, He is a Benefactor, and a rich one. He has promised vineyards in the wilderness. Such blessings as will more than supply the place of those lost. And these are actually to grow out of our afflictions.
VI. The hope that God excites in affliction. Even when trouble came on trouble, and things seemed to be quite hopeless, God opened a door of hope. Learn the effect to be produced on Israel by the mercies vouchsafed to her. (C. Bradley.)
These words are poetically descriptive of the restoration of Israel to the Divine fellowship and favour. They reveal God’s purpose in regard to every penitent prodigal m all ages.
I. Soul-restoration--in its origin. The originating causes, for the most part, lie back of what is Seen. The agencies that go to make summer are Divine. And the same is true of the soul. The only agencies that can prove effective in restoring it to summer experience and fruitfulness must come from God. It is not repentance, nor faith, nor service, nor sacrifice does it. As the sun carries all the influences needful to give richness to the trees and fragrance to the flowers, even so does God treasure up within Himself all those influences and inspirations which are essential to the enrichment of the soul. It would be a sad thing for us if our spiritual restoration were dependent on our good deeds. The Divine effulgence is necessary to our illumination. The Divine inflowing of life and warmth is essential to the production of Christian sensibility. The sun does not shine upon this earth because it is fair and fruitful; he shines rather to make it so. It is not our goodness or our prayers that cause God to love and bless, but He loves and blesses that we might become recipients of all Christian grace and excellence.
II. In its methods. How does God restore the soul In a family the disobedient one is punished. No treatment could be too severe to meet the case of backsliding Israel; and yet God m His mercy says, I will allure her.” He had left her for awhile. He had permitted her to indulge her vanities unrestrained. At length He hedged up her way. But all these methods proved to be ineffectual. Is it not amazing that He did not turn away in disgust But with infinite tenderness He says, “I will allure her into the wilderness.” I have tried these various methods without result. I will now exercise my fascinations to win back her love. What is the “wilderness” into which God leads?
1. The wilderness is suggestive of barrenness. The Arabian desert is a fitting type of that soul’s experiences which has been led away from its vanities, and brought into a conscious sense of the Divine nearness and purity. The best men who have ever lived have shrivelled up in the all-radiant presence of the Holy One. The wilderness ever stands between guilt and holiness. You cannot become estranged from God in affection and be restored to the experiences of His favour without being brought into the wilderness. He makes you realise your poverty and guilt that you may be prepared to rejoice in His forgiveness.
2. The wilderness is suggestive of solitude. There is no scene more isolated from the busy life of the world. Solitude is necessary to repentance. It is only when alone with our great Lord that we learn to despise our frivolities and sins and yearn for succour in His unchanging love.
3. The wilderness is suggestive of terror. The Sinai Mount is in the wilderness. The flaming law lifts up its awful voice of condemnation. Sinai must frown before Calvary can smile.
III. In its blessings. She is only brought into the wilderness that she might be weaned away from her illicit loves. No sooner does she begin to blush and weep and tremble than her gracious Lord takes her into His arms and presses her to His bosom, and enriches her with all the wealth of His affection. Here we have--
1. Affluent experiences. No imagery could be more expressive. The desert transformed into a paradise. The experiences of the Christian life are too rich and exquisite to be exhausted by any imagery. The Lord gives, not merely a sufficiency but a superabundancy.
2. An inspiring hope. The valley of trouble has often become a door of hope to God’s chosen. When they have been most perplexed, their deliverance has been most glorious. On the darkest night of their sorrow has broken the effulgence of the brightest day.
IV. In its effects. When our souls have been restored, we too shall “sing as in the days of our youth.” How was it with us then?
1. What praise!
2. What triumph!
3. What exultation!
How many of us stand in supreme need of soul-restoration! We have lost the power and blessedness of a songful life. Our spiritual sensibilities are benumbed, and our spiritual energies paralysed. O Lord, be gracious unto us as in the days that are past! (Benjamin D. Thomas.)
These words refer to the restoration of Israel to friendship and fellowship with God.
I. The stages in soul-restoration are gradual.
1. The first step to soul-restoration is from bondage to liberty. All souls are in moral Egypt, and the first step to their restoration is their exodus into the moral Arabia.
2. The next step is from despondency to hope. In spiritual restoration the soul passes from trouble into hope. Through much tribulation we enter into kingdoms.
3. The next step is from sterility to fruitfulness. The wilderness was a barren district, but Canaan was a land of vineyards.
4. The next step is from sadness to exultation. The song of the redeemed at last will be the song of Moses and the Lamb.
II. The agency in soul-restoration is divine. No one but God can restore souls. Mark how He does it.
1. Morally. Not by force.
2. Lovingly. “Speak comfortably to her.”
3. Generously. He who gave Canaan to the Jews gives heaven to restored souls. (Homilist.)
The valley of Achor for a door of hope.--
The valley of Achor
The history of the nation is the history of the individual magnified. The records of God’s dealings with the nation represent to us, on a larger scale, God’s dealings with the individual. The dealings of God with the individual human heart are generally of so delicate a character, and are so frequently concealed in the secret experiences of our inner life, that it is extremely difficult for even a careful observer to follow them in detail, and apprehend them with any degree of completeness. We are helped, however, by having the history of God’s dealings with the nation, and knowing that these are His dealings with the individual magnified. In this chapter we have the record of God’s dealings with Israel at a period of national apostasy and backsliding. It is evident that God does not think slightingly of sin. The first consequence of national sin is national judgment, inflicted by a rejected God, At last judgments begin to produce the designed effect, and Israel begins to discover that the God who seemed to be her enemy is her real and only faithful friend. In all this we have a picture of God’s dealing with the wayward heart, by which His Divine love designs to win it back from its apostasy and forgetfulness of Him. Observe the first step that Divine love and pity takes. God finds us in our pride and wilfulness, and endeavouring to obtain that satisfaction in the creature which is only to be found in the Creator; and He begins by opening our eyes to the emptiness of all these things in which we have sought our satisfaction; and however slow we are to learn the lesson, He waits His opportunity to allure us into the wilderness. And a dreary wilderness it is. It is a painful process, this opening of the eyes. We shrink from being undeceived; we are reluctant to believe that the world is a grand imposture. We try to persuade ourselves that we shall find in it all we want, and shrink from the dissipation of our fondly cherished anticipations. Sometimes it is by sorrow and bereavement that we are allured into the wilderness. Sometimes God deals with His wandering ones by an inward impression, by the direct and indescribable influences of His Holy Spirit, by outward circumstances, by unlooked-for relief and deliverance. Thus He allures us into the wilderness, to draw us away from our love for, and our confidence in earthly things, and then, when we are thus prepared, to speak to our hearts as He only can. “Speak comfortably,” should be, “speak to her heart.” The world can speak to our fancy, and to our intellect, God can speak to our heart; that heart whose wants you have ignored, or to which you have denied what it most needed. He brings to our mind all His wondrous dealings with us in the past. As we look back a flood of recognition rolls over the soul, and a burden of contrition begins to weigh upon our heart, such as it never felt before. Yet from the wilderness where God’s voice has spoken to the heart, the new era of true fruitfulness is to begin. “I will give her her vineyards from thence.” The firstfruits of the new life are to be gathered in the vintage of joy--the wine that maketh glad the heart of man. Other fruits may follow, but this generally comes first. But how are we to enter upon this new life of fruitful joy and of joyful fruit? If we are to get into the vineyards, we must enter them through God’s appointed door--the “valley of Achor.” God makes it a “door of hope.” What we need above everything is a “door of hope,” a way out of the hideous desolation of our despair. But where shall it be found? None but God knows of a door of hope for perishing man, and He must give it, or our hope is vain. The valley of Achor recalls a national repentance for a national sin: an act of solemn repudiation of sin; it was the place of a great and tragic national expiation. We, too, have a door of hope, strangely similar, and yet strangely different from this. There was One found among the sons of men, who was able and willing to make expiation for man’s sins. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
A door of hope
1. How is this valley of Achor a door of hope to Israel?
(1) Because it was the first place of which they took possession in Israel, and began to have outward means of subsistence, and to eat of the corn of the land.
(2) God made their great trouble there a means of much good to them, for by that they were brought to purge their camp.
2. How was the valley of Achor to be a door of hope to Israel in after-times? The Jews think that Israel shall return into their own country again by the same way to Canaan, by that valley, which shall thus be a door of hope to them. As God turned this valley of trouble to much good to them, so He would turn all the sore afflictions of Israel in after days to their great advantage, grievous afflictions which should make way for glorious mercies. Sin will make the pleasantest place in the world a place of trouble. When may we assure ourselves that our mercies are doors of hope to further mercies?
1. When they are wrought by the more immediate hand of God.
2. When they are spiritual mercies.
3. When mercies carry to us the God of mercy, and are turned into duties. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
A door of hope
These words reminded an Israelite of a great failure, and, as the word “Achor” means, of a great trouble--nay, of a great tragedy. It implied to him that history was repeating itself, that old sins were to be followed by old punishments, and that beyond those punishments, as of old, there was hope. Israel, in Hosea’s days, was largely apostate and idolatrous. Here it is addressed as the unfaithful bride of Jehovah. Achor is Hebrew for “trouble,” and it was chosen for its likeness to Achan, the “troubler.” Achan’s sin was not an open scandal which brought dishonour on the cause of God by its publicity. Secret sins are more common than public ones. They satisfy the sinful instinct more economically, and those who commit them are tempted to persuade themselves that because they do not corrupt others by the taint of bad example they are really much more venial. Achan had persuaded no one to join him in his act of sacrilege. We often wonder why great causes flag and fail, why so little comes of schemes for doing good into which much heart has been thrown, and for which great sacrifices have been made. We count up, we measure, we lay stress on the difficulties of the undertaking itself, and we satisfy ourselves that these difficulties furnish the real reason of the failure. May it not be that the true cause of failure lies nearer home, that something is hidden away in the tent of the soul? And moral weakness is contagious; it radiates from soul to soul just as does moral force. We feel its presence by a sure though inexplicable instinct, when we cannot give an account of it to our selves or to others. As the strength of the Church of Christ lies not in her external circumstances, but in the secret prayers and deeds of souls whose names are unknown, so the weakness of the Church lies not in the number or fierceness of her enemies, but in the secret unbelief and sins of her children. Achan, Judas, Diotrephes, these had a fearful power of traversing God’s purposes of mercy. If we knew more, we should see how God acts at times even now by His providence as He acted of old by Joshua: how men are removed with swift decisions from this earthly scene because they bring to the cause of truth and goodness that moral paralysis and collapse which comes with cherished wrong-doing. None of us are too high or too low to promote or to weaken the cause of Christ in the world. The well-being of God’s Israel from age to age is the law of God’s constant government, and the valley of trouble for the individual wrong-doer is the door of hope for the Church, for the nation, for the race. The fate of the family of Achan has been an occasion of difficulty. No doubt he and his family were regarded as forming, in some sense, a moral whole, not merely as a set of individuals. Scripture does take these two views of human beings. On the individual aspect the Gospel, no doubt, specially insists, but it does not by any means ignore or dispease with the corporate aspect. A common human nature we all share. This principle of the reality of a common human nature which we all share explains our loss of righteousness in Adam; but it tells to our advantage even more decisively, for it explains our recovery of righteousness in Christ. How can this be unless Christ is the head of a family which He endows with His saving righteousness, just as Adam endowed his descendants with a legacy of sin and death? The principle of the solidarity of human beings tells for good as it tells for evil. We see the operation of this law in the physical and social life of man written in characters too plain to be mistaken. Achan’s children were involved in their father’s guilt on a somewhat like principle. But the truth is, that we see here a deeper sense in which the valley of Achor is a door of hope. In order to explain the tragedy we must resort to that larger ,conception of the destiny of man which was affirmed with varying degrees of distinctness by the Jewish revelation. If all ended with this life it would be very difficult if not impossible to explain occurrences of this sort consistently with the belief that the world is governed by an absolute and unerring justice. Those who do not believe in a future after death are perfectly, right in taking as their do, the very gloomiest view of our present existence; while, on the other hand, faith in such a future enables us to understand how the tragedies of human life and history are strictly consistent with the moral attributes of God. In later ages than Joshua’s the separate relation of each individual soul with God was more distinctly marked by revelation. And Christ our Lord, if I may say so, yet further extricated the individual soul from the mass of human nature, and placed it face to face, in an awful and a blessed solitude, with the mercy and with the justice of God. Each Christian is redeemed as though redemption had been wrought for him alone. The general truth, which is independent of the cases of Israel and Achan, is that the punishment which God sends may open the way to life’s choicest blessings, or to blessings which lie far away beyond it. What is of most importance is that when trouble comes to each one of us it should be recognised as coming from God, and accepted as His will, as due certainly to our sins, and therefore as the best thing possible that could happen. Trial is from God, and there is therefore a hope beyond it. (H. P. Liddon, D. D.)
A door of hope
In the language that God used when there was not much writing, signal events often took the place of books: Points of natural scenery were turned into historic ciphers, and geography into a chronicle. Give the story of Achan. That “day” was lengthened out till, seven centuries later, when another seer is lifting the curtain of Israel’s still later future, he takes up the old name to signify the new sorrow, the greater sacrifice, and the sublimer deliverance to come. Every Jew would understand the historic allusion, “I will give her the valley of Achor for a door of hope.” It is true of the first beginnings of the Christian life, and of its subsequent recovery from decline and coldness. There must be some suffering at the narrow door by which the imperilled and straitened soul passes through into liberty and rest. It is just as true of most of our richest gains, our noblest advancements, in all spiritual clear-sightedness and strength, that they are reached through pain and privation. It very rarely happens that we receive what we particularly need, without being obliged to give up what we particularly prize. If the sacrifice is not laid upon us voluntarily by ourselves, it has to be laid on by a hand more merciful than our own, and more concerned in our salvation. Trouble is the price of power. From one side of the globe to another, from the beginning to the end, the glory of the earth, the openings of its everlasting hope, are its valleys of trouble. The way to Christ’s final majesty lies through the humiliations of pain. From Gethsemane to Calvary was the one true valley of Achor. (F. D. Huntington, D. D.)
A door of hope
As there is light in the darkest cloud, so there is a ray of heavenly hope in the greatest calamities; yea, there is light in God’s most terrible judgments, for in punishment God mercifully opens before the sinner a door of hope. Illustrated in the incidents associated with Ai. There is no punishment so heavy, no misery so great, no sorrow so deep, and no trial so bitter, that God cannot change it into a door of hope.
I. Human suffering a door of heavenly hope. For sinful and imperfect beings there is no door of hope but in suffering, and this fact transfigures and glorifies suffering itself, and teaches sinful men to look for their redemption in what they strive to escape from. This is the glorious truth taught in the text. The wilderness itself will be changed into a glorious and blessed inheritance unto her. The valley of trouble is the threshold of the promised inheritance. There is a great difference between delivering from trouble and changing the trouble itself into a door of hope. This gives a new character to the sufferings and trials of life, and to God’s chastisements, punishments, and judgments, because there is in them all a door of hope, to which God graciously and patiently leads the “sufferer. It was in this respect only that the valley of Achor could be a door of hope. The captivity in Babylon was a valley of Achor, and it proved a door of hope. National calamities are doors of hope for nations. In what respect can it be said that there is a door of hope in punishments and sufferings deserved? If they are retributive only, there cannot be a ray of hope in them, but if they are redemptive and reformative as well, they are God s wise and merciful method of leading sinners to Himself. The notion that they are retributive only is unworthy of God, for we can never conceive of Him as administering punishment for its own sake. God’s punishments are means to bless, and have great and glorious ends. God is sympathetical in all suffering, not with sin, of course, but with the sufferer, whether he is guilty or not. He is ever striving with intense yearning to lead him to Himself. Every good and holy man, who lives for the good of others and the glory of God, suffers in the sufferings of all those to whom he ministers. If this is true of man, how much more must it be so of God?
II. We are not to despair of the worst characters. However sinful and hard-hearted men may become, they can never go beyond God’s power to touch their hearts. A man who lost all his senses by paralysis was found to have a tender spot on his cheek, by which communications could be made to him. So God can always find a tender spot in the worst, and He can speak words that will melt the hardest hearts into repentance because of their sins. (Z. Mather.)
The valley of Achor
At each mention of this valley it is a door of hope.
I. The valley of entrance. It was the gateway of Canaan. It marked a great transition. Here pilgrimage ceased; here residence began. Here great changes occurred, which are accomplished by a very short march across a great boundary line. The valley of Achor was to Israel a door of hope, because it was the gateway to the full possession of the land. Across the line within the kingdom of God’s grace there is a door of hope. He who obeys the Divine command, crosses, enters, dwells, may through this entrance valley pass into all the treasures of grace and glory.
II. The valley of trouble. The first camp became a scene of disorder and dismay. Story of Achan. Hard lessons yield a rich reward. Rough places become monumental. Success is the fruit of failure. The valley of trouble becomes a door of hope to brighter scenes and deeper joys.
III. The valley of renewal. The silence of centuries passed over Achor’s vale. Israel had forgotten God, and broken all their vows. Then God recalled to Israel the valley of early vows and glad consecration, and proposed to make it the valley of renewal. From farthest wandering, greatest sin, saddest ruin, deepest sorrow, God can bring back the troubled one to the valley of Achor. With God nothing is irreparable. A ruined life, irreparable by human skill, may here be renewed. Its sad record may be erased. Life may be begun again. God invites the wanderer back to the starting-point. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The valley of troubling
“Achor” means “troubling,” and the valley got its name from a great crime, a great disaster, and a great act of judicial punishment. The crime was that of Achan, who hid in his tent spoil that ought to have been consecrated to Jehovah. The disaster was the consequent defeat of the Israelites in their assault upon one of the hill cities of Canaan. Hosea is prophesying of the captivity in Babylon under the figure of a repetition of the earlier history and the experience of the Exodus, and he takes some of the ancient incidents that would be familiar to his hearers’ memories, in order to illustrate one thought--that this second bondage shall be different from the trials of the Exodus, in so far as much that was terrible then shall be changed into blessedness. For instance, “I will bring her into the wilderness,. . . and I will give her vineyards from thence,”--grapes and fertility in the barren sand! Similarly, “the valley of trouble” shall be turned “into a door of hope.” Let me, then, suggest two or three ways in which, in our daily experience, this great promise may, in spirit and substance, be fulfilled. It tells us how defeat may become victory. Go back to the old story. Achan hid the Babylonish garment and the wedge of gold in his tent, and did not say a word about it to anybody. God commanded Joshua to hurl his men against At. The Hebrews went in obedience to God’s commandment, and were beaten back. But after that, they stoned Achan, and then they were victorious. It is very often the case that Christian people cannot do what they evidently are intended to do. Very often we fail in power to carry out some plain duty. That is often because there is an Achan somewhere; kill him, and you will capture At. And every hidden sin of ours that we take hold of by the throat and drag from its lair into the light, and unsparingly slay and bury under a cairn of stones, contributes to our capacity to do our duty, and to our victory over all adverse circumstances--
“His strength was as the strength of ten,
Because his heart was pure.”
And so we may learn that if we have been beaten once, and again attack, and again are foiled, the shameful disaster is a Divine warning to us to took not only to our equipment, but our temper, and to see whether the reason for failure lies not only in something wrong in the details or accompaniments of our effort, but in something lacking in the communion which we have with God Himself. But again, Hosea’s imaginative use of the old story teaches us how hope may co-exist with trouble, sorrow, trial, affliction, or the like. Such co-existence is quite possible. “Oh!” you say, “a man’s feelings cannot be cut up into two halves after that fashion.” Well, it is not being cut up into two halves; but did you ever notice that often, up in the sky, there will be two layers of clouds going in directly opposite ways? The lower one is perhaps hurrying southwards, and the upper one passing to the north. Just so there may be these two layers of feeling in a man’s soul, even when he is most harassed by outward difficulties. There may be a drift in the one direction, of the lower emotions and sensitivenesses of his spirit, and a clear carry in the other direction of the uppermost element of his consciousness. It is possible that we may feel on our aching shoulders and bent backs the heavy and galling weight of some sore burden either of trouble, some duty or of crushing sorrow, and yet that side by side with that there should be the clear hope which makes it a “light affliction which is but for a moment.” That magician Hope turns lead into feathers, and, as in an air pump when you take out the atmospheric air, all things become of the same weight; that is, of no weight at all. If we keep near Jesus Christ, communion with Him will give an insight into His purposes, and a confidence in the love that moulds them, which will make it possible, even when most heavily “weighed upon with sore distress,” to be light of heart, and like Paul and Silas in prison, to sing songs though our backs be bleeding from the rods, and our wrists be fettered with the chains. They tell us that the six months of the Arctic night are the occasion for the display in the heavens of such glories of the aurora as we do not know anything about in lower latitudes. As the darkness and the deadly frost increase, it is possible that our skies may glow with these flaming lights, until there is a great brightness as in the midday, and far more of mystery and glory and beauty than midday knows, though the rocks may remain just as they were, as grim and black as before; the valley of Achor may be changed, if we see yonder, coming down it to meet us, the fair form of Hope, led by the hand of Christ Him self. Further, there is a last point that I would suggest, and that is how Hosea here teaches us, not only the possible co-existence of hope and trouble, but the sure issue of rightly borne trouble in a brighter hope. Assuredly, if a man has accepted the providences there will follow on the darkest of them a brightening hope. There are a great many reasons why that is so. If I take, as they were meant, all the annoyances, the little irritations and the great ones, mosquito bites and serpents’ stings, the troubles and trials that make up my life, then they will all refine my character. God uses the emery-paper of very rough circumstances to polish His instruments. Do your troubles and mine refine our character? That is what God is doing with us by all our troubles, and when we are, if I might so say, scraped thin enough, the light of heaven--that is, hope--will shine through us. The “valley of Achor” will be “a door of hope.” Then there is another reason why the sure child of trouble patiently, Christianly borne, is a more joyful hope. And that reason is set out in full by a man that was an expert in trouble, namely, Paul, when he says “tribulation worketh patience.” Does it, Paul? Sometimes it worketh impatience; sometimes it worketh desperation; sometimes it worketh almost the casting away of faith altogether; but if it does the right thing, it works patience. The ship has come through the hurricane, and has not started a leak, or, as the sailors say, “turned turtle,” and therefore we may trust the ship and its captain in any future storms. Thus tribulation, which borne in faith works patience, and patience which brings evidence of a Divine Helper, teach us to say, “Thou hast been my help; Thou wilt be my help.” And so hope is the last blessed result of tribulation. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The valley of Achor
The Israelite past seems to Hosea a mirror in which to read their future. The gloomy gorge through which at one time Israel journeyed proved a door of hope. In all our difficulties and sorrows it is within our power to turn them into occasions for a firmer grasp of God, and so to make them openings by which a happier hope may flow into our souls. But this promise, like all God’s promises, has its well-defined conditions. All depends on how we use the trial.
I. The trouble which detaches us from earth gives us new hope. Sometimes the effect of our sorrows is to rivet us more firmly to earth. The loss of dear friends should stamp their image on our hearts, and set it as in a golden glory. But it sometimes does more than that: it makes us put the present with its duties impatiently away from us. The trouble that does not draw us away from the present will never be a door of hope, but rather a grim gate for despair to come in at.
2. The trouble which knits us to God gives us new hope. All the light of hope is the reflection on our hearts of the light of God. It is only when we by faith stand in His grace, and live in the conscious fellowship of peace with Him, that we rejoice in hope. Sorrow forsakes its own nature, and leads in its own opposite, when sorrow helps us to see God. Hope is but the brightness that goes before God’s face, and if we would see it we must look at Him.
3. The trouble which we bear rightly, with Gods good help, gives new hope. If we have made our sorrow an occasion of learning, by living experience, somewhat more of His exquisitely varied and ever ready power to aid and bless, then it will teach us firmer confidence in these inexhaustible resources which we have thus once more proved. “Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.” That is the order. You cannot put patience and experience into a parenthesis, and omitting them, bring hope out of tribulation. I build upon two things--God’s unchangeableness, and His help already received. Upon these strong foundations I may wisely and safely rear a palace of hope, which shaft never prove a castle in the air. The past, when it is God’s past, is the surest pledge for the future. Then lot us set ourselves with our loins girt to the road. The slope of the valley of trouble is ever upwards. Never mind how dark the shadow of death which stretches athwart it is. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A door of hope
This chapter is full of God’s I wills. It is easy to enumerate between twenty and thirty. And as we read them over, we are lost in wonder at all that God is prepared to do for us, who have wandered from Him. It is only another illustration of the truth that God’s love is inexhaustible, and that He will not fail nor be discouraged till He has executed His purpose in each of those whom He has taken to be His own. Let us imagine a narrow, rocky defile. A mountain torrent, rapid and muddy, hurries downward beside the path, strewn with rough slate and jagged stones, which climbs up to the head of the pass. On either side walls of rock rear themselves, steamy with moisture, and covered with festoons of hanging plants and ferns; above, a narrow chink of blue shows itself where the walls of rock almost meet; all is wild, and lonely, and terrible. And there, with bleeding feet, clothed in scanty rags, a female figure crouches in brokenness of heart and desperate straits. Such is the valley of Achor, or trouble; and that is Israel in the hour of her extreme distress. God has allured her from paths of vice and sin into the wilderness. Her way has been so hedged up that she could not find her paths. Corn and wine have failed; wool and flax have been withdrawn; earrings and jewels have been stripped off. Yet, as she is on the point of abandoning herself to the uttermost abyss of despair, the air seems to quiver with angel-wings, and to thrill with the repeated declarations of the Divine purposes of grace. And beneath their impulse the sinner is heard to say, “I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.” Ah, blessed resolve! It is the angel of Hope; and when she reaches the place where the penitent kneels, she touches with her wand the adjoining rock, and lo! it swings backward, and opens a way straight into a smiling landscape of luxuriant beauty, where the corn waves, and the juice reddens in the clustered grapes. It is the door of hope in the valley of Achor, through which the penitent passes from the wilderness into the garden of paradise, where the sun ever shines, and the breeze is heavy with perfume. Something like this happens still. At some time or other we shall have to pass through the valley of Achor. The road to our home lies that way. We cannot forget the incident which first gave its name to the valley of Achor, and which will throw light on one of the frequent causes of our coming thither. Flushed with their successful capture of Jericho, the tribes of Israel chose out a handful of their number to capture the little town of Ai, which stood at the top of the defile leading from the Jordan plain into the heart of the country. The work seemed altogether inconsiderable, and any great effort needless. Ah! how little they expected that ere the night fell that little band of warriors would be fleeing in hot haste down the pass, pursued almost to the gates of the camp by the foe!--not because they were wanting in prowess, but because the forbidden thing was concealed in one of their tents, standing in apparent innocence amongst the rest, which glistened as lign-aloes beside the rivers. There are troubles which God sends us directly from His Fatherly chastening hand; these are not so hard to bear, because, if with one hand He uses the scourge, with the other He binds, and heals, and applies the leaves of the tree of life. There are other troubles which come to us from men; these, too, are bearable, because we can turn to Him for vindication, and count on Him for sympathy and fellowship. But there are other troubles for which we are ourselves accountable, because we have taken of the forbidden thing, and have hidden it in our hearts, smoothing over the earth that it appear not to men. It may be that some who read these words will find here a photograph of themselves, of the inner reason why their lives have been so full of defeat and failure. They are met in every direction by shut gates. The way is hedged up by thorns (Joshua 7:10-13). Deliverance from the valley of Achor is impossible until a solemn convocation has been held in the heart, to which all the motives, and purposes, and intentions of the inner life have been summoned. The lot must be solemnly cast. Is it the inner life or the outer? And if the inner, is it soul or spirit? And if the soul, is it the past, present, or future; retrospective or prospective; memory or hope? And if it be neither of these, but some permitted evil in the present, is it in the emotions or the will? The cause of our defeat and failure must perish, that we may ourselves be saved. Maiming is, after all, not too dear a price to pay, if only we may enter into life. And if we be too tender-hearted to deal strongly and vigorously with the Achan who has caused us defeat and loss, let us go to our merciful and faithful High Priest, who carries in His hand the sharp, two-edged sword, which pierces to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; and let us implore Him to do for us what we cannot, or dare not, do for ourselves. He will not fail us in our extremity. He will do the work as tenderly and as thoroughly as the ease requires. Only let us believe that in every valley of Achor there is a door of hope, if we will but dare to stone Achan to death. And when the cairn of stones beneath which he lies is reared in the valley, we shall ascend the long pass to victory. As sure as God is true, there is a way out of every trouble into assured and glorious victory, if only in the trouble we will do God’s will on Achan. Time would fail to tell of all the advantages to which that door will lead. Some of them are enumerated here. “She shall sing “ (Hosea 2:15). There shall be a return of joy, which had fled from the heart. “Thou shalt call Me Ishi” (Hosea 2:16). There shall be a deeper knowledge of God, so that He shall be rather the Husband than the Master. “I will make a covenant” (Hosea 2:18). There shall be realised a blessed unity with all creation. “I will hear” (Hosea 2:21). There shall be new power in prayer, and answers shall tread in each other’s footsteps, as they hasten into the soul. Thus through trouble we shall pass into blessedness; through the grave into life; through the iron gate into freedom. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
A door of hope
I. Achor, in the natural bountifulness of the valley, a symbol of the joys of life,--our joys may be occasions of hope.
1. In the joys of natural scenery there is an inspiration of hope to poet spirits.
2. In temporal mercies there is an inspiration of hope to grateful hearts.
3. In religious privileges there is a door of hope to desert souls.
II. Achor, in its great historic event, a symbol of the sorrows of life,--our sorrows may be occasions of hope. Septuagint renders the name “door of understanding.” So it was to Israel. They came to know the evil and penalty of the sin of Achan there. The valley of trouble may become to all of us a door of hope whatever the trouble is.
1. The trouble of true penitence.
2. The trouble of agonising prayer.
3. The trouble of spiritual conflict.
4. The trouble of sanctified adversity.
5. The trouble of sacrificial compassion for others.
6. The trouble of the article of our own death. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Hope, a gracious gift
What is hope? The word is closely akin to “gap” or “gape.” As little birds, when the mother-bird is away, open their mouths, gape for food, so the man of hope is the gaping man, the open man, with eyes, ears, mind, and heart open. If there is one thing more than another that Almighty God likes, it is openness. The Book is full of it. And if we be open ourselves, God will open heaven and fill us. Perhaps God’s-grace and my hope are the two shuttles that are weaving for me the white robe of righteousness. There was a corner of Cornwall where the beauty of Devonshire overflowed into it. And through the windows of hope, some of the beauties and sweets of the heavenly life overflowed into the present. My soul was thrilled in reading an account of the fighting at Colesberg, where the correspondent wrote “when the boom of the cannon ceased, the birds began to sing.” So when we have subdued sin, and hope for righteousness, glory, and eternal life, joy and peace will abide in our hearts. (J. H. Jowett.)
Songs of praise
Beethoven composed some of his great oratorios in the open air. He had his piano carried to the middle of a field, and there, while sunbeam and cloud-shadows played together, and birds performed their impromptu oratorios, he worked out his harmonies and wrote his score. So we would come out beneath the broad canopy of God’s everlasting love, and, encompassed by innumerable mercies, make music more pleasing to God than the finest oratorios. The music of thanksgiving for tokens of Divine goodness abounding in our lives. (Gates of Imagery.)
Nothing like youth
In the memoirs of Lady Blessington, there is given a letter addressed to her by Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer, and containing these instructive words, “Do you know, I find Paris a melancholy place. If one has seen it in one’s earliest youth, it reminds one of the vast interval of time that has elapsed. Say what we will, there is nothing like youth. All we gain in our manhood is dulness itself compared to the zest of novelty, and the worst of it is, the process of acquiring wisdom is but another word for the process of growing old.”
And she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth.--
Singing at work
Those who have sailed on the sea in sailing ships remember how the sailors accustom themselves to sing while they work. It is a happy memory to me to record an incident on a vessel on which I was a passenger. The mainyard came to some sort of grief, and then followed the tremendous task of raising it to its former position, for there was no steam gear on board. The passengers and crew all set to work to hoist the mainyard to its place. I think the tune the sailors set was the famous one of “John Brown’s Body,” but with it they sang as the chorus, “Glory, glory, hallelujah!” I am not sure they were impressed with the solemnity of these words, but I think some were who assisted to haul; and up went the mast twice as quickly as if the sailors had not sung their song.. When you have a specially tough job on hand, let your heart go up to God in song, and you will find the difficulty go sooner than you expect. (T. Spurgeon.)
It came to my lot, while staying in far-off Tasmania, to be shown into a room at a house to await the arrival of a friend. I did what I ought not to have done--I began to investigate the pictures on the walls and the articles on the table. Amongst other things I observed a canary bird in a cage before the window. I looked at it, and hoped it would sing. As it would not do so I began to sing to it--to say, “Sweet! sweet!” “Pretty Dick!” If you want people to be kind to you, you should be kind to them. But this canary would not utter a note. I was disgusted, so I looked into the cage. Doubtless the bird was living, thought I, for there was the seed in the trough; then there was a vessel filled with water, and a piece of sugar was stuck between the bars. So I said, “Sweet! sweet!” But still it would not sing. “Then my friend came into the room, and, after talking a little while, I said, You have got a dumb canary; do what you will, it will not sing--at least to strangers.” “Oh,” said my friend, “it’s stuffed--it’s not a live bird.” And I confess that I have been into churches and into Christian homes where there was bread enough and to spare, where there was seed in the trough, and water--aye, and the sugar too, but they would not say, “Sweet! sweet!” or be glad in their songs. (T. Spurgeon.)
And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call Me Ishi; and shalt call Me no more Baali.
Hosea’s marriage figure
In looking at the allegory of Jehovah’s marriage with mother Israel, or with the mother-land, we must begin by considering the current ideas which served to suggest such a conception. Alike in Israel, and among its heathen neighbours, the word Baal, that is Lord or Owner, was a common appellative of the national deity. Instead of the proper names compounded with Jehovah, which are common from the time of Elijah, we frequently find in Old Israel forms compounded with Baal which are certainly not heathenish. When we meet with a son of Saul named Ish-Baal, a grandson Meri-Baal, both names meaning “Baal’s man,” while David in like manner gives to one of his sons the name of Beeliada, “Baal knoweth,” we may be sure that Baal is here a title of the God of Israel. In Hosea’s time the worshipping people still addressed Jehovah as Baali, “my Lord,” and the Baalim of whom he often speaks (Hosea 2:13; Hosea 13:1-2) are no other than the golden calves, the recognised symbols of Jehovah. Now, among the Semites, the husband is regarded as the lord or owner of his wife (1 Peter 2:6), whom, in fact, according to early law, he purchases from her father for a price (Exodus 21:8; Exodus 22:17). The address Baali is used by the wife to her husband, as well as by the nation to its God, and so in an early stage of thought, when similarities of expression constantly form the basis of identifications of idea, it lay very near to think of the God as the husband of the worshipping nationality, or of the mother-land. It is not at all likely that this conception was in form original to Hosea, or even peculiar to Israel; such developed religious analogy as that which makes the national God not only father of the people, but husband of the land, their mother, has its familiar home in natural religions. In these religions we find similar conceptions, in which, however, as in the case of the fatherhood of the Deity, the idea is taken in a crass physical sense. Marriage of female worshippers with the godhead was a common notion among the Phenicians and Babylonians, and in the latter case was connected with immoral practices akin to those that defiled the sanctuaries of Israel in Hosea’s days. It even seems possible to find some trace in Semitic heathenism of the idea of marriage of Baal with the land which he fertilises by sunshine and rain. Semitic deities are conceived as productive powers, and so form pairs of male and female principles. Heaven and earth are such a pair, as is well known from Greek mythology; and though Baal and Ashtoreth are more often represented as astral powers (Sun and Moon, Jupiter and Venus), it is certain that fertitising showers were one manifestation of Baal’s life-giving power. Even the Mohammedan Arabs retained the name of Baal (ba’l) for land watered by the rains of heaven. The land that brings forth fruit under these influences could not fail to be thought of as his spouse; and, in fact, we have an Arabic word (‘athary) which seems to show that the fertility produced by the rains of Baal was associated with the name of his wife Ashtoreth. If this is so, it follows that in point of form the marriage of Jehovah with Israel corresponded to a common Semitic conception, and we may well suppose that the corrupt mass of Israel interpreted it in reference to the fertility of the goodly land, watered by the dews of heaven (Deuteronomy 11:11), on principles that suggested no higher thoughts of God than were entertained by their heathen neighbours. (W. Robertson Smith, LL. D.)
Husband or lord: God translated by love or by fear
Albeit the names Baali and Ishi both signify “ my husband,” though the first chiefly a husband under the notion of authority, and the second of love; and albeit Baali may be said of God, yet since it had been abused, and given to idols, He will have it no more used. Doctrine--
1. When the Lord delivereth, and is kind to His people, it is their duty to prove their thankfulness by embracing of Christ, and cleaving to Him and His pure service.
2. The Lord will be unto His people what a faithful husband is to his wife, and they are allowed to expect it, and in the faith thereof, to profess and avow Him, in the exercise of true religion. “Thou shalt call Me Ishi,” or avow Me for thy husband, as thou art warranted to do.
3. The Lord is so tender of the matter of His worship and service, that He will allow no mixture in it, nor halting between it and idolatry. (George Hutcheson.)
Our name for God
When the relations of husband and wife are simply outward and formal, and maintained only upon necessity of law, words of endearment do not come into use, and can only be insincere when they are used. The formal “my lord” suits the conditions. And the same thing is true when sin has broken off relations. The fear that separates makes such a name as Baali suffice. But when love keeps up gracious relations, words of endearment come naturally into use. Love in loving, and in using loving names, finds employ. Our relation to God is revealed by our name for Him. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field.
The covenant of outward peace
God’s favour and covenant shall secure them from hurt by any of the creatures, and shall give them peace and security from wars. Doctrine--
1. All the creatures of God are justly at enmity with man, and armed against him, so long as he is not reconciled to God their Creator.
2. Reconciliation with God brings peace with all the creatures, so far as is for the reconciled man’s good.
3. That which secureth the godly man from trouble from the creatures, is God’s dominion over all of them.
4. As peace and deliverance from war is a great blessing, so it is the Lord only who puts an end to war and giveth peace.
5. When a people study reconciliation with God, and are cordial in following a thorough reformation, they are in God’s way for obtaining outward peace.
6. When the Lord hath given peace, it is He only who must maintain it, and can give quietness of mind to make people enjoy quietness and tranquillity by it. Unless He giveth peace, outward tranquillity will not afford it; and if He give that, we have no cause to complain, though we be in the midst of trouble. (George Hutcheson.)
The restored order of nature
We now perceive the intention of the prophet. He reminds the Israelites that all things were adverse to their safety as long as they were alienated from God; but that, when they returned into favour with Him, this disorder, which had for a time appeared, would be no longer; for the regular order of nature would prevail, and brute animals would suffer themselves to be brought into obedience. (John Calvin.)
The promise of peace
I. Peace with the creatures.
1. Sin has caused enmity between man and the creatures.
2. Peace with God brings peace with the creatures.
3. Covenant mercy is excellent mercy indeed. Two things observable in mercies coming by covenant. They are more sweet. They are more firm.
4. If it is such a blessed thing for God to make a covenant with the beasts for us, what a mercy is it then for God to make a covenant with our souls.
5. Is it a mercy for God to make a covenant with the beasts for His people? then what a mercy it is for Him to make a covenant with His Son for His people.
II. Deliverance from the hostility of adversaries.
1. It is a great mercy to have the bow and the sword broken. It is a part of the covenant that God makes with His people, to take away the instruments of hostility.
2. Peace is a most amiable thing, and lovely in all our eyes, every man desires it, and God promises it to His people in many places as a most special fruit of His love. The shining of God’s face appears in the giving of peace to a nation.
3. Peace is a sweet mercy, therefore it is a pity that it should be abused, and not improved.
4. Peace is sweet, therefore not to be falsified.
5. Peace is a great blessing, therefore it is a pity not to endeavour by every means to attain it. Cursed be that war which has not peace for its end.
6. Peace is a great blessing from God, but we must take heed we buy it not too dear. And you buy peace too dear, if you sell truth for it: if you betray those who have been most active for the public good if, through desire of peace, you subject yourselves to tyranny or slavery.
7. Peace is God’s peculiar work; we may treat about peace, but until God is pleased to permit it, it will not ensue,
8. Thorough reformation is the way to procure peace.
III. The effects of this peace. “I will make them to lie down safely.”
1. God’s peace alone brings safety.
2. “To lie down safely” is God’s own gift to His people.
It is an additional blessing to having the sword and bow broken. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
The sublime privileges of the good
I. Inferior creatures might be divinely restrained from injuring them. Were man to possess and manifest the moral majesty of goodness, the wildest and most savage creatures would probably stand in awe of him.
II. Human enemies might be made to submit to them. Those who trust in the Lord need not be afraid of war. The spirit of the good man is to overcome evil with good.
III. They might enjoy a perfect security. The true safety is not the mere safety of the body. The body is not the man, it is his--not him. Soul-safety is the safety of the man--protection from all that is unholy in thought, impure in feeling, unrighteous in volition.
IV. They might enjoy vital union with the everlasting fountain of goodness. Here is union indeed! Represented by that of husband and wife; a union formed of immutable ties. Righteousness, judgment, loving-kindness, faithfulness--who can break these bonds? Learn the supreme importance of moral goodness to man. (Homilist.)
And I will betroth thee unto Me for ever.
The everlasting espousals
Betrothing or espousing was the bridegroom’s taking the bride into a marriage-covenant. It was done publicly before witnesses, under a canopy or tent set up for that purpose. Some competent time intervened betwixt the espousals and the solemnising and consummating of the marriage. Infidelity during espousals was reputed and punished as adultery. Whomsoever Christ espouseth to Himself, He espouseth for ever.
I. Sinners may be espoused to Christ. As to the nature of the espousals. The parties are pleased with one another. As Christ left His Father’s house for her, she gives up her own people and her father’s house for Him. The glorious Bride-groom’s consent to be her husband she finds in the word, which the Spirit applies to her, and which she by faith applies to herself. Sinners may be espoused to the Son of God.
1. This match was from eternity projected and concluded in the cabinet-council of the Trinity.
2. The Bridegroom and all His relations are well pleased with the match.
3. The lawful impediments of this match are all removed at the Bridegroom’s expenses and pains.
4. The marriage contract is drawn up already and signed by the Bridegroom.
5. The proxies for the Bridegroom are sent forth to make suit for sinners their consent to be espoused to Him.
6. The Bridegroom has already put on His marriage robes.
7. The wedding garment for the bride is ready, being purchased at the expense of the Bridegroom.
8. The tent for the espousals is set up, even the Church.
9. The feast and seal of the espousals, namely, the holy sacrament, is ready, that the espoused bride may feast and rejoice in her Lord and husband.
10. Here are witnesses now. Here are the friends of the Bridegroom to bear witness to the espousals.
II. The perpetuity and everlastingness of this marriage covenant.
1. The espousals are for ever in design. Among men espousals are only for term of life. Christ takes the sinner with a design to be that sinner’s husband from the moment of the espousals for ever: and His designs are immovable as mountains of brass. He takes her with the fixed purpose never to put her away while she desires to abide with Him: never indeed to part with her, though she should desire to go away. The soul consenting to the espousals takes Christ with a design to be His spouse for ever.
2. The espousals are for ever, in fact.
(1) It is everlasting without interruption. Espousals stand firm in the case of the adversity of either party; in the case of the advancement of either party; in the case of desertion on either side.
(2) It is everlasting without expiring, either at death, or at the world’s ending. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The spirit of the Lord’s espousals
He declares by what means He would “betroth them to Him for ever”; even in righteousness and judgment, and then in kindness and mercies, and then in faithfulness.
1. God had indeed from the beginning covenanted with the Israelites in righteousness and judgment; there is nothing disguised or false in His covenant. As then God had in sincerity adopted the people, to what vices does He oppose righteousness and judgment? I answer, These words must be applied to both the contracting parties; then by righteous ness God means not only His own, but that also which is, as they say, mutual and reciprocal; and by “righteousness and judgment” is meant rectitude, in which nothing is wanting.
2. “In kindness and mercies.” By these words He intimates that though the people were unworthy, yet this would be no impediment in their way to prevent them to return into favour with God; for in this reconciliation God would regard His own goodness rather than the merits of His people.
3. “In faithfulness.” This confirms the fixed and unchangeable duration of the marriage. By faithfulness is to be understood that stability of which I have spoken; for what some philosophise on this expression is too refined, who give this explanation, “I will espouse thee in faith,” that is, by the Gospel. For we embrace God’s free promises, and thus the covenant the Lord makes with us is ratified. I simply interpret the word as denoting stability. (John Calvin.)
The wooing and the wedding
That is a tenderly beautiful figure; surely one of the sweetest and most exquisite in God’s Word! “I will betroth thee unto Me for ever!” The communion of ideal wedlock is used to express the ideal relationship between the soul and the Lord. We are to be married unto the Lord! Look into the heart of it, and see how much the gracious figure reveals. What do we find in consecrated wedlock even along the planes of common life? Let me lift out some of its contents. There is an affection which is creative of sweet and fruitful repose. There is a perfect trust which is the minister of mutual revelation. There is a sensitive sympathy in which all secrecy is destroyed. There is an intercourse which is like a “sea of glass mingled with fire,” so crystalline is its purity, so warm and genial is its tone. There is a large companionship, whose commerce consists of the deepest and wealthiest treasures of the life. In ideal wedlock deep calleth unto deep, and the primary springs of the beings are in confluence. All this I find in sanctified marriage: and now the figure is lifted up and sublimed and used to interpret my possible relationship to God: “Thy Maker is thine husband.” “I will betroth thee unto Me for ever.” Then there is to be a wedding! There is to be a wedding of the soul and its Saviour, of the nation and its King. That wedding constitutes the summum bonum both of personal and of corporate life. That wedding is the crown and consummation of human blessedness. That wedding enshrines the secret of moral and spiritual growth. To bring that wedding about is the aim and purpose of every kind and type of Christian ministry. What is the kind of wooing that will lead to a wedding? Let me begin here.
I. He is not a far-away Saviour; His home is on earth. I do not think we greatly help the cause of the Lover by proclaiming the remoteness of the Lover’s home.
“There’s a Friend for little children
Above the bright blue sky.”
That is the only line I don’t like in that greatly beloved and very beautiful hymn. In my childhood it helped to make my Saviour an absentee, and He was “above the bright blue sky” when I wanted Him on the near and common earth. Destroying all sense of remoteness, we must labour to bring the children into the immediate presence of the Lover Himself. All the three attributes must be regarded in indissoluble union. The quality of each depends upon the presence of all. Strike out one, and you maim and impoverish the rest. There is an imperfect love in which there is no admiration. There is an imperfect admiration in which there is no love. Perfect love admires; perfect admiration loves; and love and admiration are ever associated with the gracious spirit of hopeful aspiration. These three, I say, constitute the very marrow of life, the deep secret springs of character and conduct. “We live by admiration, hope, and love.” If the great Lover can win these, the wooing will be followed by the wedding! How can we so represent Him that this triumph shall be won?
1. Present the approachable Jesus. But not only His simplicity must we reveal, but His sympathy too!
2. Present Jesus the Hero. “We live by love.” By “admiration,” too! “Thou art worthy, O Christ, to receive all honour and glory.”
3. Loving! Admiring! These fair dispositions will be assuredly associated with the beautiful genius of hope.
II. Wooing and living must go together. What more shall we say about ourselves? Let this be said: While we are employed in wooing do not let us be heedless as to the manner of our living. Those who woo for the Master must be careful how they live. Let us distinguish between a wedding and a funeral, and in our wooing let it be tire wedding-bells which lend their music to our speech.
III. When shall we begin the wooing? John Ruskin said: “When do you suppose the education of a child begins? At six months old it can answer smile with smile, and impatience with impatience.” Perhaps we have to begin the wooing even in the speechless years. In the life of the spirit I believe in early wooings because I believe in early weddings! As for the wedding itself, the betrothal to the Lord, I would have it a very decisive act. It must be a conscious, intelligent consecration. The vow must not be made in thoughtlessness; not in any bewildering and sensational transports. In the rapture there must be the moderating presence of serious and illumined thought. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The betrothment of the Church
There is no real or substantial happiness for the soul unless it is really united to Jesus Christ our Lord by faith. Betrothing was considered exceedingly sacred; and parents supposed that what they did on earth God ratified in heaven.
I. The betrothing, or engaging, is for ever. There is no separation of the parties here, from any cause. No offence can possibly arise, be given or be taken, so as to separate the Church from its Head. No other lover can possibly steal away the affections of believers from Jesus Christ. There are many compacts made between man and man, but time breaks them all. Here is a covenant which time cannot break. God has entered into covenant with Jesus Christ on the part of the Church, and Christ has undertaken to preserve them during the existence of time. But is it not possible for sin to separate? No, not as touching eternity.
II. This betrothing is in righteousness. Justice, or righteousness, is that perfection of God, whereby He is disposed to render every man his due. All His proceedings are in perfect equity. There is no part of our eternal salvation which is in opposition to the essential righteousness of God.
III. This betrothing is in judgment. That is, with judgment, not with precipitancy. The Most High will not act in anything rashly, but in a judicious, proper, righteous way: He does not save our souls as a manifestation of His mercy, at the expense of His righteousness. It signifies also the satisfaction of God’s justice, and it includes the exercise of His mercy.
IV. This betrothal is in faithfulness. Look at the faithfulness of Christ, or of God in Christ. Faithfulness to covenant and promises.
V. This betrothal is in loving-kindness and in mercies. Consider a few of them.
1. The revelation of God contained in the Bible.
2. The love of Jesus Christ our Lord.
3. The gift of the Holy Spirit.
4. The hope for the hereafter.
VI. The results. “Thou shalt know the Lord.” Thou shalt know that God hath from eternity chosen thee as a vessel of mercy. Thou shalt know Him as thy great Creator, thy Preserver, thy Redeemer, etc. (T. Bagnall-Baker, M. A.)
The threefold betrothal
At three times especially did our Lord espouse the Church unto Himself. First, in His Incarnation, when He willed to unite His own Deity with our humanity. He will be for ever the Word and Flesh, that is, God and Man. Secondly, in His Passion, when He washed her with His blood, and bought her for His own by His death. Thirdly, in the day of Pentecost, when He poured out the Holy Spirit upon her, whereby He dwelleth in her and she in Him. “Knowing God “ is to know by experience that God is good; and that God makes known to the soul which He loves, while it meditates on Him, reads of Him, speaks to Him, adores Him, obeys Him. The knowledge cometh from the revelation of the Father, and it is true bliss. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The great betrothal
The Scripture often mentions espousals and marriage to express the great mystery of the grace of God to His people. The Holy Ghost seems to delight much in this allegory: there is none more frequent in Scripture, and it sheds very great honour on the married state. Married people should so live, that all who behold the sweetness, the happiness of their lives, may be reminded thereby of the sweetness and happiness which is in the Church’s communion with Jesus Christ. Now, in a married condition there are these four things most remarkable.
1. There is the nearest possible union. “They twain shall be one flesh.”
2. In nothing in the world is there so full a communication of one creature to another as in marriage; so in our spiritual marriage with Christ there is a most intimate communion.
3. In a married condition, there is a mutual, entire love. That is, loving the person more than the benefits received from him. True love can be satisfied with nothing else but love. Entire love is a love in all conditions. In love there is unspeakable delight.
There are two soul-staying and soul-satisfying grounds to assure of Christ’s betrothing Himself for ever.
1. When a soul is taken into Christ, it receives not only pardon for sins past, but there is forgiveness in store for all future transgressions.
2. Another argument for perseverance is, that it is a spiritual mercy purchased by Christ, as well as any other grace. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Many a heart has been touched by that strange story of love of which Tennyson has written with so much tenderness. The Lord of Burleigh, disguised as a poor landscape painter, was captivated by the beauty of a humble village maiden, and determined to make her his bride. But introduced to a mansion instead of a cottage, borne down by the burden of an honour to which she was never born, the loved one pined away and died. The beauty of the bride explains this story of love; but no such explanation can be found for the choice of Him who says: “I will betroth thee unto Me for ever,” etc. (Hosea 2:19-20). This betrothed one had nothing to commend her to the notice of such a Bridegroom but her helplessness, her deformity, her wretchedness. There was no beauty in her that He should desire her, She was a rebel, an alien, an outcast; yet, marvel of marvels, “the Prince of the kings of the earth” set His love upon her. He became poor that she might become rich. He bore her sin that she might bear His righteousness. He bore her reproach that she might bear His glory. He gave Himself for her because no less gift would suffice to lift her from sin and place her at His side. We search in vain for a story of love like this. It is unique, and we think of it till, with tear-filled eyes and trembling voice, we sing--
“Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare.”
(J. Gregory Mantle.)
I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord.
The husband of the Church
I. The condescension of Christ in calling Himself the husband of His church. This appears if we consider that--
1. She is a debtor.
2. Deformed (Isaiah 1:6).
3. A prostitute (Jeremiah 3:1-2).
4. An enemy.
II. The properties of this relation.
5. For ever.
III. The experience she has of this relation. “Thou shalt know.” “Know” signifies--
1. To choose (Amos 3:2).
2. To delight in (Psalms 1:6).
3. To be familiar with (2 Samuel 3:25). (H. Foster.)
And thou shalt know the Lord.
We indeed see that we are in confusion as soon as we turn aside from the right and pure knowledge of God. Since then our salvation consists in the light of faith, our minds ought ever to be directed to God, that our union with Him, which He hath formed by the Gospel, may abide firm and permanent. But as this is not in the power or will of man, we draw this evident conclusion that God not only offers His grace in the outward preaching, but at the same time in the renewing of our hearts. It is necessary that God should work inwardly and efficaciously on our hearts, that His covenant may stand firm; nay, since the knowledge of Him is the special gift of the Spirit, we may with certainty conclude that what is said here refers not only to outward preaching, but that the grace of the Spirit is also joined, by which God renews us after His own image. The covenant of God can be strengthened and preserved only by the knowledge He conveys to us of Himself by the illumination of His Spirit. (John Calvin.)
Of the knowledge of God
There can be no cordial obedience to God by those who are ignorant of Him. Ignorance is not the mother of devotion, but the parent of superstition and idolatry. An unknown person cannot be truly and cordially loved.
I. Persons in a natural ann unregenerate state are destitute of Divine knowledge. (Acts 17:30.)
1. Sin has deprived us of communion with God, corrupted our nature, and darkened our understandings (Ephesians 4:18).
2. This ignorance is increased by a course of sinning.
3. There is many an affected ignorance which is very criminal. Men are unwilling to understand what they might. They love darkness rather than light.
4. Some are given up to judicial blindness and hardness of heart (Romans 1:28). Whilst men are in this state of darkness, they are ignorant--
(1) Of God, His nature, and perfections.
(2) Of Christ, His person and offices, and the way of salvation by Him.
(3) Of the Spirit of God.
(4) Of themselves, and of their state and condition by nature.
(5) Of sin, and the sad effects of it.
(6) Of the sacred Scriptures, and the truths contained in them.
II. In every regenerate person there is a knowledge of God and of Divine things. Observe--
1. The object of it--God.
(1) There is a knowledge by the light of nature, through the works of creation, which show His eternal power and Godhead: and through the works of providence, by which He has not left Himself without a witness of His being and beneficence.
(2) There is a knowledge of God by the moral law. It came by Moses, and it shows what is His good and perfect will. It is a transcript of His nature, His justice and holiness.
(3) There is a knowledge of God which comes by the Gospel, the doctrine of grace and truth, that is, by Christ, who declares God’s person, nature, grace, mind, and will to men. This knowledge of God may be considered as respecting the three Divine Persons in the Godhead. The knowledge of God is of Him as Father. The knowledge of Christ is affectionate, confidential, experimental, and appropriating. The knowledge of the Spirit is of Him as a Spirit of conviction and illumination; as the Comforter; as the Spirit of adoption; as a Spirit of grace and of supplication.
III. The nature and properties of this knowledge.
1. It is practical. The mere theory of any science is of little avail.
2. It is of a soul-humbling nature. Other knowledge puffs up.
3. It is pleasant, savoury, and satisfying.
4. It is super-excellent.
5. It is but imperfect in this life, yet it is progressive. (T. Hannam.)
A sanctified knowledge of God
This passage teaches--
1. God is the undertaker for, and worker in His people of all that is required on their part for entering into, and keeping covenant with Him.
2. A right and sanctified knowledge of God is the root and companion of all sanctifying graces and covenant dispositions; therefore all are comprehended in this, to “know the Lord.” Faith gets that name, not only because of the certitude and evidence it brings with it, but because it is begotten by His Word, and by the knowledge of Him in it, and is cherished and confirmed by taking Him up still more, as He is revealed there. (George Hutcheson.)
“Thou shalt know the Lord”: the best knowledge
Luther described theology, the knowledge of God, as “the queen of the sciences.” And in comparison with it, all other knowledge is vain. “We have lost,” said Dr. Bennett, Bishop of Cloyne, to Dr. Parr, when announcing the death of John Cowper, brother of the poet, “the best classic and most liberal thinker in the university.” What said John Cowper himself in his dying hours? “I have laboured day and night to perfect myself in things of no profit. I have sacrificed myself to these pursuits, and am suffering the consequences of my mis-spent labour. I wanted to be highly applauded, and was flattered up to the height of my wishes. Now I must learn a new lesson.”
I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel
The dependence of universal being upon a benignant providence
Jezreel (seed of God) was a city in the tribe of Issachar.
The valley in which it stood was remarkable for its fertility. Jezreel, in the text, may be either the valley which bore the corn, wine, and oil, or the obedient part of the nation, restored to the country from which they had been carried away. One of the characteristics of the Book of Hosea is the frequent transition from the most distressful to the most delightful annunciations of futurity. Amid all that was adapted to alarm the disobedient many, there was a tender regard for the consolations and hopes of the pious few. The text is a passage of this description. It practically, Net philosophically, depicts the harmony of universal nature, operating under the benignant direction of Providence for the good of man. One seems to feel the piety of the sentiment more for this circuitous tracing of man’s enjoyment to his Maker’s bounty. We find that all second causes, tarry in them as long as we will, and multiply them as we may, yet must terminate in a great first cause. The Deity cannot be excluded from His own universe. The prophet’s description is, in the true spirit of poetry, the selection of a particular instance which is adorned with all the beauty of imagery, and then put forward as the illustration of a principle.
1. It is the fact that there is such a connection as the prophet has intimated, not only in that particular case, but in all the regions of matter and mind, blending them together, and making them one.
2. The influence of this fact upon our feelings and conduct, its righteous tendency or unrighteous application, its gloom or gladness, must arise from the notions of the Divine character with which it is associated in our convictions. There is not merely a community of properties, but a reciprocity of influence, from the minutest to the mightiest substances, from the nearest to the most remote, from the grain to the mass, from the mass to the mountain, from the mountain to the island or continent, from that to the solid globe, from our globe to the solar system, from that system to other systems, having their relative positions and combined movements, until it expands beyond our sense or imagination in the multiplicity of worlds, and the boundlessness of space. This connection applies to time as well as to space. In the mind and life of man it wilt be seen that the thoughts of the one and the events of the other have a similar connection, and are under similar influences. No idea springs up in the mind spontaneously, without something to introduce it, something which stands to it in the relation of a cause, itself the effect of something which preceded. The universe may be regarded as a great machine, but everything depends on our believing, or not, that this machine has a Mover and Maker, and on the notions we entertain of His dispositions and designs. Some blend this fact with the denial of God. Others blend the fact with the admission of a God, an Almighty Creator, but not a God whose love is the same to all the rational beings whom the system brings into existence--a God who is partly benevolent and partly malignant. It is the glory of our faith to blend with this fact the deepest conviction of the universal love of the Creator. All things lead us back to God, the infinite goodness. Learn--
1. A lesson of humility and of gratitude.
2. A lesson of caution.
3. Let our devotion be universal as the presence and influence of our God. Let it pervade our lives. (J. R. Beard.)
1. God is wont to work good for His people by second causes. He sends not things immediately from heaven, but the heavens hear the earth, and the earth hears the corn and the wine. We must look to second causes, but take heed of resting on them. Though God sometimes works beyond means, and even contrary to them, ordinarily He uses second causes.
2. There is a concatenation in second causes, and not merely a use. Every one in their order ministers to the other. If we could see the comely order of the creatures, we should see them all linked together by a golden chain.
3. Nothing can be done by any link of the chain of second causes, but by God’s being at the uppermost link.
4. It is most comely, and a great blessing, when the right order and chain of second causes hold; as in nature, so in any society, when all preserve their due subordination. When they are out of order, it is a great misery to a city or kingdom. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
By this very elaborate and poetically ingenious figure the prophet appears to be giving a contrived representation of the fact, that when God brings m the promised day of His universal reign on the earth, there will be a grand convergency of causes to prepare it, and, like so many concurrent prayers, to make common suit for it before Him. Thus he figures the world as being the beautiful valley called Jezreel, which is the garden, so to speak, of the land. And it is to be as when the people of Jezreel get their harvest, by having everything in a train of concurrent agency to prepare it--they make petition by their careful tillage to the corn, the grapes, and olives, that they will grow apace; these in turn make suit to the earth to give them nutriment; this again hears them, and lifts its petition to the heavens, asking rain and dew; whereupon, last of all, the heavens hand up the prayers to God, to furnish them water, and let them shed it down; which petition He graciously hears, and the harvest follows. So he conceives it will be as the harvest of the world approaches. It will be as if all things were put striving together, and a prayer were going up for it through all the concurrent circles of providence. God’s counsel and kingdom are constructing always a perfect harmony, by their convergence on His perfect end. Then, as the perfect end is neared, and the harmony with it grows complete, it will be as if more things were concurring in it, and asking for it, and prayer, falling in as a cause among causes, will have them all praying with it, or handing up its request. In which we may see what holds good of all prayer, and how or by what law it prevails. In one view the whole future is prayed in by the whole present, being such a future as the whole present demands. The more things therefore prayer can get into harmony with itself in its request, the more likely it is to prevail; and the more alone it is, and the more things it has opposite to it, in the field of causes, the less likely it is to prevail--even as Adam had less hope of success in praying for Cain, that the blood of Abel was crying to God against him from the ground. All prayer being under this general condition, family prayer will be, of course. I handle the subject in this form, in the conviction that the prayers of families are so often defeated by the want of any such concert in the aims, plans, tempers, works, and aspirations of the house, as are necessary to a common suit before God; in other words, because the prayers, commonly so called, are defeated by the suit of so many causes contrary to them. I drop out of notice family worship as observance, and speak of it only as the open state of prayer and communion with God in the house.
I. The manner in which prayers of all kinds get their answers from God. Two things are wanted.
1. That the matter requested should agree with God’s beneficent aims, or the ends of good to which His plans are built.
2. That the prayer should agree with as many other prayers and as many other circles of causes as possible: for God is working always towards the largest harmony, and will not favour therefore the prayer of words, when everything else in the life is demanding something else, but will rather have respect to what has the widest reach of things and persons making suit with it. See how it is in the great realm of nature. The Bible history, too, shows a grand convergency of all the matters included in it, and a mysterious concert weaves all its facts together, and keeps them working towards the same result. In the same way, descending to a lower field, every conversion to God takes place when some largest harmony demands it. If we come directly to the matter of prayer itself, we meet the promise, that “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us,” and “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them.” By the whole economy of prayer God is working toward the largest, most inclusive harmony, and prayer is to be successful just according to the amount of concurrency there is in it. First, there is to be the completest possible concurrency with God; then a concurrency of one or two hundred, or, if so it may be, two hundred millions of petitioners in a common suit; and then all these are to be total in the suit, bringing all their lustings, affections, works, plans, properties, and self-sacrifices into the petition; whereupon the prayer will grow strong, just in proportion to the amount of agreement or concurrence there is in it.
II. Conditions of successful family prayer. The great infirmity of family prayers, or of what is sometimes called family religion, is that it stands alone in the house, and has nothing put in agreement with it. It is a first point of religion itself, that by its very nature, it rules presidingly over everything desired, done, thought, planned for, and prayed for in the life. The mere observance kind of piety, that which prays in the family to keep up a reverent show, or acknowledgment of religion, is not enough. It leaves everything else in the life to be an open space for covetousness and all the gay lustings of worldly vanity. What is prayed for in the house by the father, is sometimes not prayed for by the mother in her family tastes and tempers. It is necessary that the practical ends, tastes, plans, aspirations, and works of the house should all come into the same circle of concert, and join their petition to reinforce the suit of the prayers. Here is the great lesson of family religion; it is that religion, being the supreme end and law of life, is to have everything put in the largest possible harmony with it. (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)
The chain of blessing
The language of this text is poetical and highly figurative, but quite easy of comprehension. Jezreel, the seed of God, is the name used by this prophet to designate the people of God. We have, then, a picture of the whole process by which God answers His people when they pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The passage is not only beautiful, but suggestive. Its range is very wide. It leads all along the chain of effect and cause, from man through nature up to God. Beginning at the lower extremity, we find ourselves first in the wide and busy domain of political economy, with its two branches of production and distribution. Stepping upwards, we reach the sphere of natural science, and the highest raises us to the lofty regions of theology. We begin, however, with the highest link.
1. However many links may seem to intervene in nature’s chain, if followed up, it always leads to God at last. If the harvest came by some process of evolution, whence came the process of evolution? We may carry back the chain of second causes as far as we may, we shall always find the farthest link fastened to the throne of the Omnipotent.
2. It is God that hears, not only at the extremity of the chain, but through it all, between each separate link, however long it may be. Not only is God the First Cause, He is in all intermediate causes too. We speak of “laws,” laws of nature. But who made the laws? And who enforces the laws? There must be power to do this. Where is it? What a remarkable thing is the regular proportion between what is produced and what is needed for consumption in a given year. The whole thing is left to individual choice, there must therefore be some power at work to preserve the necessary equilibrium. There is the law of supply and demand to regulate this. But this law, like all other laws, implies a lawgiver. It implies a power above ourselves.
3. Food is produced where population is scanty, it is wanted mainly where population is dense. Whately says, “Man’s foresight often gets the credit for what is due to God’s wisdom.” All the foresight of man would fail for a work so stupendous as this. Many have the idea that the farmer is more dependent on the Divine power than the artisan and the manufacturer. It is a mistake. The chain along which we derive our manufactured goods from the Giver of all good may be longer than the other, but God is just as surely at the upper end of it, and in each intermediate link. No machine can produce power. All the force which is used in all our factories is ultimately traceable to the sun. It was the sun which, millions of years ago, poured its rays on the luxurious vegetation of the carboniferous era, and filled it full of a latent force, which, after the leaves and stems and roots containing it had been pressed and hardened and blackened underground, should be avail able to those who, in future ages, should dig it up as coal, and use it to heat their houses and drive their engines. Our manufactures as our agriculture are of God, and of Him only. (J. Monro Gibson, D. D.)
The promise of plenty
1. While the Lord’s people are within time, they may read their own frailty in needing so many things to uphold even their outward man.
2. Outward mercies do so far follow on the covenant as the confederate may be free of fear and anxiety about them. Albeit the Lord do not always see it meet to heap plenty of corn and wine and oil upon His people, yet they have as much as, with godliness and contentment, may suffice. When they seek the best things, other things will certainly be added.
3. God is so tender a respecter of necessities that He hath an ear to hear the dumb cries of very insensible creatures in their need.
4. God’s reconciled people are to read, not only God’s love in their plenty, but that all the creation do, in their kind, with a good will, concur to serve him who is now at peace with his Maker.
5. The Lord sets a mark of excellency upon man, and especially upon His Church, in that so many things concur to serve them and provide for them.
6. Whatever it be that one creature affords unto another, or may be in the course of nature expected from it, yet every creature in itself is empty, and must be supplied by God before it satisfy any.
7. As the Lord is not to be tempted, but waited on in His established order for anything, so we are not to rest on any such order or course of nature, but to see God’s hand in it, who establisheth and blesseth it for such ends.
8. The Lord’s former sad dispositions towards His people will not hinder Him to change His dealing; but He will make His kindness so much the sweeter. (George Hutcheson.)
God and His universe
I. The operations of the universe are under the intelligent direction of the great God. The universe is here represented as in action. There is nothing stationary; all things are full of labour. The universe is not a self-acting machine, left to itself to work out. The great Machinist is ever with it, observing and directing every motion. This fact serves several important purposes.
1. To account for the unbroken order of nature.
2. To impress us with the sanctity of nature.
3. To inspire us with reverence towards the greatness of God.
II. That the operations of the universe are generally conducted on the mediatory principle. “I will hear the heavens,” etc. Look at this mediatory principle in its relation to man--
1. As a material being. How did we receive these corporeal frames: how are they sustained; how are they broken up?
2. As a spiritual being. How does knowledge come to man? He has teachers.
III. The operations of the universe are mercifully subordinated to the interests of the good. Jezreel, or the children of God, receive from God three things.
1. The blessings they devoutly sought.
2. The multiplication of their number.
3. The heightening of the sympathy between them and God. “I will call them My people.” (Homilist.)
And they shall hear Jezreel.
The audience of Jezreel
The prophet refers, under the symbolic title Jezreel, to God’s own faithful people, the undefiled remnant of Israel; those who were brought back to their own land after the captivity in Babylon. In a larger sense we are to understand the passage as a prophecy of the blessings which such of the Jews as accept our Lord Christ, and those of the Gentiles who believe in Him, shall enjoy under the Gospel.
I. The way in which God promises to be gracious to his people at the last. He will deal with them through a chain of intermediate agencies.
I. Superficially the text is but a poetic way of saying that all the universe shall unite to help the people of God.
2. The deeper thought is, that in this mode of due order and proportion, having respect to the fitness of all things which He has made. God rules the universe, albeit for the sake of His people.
II. The broad and all-embracing method of the Divine operation ought to be a great strength to us in times of discouragement and doubt. The tendency of modern life seems to be to make men pessimistic. It seems as if the enormous natural forces brought out into the light, and harnessed to work man’s will for him, had somehow paralysed our human instincts. Human life seems to be becoming more and more but the life of a machine. God has promised to hear our prayers, but only on the condition that we approach Him in the way He has appointed. (Catholic Champion.)
And I will sow her unto Me in the earth.
I. These words refute pantheism. God is not nature, nor is nature God. Pantheism teaches that there is no real and practical distinction between God and the universe. This form of infidelity ignores evil as evil, and all moral responsibility, for it declares that the soul is only a mode of the thought of God.
II. These words declare the Divine personality. Only on belief in a personal God can any sound superstructure of religion be raised.
III. These words show the abiding connection between God and His works. The Bible invariably attributes the operations of nature to the energy of God.
IV. These words show that the universe is the friend of the praying soul, One part of the universe is here represented as related to and acting upon another on behalf of Jezreel. All the forces of nature are arrayed against the disturber of the harmony of God’s kingdom.
V. These words teach that God will really answer prayer. The answers are, “I will sow her unto Me.” “I will have mercy upon her.” “Thou art My people.” The infinite God gives Himself to the soul, and becomes its present and eternal portion. (Christian Age.)
God’s people as seeds
1. God’s people are the seed of the earth.
2. Every godly man should so live as, either in life or in death, to be as a seed from whence many should spring.
3. The saints are sown unto Christ, they are seed for Christ, therefore all their fruit must be consecrated to Christ. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Hope for the forsaken
All the brighter side of the prophetic message is summed up in the most wonderful way in this verse, and there are few verses even in the Bible itself, so crowded with significance. Hosea sums up all that he himself had said, all that he had been teaching for some seven years. It is God whom he represents as speaking “these weighty” and matterful words:--And I will sow (an allusion, of course, to the meaning of Jezreel--‘God’s sowing’) her (the impersonated people of Israel) unto Me” (sow, and no longer scatter); and “I will have pity” upon, “not pitied”; and I will say unto “Not My people,” “Thou art My people”; and she shall say to Me, “My God.” Obviously, as soon as we can read the verse aright, we find in it the names of all Hosea’s children, and the whole significance of this prophetic message. On the one hand, we are reminded of the time in which Israel was scattered for their guilt among the heathen, the time in which God refused to pity them, or to acknowledge them as His own; and on the other hand, we are reminded of the better time in which, instead of being God-scattered, unpitied, and not My people, they were called God-sown, pitied, and sons of the living God; when the heavens smiled upon them, and the earth gave them her increase, and all the forces of nature, once so hostile, were at peace with them. (S. Cox, D. D.)
I will say to them who were not My people, Thou art My people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.
Sinners owning a covenant God
Read in the light of the context, these words seem to refer to the nation of Israel only. But in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Paul quotes them as having a more comprehensive reference. He there applies them to the “vessels of mercy,” who are “called” in the Gospel day, “not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” These words foretell the formation of a gracious relation between God and sinners, and the mutual acknowledgment of that relation. On His side He shall own the outcasts as His people. On their side they shall own Him as their God. What is implied in sinners saying to Jehovah, “Thou art my God”?
I. The gracious relation thus acknowledged.
1. And first of all, it is a new covenant relation. Naturally, as is here intimated, we are “not” the people of God. When the covenant which He made with us in Adam, our representative, was broken, we ceased to be His people and He ceased to be our God. We, by wilful apostasy, have cast Him off; and He, in holy and righteous displeasure, has cast us off. Our carnal minds are enmity against Him, and His law has only condemnation and death for us. We are miserable outcasts from our Maker. We are “without God in the world.” But He has made a covenant with His Chosen: and in that new and better covenant He has made provision that the gracious relation so fearfully ruptured shall be more than restored. He has covenanted with His only begotten Son, as the Head of an innumerable multitude of our outcast race, that on condition of His assuming their nature and doing all His will in their redemption He will, in a very special and gracious sense, be a God to Him, and in the same special and gracious sense be a God to them.
2. In this new covenant relation, as willing to be our God in Christ, God offers Himself to us unconditionally and individually in the Gospel. It was such an offer of Himself He made to the Israelites when, from the summit of the flaming mount, He proclaimed--“I am the Lord thy God, who have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” It was God in the person of Christ, as we learn from Stephen (Acts 7:38), who there announced His willingness to be the God of Abraham’s seed. And to these sinners, deeply infected as they were soon to show, with the idolatry and moral corruption or Egypt, that was a most free offer; and it is expressed in absolute and unconditional terms, clogged with no condition of any sort whatever. It was also an individual offer, made to every Israelite in the camp without exception, so that, every soul in all that host, the vilest and most abject was warranted as much as Moses and Aaron, to close with it, and on the ground of it to take Jehovah as his own personal God. Now we are most earnest you should realise this day that God is making to each one of you, through Christ, the same absolutely free and gracious offer to be your God. Only with this great difference, “that He is making it not from the mount that might be touched and that burned with fire, and from blackness and darkness and tempest”--not from among that dark obscurity of type, and rigor of ordinance and law tending to bondage and fear, which beset the revelation of covenant mercy and love under the old economy, but in the clear sweet light of the risen Sun of Righteousness, and through the lips of ambassadors whom He has sent to beseech you in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to Him. “Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Isaiah 4:3).
3. For, be it remarked further, that while God offers Himself in this relation to all, He actually gives Himself in this relation to those who are made willing by His Spirit to close with the offer by faith. This highest and holiest of covenant unions, like every other covenant union, is formed by mutual consent. Thus the sons of the stranger are said to “join themselves to the Lord,” in the way of “taking hold of His covenant”: in doing which they first take hold of Christ the Surety of the Covenant with the grasp of a living and entire faith when brought near them in the Gospel; and then, in and through Christ, they take hold of the God of the covenant, and enter into all the fulness of His covenanted love and grace (Romans 3:29-30). And mark how faith avails to bring the guiltiest and vilest into all the good and blessedness of this endearing relation to Jehovah. Faith, laying hold of Christ, unites us to Him. It makes us so vitally one with Him that we participate in all the boundless merit of His righteousness. And, having Christ’s righteousness as our own, there is no more any legal obstacle to keep us outcasts from God.
4. For observe yet again, that in this relation God gives Himself to believing sinners in all He is and all He has. “He is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). And why not ashamed to be called their God? It is because He acts toward them with a Divine munificence worthy of Himself, glorifying the exceeding riches of His grace in giving them not this or that kind and measure of good, but in giving them Himself, the Fountain and Centre of all good. Think of the ineffable dignity and privilege of being able to say of Him whom angels count it their supreme happiness to adore, He is my God; mine in all His essential perfections: His wisdom mine, to enlighten and guide me; His power mine, to uphold and protect me; His holiness mine, to raise me to walk in the light as He is in the light; His justice mine, to guard me as one of Christ’s ransomed ones, and to guarantee to me all the inheritance He has purchased with His blood; His truth mine, to fulfil to me every word He has spoken and every expectation and longing His Spirit has wakened within me; His love mine, to delight in me and rejoice over me to do me good; His infinitude mine, to be the measure of the good and the blessedness which I have in Him; and His eternity mine, to be the duration through which it shall all be enjoyed. “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours, and ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). Can you contemplate this, the inheritance of the saints in light, without exclaiming, “ Happy is the people whose God is the Lord”?
II. What is implied in the acknowledgment of this relation which our text foretells? It is, as we have hinted, a divinely wrought acknowledgment. Neither reason, nor conscience, nor moral suasion, though that were put forth with the tongue of an angel, will persuade the soul in its natural hatred and fear and distrust of God to make it. It is the response of the newborn nature to the call of the Spirit of God within.
I. It implies, first of all, the believing personal acceptance of the offer which God makes of Himself to sinners indefinitely and individually in the Gospel. Proud unbelief, putting on the deceitful guise of humility, may tell you that it is presumption for such as you to claim Jehovah as your God. You virtually say by that refusal that all His professed love and goodwill toward you is insincere, that His word is not faithful and worthy of all acceptation.
2. This acknowledgment implies, further, the taking of God as our only and all-sufficing portion. Naturally, our carnal hearts will not have God for their portion. They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh. But these earthly things can no more satisfy the nature and cravings of the spiritual essence within us than the husks that the swine did eat could satisfy the prodigal. Deeply and unfeignedly that sinner grieves that, in following lying vanities, he should so long have forsaken his own mercies. But in proportion to the shame and sorrow of his penitence is his satisfaction that in Christ, and God in Him, he has found at last the good, the rest, the home of his heart.
3. Again, this acknowledgment implies the surrender of ourselves to God as our Lawgiver and King and the great End of our being. If we naturally dislike God as our portion, we still more dislike the thought of entire subjection to Him as our King. Many, indeed, would wish to enjoy His favour and His benefits, provided that, free from His holy authority and control, they could get following their carnal inclinations and living aa they list. But this will not do. It is an eternal moral impossibility. God must change His nature and reverse all the laws of His moral government ere He can make you happy while you are unwilling to be holy, and ere you can enjoy Him as your portion while you will not know, obey, and submit to His will, in all things, as your Lawgiver and King. And most certainly on these terms you can never enter the bond of His covenant (Hebrews 8:10). The true-hearted covenanter is well pleased with God’s covenant in all respects. He delights in the law of the Lord after the inward man (Psalms 119:140). He feels that God has infinite claims upon the love and loyalty of his heart and the perfect obedience of his life. As He who made him, and made him a rational and immortal being responsible to Himself; as He who has made goodness and mercy to follow him through all his sinful (lays when he would have been honoured in shutting him up in hell; as He who has redeemed his life from destruction with the blood of His Own Son, and hid his life with Christ in Himself forever--he feels that He has claims upon him which the love and never-ceasing service of eternity shall fail to discharge, but which shall rather ever grow in a still accumulating debt.
4. In a word, this acknowledgment implies the explicit and formal devotement of ourselves to God. They “shall say, Thou art my God.” Not merely think it or feel it, but say it. Say it explicitly, formally, solemnly. With the heart he believeth, unto righteousness, and with the mouth he makes confession unto salvation. Such an avowed devotement of ourselves to God is really made in all spiritual worship. In all true prayer there is an owning of God s sovereignty and of our dependence which says, “Thou art my God.” In all true praise there is an owning of God’s goodness and of our obligations which says, “Thou art my God.” But the honour of God, the promptings of the new nature, and the necessity of binding our wayward hearts by the firmest and closest of bonds, demand that this avouching of the Lord to be our God should be made in the most explicit and public manner possible to man (Isaiah 44:3-6). (Original Secession Magazine.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter