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Hear the Word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
A corrupt people and an expostulating God
In the previous chapters the prophet’s language had been highly and somewhat perplexingly symbolical. In this chapter he begins to speak more plainly and in sententious utterances.
I. A corrupt people. The depravity of Israel is represented--
1. Negatively. “There is no truth,” etc. These are the great fontal virtues in the universe; and where they are not, there is a moral abjectness of the most terrible description. A people without reality, their very life a lie. No acts of beneficence performed, and the very spirit of kindliness extinct. The greatest, the holiest Being in the universe utterly ignored.
2. Positively. The absence of these great virtues gives rise to tremendous crimes.
(1) Profanity. Reverence is gone.
II. An expostulating God. “The Lord hath controversy.” Of all controversies this is the most awful.
1. It is a just controversy. Has not the great Ruler of the universe a right to contend against such evils?
2. It is a continuous controversy.
3. It is an unequal controversy. What are all human intellects to His? Sparks to the sun. The sinner has no argument to put before Him. He cannot deny his sins. He cannot plead accidents. He cannot plead compulsion. He cannot plead some merit as a set-off, for he has none. This controversy is still going on. It is held in the court of conscience, and you must know of its existence and character. (Homilist.)
Jehovah’s controversy with Israel
In this chapter Israel is cited to appear at God’s tribunal. There the Lord makes the following accusations--
1. Gross violation of both Tables of the Law, both by omission and by commission. God threatens, because of this, to send extreme desolation.
2. Desperate incorrigibleness. He threatens to destroy such, and the false prophets, and the body of the people and Church.
3. God accuseth the priests in Israel, that, through their fault, the people were kept in ignorance. He threatens to cast them and their posterity off. He further accuses the priests of ingratitude towards Elm, for which He threatens to turn their glory into ignominy. And tie even accuses them of sensuality and covetousness, rendering them unfaithful to their calling.
4. He accuses the whole people of gross idolatry, and threatens not to restrain their sin by corrections.
5. He accuses them of the idolatry of the calves, from which He dissuades Judah, as being an evidence of Israel’s wantonness, and the cause of their ensuing exile.
6. He accuses Ephraim, the kingly tribe, of their incorrigibleness in idolatry, their intemperance, filthiness, and corruption of justice through covetousness. For this He threatens sudden and violent destruction and captivity, where they should be ashamed of their corrupt worship. (George Hutcheson.)
The Divine suit with Israel
I. The suit commenced.
1. The knowledge that any truth is the Word of the Lord is a special means to prepare the heart to receive it with reverence and all due respect, even though it be hard and grievous to flesh and blood.
2. The nearness of a people to God does not exempt them from God’s contending with them for sin.
3. The nearer the relationship the more grievous the controversy.
II. The pleading of God. A suit first is entered against a man; when the court day comes, there is calling for a declaration.
1. God contends not with a people without a cause.
2. God contends not against a people for little things. These are not little things “No truth, no mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.”
3. It is in vain for any man to talk of his religion, if he make no conscience of the second table as well as the first.
III. Judgment pronounced (Hosea 4:3, etc.). “Therefore shall the land mourn.”
1. All the glory and pomp of the men of the world is but as a flower.
2. Times of affliction take down the jollity and bravery of men’s spirits, and make them fade, wither, and pine away.
3. The good or evil of the creature depends on man.
4. God, when in a way of wrath, can cause His wrath to reach to those things that seem to be most remote.
5. No creature can help man in the time of God’s wrath, for every creature suffers as well as man.
IV. Exhortation to Judah to beware that she come not into the same condition (Hosea 4:15). The prophet Hosea was sent especially to Israel, to the Ten Tribes, but here we see he turns his speech to Judah.
1. Ministers should especially look to those whom they are bound unto by office, but yet so as to labour to benefit others when occasion offers.
2. When we see our labour lost on those we most desire to benefit, we should try what we can do with others. There were many arguments why Judah should not do as Israel did.
V. Execution, God in his wrath giving up Ephraim to himself (verse 17).
1. Ephraim engaging himself in false worship is now so inwrapped in that sin and guilt that he cannot tell how to extricate himself.
2. The Lord has given him up to his idols.
(1) It is a heavy judgment upon a people when the saints withdraw from them.
(2) The Lord here virtually says to Hosea, “You can do no good to them, it is in vain for you to meddle with Ephraim.” God has a time to give men over to themselves, to say that His Spirit shall no longer strive with them. It is the most woeful judgment of God upon any people, or person, when He saith in His wrath, “Let him alone.” It is a testimony of very great disregard in God for His creatures. Those thus let alone are going apace to misery. God intends by this to make way for some fearful wrath that is to come upon them. It is a dreadful sign of reprobation. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
The Lord’s controversy
The court is set, and both attendance and attention are demanded. Whom may God expect to give Him a fair hearing, and take from Him a fair warning, but the children of Israel, His own professing people? Sin is the great mischief-maker; it sows discord between God and Israel. God sees sin in His own people, and a good action He has against them for it. He has a controversy with them for breaking covenant with Him, for bringing a reproach upon Him, and for an ungrateful return to Him for His favours. God’s controversies will be pleaded, pleaded by the judgments of His mouth before they are pleaded by the judgments of His hand, that He may be justified in all He does, and may make it appear that He desires not the death of sinners; and God’s pleadings ought to be attended to, for, sooner or later, they shall have a hearing. (Matthew Henry.)
There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
Things that go with the knowledge of God
Truth and mercy are often spoken of as to Almighty God. Truth takes in all which is right, and to which God has bound Himself; mercy all beyond which God does out of His boundless love. When God says of Israel there is no truth nor mercy, He says that there is absolutely none of those two great qualities under which He comprises all His own goodness. “There is no truth,” none whatever, “no regard for known truth; no conscience, no sincerity, no uprightness; no truth of words; no truth of promises; no truth in witnessing; no making good in deeds what they said in words.” “Nor mercy.” This word has a wide meaning; it includes all love to one another, a love issuing in acts. It includes lovingkindness, piety to parents, natural affection, forgiveness, tenderness, beneficence, mercy, goodness. The prophet, in declaring the absence of this grace, declares the absence of all included under it. Whatever could be comprised under love, whatever feelings are influenced by love, of that there was nothing. “Nor knowledge of God.” The union of right knowledge and wrong practice is hideous in itself; and it must be especially offensive to Almighty God that His creatures should know whom they offend, how they offend Him, and yet, amid and against their knowledge, choose that which displeases Him. And on that ground, perhaps, He has so created us, that when our acts are wrong, our knowledge becomes darkened. The knowledge of God is not merely to know some things of God, as that He is the Creator and Preserver of the world and of ourselves. To know things of God is not to know God Himself. We cannot know God in any respect unless we are so far made like unto Him. Knowledge of God being tim gift of the Holy Ghost, he who hath not grace, cannot have that knowledge. A certain degree of speculative knowledge of God a bad man may have. But even this knowledge is not retained without love. Those who “held the truth in unrighteousness” ended (St. Paul says) by corrupting it. Certainly, the speculative and practical, knowledge are bound up together through the oneness of the relation of the soul to God, whether in its thoughts of Him, or its acts towards Him. Wrong practice corrupts belief, as misbelief corrupts practice. The prophet then probably denies that there was any true knowledge of God, of any sort, whether of life or faith, or understanding or love. Ignorance of God, then, is a great evil, a source of all other sins. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
A national duty
No one can fail to acknowledge in this terrible picture a representation of every people which habitually breaks the laws of God; and who, having set themselves free from the restraints of religion, or, through ignorance, being unconscious of their obligation, are delivered up to the working of their own heart’s lusts, and to follow their own imaginations. This consummation of depravity is even found in the chosen people of God. There was no truth where the great Source of all truth had announced the laws of moral perfection: there was no mercy where the prodigies of Divine compassion had been manifested from one generation to another: there was no knowledge of God where alone God could be known, and in the only place in which the principles of His government, and the attributes of His person, had been revealed to man. What rendered the case of Israel desperate, and remedy impossible, was this, that those who had been set apart as the depositaries of Divine knowledge, and who, by their life and doctrine, had been intended by the Almighty to act constantly, as a conservative power, against the corruptions of the mass, had yielded themselves to the popular torrent, and turned rank and station, the dignity of a holy vocation, and the talents of knowledge and intellect to the promotion of those vices which God had given them a solemn commission to withstand. They were weary of resisting the tendencies of the age and the godless spirit which found too complete an echo in their own hearts. So the princes and priests of Israel deserted their post, sealed up the records of God’s Word, and by ceasing to inculcate the awful sanctions of His law, and concealing from the people those oracles in which alone knowledge and wisdom are to be found, filled up to the brim the measure of their iniquity. That measure was filled up because they who had knowledge and had the guardianship of God’s heritage had turned traitors and withheld the Bread of Life from the famishing people. To whatever privileges a people may have been elected, no outward marks of distinction, apart from a corresponding holiness, will avail in the sight of Him who is no respecter of persons, and who trieth the very reins and hearts. The history of Israel is nothing but the annals of those judgments with which tie has visited their abuse of mercies, and their never-ending neglect or perversion of that most awful of all deposits, spiritual knowledge. If men in all times have been made accountable to God for the fate of their fellowcreatures, and most assuredly they have, it behoves us to look well to our own case, and beware how we involve ourselves in the participation of such guilt. Let us not deceive ourselves by supposing that the sins and the sanctions, the moral actions and the moral dealings of the eider covenant are inapplicable to ourselves. Considerable differences there may be, but they are all against us, and an increase of our responsibility. It is known to few of us how vast are the masses of ignorance and vice which undermine the surface of this favoured land. (J. Garbett.)
Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish.
The social causes of human misery
It is a principle illustrated by the holy records, that when immorality has thoroughly infected a state, in defiance of all warning and ordinary discipline, it is given up to destruction, as was Sodom, and also many of the most renowned empires of ancient times. Nothing is more certain and calculable in action and result than are social evils and social virtues. To inquire into their nature and operation is the way to discover a remedy for a most serious evil, and to furnish the most powerful motives for its rigorous and incessant application. There is much misery in the world. A primary cause of it is to be found in man himself. We are not to blame society, or social relations in any of their forms, for all the evils that exist in, and seem to be developed by them. Man, by his very constitution, is a social creature. The depravity of man, both as the judicial result of his sin, and as aggravated by his habits both of thought and sensual indulgence, insinuates itself into all that he does, and corrupts every relation into which he enters. Each relation, therefore, however fitted to produce and increase his happiness, is found to contribute something to his misery, and presents to the observer some new form and modification of human suffering. Consider the common relations of human society.
I. The political. If justice were enthroned in every heart there would be no necessity for any political economy. The authority of God in every man’s conscience would render all human government totally unnecessary. Government as a human institution can be traced no higher than to the necessities that spring from the fall. So long as government is the administration of justice- the agency by which wrong and outrage are repressed and punished--it must contribute in a most effectual manner to the good of a community. It is not because of this relation between the governor and governed that political evils exist. When the governor ceases to be the administrator of justice at all, and when the abettors of wrong obtain power and influence, then righteousness is hurled from her throne, and law trampled in the mire under the feet of a lawless and licentious mob. The ruin of a state has generally commenced with the corruption of its government. The amount of calamity and woe inflicted on our species by corrupt and despotic governments forms too serious an item to be passed over in silence.
II. The causes of human misery operating through the medium of the relations of commerce. These we take in their most extensive sense, including the intercourse and the arrangements, agreed upon generally, for conducting the manufacturing and mercantile depart ments of trade. The morals of trade, it is to be feared, are but indefinite at the best. Gain is the object pursued; but the means of acquiring it are as various as the dispositions and amount of principle felt by the candidates will admit. There are certainly parts of the economy of trade that require attention and no slight measure of reform. There is much of suffering and unhappiness observable in the commercial relations of life; and these may be clearly traced either to causes originating in something defective in the moral principles on which the economy of trade is based, or in the dispositions of those who take a part in conducting its several departments. Illustrate from the relation of master and servant, of the employer and the employed. Late hours; time for payment of wages; speculation; getting out of temporary difficulties by giving accommodation bills, etc.
III. The causes of human misery in the relations of friendship and private society.
1. Society has its temptations, and these, if not carefully watched, may lead us into much evil. One of the first consequences of a fondness for society is the diminished fervour of the domestic affections. Another temptation is a love of display. A certain indolence too is generally induced by the kind of social intercourse to which we are now referring.
2. Society has its actual vices. What so pernicious as envy? Consider the conventional estimate formed of the character of vices, such as gambling. There never was a day in which the debauching indulgence of the appetites was so inexcusable as the present. The cure of all the evil and misery is the adoption of the principle and rule,--“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (J. Robinson.)
A terrible deprivation
A deprivation that comes upon the people in consequence of their heinous iniquities.
I. A deprivation of both material and spiritual good.
1. Of material good.
(1) Health. Sin is inimical to the bodily health and vigour of men and nations; it insidiously saps the constitution.
(2) Means of subsistence. Reference is to one of those droughts that occasionally occur in the East, and is ever one of the greatest calamities. How soon the Eternal can destroy our means of subsistence l
2. Of spiritual good. Their presumptuous guilt was as great as that of one who refused to obey the priest when giving judgment in the name of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 17:12). One of the greatest spiritual blessings of mankind is the strife and reproof of godly men. What a derivation for these to be taken away!
II. A deprivation leading to a terrible doom.
1. The destruction of both priests and people. The meaning is that no time, night or day, shall be free from the slaughter both of the priests and of the people. This was literally true of the Ten Tribes at this time.
2. The destruction of the social state. “And I will destroy thy mother.” Who was the mother? The Israelitish state. And it was destroyed. (Homilist.)
With the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven.
The sharers in Divine judgment
The Lord’s sentence or threatening for these sins is that extreme desolation shall come, not only on the people, but on the land, and on all the creatures for their sakes, even on the fishes which were in lakes and ponds in the land. Doctrine--
1. The judgments of God upon the visible Church will be very sad and grievous, when they are inflicted, and as universal as sin hath been.
2. Albeit the Lord’s judgments on sinful and impenitent people do at first utterly consume them, yet that will be only that they may live awhile to feel their own miseries, and then be consumed by them, if they repent not.
3. Sinful man is a great enemy to all the creatures, as well as to himself; he makes both himself and them to mourn and pine away, because he will not mourn indeed.
4. As the glory of all the creatures is but a flower, which God will soon make to wither and languish when He pursueth for sin, so the creatures will not help man when God is angry at him; but as these draw him from God, so God is provoked to cut him short in them, as here they are consumed with him. (George Hutcheson.)
All creatures share the calamities of sin
As beasts, birds, and fishes, and in a word, all other things, have been created for the use of men, it is no wonder that God should extend the tokens of His curse to all creatures, above and below, when His purpose is to punish men. When God curses innocent animals for our sake, we then dread the more, except, indeed, we be under the influence of extreme stupor. (John Calvin.)
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another.
Restraint of converting agencies
Here is given an order of court that no pains should be taken with the condemned criminal to bring him to repentance, and the reason for that order.
I. The order itself. “Let no man strive, nor reprove another.” Let.no means be used to reduce or reclaim them; let their physicians give them up as desperate and past cure. It intimates that as long as there is any hope we ought to reprove sinners for their sins. It is a duty we owe to one another to give and take reproof. Sometimes there is need to rebuke sharply, not only to reprove but to strive, so loth are men to part with their sins. But it is a sign that persons and people are abandoned to ruin when God says, “Let them not be reproved.” They are so hardened in sin, and so ripened for ruin, that it will be to little purpose either to deal with them, or to deal with God for them. It bodes ill to a people when reprovers are silenced.
II. The reasons of this order.
1. They are determined to go on in sin, and no reproofs will cure them of that. “Thy people are as those that strive with the priests”; they have grown so very impudent in sin that they will fly in the face even of a priest himself if he should but give them the least check. Those sinners have their hearts wickedly hardened who quarrel with their ministers for dealing faithfully with them.
2. God also is determined to proceed in their ruin. “Therefore shalt thou fall.” The ruin of those who have helped to ruin ethers will, in a special manner, be intolerable. When all are involved in guilt nothing less can be expected than that all should be involved in ruin. (Matthew Henry.)
Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.
The threatening is that destruction should come upon such sinners and on the false prophets who flattered and soothed them up in this course. Learn--
1. Men’s opposing of the Word, their rejecting of reproof, and blessing themselves when they are rid of it, will not avail them, nor hold off wrath, but rather hasten it.
2. How high soever men exalt themselves in their opposition to God and His truth, yet that guilt will bring them down, and when God begins to reckon, He will teach every sinner particularly.
3. Vengeance can reach sinners in the height of their prosperity, and can ruin them suddenly and unavoidably.
4. It is a plague upon sinners that when they go farthest wrong, and oppose the faithful servants of God, yet they will never want corrupt men pretending to come in God’s name to bolster them up in their evil way, and God hath a sad controversy against such seducers.
5. However sinners shelter themselves under the privileges of a visible Church or state, yet the Lord may let them find that their sin doth not only undo themselves, but bring utter desolation also on the Church and nation whereof they are. Therefore it is subjoined, “And I will destroy thy mother.” (George Hutcheson.)
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
The perils of ignorance
If there is a knowledge on which not only the improvements and the refinements but the very being of society depends, the state of this must be in its nature most deeply awful and interesting. It was the language of pagan philosophy that such a knowledge did exist. The heathen wisdom was enabled to discern that all science, as exercised in its inferior provinces, required some principle of a sublimer nature, which might afford cement, consistence, and basis to every subordinate effort and exertion of the human intellect. In exploring this principle they however failed--and instead of substantial truth, were lost in the delusive twilight of a magnificent though ineffectual and perpetually baffled metaphysical speculation. Those on whom the daystar of revelation arose, found in the distinct discovery of a moral Governor of the universe, and the full and unequivocal display of His attributes, that knowledge which marks the origin, the limits, and the destination of every faculty, talent, and acquisition. When God tells us there is a knowledge “for the lack of which a people is destroyed,” we must infer that it is the “knowledge of Himself, His nature, His providence, and His power. If it be true that “knowledge and wisdom are the stability of prosperous times,” the converse will equally claim our attention. Inquire into the moral causes of both these propositions. It is not my intention to institute a regular comparison between the various acquisitions and exertions of ourselves and our predecessors. I mark those intellectual habits which interfere with the cultivation of that knowledge which directs, superintends, and sanctifies every portion of wisdom we can acquire. Whatever was the region of science which our predecessors explored, they steadily kept in view the great Source of every good and perfect gift. And this not only in theology proper, but also in history, moral science, and natural philosophy. Every work was in some measure a school of Divine knowledge. Now it is rarely indeed that, except in works directly treating of theology, any pious reference, even when the subject most points to it, is made to the dispensation and moral government of Almighty God. To a variety of causes this may be traced; to none more than to pride, or to its abortion, vanity. This engenders a fondness for paradox, than which nothing can be a greater obstruction to all knowledge, and particularly to the knowledge of God and His dispensations. All paradox, even in its most ingenious forms, is mere debility, and in no instance a mark of energy or strength of mind. It is observable that, in proportion to the love for this, the intellectual appetite is palled and vitiated for the perception and investigation of genuine truth. Hence those mischievous abstractions, which when introduced into religion, morals, and politics have, from causes comparatively mean, produced the most extended and tremendous effects. In a short time there will (we have reason to fear) remain but two kinds of persons among us, either those who think not at all, or those whose imaginations are active indeed, but continually evil. Of these latter it may be said, “Their foolish heart was darkened.” Of the principles, I do not say of the detail, of political science, a sound theology is the only sure and steady basis. Now we trace the operations by which a destruction so extended in its consequences has been effected. The master-spring of every principle which can permanently secure the stability of a people is the fear and knowledge of Almighty God. The first operation of a principle of atheism, and perhaps one of the most formidable in its consequences, is that which leads political men to conceive of Christianity as a mere auxiliary to the State. Religion was not instituted (in the Divine council I mean) for the purpose of society and government, but society and government for the purposes of religion. As atheism presumptuously attempts to discard a moral government, in order to open a fearless unrestrained indulgence for the impetuosity of passion, so superstition administers, upon a principle of commutation, to those same indulgences. It is utterly subversive of the two grand pillars of the Divine administration, His justice and His mercy. Thus both atheism and superstition are instruments of the general adversary of mankind. Their origin is in the wilful ignorance of God, and their operation in the merciless destruction of His creatures. The present disastrous state of human affairs can only be ascribed to one source, a corruption of morals, produced by a previous depravation of the opinions of mankind. If the events we deplore and deprecate arise from ignorance, error, and false opinion; and this ignorance is specifically the ignorance of Almighty God and His dispensations, to revive and disseminate with activity the principles of a sound, Christian, and orthodox theology will be our best interest, as it is our bounden duty. (T. Rennell, D. D.)
The sin of public teachers
Here made responsible for the ignorance of the people.
1. As ignorance is a very rife and destroying sin in the visible Church, so the guilt thereof doth ofttimes lie in great part at preachers’ doors.
2. Such as would be able to teach others, ought to take much pains that they may be instructed themselves from God in His Word.
3. The more familiar occasion of converse men have with holy things, wanting holiness, their contempt and dislike of them will be the greater, and their opposition to light have the more perversity and the less infirmity in it.
4. Such as do for a time reject and resist means of knowledge, may at last come to lose the light they had.
5. The more relation any pretend to God, by virtue of their general or particular calling, the Lord will make use thereof to aggravate their sin and unanswerable walking.
6. Unfaithfulness in offices will cast men out of the Church, as unsavoury salt is cast out, which is a sad judgment.
7. It is a righteous judgment on unfaithful ministers that God suffers their posterity to be neglected. (George Hutcheson.)
Lack of knowledge
As if he had said, If they had the knowledge of God, they might have prevented all this, but they were ignorant and sottish people, and this was the forerunner of misery and destruction. The heathens were wont to say that if their god Jupiter would destroy one, he would first besot him; so these people were first besotted and then destroyed. Ignorance is not the mother of devotion, but rather the father and mother too of destruction. In the beginning of this chapter we have the sin of ignorance set forth, here we have its danger. There we had the charge, that they had “no knowledge in the land”; here we have the judgment, that they “are destroyed for want of knowledge.” Ignorance is not only the deformity of the soul as blindness is the deformity of the face; though a man or woman have never such a comely face otherwise, yet if they be blind, or have but one eye, it mars their beauty; so ignorance takes away the beauty of the soul; and not only so, but is dangerous and destructive, and that in these respects--
1. The rational creature is very active of itself, and will always be in motion, always working. Then, wanting knowledge, and surrounded by pits and snares, how dangerous is his situation!
2. Man’s way is for eternity, and there is but one way that leads to an eternity of happiness, and that lies in the midst of a hundred crossways and bypaths. If he have not light, if he want knowledge, what is to become of him?
3. Man is not only going onward through dangers and byways, but he must go on with his own light. The soul that is ignorant no angel in heaven can help, except as an instrument of God to bring sight into his eyes.
4. The work we are to do about our souls and eternal estates is the most curious and most difficult piece of work, and we must do it by our own light.
5. Blindness in this world makes men objects of pity and compassion, but this ignorance and blindness make men to be the objects of the hatred and curse of God. God gave us light at first, we have brought ignorance upon ourselves. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Lack of knowledge the destruction of a people
The tide of human affairs is ever throwing up upon the surface of society some one particular subject of special and engrossing interest. One of the prominent subjects of our time is education. It has been forced on the minds of thoughtful men by the lamentable results of allowing an exuberant population to outgrow the means of their moral and religious training, bequeathed by the wisdom and piety of their forefathers. Hosea the prophet was commissioned to denounce God’s just displeasure, and His determination to inflict punishment upon a people that refused to be reformed. God had a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there was no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. It is a serious question how far such language may befit ourselves. It is certain that there is a fearful lack of “knowledge of God” in our times.
I. What is the knowledge, the lack of which destroys a people? The question is analogous to another, What is education? Are we agreed among ourselves as to what is to be understood by this expression? There is a class of men whose ideas of knowledge and education are almost confined to the acquisition and communication of the facts and principles of physical and general science. Education, in their estimation, is training up the young to be in mature life well-informed and philosophical men: men who can keep pace with and help on the forward movements of an inquiring and intellectual age. But this is not knowledge, in the true and full sense of the term, neither is this education. We are still short of the truth if we define knowledge to be acquaintance with duties as well as facts, with the world within a man, as well as the world without him; and education to be a process of training for the moral as well as the intellectual part of man, the discipline of the will as well as that of the mind. This is well as far as it goes; but it is not the whole truth. It is indeed based upon a false principle, that the inculcation of moral truths, and cultivation of moral habits will suffice to regulate and control the heart and will of man. It dreams of a moral regeneration without an adequate regenerating principle, of moral obedience without a sufficiently constraining motive. It assumes that a man may be lifted up above the influence of evil by presenting to his mind the cold abstraction of goodness. The advocates of these moral systems are ignorant of the materials upon which they would work. They do not know the nature of man. They forget that he is corrupt and depraved. The moral sense of man is so beclouded by sin that to behold the beauty of virtue is neither to love nor to embrace it. Education, in its primary idea, is the knowledge of God in His relation to man: the communication of this knowledge to the heart, through the medium of the understanding. Education is training as well as teaching. It teaches moral duties based upon the knowledge of God as a reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. Education is worthless when severed from religion. Lay the foundation deeply in the principles of true religion, and you may then proceed to build up a goodly superstructure of all that is worthy of the name of useful knowledge.
II. The anxious conditions of society are explained by the lack of this knowledge. Reflecting minds have serious thoughts upon the present aspect of our domestic national affairs. We have been appalled by the frightful statistics of ignorance and vice, of the mass of corruption fermenting amidst our overgrown population. While the prodigious multiplication of human beings has been advancing, there has been no corresponding multiplication cf appliances for the moral and religious training of their souls, either as children or adults. Can it be wondered at that irreligion and infidelity, and principles of anarchy and insubordination, and vice in some of its most revolting forms have overspread these densely peopled districts? We cannot shut our eyes to what is going on around us. A population has grown up unlearned in true knowledge. The demoralising process is going on. It is a self-propagating evil. One uneducated generation begets another, and probably a worse. Our fathers did much for national education, according to the exigencies of their own times. We must follow along their line in this, that religion entered, as a component element, into all their foundations. (W. Nicholson, M. A.)
The danger of a lack of knowledge
I. The persons. “My people.” A frequent designation of the Israelitish people. Jehovah was emphatically to them a God, and they were emphatically to Him a people. But is God’s greatest goodness to Israel to be compared with the civil and religious privileges with which He has distinguished this favoured country? There is a tendency in nations as well as in individuals to be rendered careless and secure by the long possession of privileges and advantages. And the history of Israel is intended to teach a lesson of national warning.
II. Their condition. “My people are destroyed.” Notwithstanding all God’s favour towards them, yet He abandoned them to desolation, He gave them over to destruction. And what ground of security has Britain any more than Israel, except in the favour and protection of God? It is impossible for any reflecting person to consider the internal state of our country without feeling that we have within ourselves the elements of destruction, the materials for a wide-wasting desolation.
III. The cause of that condition. “For lack of knowledge.” Lack of the knowledge of God and religion. This was God’s ground of complaint, and for this He entered into judgment with them. This lack of knowledge was accompanied and followed by a general corruption of morals, as the next words to our text show. When the corruption became general, and the fruit, of this religious ignorance were ripe, God thrust in the sharp sickle of His judgments, and reaped the harvest in His wrath. Observe then the bearing which the state of the collective body of the people as to religious knowledge must have upon the question of national safety and national ruin. If there be a lack of the knowledge of God and His truth in the bulk of the people, the destruction of the nation will be inevitable. And if ruin come upon any land, who are the sufferers? If the body be crushed by a fall, which of the members will escape the anguish? Hence the state of the people is the concern of all. God has bound all classes in one common bond of interest: all must rejoice, or all must suffer together. What then is the state of our population with respect to religious knowledge? And what must be the end of these things? (Thomas Best, M. A.)
Neglect of teaching
God here attacks the priests, but includes the whole people. For teaching prevailed not among them, as it ought to have done. The Lord reproaches the Israelites for their ingratitude, seeing He had kindled among them the light of celestial wisdom. How did the Israelites perish through ignorance? They closed their eyes against the celestial light, because they deigned not to become teachable, so as to learn the wisdom of the eternal Father. We see the guilt of the people in that they had malignantly suppressed the teaching of the law. The people perished without knowledge, because they would perish. (John Calvin.)
The lack of knowledge
I. The statement of the text is no exaggeration. Look at the Jewish nation. The whole nation was a school, and the law was their schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. But it failed--utterly failed--to accomplish this. The enmity of the human heart came out amongst the Jewish people.
II. Some of the endeavours men make to rectify existing evils. Emphatically this is an age of progress; of progress in many things that have rendered man wiser, and the world happier. Philosophy takes a higher range of thought. Literature is nobler and healthier in its tone. Art is purer than Grecian art. Science is not atheistic. Many run to and fro, and knowledge is multiplied. We recognise this progress thankfully; it is all good, though not the highest good. It is all capable of being turned to spiritual advantage. But by it society is not regenerated: there arc social questions of the deepest importance that are not yet settled. There are forms of ignorance most appalling, developments of ignorance most deplorable, and a general spirit of scepticism widely spread. Man has done, and is doing, his very utmost to set the world right, and yet the world continues wrong.
III. The Gospel announces itself as sufficient to meet and to remove all the miseries of humanity.
1. It is this which distinguishes the Gospel from all other schemes. Many things are palliatives, but you can find nothing that pretends to do all the work that man requires to have done for him but the Gospel. Then indifference to the Gospel is the most fearful proof that could be presented to the mind of my voluntary ignorance and sin.
2. We may with confidence say that the Gospel not only professes to do this but has done all this. It has proved itself the great salvation. (W. G. Barrett.)
I. It is destructive. It is not the mother of devotion, it is the mother of destruction.
1. What does it destroy? The growth of the soul in power, beauty, and fruitfulness.
2. How does it destroy? How can the lack of a thing destroy? The lack of heat and moisture will kill the vegetable kingdom; the lack of air will cause the extinction of all animal life. The soul without knowledge of God is like a plant without heat or moisture, an animal without the salubrious breeze.
II. It is wilful. No culpability in a man being ignorant of some things. The knowledge of God comes to him whether he will or not. In nature, in reason, in intuitions of his moral being. Ignorance of God is a criminal ignorance.
III. It is God-offending. He deals out retribution--
1. To themselves.
2. To their children.
It is a Divine law springing from the constitution of society, that the iniquities of the fathers shall be visited on their children. (Homilist.)
Ignorance disqualifies a man for those situations in life that require the exercise of wisdom and discretion: it degrades him in society below the rank of those who would otherwise be deemed his equals or inferiors; and it not unfrequently leads to idleness, dissipation, and vice. But ignorance of religion is of infinitely worse consequence, because it ensures the everlasting destruction of the soul.
I. The ignorance of the Christian world. Among nominal Christians there is a great lack of knowledge: an ignorance--
1. Of themselves. Of their blindness, guilt, depravity, helplessness.
2. Of God. Of His holiness, justice, truth.
3. Of Christ. They may confess His Godhead, and acknowledge Him as a Saviour. But what do they know of Him as He is in Himself, or as He is to us?
II. The fatal consequences of this ignorance. Lack of spiritual knowledge--
1. Tends to men’s destruction.
2. Will issue in their destruction.
1. How carefully should we improve the means of grace,
2. How earnestly should we pray for the teachings of God’s Spirit.
3. How thankful we should be for any measure of Divine knowledge. (Skeletons of Sermons.)
True knowledge for the people
Neither wealth nor political forms of government give knowledge to a people. They may give them, or obtain for them, technical information in most things, but they do not give that know ledge which is the height of wisdom--that knowledge which will guide a man aright in his intercourse with the world. On the contrary, a continuously changing government and an accumulation of wealth have a great tendency to demoralise a nation, and to retard, rather than to foster, the knowledge of that which is righteous and true. As it was in the early ages, so it has continued through the various nations which have existed upon the earth down to the present time; and the Jewish nation fell under the ordinary laws of social progress when they departed from the directions which were given, and the advice which was offered by God Himself. Even the chosen people of the Almighty fell under the power of the tyrant custom; and notwithstanding their advance in civilisation and wealth, they erred and were “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Why was this? Because the technical information which they obtained from their teachers was not that which would support the actions of their daily life, was not that which would assist in guiding them through the devious windings of the world in which they lived, but had relation merely to the subject which was then in hand, and was of no further avail when once that subject was laid on one side. As a natural consequence of this narrow and superficial training, the minds of the people generally became contracted until they could not see any political or religious question in its proper bearings, or to its whole extent. They saw what related to the question of the hour, and being content with this, they ultimately sank under a despotism of body and mind; for the mind sank and was debased long before the body felt any evil effects from the narrowing of views which had been going on for some time amongst the people. In the time of Hosea the people were wandering to and fro from lack of knowledge, and the prejudices of the age were being stirred up for the services of party, instead of being laid aside in the desire to teach the people only that which was true. Prejudice is one of the most difficult things which men have to encounter in their desire to obtain a know ledge of the truth. When once the mind has taken up any opinion it lays hold of it as its own, and follows it out regardless of what may be said by others to the contrary. It considers that which it holds to he the truth; and, as a natural consequence, looks upon the sayings of those who oppose it as absolutely false, and without any legitimate foundation upon which to stand. Nor is it in the ordinary course of events worth while to try and disabuse people of their prejudices. And not only do our prejudices impel us to hold with tenacity that which we have taken up as the truth, but they impel us to dislike and to hate those who may differ from us. A man is truly orthodox when he thinks as we think; but let him differ from us only in one jot or tittle, and then his opinions are at once pronounced to be heterodox, and he himself adjudged as an enemy. There are some conclusions which must be admitted by every reflecting mind as soon as they are presented to it, and they must also be acknowledged as truths the moment they are offered for consideration. When we reflect upon the matter for a moment, it is evident that each one ought” to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world,” because it is clearly an offence against the well-being of society that men should live otherwise. Then let us not be the servants of men, for there is One greater than they. Let us not be the followers of a party, for there is One wiser than it. But let us seek honestly after the truth wherever it may be found; and whilst we hold Augustine as a friend, and Luther and Calvin as friends,--whilst we respect men of every party--let us ever bear in mind that we have a duty to perform far higher than that of clansmen: we have to teach the truth as it is in Jesus, to proclaim His name above that of every other name, and to endeavour above all things to strive manfully to learn and to do that which is right. (F. T. Swinbourne.)
The importance of religious knowledge
Both philosophers and divines agree that the first step to true know ledge is a discovery of our own ignorance; all wise men will confess that the more they know the more a modest sense of the narrow limits of their understanding increases. The recovery of true knowledge, with a constant improvement therein ourselves, and the using our utmost endeavours to propagate it among mankind, are some of the most noble and rational ends of our existence. Not withstanding His severe reproachings and threatenings of Ephraim, how tenderly the Lord expostulates with them! A wilful neglect of true knowledge is represented as the spring of all their provocations and their danger. Ignorance is represented as the occasion of their ruin.
I. The title given to the people who are exposed to this destruction. Still, spite of their sin, they are called “My people.” This title may be applied to mankind in general, and in a strict manner to those who are known as the “elect.” Here it is applied to the kingdom of the Ten Tribes, under the name Ephraim. Though they had revolted from Him, God still condescends to own His relation to them. And this relation materially aggravates their crimes.
II. What is this knowledge which is of such importance? Men may be great strangers to philosophy, to human arts, and carnal wisdom, and yet not be involved in that destruction which is certainly connected with the ignorance mentioned in the text. As true religion is the only effectual security of private persons from this ruin, so it is with respect to society. Religious knowledge must be intended in this text.
1. Men might learn much by seriously observing what is presented to their view all round about them; and much more if they would examine their own frame, and reflect on the various warnings of that monitor which is in every breast.
2. It is the knowledge which God has been pleased to reveal, which is chiefly intended here. This was, in Hosea’s time, to be found in the books of Moses and the prophets. This is, for us, the knowledge that is conveyed by the Gospel.
III. The sad occasions of the want of this knowledge, especially in what is called a land of light.
1. A thoughtless neglect of those sober reflections to which we are led even by that measure of natural light, which, in the midst of all our depravity, is mercifully continued to us. Observation teaches us what effect negligence will have on our temporal affairs. When men come to divide precious time principally between the cares about the enlargement of their worldly substance, and the various methods their own corruptions will dictate, very little will be left for nobler improvements.
2. The want of the written revelation must Deeds be attended with the most deplorable ignorance. As may be seen in the history of those nations which have wanted this glorious advantage.
3. Ignorance of religion must needs prevail where there is the want of a skilful, faithful, and laborious ministry.
4. A pious education of our youth is another method of cultivating religious knowledge. This foundation must be chiefly laid in family instruction. We have lived to see the day when the impression of religious sentiments on young minds is not only by many laid aside, but such a neglect is defended. It is said to prevent any bar being put to what is called “free thinking.” The great neglect of family religion, and the pious example which superiors by the laws of reason are indispensably obliged to set before those under their care, as it has long been complained of, if not soon reformed must bring peril on our Churches and on our land.
5. The growth of ignorance among the poorer sort is a matter of peculiar consequence.
6. Among good men there is too great a neglect of application to Heaven for a blessing on such attempts as are made to promote useful knowledge, and of a dependence on the Spirit of God, who is only able to make them successful.
IV. The destruction which is the natural and sad consequence of this ignorance. Reference is first to those temporal calamities which befell these people for their sins; or it relates to future temporal calamities which Hosea predicted. But ignorance persisted in exposes public communities to almost every criminal anal dangerous disorder, and in the end brings on national ruin; and it is big with every spiritual as well as temporal mischief to private persons where it prevails. Ignorance of Divine things keeps the conscience under a fatal stupidity, it exposes men to the devices of the old serpent, and to the crafty attempts of every seducer; it exposes us to every kind of error in conduct, and obstructs our usefulness both in public and in private life.
V. The remedies which should be applied to so dangerous a disease.
1. We should cheerfully and constantly attend on those advantages Heaven has bestowed on us, that we read and hear, that we inquire and meditate, and watch and pray, as those who are convinced that ignorance has been their ruin, and that happiness in this life is absolutely connected with religious knowledge, and that the lives of our souls depend upon it.
2. We should do all we can to promote the influence of religious knowledge on the minds of others, by the careful instruction of our families, and the support of a well-qualified ministry.
VI. Some applications cf what has been said.
1. How deplorable is the state of multitudes among us, who lie under the grossest ignorance.
2. We ought to rejoice in our civil constitution, and to encourage and defend our religious advantages. (Joseph Stennett, D. D.)
Ignorance of God among professing Christians
The ungodliness of Israel in Hosea’s time was in a great measure to be traced to ignorance of the true God; an ignorance for which they were responsible, because there was the light of God’s truth in their land. It was peculiarly sinful, inasmuch as it was ignorance in God’s professing people. And the ignorance involved their ruin.
I. The present and future misery of ignorance of God. No real earthly happiness can be enjoyed where there is ignorance of God. The pleasures of sin are not happiness, though they often pass for it. Nor is the pursuit of happiness, or the acquisition of wealth. Happiness must be sought in a knowledge of, and obedience to, the will and ways of God. Where there is the true knowledge of God, there is no real wretchedness, though there may be much tribulation
II. That which aggravates the misery is our relation to God as his people.
1. It aggravates their sin, because it is the bounden duty of every man to seek the knowledge of God as the “one thing needful.” We are not to wait to have this knowledge forced upon us, we are bound to seek it. If the guilt of God’s people who remain in ignorance of Him be aggravated by their relation to Him, so likewise is the guilt of those aggravated who are bound to teach God’s people. Civil government stands upon religious grounds, and has religious obligations. The Church is the bulwark of every Christian State. (W. J. Brodrick, M. A.)
The necessity of a union between religion and education
I. The necessary connection between religion and education. The word “education” suggests the idea of preparing the young for the great duties incumbent on them in the various relations of life; and with a view to this object, includes the communication of knowledge, the inculcation of right principles, and the formation of corresponding habits in those who are thus to be the subjects of it. But what are we to understand by the great duties incumbent upon us in the different relations of life? Some think that the end and purpose of their existence have been met when they have fairly performed their present duties, and honourably met their obligations. But these are practical atheists, for they completely exclude God from any right to the homage of His rational creatures, and reduce man to the degradation and wretchedness of a being who, whatever other heights he may attain, is incapable of rising to the knowledge, the love, the service, and the everlasting enjoyment of his Maker. In opposition to such views, we say, that even reason and conscience, above all the Word of God, declare that man is endowed with a nature that renders him capable of communion with the great, eternal, glorious God; nay, that the advancement of the praise of this God is the very end of his existence; and in pursuing this end he secures present and everlasting happiness. This duty may, however, be acknowledged, and yet the proper principles and conduct attending it may be repudiated. If the former view was practical atheism, this is practical infidelity. Milton says. “The end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents, by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him, to be like Him as we may the nearest, by possessing our souls of true virtue, which, being united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest perfection.” Can Christian training be efficiently, and ought it to be exclusively discharged by parents?
II. The importance and advantages of a union between religion and education. Man was originally framed so as to derive happiness from the knowledge, love, and service of God. It is when the love of God is shed abroad on the heart of fallen man that the different parts of his moral constitution will resume, as it were, their proper place and connection, and that he himself will be enabled to act as he was designed for the glory of God, in all the varied relations in which he stands. When religious knowledge is communicated and made effectual for the conversion of the soul to God, man is under the influence of that principle which will most certainly and with increasing strength constrain him to the discharge of every obligation in regard to God, to himself, and to his fellow-creatures, and thus fit him for the attainment of the great end of his being. Put forth this knowledge in all its bearings, and you will do that which, with the Divine blessing, will enable him to discharge with consistency and perseverance, with honour, comfort, and usefulness, the great duties of life. But how sad, and morally helpless, is the condition of those who are allowed to grow up, not only without a religious education, but without an education of any kind! (Abercromby L. Gordon.)
Hindrances to knowledge
Very different and almost opposite things are said of knowledge in the Holy Scriptures. Such may be found in the writings of St. Paul. Following the sound rather than the sense of some of St. Paul’s expressions, it has been the fashion with some to decry altogether the value of knowledge, whether on religious or common subjects. What is knowledge? The old definition is, “Knowledge is the firm belief of something true, on sufficient grounds.” Belief is necessary, but belief is not enough. Fully testing our knowledge, it may be said that we know almost nothing. In later life we become aware of this, and very painfully. But the charge of ignorance (in the true meaning of that word) may be brought as justly against the so-called enlightenment of this age, as against the less showy pretensions of that which is now gone by. Two or three causes for the lack of real knowledge may be given.
1. The multiplication of outward helps and facilities for learning has a direct tendency to counteract true knowledge. It seems to be a condition of knowledge that it shall not come too easily. Knowledge must be fetched by exertions of our own.
2. A misuse of stimulus in the pursuit of knowledge is an impediment. One reason why many of us do not know mere is that we have made knowledge a means instead of an end--a means of getting distinction. The use of emulation as a stimulus to knowledge is a perilous, though it may be a necessary expedient. Be on your guard, too, against a misuse of a temporary stimulus acting upon parts of your nature which are, by comparison, the lower rather than the higher. Emulation is higher than appetite, but it is lower than that to which manly principle and Christian motive appeal.
3. The effect of light reading upon the acquisition of knowledge truly so called. In the days of our fathers, any one who could read at all would scarcely fail to read with a view to knowledge. The supply of amusement by literature, the command of books as a mere pastime, was then scarcely thought of. Now young people greedily devour fictitious tales till indulgence produces a surfeit. Sometimes an absolute vacancy follows upon excess of such reading. Fiction has two legitimate provinces. It is a salutary relaxation for an overwrought brain. And it may be employed as a study of life. But the knowledge, the lack of which destroys, is the knowledge not of things but of per-sons. It is the acquaintance of soul with soul, and spirit with spirit; the contact of the unseen inmost self of man with the unseen inmost essence of another, even of Him in whom man lives, and whom truly to know is eternal life. What we need is to know God. It is no metaphysical, scarcely even a theological, knowledge you need. It is the knowledge as of a friend. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
The evils of ignorance
I. Ignorance is destructive.
1. Destructive of the dignity of man. The faculties of knowledge, reason, judgment, and voluntary determination distinguish us from the beasts that perish, and constitute the true dignity of our nature. But faculties and powers are of little value until they are brought into exercise and directed to their proper objects. Instruction is to man What culture is to the plant. Without it, life is spent in a vacant stupidity, or distracted by irregular imagination and heated passions.
2. Destructive of the usefulness of man. Knowledge constitutes the whole difference betwixt savage and civilised society. To the improvement of the mind all nations have owed the improvement of their condition. Ignorance is the negative of everything good and useful. It not only renders the members of a community useless to each other, it opposes, and frequently triumphs over, all the endeavours of humane and enlightened individuals. The despotism of ignorance is of the most imperious nature. Minds wholly uncultivated are averse to serious thought., and are only conversant with sensible objects. From this springs their aversion to the Gospel; for whoever receives it must become serious and thoughtful.
3. Destructive of virtue. Virtue can no more exist without knowledge, than an animal can exist without life. In proportion as ignorance prevails in society, virtue is destroyed. Ignorant men may possibly be made enthusiasts; they may be made superstitious; but before they can be made rational, steady, and consistent Christians, they must be enlightened. That ignorance is destructive of virtue is proved by facts as well as arguments. Illustration may be taken from the records of heathen nations, and from the history of the Christian Church.
4. Destructive of happiness. There is pleasure in knowledge of a kind more pure and elevated than can possibly be found in any of the gratifications of sense, and for which the latter are but unworthy substitutes. Of the pleasures which spring from knowledge, and especially sacred knowledge, we cannot conceive too highly. To know God, to contemplate the perfections of His nature and the wonders of His hand, to observe His providential regard, to behold the mystery of redemption, the character and undertaking of Jesus,--such subjects, when opened to the mind, not only give pleasure as speculative discoveries and the solutions of distressing doubts, but by awakening virtuous sentiments, kindling an ardent and elevated devotion, producing the present possession of the peace of the Gospel, and the prospect of fulness of joy.
II. To counteract the destructive effects of ignorance is the work of humanity. None oppose the communication of knowledge to the lower ranks of society save those who are altogether unreasonable. Special importance attaches to Sunday school. The dissemination of knowledge may be treated as--
1. A work of humanity;
2. Of patriotism;
3. Of virtue.
Christianity exhibits a Founder who went about doing good; and His disciples in every age have devoted their time, their talents, their property, their influence to the instruction and blessing of mankind. (R. Watson.)
Ignorance disqualifies a man for those situations in life that require the exercise of wisdom and discretion: it degrades him in society below the rank of those who would otherwise be deemed his equals or inferiors; and it not infrequently leads to idleness, dissipation, and vice. Ignorance of religion ensures the everlasting destruction of the soul.
I. The ignorance of the Christian world.
1. An ignorance of themselves. They know little of their blindness, guilt, depravity, helplessness.
2. Ignorance of God. His holiness, justice, truth.
3. Ignorance of Christ. As He is in Himself. As He is to us.
II. The fatal consequences of it. The degrees of criminality attached to ignorance vary according to the opportunities men have enjoyed of obtaining knowledge. A lack of spiritual knowledge--
1. Tends to destruction.
2. Will issue in destruction.
(1) How carefully should we improve the means of grace!
(2) How earnestly should we pray for the teachings of God’s Spirit!
(3) How thankful should we be for any measure of Divine knowledge! (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The word used signifies to reject with despite and contempt. Knowledge is rejected in two ways.
1. When the means of knowledge are rejected, then knowledge is rejected.
2. When the directions of our knowledge are rejected, when we refuse to be guided by it, upon this our knowledge decays, and eventually is contemned. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Lack of knowledge
The lack of this knowledge causes people to perish. Knowing God as a Father, Saviour, Sanctifier, gives the soul the consciousness of pardon, life, purity, power--the power of love--that is almost irresistible. Knowledge is power to the inventor, civil engineer, teacher and lawyer. But the knowledge of God is the greatest power. It enables all, even the weakest, to do great things. “Oh, for a knowledge and baptism of power from God. Then everywhere the people that do know God shall do exploits.” (H. W. Bailey.)
Among the Scotch lairds, there is one whose father died in a poorhouse, like a beggar, notwithstanding his possession of the very same riches his heir at present has at his disposal; but he simply did not know how rich he was. Shortly after his decease, rich metallic ore was discovered on the estate; the mines, which were worked at once, gave such returns, that very soon all mortgages and debts could be paid off, and, moreover, put the present owner in possession of a nobleman’s fortune. His father possessed no less, but he knew it not. Alas, for how many the blessed Word of God is worth no more than waste paper! Therein are contained the richest promises of fulness of grace, of victory over every enemy, of exceeding glory; but because they do not explore these mines, they live like beggars, who can hardly manage to obtain a morsel of bread. (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
I will also forget thy children.
Getting at parents through their children
The Lord must in some way find our life that He may either reward or chastise it. In this case He will get at the parents through their children. He would not have done this if there had been any other way into their rebellious and obdurate hearts. We must leave Him to explain Himself in reference to the children; He will do that which is right and merciful; we need not plague ourselves about that aspect of mystery; rather let us fasten attention upon the fact that God means for our good to get at our souls somehow. He will try all the gates, and even if He has to break down the child-gate He will come in. That is the point upon which we are to fix our devout attention. We can of course be tempted in another direction: why attack the children, why conduct Himself towards the innocent as if they were guilty? Why punish the innocent., for those who have transgressed? So we metaphysically fritter away God’s meaning; we endeavour to solve the insoluble, when we might be accepting with grace and gratitude the inevitable, the disciplinary, and the high administration of Divine righteousness. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
As they were increased, so they sinned against me.
The “increase” is in the number of the population; but it may refer to increase of wealth.
I. Secular prosperity attained by the wicked.
1. That is a common fact. Wicked men in all ages have, as a rule, been more prosperous than their contemporaries. Two things account for this fact--
(1) Their secular earnestness. Material good is the one thing With them.
(2) Their moral unscrupulousness. They have no high sense of honour, no inviolable rules of right, no swaying sense of moral responsibilities. Hence they will not reject the fraudulent and false if they will serve them in their course.
2. That is a trying fact. Men of incorruptible truth, honesty, and high devotion have in all ages been baffled and distressed by this fact.
II. Secular prosperity abused. In the hands of the wicked wealth can--
1. Promote injustice. It fattens the despotic in human nature.
2. It promotes sensuality. It provides means to inflame the low passions of human nature, and to pamper the brutal appetites.
3. It promotes practical atheism. The man with wealth, and without God in his heart, sinks into an utter forgetfulness of the Author of all good.
III. Secular prosperity is ruinous to the wicked. God will strip them of all they now glory in, all their worldly prosperity, and give them shame instead. “Therefore will I change their glory into shame.” I will quench all the lights which they have kindled. I will bring them into wretchedness and contempt. (Homilist.)
Prosperity encouraging sin
The Lord accuses them of ingratitude, that the more they prospered, or increased in number or glory, they were the more bold on sin; therefore He threatens them with ignominy to come in place of that glory which made them miscarry so far. Learn--
1. Such as do provoke God highly, may yet, in His long-suffering patience, not only continue as they are, but increase in prosperity, issue, and glory for a time.
2. As there is no outward mercy conferred on wicked or unrenewed men, but they do make it a snare to draw them into sin, and harden them in it, so this abuse of God’s goodness doth aggravate sin exceedingly, for it is a challenge that “as they were increased, so they sinned against Me.”
3. Any glory or splendour which men abuse to harden themselves in sin, neglecting that which is their true honour, will certainly end in ignominy; and especially when ministers glory of worldly state or riches as their chief excellency, neglecting that true honour of being faithful in their station. (George Hutcheson.)
Worldly prosperity an insidious danger
Once an English friend found Jenny Lind sitting on the steps of a bathing-machine, on the sands, with a Lutheran Bible open on her knee, and looking out into the glory of a sunset that was shining over the waters. They talked, and the talk drew near to the inevitable question: “Oh, Madame Goldschmidt, how was it that you ever came to abandon the stage, at the very height of your success?” “When, every day,” was the quiet answer, “it made me think less of this” (laying a finger on the Bible) “and nothing at all of that” (pointing to the sunset), “what else could I do?” (“Life of Jenny Lind,” by Canon Scott Holland.)
Spiritual ruin through temporal prosperity
It is not an unmixed blessing to be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, for we all need the benefit of the struggle. I knew a man who commenced business on a small scale, and at that time he attended the chapel twice every Sunday. The business increased rapidly, and he attended chapel once a Sunday, and then once a month, and now he spends his Sundays in a house-boat on the river, and has lost all taste for sacred things! He is the miserable slave of his gold--he worships it by day and dreams of it by night- and one would not be surprised to hear of his seeking his euthanasia in suicide! A man alone with his money is a sorry sight, for his heart is petrified, his spirit materialised, and his life poisoned. The gold mines of Peru helped to wreck the fortunes of Spain, for men abandoned honest work, and became avaricious adventurers. Excessive luxury and avarice are the sure forerunners of national decadence, and we Britons must be on our guard against it, or the fate of Spain will be ours. Life is qualitative rather than quantitative, and our prosperity will spoil us unless we give to soul-culture the first and highest place. As Seneca says: “One of the most serious calamities which can befall any man is not to know something of adversity.” (J. Ossian Davies.)
Therefore will I turn their glory into shame.
God bestows on man gifts, which may be to him matter of praise and glory, if only ordered aright to their highest and only true end, the glory of God. Man perverts them to vainglory, and therefore to sin; God turns the gifts, so abused, to shame. He not only gives them shame instead of their glory; He makes the glory itself the means and occasion of their shame. Beauty becomes the occasion of degradation; pride is proverbially near a fall; “vaulting ambition overleaps itself and falls on the other side.” (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Man’s glory changed into shame
The very blessings which God had bestowed on these priests for their glory, in order to their good, were to be converted into their shame, and be made instrumental to their injury.
I. The threatening in its relation to the Jews. There never was a nation upon which were poured with such profusion things which should have been for their good and for their glory. But in a very wonderful manner the Jews perverted all their privileges, and thus turned their glory into shame. Their national mercies only strengthened the national apostasy, and then the threatening took literal effect, though only through their own misuse of their many advantages.
II. The threatening in its relation to ourselves. Constantly things which should have turned to our glory have been instrumental to our shame. But this cannot occur without fatal injury.
1. How may our temporal blessings be turned into shame? Nothing tries a man more than prosperity. There are many tempers and dispositions which are comparatively repressed by straitness of condition, but which walk abroad in full liberty when that condition is enlarged. Nevertheless, riches are designed of God to be for man’s glory. Alas! there too often occurs the reverse of this, and riches are turned into shame. This is also true of intellectual riches. Genius has often been the ruin of its possessor; the powers which ought to have been for their glory, needing nothing but righteous employment in order to the rendering their possessors happy in themselves, and benefactors to the world, have been given to the cause of vice and infidelity. But illustrations had better be taken from commonplace than from rare instances.
2. How may our spiritual advantages be turned into shame? Every doctrine of religion, every leading of providence may clearly be for our own glory if rightly employed, and as clearly for our shame if misused and perverted. Illustrate by the doctrine of human helplessness, or of the forbearance God manifests to sinners. In dealing with the dispensations of providence, illustrate by affections. They are our glory, but, unsanctified, they become our shame. The prophet Malachi has this threatening in the name of God, “I will curse your blessings.” (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
Shame for glory
God loves to stain the pride and haughtiness of men.
I. He would bring shame instead of glory. So God is wont to do. Women that glory in their beauty and splendour should mark well (Isaiah 3:16-24). If any will glory in parts, the Lord justly brings shame on them, blasting their gifts. It is reported of Albertus Magnus, that great scholar, that for five years before his death, he lost his faculties so completely that he could not read. If any glory in riches, God can soon turn that into shame. If any glory in honour, God can soon turn that into shame, as in the case of Herod. According to the glory of men in external things, so is their shame when God takes them away. Here is the difference between the saints and the wicked when they lose these outward things.
II. God makes the very things they glory in turn to their shame. He makes their very gifts to be their undoing. When men glory in this, that they had such success, and such a victory at such a time, and thence infer, “Surely God is with us, and blesses and owns us,” God will turn this glorying into shame when He blasts their success, and makes it manifest to all that though they have all outward means, yet they avail nothing. When the saints suffer any shame for God, they can glory. What the world accounts their shame is their glory; and that which the world judges to be their glory is their shame. The prophet is speaking here more especially of the priests. God casts shame upon wicked priests. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
They eat up the sin of My people.
Feeding on sin
Dr. Henderson renders these words, “They devour the sin-offering of My people.” The priests lived upon the sacrificial meat (Leviticus 6:26), and the more they had of this the more they were pleased. But this increased with the increase of the sins of the people. The more the people sinned, the more sin-offerings, and the more sin-offerings, the more priestly banquets. So in truth, without a figure, they “feed upon the sin of the people.” Such men can be found now--
I. In the ecclesiastical world.
II. In the commercial world.
1. Men who have vested interest in the sin of intemperance.
2. Men who have vested interest in the sin of war.
III. In the professional world. What could lawyers do without chicaneries, breach of contracts, and all kinds of social immoralities and crimes? What would popular journalists do were there no scandals, no tragedies, no crimes, no fraudulent advertisements? What would become of the sensational novelist, if there were no sinful love in the people for the horrible and the prurient? Herein is the great obstruction to moral reformations. Destroy a popular sin, and you destroy the livelihood of hundreds, and the pomp and splendour of many. (Homilist.)
And there shall be, like people, like priest.
“Like princes, like people”; but also, alas! “like people, like priests,”--a proverb which has acquired currency from its fatal truth, but which Hosea originated. The causes for the widespread immorality were twofold, as Hosea, resident perhaps in Samaria, saw more clearly, and pointed out more definitely than Amos. They were--
1. The detestable vileness and hypocrisy of the priests, with whom, as usual, the false prophets were in league. From Hosea, the earliest of the northern prophets whose works are extant, to Malachi the latest prophet of the returned exiles, the priests had very little right to be proud of their title. Their pretensions were, for the most part, in inverse proportion to their merits. The neutrality, or the direct wickedness, of the religious teachers of a country, torpid in callous indifference and stereotyped in false traditions, is always the worst sign of a nation’s decadence. Hosea was no exception to the rule that the true teacher must be prepared to bear the beatitude of malediction, and not least from those who ought to share his responsibilities. Amos had found by experience that for any man who desired a reputation for worldly prudence, the wisest rule was to hold his tongue; but for Hosea, for whom there was no escape from his native land, nothing remained but to bear the reproach that” the prophet is a fool, and the spiritual man is mad,” uttered by men full of iniquity and hatred. A fowler’s snare was laid for him in all his ways, and he found nothing but enmity in the house of his God. The priests suffered the people to perish for lack of knowledge. They set their hearts on their iniquity, and contentedly connived at, if they did not directly foster, the sinfulness of the people, which at any rate secured them an abundance of sin-offerings. So far had they apostatised from their functions as moral teachers. And there was worse behind. They were active fomenters of evil. But the second cause of the national apostasy lay deeper still.
2. The corruption of worship and religion at its source. The “calf-worship” was now beginning to produce its natural fruit. It would have indignantly disclaimed the stigma of idolatry. It was represented as “image-worship,” the adoration of cherubic symbols, which were in themselves regarded as being so little a violation of the second commandment that they were consecrated even in the temple at Jerusalem. The centralisation of worship, it must be borne in mind, was a new thing. Local sanctuaries and local altars had been sanctioned by kings and used by prophets from time immemorial. The worship at Dan and Bethel could have claimed to be, in the fullest sense of the word, a worship of Jehovah, as national and as ancient as that at Jerusalem. For the ox was the most distinctive emblem of the cherub, and even in the wilderness, cherubs--possibly winged oxen--had bent over the mercy-seat and been woven on the curtains, and in the temple of Solomon had been embossed upon the walls, and formed the support of the great brazen laver. We read of no protest against this symbolism either by Elijah, Elisha, or Jonah. Hosea could more truly estimate its effects, and he judged it by its fruits. He saw the fatal facility with which the title Baal, “Lord,” might be transferred from the Lord of lords to the heathen Baalim. He saw how readily the emblem of Jehovah might be identified with the idol of Phoenicia. Jehovah-worship was perverted into nature-worship, and the coarse emblems of Asherah and Ashtoreth smoothed the way for a cultus of which the basis was open sensuality. The festal dances of Israel, in honour of God, which were as old as the days of the Judges, became polluted with all the abominations of Phoenician worship. The “adultery” and “whoredom,” which are denounced so incessantly on the page of Hosea, are not only the metaphors for idolatry, but the literal description of the lives which that idolatry corrupted. (Dean Farrar, D. D.)
Priests become time-servers
No greater calamity can come upon a people, because--
1. Such priests cannot exert the influence which they should exert. They should be men of God, supremely loyal to God, and witnessing for the supreme claim of spiritual and eternal things.
2. Their example is positively mischievous. Men need no aid from their leaders in living selfish, self-indulgent, covetous lives.
3. Time-serving utterly ruins personal character. Nobility, heroism, devotion can only be nourished by living outside ourselves, for God and our fellows. Time-servers are self-servers. (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
The degradation of holy office
The people may have what they like, and the priest will say, “You could not help it.” The priest will reproduce what the people are doing, and the people will take encouragement from the priest to go out and do double wickedness, and thus they shall keep the action even. To this degree of corruption may holiest institutions be dragged. The priest--meaning by that word teacher, preacher, minister, apostle--should always be strong enough to condemn; he can condemn generally, but not particularly; he can damn the distant, he must pet and flatter and gratify the near. He will outgrow this--when he knows Christ better; when he is enabled to complete his faith by feeling that it is not necessary for him to live, but it is necessary for him to speak the truth; when he comes to the point of feeling, that it is not at all needful he should have a roof over his head, but it is necessary that he should have an approving conscience; when he completes his theology by this Divinest morality, he will be a rare man in the earth, with a great voice thundering its judgments, and with a tender voice uttering its benedictions and solaces where hearts are broken with real contrition. Priests should lead; priests should not neglect denunciation, even where they are unable to follow their denunciations with examples to the contrary. The Word should be spoken boldly, roundly, grandly, in all its simplicity, purity, rigour, tenderness. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The reciprocal influence of priest-hood and people
I. There is sometimes a disgraceful reciprocal influence.
1. It is a disgrace to a true priest to become like the people. One who is not above the average man is no priest, he is out of his place. A priest is a man to mould, not to be moulded; to control, not to cringe; to lead, not to be led. His thoughts should sway the thoughts of the people, and his character should command their reverence. Sometimes you see priests become like the people, mean, sordid, grovelling.
2. It is a disgrace to a people to become like a bad priest. There are priests whose natures are lean, whose capacities are feeble, whose religion is sensuous, whose sympathies are exclusive, whose opinions are stereotyped, whose spirit is intolerant. Shame on the people who allow them selves to become like such a priest!”
II. There is sometimes an honourable reciprocal influence.
1. It is honourable when people become like a true priest; when they feel one with him in spiritual interests and Christly pursuits.
2. It is honourable to the true priest when he has succeeded in making the people like him. He may well feel a devout exultation as he moves amongst them that their moral hearts beat in unison with his, that their lives are set to the same keynote, that they are of one mind and one heart in relation to the grand purpose of life. (Homilist.)
1. Evil ministers are a great cause of sin and misery upon the people they have charge of. It is an addition to the priests’ judgment that they drag so many with them into it.
2. Albeit naughty ministers be great plagues and snares to people, yet that will not excuse a people’s sin, nor exempt them from judgment, and therefore the people are threatened also. The sending of evil ministers may be so much the fruit of people’s former sins, and they may be so well satisfied with it as may justly ripen them for a stroke.
3. As pastors and people are ordinarily like each other in sin, and mutual plagues to each other, so will they be joined together in judgments, for “there shall be, like people, like priest,” that is, both shall be involved in judgment (though possibly in different measure, according to the degree Of their sin), and none of them able to help or comfort another.
4. Albeit the Lord may spare for a time, and seem to let things lie in confusion, yet He hath a day of visitation, wherein He will call men to an account, and recompense them, not according to their pretences, but their real deeds and practices.
5. When men have made no conscience of sin, so they might compass these delights, which they think will make them up, yet it is easy for God to prove that the blessing of these delights is only in His hand.
6. As no means can prosper where God deserts and withdraws His blessing, so what a man prosecutes unlawfully, He cannot look it should be blessed. (George Hutcheson.)
A courageous ministerial reproof
The great northern apostle, Bernard Gilpin, who refused a bishopric, did not confine his Christian labours to the church of Houghton, of which he was minister, but at his own expense visited the then desolate churches of Northumberland once every year to preach the Gospel. The Bishop of Durham commanded him to preach before the clergy. Gilpin then went into the pulpit, and selected for his subject the important charge of a Christian bishop. Having exposed the corruption of the clergy, he boldly addressed himself to his lordship, who was present. “Let not your lordship,” said he, “say these crimes have been committed without your knowledge; for whatever you yourself do in person, or suffer through your connivance to be done by others, is wholly your own; therefore in the presence of God, angels, and men, I pronounce your fatherhood to be the author of all these evils; and I, and this whole congregation, will be a witness in the day of judgment that these things have come to your ears.” The bishop thanked Mr. Gilpin for his faithful words, and gave him permission to preach throughout his diocese.
Their staff declareth unto them.
Rhabdomania, or divining by the stick or staff
There was a kind of idolatry which the Jews had, a way to ask counsel by the staff, and with this the prophet here charges them. The Romans practised the same, calling it divination by rods, sticks, arrows, or staves. There were four ways in which they divined with these things. The first was to put arrows or staves into a closed case, having the names written on them of what they divined about; and then, drawing out one or two, they determined their business according to what they found written; thus their staff declared unto them either good or bad. A second was by casting up staves or arrows into the air, and according as they fell, on the right hand or on the left, before or behind, so they divined their good or ill luck, as they called it. A third way was this, they used to peel off the bark of some part of a stick, and then cast it up, and divined according to which part of the pith, either black or white, appeared first. A fourth was, as we find in the Roman antiquities, that their augurs or soothsayers used to sit upon the top of a tower or castle, in clear and fair weather, with a crooked staff in their hand, which the Latins call Lituus, and having quartered out the regions of heaven, so far as to answer their purpose, and offered sacrifices and prayers, they stretched it forth upon the head of the person or thing they would divine for, and so foreboded good or ill luck, according to what at that time they observed in the heavens, the birds flying, etc. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills.
That is the bold aspect, that is the public phase; instead of doing all these things, as Ezekiel would say, in a chamber of imagery far down, at which you get through a hole in the wall, they go up to high places, and invite the sun to look upon them; they kiss the calf in public. Some credit should be due to audacity, but there is another sin which cannot be done on the tops of the mountains, so the charge continues,--“under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good.” Here is the secret aspect of rebellion. Do not believe that the blusterer lives only in public as fool and criminal; do not say, There is a fine frankness about this man anyhow; when he sins, he sins in high places; he goes upon the mountains, and stamps his foot upon the high hills, and the great hill throbs and vibrates under his sturdy step. That is not the whole man; he will seek the oak, the poplar, and the elm, because the shadow thereof is good. It is a broad shadow; it makes night in daytime; it casts such a shadow upon the earth which it covers that it amounts to practical darkness. So the blustering sinner is upon the mountain, trying to perpetrate some trick that shall deserve the commendation of being frank, and when he has achieved that commendation he will seek the shadow that is good, the shadow at daytime, the darkness underneath the noontide sun. How the Lord searches us, and tries our life, and puts His fingers through and through us, that nothing may be hidden from Him! He touches us at every point, and looks through us, and understands us altogether. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer.
The evil and danger of backsliding
I. When we may be said to resemble a backsliding heifer.
1. When we will not draw in God’s yoke at all.
2. When we draw in it only by fits and starts.
3. When we grow weary of the yoke. Weary of performing our duties, exercising our graces, mortifying our lusts.
II. The evil and danger of such a state.
1. The evil of it. It is a contemning of God. It is a justifying of the wicked. It is a discouraging of the weak.
2. The danger of it. This is an iniquity which God marks with peculiar indignation. The first symptoms of declension lead, if not speedily mourned over and resisted, to utter apostasy. The misery that will be incurred by means of it will far exceed all that had been endured if no profession of religion had been ever made. Let these consequences be duly weighed, and nothing need be added to show the importance of “holding fast our profession without wavering.”
Improve the subject.
1. Assist you in ascertaining your state before God. Examine diligently the cause, the duration, and the effects of your backslidings.
2. Give a word of counsel to those in different states. Are you altogether backslidden from God? He invites you to return. Are you drawing in His yoke? Bless and adore your God, who has inclined and enabled you to do so. (O. Simeon, M. A.)
It is a striking fact to which careful observers of the feathered tribe will bear witness, that no birds are able to fly backward. A bird may allow itself to fall backward by slowing its wings, until its weight overcomes their sustaining power, as a swallow will do from the eaves of a house. But the bird can do no other than fly forward, and but few with the rarest skill can stand still in the air. Now if mankind would only “consider the birds of the air “ in the way in which Christ enjoined, there would be considerably less backsliding than there is. Like the wings of the soaring eagle, the wings of faith were never intended for flying backward. A minister’s little girl and her playmate were talking about serious things. “Do you know what a backslider is?” she questioned. “Yes; it’s a person that used to be a Christian and isn’t,” said the playmate promptly. “But what do you s’pose makes them call them backsliders? Oh, that’s easy. You see, when people are good they go to church and sit up in front. When they get a little tired of being good they slide back a seat, and keep on sliding till they get clear back to the door. After awhile they slide clear out and never come to church at all.”
The stubborn heifer
What is a backsliding heifer? We do not know; there is no such creature. But read: “Israel acts stubbornly, like a heifer,” and the meaning is clear. The heifer will not go as its owner wants it to go. The heifer stands back when it ought to go forward; turns aside when it ought to move straight on; wriggles and twists, and, as it were, protests; and only by greater strength, or by the infliction of suffering, can the heifer be made to go to its destined place. The prophet, looking upon that heifer, now on the right, now on the left, now stooping, now throwing up its head in defiance, says, Such is Israel, such is Ephraim. The metaphor is full of suggestion, and full of high philosophy. Israel complained of limitation; Israel was chafed by the yoke; Israel resented the puncture of the goad. Israel said, “I want liberty, I do not want this moral bondage any longer; I do not want to be surrounded by commandments, I do not want to live in a cage of ten bars called the ten commandments of God; I want liberty; let me follow my reason, my instincts; let me obey myself.” The Lord said, “So be it. Thou shalt have liberty enough, but it shall be the liberty of a wilderness.” You can have liberty, but you will find no garden in it; if you want the garden, you must have the law. Let us take care how we trifle with law, obligation, responsibility, limitation. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.
Beware of unholy companionships
These words do not mean that nothing was to be done for Ephraim. The prophets again and again pleaded with that people. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.” Our text is addressed to Judah. “Let Ephraim alone.” The best thing to do is not to associate with that people, keep clear of them, let them alone.
I. This applies to companionship. If you want to keep your own life pure, be careful with whom you associate. Ephraim was more prosperous and wealthy, and consequently Judah might be allured and led to offend (Hosea 4:15). We are influenced by those with whom we keep company. You may think you are strong enough to stand against the insidious influence of the world, but it touches you before you are aware. If Judah associates with Ephraim, the contact must prove baneful, and Judah will become corrupt. “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”
II. It applies also to places we visit and frequent. “Come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven.” There sacrifices were offered to Baal, and the golden calf adored. Are there not Beth-avens (house of vanity) which we had better avoid? (J. Hampden Lee.)
Influence of companions
When visiting a gentleman in England, Mr. Moody observed a fine canary. Admiring his beauty, the gentleman replied, “Yes, he is beautiful, but he has lost his voice. He used to be a fine singer, but I was in the habit of hanging his cage out of the window; the sparrows came round him with their incessant chirping; gradually he ceased to sing and learned their twitter.” Oh, how truly does this represent many Christians! They used to delight in the songs of Zion, but they came into close association with those whose notes never rise so high, until at last, like the canary, they can do nothing but twitter, twitter.
Dangers of carnal security
Jeroboam made Israel to sin. From one sin they passed into another, and each succeeding year plunged them deeper in the mire of sensuality, idolatry, and corruption. At last Divine judgment came. It is expressed in the text. Because Ephraim repaid all the offers of God to receive him back to Himself with anger, therefore henceforth he was to be left to his own devices--alone, without God, to ward off or to alleviate the coming destruction. From the fate of Ephraim we draw a lesson for ourselves. God’s dealings with nations and with individuals are the same in principle, though differing necessarily in form and extent; and therefore there are the same fearful signs of God’s wrath to be traced when we are let alone in a course of known sin, without troubles, without warnings to stay us, as when a nation is suffered to run its course of accustomed riot unrestrained. In both cases this state of unnatural quiet is but the calm before the thunderstorm--the cessation of pain in some mortal disease, which marks that nature is exhausted and death at hand. He who is accepted in Jesus, the child of God, is never let alone, but, forgetting those things that are behind, he is constantly pressing forward to those things which are before. We can never be forced into sin. Our danger is that we be deceived into supposing that we have no enemies, that there is peace when there is no peace; lest we imagine that all is well with us when, it may be, God is in fact letting us alone in bitter indignation and overhanging vengeance. Anything is better than that God should leave us--let us alone in our sin. The grave is a remedy for all earthly woe, but there is no remedy for this either in time or in eternity. Consider then, all you who are living in any known sin--who are quenching the Spirit of life by not acting or striving to act up to what you know well is required from Christians--the horrible danger of settling upon your lees; of thinking no evil shall come nigh you, that your sin shall not find you out, that God will always strive with you. But the words of the text whisper strong consolation to the man of a broken spirit and contrite heart. Grant that he be afflicted and mourn, that he is in heaviness through manifold temptations, that he go mourning all the day long by reason of his sin, that he is heart-broken; yet, God be thanked, these very feelings show that he is not let alone. He is not considered as joined unto idols; and therefore, if he persevere, and be not weary in well-doing, he may rightly expect his God will turn, and leave a blessing behind Him. (H.I. Swale, M. A.)
The sin of Ephraim
As in the days before the flood, God’s Spirit does “not always strive with man”: even long-suffering itself has been exhausted, and the despisers and mockers have been either suddenly destroyed, or given over to impenitence and insensibility. The precise period, or closing of what has been called “the day of grace,” being mercifully concealed from man, its existence can form no rule or guide for his procedure.
I. The sin of Ephraim. “Joined to idols.” Idolatry is represented in Scripture as being twofold; it is both outward and inward, public and retired. It does not consist chiefly in acts of religious homage. There are idols in the heart, the family, the Church. Loving and serving the creature more than the Creator is idolatry. It is a present and existing evil, and a prevailing, constitutional, besetting, and most abhorrent sin. It falls in easily with our inbred and corrupt propensities.
II. The judgment upon Ephraim. The punishment of his crime. The text is an admonition to Judah not to hold any familiar intercourse with idolatrous and backsliding Israel. We, however, regard it as a sentence of dereliction. “Let him alone.” The phrase is elliptical. It is addressed to some one, but we do not know to whom. May be angels, providences, ministers of the sanctuary, conscience, ordinances. We may therefore wisely pray, “Say anything of or to Thy servant, rather than let him alone.” (W. B. Williams, M. A.)
God abandons the incorrigible
While anything detains the heart from God, the man is in a state of perdition. “He is joined to his idols.” There is something very dreadful in this declaration--
I. If you distinguish this desertion from another, which may befall even the subjects of Divine grace. God sometimes leaves His people when they are becoming high-minded, to convince them of their dependence upon Him. He leaves them to their own strength to show them their weakness, and to their own wisdom to make them sensible of their ignorance. But this differs exceedingly from the abandoning of the incorrigible.
II. This leaving of the sinner is a withdrawing from him everything that has a tendency to do him good. Ministers, saints, conscience, providence--“let him alone,” Ye afflictions, say nothing to him of the vanity of the world. Let all his schemes be completely successful. Let his grounds bring forth plentifully. Let him have more than heart can wish.
III. Consider the importance of the being who thus abandons. It would be much better if all your friends and neighbours, if all your fellow-creatures on whom you depend for assistance in a thousand ways, were to league together and resolve to have nothing to do with you, than for God to leave you. While God is with us we can spare other things. But what is everything, else without God?
IV. What will be the consequences of this determination? It will be a freedom to sin; it will be the removal of every hindrance in the way to perdition. When God dismisses a man, and resolves he shall have no more assistance from Him--he is sure of being ensnared by error, enslaved by lust, and “led captive by the devil at his will.” It is as if we had taken poison, and all that is necessary to its killing us is not to counteract its malignity. Such is the judgment here denounced. Notice--
1. The justice of this doom. All the punishments God inflicts are deserved, and He never inflicts without reluctance. Your condemnation turns upon a principle that will at once justify Him and silence you. “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.”
2. Let me call on you to fear this judgment. And surely some of you have reason to be alarmed. With some of you the Spirit of God has long been striving, and you have “done despite unto the Spirit of grace.” Now you know what He has said, and you know what He has done. If you say you have no forebodings, the symptoms are so much the worse. Spiritual judgments are the most awful, because they are insensibly executed.
3. Perhaps some of you say, “I am afraid this is my doom already. My convictions seem to have been stifled.” Perhaps this is true. Perhaps it is a groundless apprehension. Remember, it is a blessed proof that God does not let you alone, if you cannot let Him alone. (William Jay.)
Ephraim abandoned to idols
one of the consequences and proofs of our depravity is that we are prone to turn every blessing into a curse. We are too apt to despise the forbearance of God, and to draw encouragement from it to continue in sin. Because God is slow to punish, we conclude that He never will punish. The consequence is, we become more fearless and hardened. No conduct can be more base than this, none more dangerous, and yet there is none more common. There is a propensity to it in our very nature. But God’s time of patience will have an end.
I. Ephraim’s sin. The tendency of the Israelites in the early ages of their history to idol-worship almost surpasses belief. It is seen in their making a calf at Horeb, and in Solomon’s licence to surrounding idolaters. The evil became ruinous in the kingdom of the Ten Tribes. So it is said of Ephraim, “they were joined to idols.” They sinned against light and knowledge, they transgressed the plainest and most unequivocal declaration of the Divine will; and this they did in the face of the most peremptory threatenings, the most solemn warnings, and the most affectionate entreaties. It is painful and humiliating to reflect that human beings possessed of reason and understanding should have been capable of acting in a manner so unworthy of their high origin and their exalted privileges. We are not liable to the charge of gross outward idolatry, but are there no idols set up within the temple of our hearts? Are we free from the guilt of spiritual idolatry? What is idolatry? The rendering to any creature whatever that worship, honour, and love which belong to God alone.
1. Covetousness is declared in Scripture to be idolatry. The intemperate and lovers of pleasure are idolaters. Pride is only another form of idolatry. Those are idolaters who are inordinately attached to any earthly comforts. On what things then are our affections placed? Few of us are there who have not yielded that love, fear, and confidence to the creature, which are due to God alone.
II. Ephraim’s punishment. “Let him alone.” Some regard this as the language of caution addressed to others, rather than as a threatening against Ephraim. We regard it in the latter sense. It is expressive of the severest judgment that could be inflicted on any nation or individual. It imports God’s final abandonment of them, and delivering them up to final impenitence, never more to be visited with salutary compunction or regret. The awful state in which Ephraim was thus left resembles that of incorrigible sinners in every age, especially those who appear to be given up to final impenitence and unbelief. Instances in which this threatening is carried into effect may be given.
1. When the usual means of instruction and reproof are no longer employed or afforded.
2. When the conscience becomes seared, and the Spirit of God ceases to strive with the sinner.
3. When afflictions are withheld, and providence no longer frowns upon the sinner, but suffers him to take his course unreproved. Whom the Lord loves He rebukes and chastens; but He manifests His displeasure against the impenitent by letting them alone. (R. Davies, M. A.)
A call to separation
These words are not intended as a threatening of the cessation of the Divine pleadings with an obstinate transgressor--there are no people about whom God says that they are so wedded to their sin that it is useless to try to do anything with them, and they are not a commandment to God’s servants to fling up in despair or in impatience the effort to benefit obstinate and stiff-necked evil-doers. This Book of Hosea is one long pleading with this very Ephraim, just because he is” “joined to idols.” Hosea was a prophet of the northern nation, but it is the southern nation, Judah, that is here addressed. What is meant by letting alone is plainly enough expressed in a previous verse,--“Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, let not Judah offend.” The calf-worship of Israel is held up as a warning to Judah, which is commanded to keep clear of all complicity with it, and to avoid all entangling alliances with backsliding Israel. The prophet with his “Let him alone” is saying the very same thing as the apostle with his “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” Ephraim is wedded to his idols, as parasite to elm-tree, and so if you are joined to it you will be joined to its idols. Translate this into plain simple English, and it means this--It is a very bad sign of a Christian man when his chosen companions are people that have no sympathy with him in his religion. A great many of us will have to plead guilty to this indictment. There are many things--such as differences of position, culture, and temperament which cannot but modify the association of Christian people with one another, and may sometimes make them feel more near to un-Christian associates who are like themselves in these respects than to Christians who are not. What deadens so much of our Christianity to-day, and makes it fail as an aggressive power, is that Christian people get mixed up in utterly irreligious association with irreligious men and women, and sink their own Christianity, or at all events hide it. The sad thing is that their religion is so defective that it takes no trouble to hide it. The other sad thing is that so many Christians, so called, have so little Christianity that they never feel they are out of their element in such associations. We cannot be too intimately associated with irreligious people, if only we take our religion with us. A lesson may be learned from the separate existence of the Jews since their dispersion. They mix in the occupations of common life, and yet are as absolutely distinct as oil from the water on which it floats. So should the Church be in the world; mixing in all outward affairs, and exercising a Christianising influence on all with whom its members come in contact; and yet, by manifest diversity of sympathies and desires and affections, keeping itself absolutely distinct from the world with which it is to blend. The primitive and fundamental meaning of “holy” is “set apart.” You Christian people are set apart for the Master’s use. Let it be every man to his own company. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The disturbing effects of Divine discipline
Sin essentially consists in a determination to have our own way--a determination planted behind the movements of thought and action, and directing them steadily to its own ends. To live, no matter what special turn our course may take, without having the main current of our life controlled by anything superior to itself, to push it all on before the energy of our own will--this is the very essence of sin. Accordingly, the action of the Divine Spirit upon the human heart is almost always, in the first instance, one of disturbance. You can detect His presence by the discomfort it creates. He awakens new thoughts, begets the suspicion that all is not within as it ought to be, and that our own way, if followed to the end, will terminate in bitterness. Because our own way is wrong, and will, if persisted in, lead to loss, God’s first endeavour is to make us uneasy in it, and, if possible, turn us out of it. With this view all His dealings are planned, and planned so wisely as to suit each successive stage of our growth and progress. In childhood we are surrounded by God’s gentle ministries. It would not be strange if God should use rougher means when His gentle ministry fails. He has recourse to the more potent voice of conscience which He seeks to rouse and to make articulate. As life advances He throws into the heart the light of His revelation. He alarms us, too, with the guilt of past sin till our heart is troubled and its peace is gone. Or He stirs up a longing for a nobler life. Unutterably sad it is when all this notwithstanding, a man moves on unchanged, still following his own way, still disobedient to the heavenly vision. It seems as if one other means, of discipline, and only one, were left. An avenue to conscience must be opened by some resistless stroke. So in middle age God oftentimes in mercy sends judgments. He breaks suddenly into the midst of life and snatches away the idol of your heart. He visits you with reverses in trade, and disappointment after disappointment, till your bewilderment grows into agony. Strange it is there should be those who have been thus emptied from vessel to vessel, still ignorant of what it means, still cleaving with a dull or desperate blindness to their own way. There is a point at which His discipline ends, just because it is useless to continue it farther. He never squanders the means of grace. He always looks for a return. It is a terrible thing that we should possess such a power of resistance as to be able to withstand God; that after He has done His best He should be obliged to leave us alone. But so it is.
I. The point at which the withdrawal of Divine discipline takes place. It is a point which is gradually reached, and not by the casual commission of a single sin, even of unusual gravity or guilt. “Being joined to idols” is a state of sin in which some wickedness is deliberately adhered to. It describes not an isolated act, but a habit which has grown easy, natural, fixed. Now a habit is not formed at once. It is the result of the repetition of an act which has become so ingrafted into a man it has grown to be part of himself. Being “joined to idols” describes a state or habit of sin that constitutes pre-eminent danger. One may be hurried into some trespass; but no one was ever hurried into a habit. Whatever excuse a man may have for a solitary evil act, he can have next to none for an evil habit. It is of such sins as those of the Pharisees we have most need to beware. They moved and breathed in an atmosphere of insincerity and self-righteousness. And this being joined to idols also describes a condition which we refuse to renounce. A man may have contracted a habit which he would willingly surrender if he could. But its grasp may have become too strong to be shaken off, his will too weak to rouse itself to the effort. But the desire for deliverance is the only door of escape. Let that depart, and there is no avenue open to your heart.
II. The manner in which the withdrawal of Divine discipline is here described. It is represented as a “letting alone.” This is marked by the cessation of all those disturbing effects which had hitherto appeared. Restraints are removed. The remonstrances of friends are given up. Truth relaxes its hold. Conscience is silent. Hence outward prosperity and ease are not by any means always a sign of God’s favour. Sometimes they may be quite the reverse. When outward prosperity co-exists with an utter indifference to Divine things, and a resolute pursuit of selfish ends, there can be no state more hazardous. But the terrible thing about this letting alone is that it may go on so silently. Even religious duties may be scrupulously maintained, though the heart will long since have ceased to enter into them. So God may even let a man alone when to all seeming He has as fast a hold of him as ever, or faster. There is only one preventive against our reaching this terrible condition, but it always proves effectual. Be loyal to the light within you, and obey the truth. Shun every compromise with evil. Make no tarrying on debatable ground. Our supreme aim as Christians is not comfort, but holiness; not to make things easy all round for ourselves, but to grow in clearness of spiritual vision, and readiness to hear the voice Divine. And to be let alone, even though it may not be to be joined to an idol, is to become drowsy and heavy-hearted, and when the Bridegroom comes, to be found slumbering and asleep. (C. Moinet, M. A.)
Warning to Judah
The Lord has given Ephraim up to his idols. The curse of God rests on him, and says, “ Let him alone.” O Judah, take heed then what you do. These words are introduced as an argument to persuade Judah not to do as Israel had done. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Can man sin himself out of all saving possibilities
The words of the text are a dire spectre to some.
1. The view of it taken by the alarmed sinner. Ephraim is understood by him to represent the sinner at a supposed point in his career, at which he has exhausted all the resources of Gospel grace, and sinned himself out of hope into doom. He is still a living man, and enveloped in the showers of spiritual influence; but only seemingly, so far as he is concerned. The Spirit has abandoned him for ever. All saving agencies and influences are commanded to do the same. This view still lamentably prevails. It is often preached, in austerest terms, from the pulpit, and found grimly enshrined in our popular commentaries. There are indeed some awful truths which God forbid that we should blink. A sinner may harden himself into insensibility till he is twine dead, last feeling, defiant of God, and even regardless of man. And his is a very hopeless case. More over, if we misuse privileges and opportunities, God may withdraw some of them in His judicial wisdom,--as, in the contrary case, He may enlarge them. But the vicious view so often taken of the prophet’s words is quite another thing. That view is rooted in certain dogmas of absolute predestination and partial grace, which agree as ill with the Gospel as fire does with water.
2. Look at the common view critically. Scripture contradicts it. The Gospel contradicts it. Hosea himself, throughout this book, emphatically contradicts it.
(1) Scripture contradicts it. Where is it taught? Give and criticise the passages relied on (Genesis 6:3; 1Pe 3:18-20; 1 Samuel 28:15; Luke 19:42).
(2) The Gospel contradicts it. The Bible is one thing, the Gospel is another. The Bible is the collection of inspired records: the Gospel is the good news therein contained of salvation through Christ crucified for every creature under heaven. But good news to every man this Gospel cannot be, if some living men are already sealed up for perdition. A limited atonement is absolutely irreconcilable with a universal Gospel, and no less so is a limited provision of the Spirit. The section we are examining is one way of limiting the Spirit, and it is one which takes the great living heart out of the Gospel. But as God is true, the Gospel is good news, and brings salvation to every living man.
(3) Hosea himself contradicts it. Ephraim means, not an individual, but a nation. Desolation is to befall Israel, but the “valley of Achor” is to be to her “a door of hope” (Hosea 2:14-23; Hosea 5:15; Hosea 6:1-3; Hosea 10:12; Hosea 11:1-9; Hosea 12:1-14).
3. What is the true view to be taken of the text? The key to it is to be found in the context. While Ephraim had become hopelessly wedded to idolatry, Judah, the adjoining kingdom of the two tribes, had not yet plunged into that foul and ruinous abyss (Hosea 11:12). Judah was, however, in imminent danger of drifting after Ephraim into that terrible vortex. Hence the twofold warning in the passage now before us--the formal warning to Judah, and the yet more awful undertone of warning to Ephraim. “Ephraim is joined to idols.” “Let not Judah offend”; that is, “Judah, hold aloof; let Ephraim alone.” Ephraim is the consociate of idolatries; Judah, be not Ephraim’s associate. Partake not Ephraim’s sins, lest ye partake Ephraim’s plagues. The very expression, “Let him alone,” is used by our Lord in this same sense, when warning His disciples against the Pharisees--“They be blind leaders of the blind; let them alone.” The meaning is--beware of their companionship. Have nothing to do with them. Gilgal and Bethel, which Judah was warned not to visit, were on the very border between the rival kingdoms. This conterminous position, and the sacred associations of the places made them specially perilous. The moral is obvious.
1. Beware of freedom, falsely so called. There is a liberty which means libertinism, and which always “genders to bondage.”
2. Beware of evil company. It has been the ruin of myriads (1 John 2:15-17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Faithful Judah, however strong in purpose, ran a terrible risk if he associated with treacherous Ephraim.
3. Let us beware of doubting the fulness and freeness of God’s pardoning mercy, as revealed in the Gospel, to all men everywhere. Nothing but a desperate bent in this direction can account for the perversion of such simple texts as the one we have been investigating. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Ephraim let alone
These words give us this important instruction, that God may be so provoked, and become finally so full of wrath, as to leave the guilty creature to himself, and remonstrate with him no more.
I. Ephraim’s conditions. “Joined to idols.” That is, as having withdrawn and transferred his allegiance; as having resisted the means used with him for his recovery; and as having come into close affinity with that which was antagonistic to God. It was the curse of Israel that it loved strange gods, and was ever ready to leave the Lord and join itself to them. And what is Ephraim but a counterpart of many a one in the present day? The sin which seemed so terrible in him is common enough if men’s eyes were only opened wide enough to see. Worldly men will repudiate the idea of being under the same circumstances as Ephraim. Because the outward symbols arc not the same, men argue that the main principles are distinct; but in the eyes of God covetousness is idolatry, and a man can be an idolater without worshipping a god of wood or stone. A wife or child may be the finely sculptured idol; or gain anticipated or acquired may be the great image, like Nebuchadnezzar’s, all overlaid with gold. Remember that a practical withdrawal from Christ is abundantly enough to prove the ruin of a soul. The transfer of allegiance may be a silent reality. The position of an idolater may be assumed without one’s attracting even the attention of his fellows. But Ephraim had added sin to sin, by resisting all the means which were used to bring him back. God did not lightly part with Israel. The hand of justice long lingered on the hilt before it drew the sword. The hand of mercy long trembled before it let go its grasp. A dull, inactive, heavy resistance to the means of grace is a fearful proof of the state of practical idolatry in which some men are. The work of a soul’s ruin is carried on quietly. Many a gracious influence has been resisted. Many a teaching providence has been thrown away. The heart has become, by the very order of nature, harder and harder; the conscience has become less impressible; the soul has become more habituated to being away from God. Then the sentence may go forth, “Let him alone.”
II. Ephraim’s curse. The words are as fearful as any which ever passed from the lips of God. To secure their ruin, and to bring down full vengeance upon them, all that was required was that they should be left to themselves. It involved--
1. A withdrawal of enlightening influence. This may occur gradually or suddenly. It is possible for this curse to be in operation, and yet for no outward change of any kind to be detected in the man upon whom it is laid.
2. Disturbing influences are also purposely withheld. The cutting dispensations under which some of us now smart so much, are perhaps the only means to keep us away from that fatal ease whose end is death. When God’s work is done in us, all trial will be taken away, but woe betide the man who gains freedom from trial by being let alone. Beware, then, how you trifle with the present, how you continue unmoved beneath the gracious influences which are now being brought to bear on your soul. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
Let him alone
“In a sense, all men are idolaters.” Since man by nature is, in spirit although not in fact, as much an idolater as the pagans of any heathen land, it may be justly said of all who have been converted by the grace of God, that He has “taken them from among the heathen.” Whatever comes between the soul and God, whatever supplants His love in the heart is an “idol.” It may be the love of what is unlawful to be loved, or it may be the unlawful love of what in itself is allowed.
I. The sinful alliance. “Joined to idols.” There are several particulars characterising this union.
1. It is illegal. All the inhibitions of God are but the voice of perfect love and wisdom enforcing the perfect laws of parental government. In a properly regulated family there are laws, and these have a threefold purpose--
(1) The good of each individual member.
(2) The preservation of one member from the injuries of another.
(3) The good, or honour, of the parental head.
The Divine laws are illustrated by the human. To be “joined to idols “ is to be allied with claims which are foreign to the nature and opposed to the claims of God, and such an alliance is illegal.
2. It is unnatural. Redeemed and justified man is among the sublime confederacy of loyal subjects of the Creator. But the sinner has allied himself with the dark forces of hell--he is an alienated being.
3. It is degrading. For a member of a large and noble family to become united with guilt and ignominy would be to entail upon himself utter disgrace, to cast a shade over the honour of his family name, and to forfeit all claims to the love of kindred or respect of friends. And every sinner, in the eye of purity, is a walking plague, a moral Cain.
4. It is irrational. Sin is a disease producing madness.
II. The ruinous alliance.
1. The soul may be said to be “let alone” when it seeks satisfaction apart from God.
2. When the blood of the atonement is set at nought,
3. When the truth of God loses its wonted power to “convince of sin, righteousness,” etc. The Bible speaks, ministers speak, providence speaks, as usual, but conscience hears not.
4. The sentence, “let him alone,” will have a future application to the sinner’s state. “Let him alone” is the burning inscription on the walls of hell’s prison-house. (G. Hunt Jackson.)
I. The sin of Ephraim--idolatry. We are apt to be surprised at the proneness of the Israelites to the sin of idolatry. Yet it may be doubted whether we have not a great deal in common with idolaters. The same vice is apt to show itself in different forms--forms produced by circumstances of age and country. There is the same heart in the man and the boy; but the result of the same passions is different at the two different periods of life. And so we may not worship idols, and yet we may be partakers of the iniquity of those who did. Tim fountain-head and origin of Israel’s sin was their own wilfulness, Wilfulness and impatience of old took the shape of idolatry; they now wear the form of heresy, and separation, and divisions. It was a zeal for religion which prostrated Israel at the footstool of idols; it is zeal without knowledge which makes men forsake the Catholic faith for crude theories of their own.
II. The punishment of Ephraim--let alone. God did not, in so speaking, design to let idolatry go unpunished. “Let him alone” proclaims that idolatry would prove its own punishment; so sure, so inevitable, so miserable would be the consequences of forsaking the true God, that it would need no further outbreak of wrath to vindicate the honour of the Almighty. To forsake God is to forsake our own mercies. You cannot drop a single doctrine of the Catholic faith, without that doctrine, sooner or later, avenging itself. Truth neglected will make itself felt. God lets matters take their course, saying of those who follow their own devices, “He is joined to idols: let him alone.”
III. What is it for an individual to be let alone of the Almighty? God has implanted in the heart of every man something which chides him whenever he rejects the right and chooses what is wrong. Very wonderful is our mental organisation. More sublime seems conscience on her judgment seat, weighing and balancing every idea which memory or invention suggests; and if her judgment be not adopted, if we will not act by her verdict, chastising with a whip of scorpions. If, although remonstrated with as we are by our natural consciences and by the Eternal Spirit, we still fall into presumptuous sin,--what should we become? The judgment threatened in the text is one which would reduce us to the position of Satan himself. For what will follow God letting a man alone? That man will experience no further promptings and warnings, but be left unrestrained by any secret reluctance to work all manner of iniquity. Assure me that a man is troubled when he has done wrong, that he feels disquieted and restless, that after indulging his passions, he is sensible of disgust and loathing, and I have hope that the day will come when he will throw off the bondage of his lusts. But assure me that he is happy in his iniquity, that he can rob and cheat, and lie and be drunken without being miserable afterwards, and I shudder lest indeed he has come to such a point as to be left alone of God. (J. R. Woodford, M. A.)
A sin and its punishment
This passage exhibits against this people a charge and a threatening.
I. A charge. “He is joined to idols.”
1. All true believers are said to be “joined to the Lord.” Faith not only forms an union, but, as it were, an identity with the Saviour, so that they are no longer twain, but one, one mystical person, one spirit.
2. The prodigal son is said to have “joined himself to a citizen in a far country.” He fastened himself to him.
3. Of Israel it is said, he has “joined himself unto Baal-peor,” an impure idol of the Ammonites. Christianity has abolished idolatry from the nations of Europe: yet the world is still full of mental idolatry, not less sinful or less dangerous, though not equally degrading in the eye of reason. To trust in an arm of flesh, to love the creature more than the Creator, is to be joined to idols. The sin of idolatry appears in such variety of forms that perhaps no one in the present life is entirely free from it. It exists in every inordinate affection, in every undue attachment to created good.
II. A threatening. This may be the language of caution--Do not enter into any friendship with such an idolatrous people. It may, however, be regarded as a warning and threatening against Ephraim. The sinner is delivered up to final impenitence, never more to be visited with compunction or regret. God suffers the sinner unchecked to pursue his own way, and take the consequences. The instances in which this awful threatening may be inflicted are the following--
1. When the usual means of instruction and reproof are no longer employed or afforded.
2. When conscience becomes seared, and the Spirit of God ceases to strive with the sinner, then also may he be said to be given up.
3. This fearful state may be apprehended when afflictions are withheld, and providence no longer frowns upon the sinner s way, but suffers him to take his course unreproved. When a physician ceases to administer his bitter potions, or a surgeon to search the wound, it is a sign that they look upon the case as desperate.
(1) If God let us alone, we shall be sure to let Him alone, and become prayerless, unfeeling, and incorrigible. We then cast off fear, and restrain prayer before God.
(2) Though God should let us alone, Satan will not.
(3) If God let us alone it is the prelude of our destruction. We are left in our sins, surrounded with enemies and dangers.
(4) Should God let us alone now, He will not do so hereafter. Learn--
1. The wretched state into which sin may have brought us.
2. The necessity of constant watchfulness and prayer, that none of these evils come upon us. It is better to endure the deepest distress than to enjoy a false and delusive peace. Let us dread nothing so much as a state of insensibility; a being “ past feeling” is the certain sign of perdition. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
I. The meaning of the verse and the kernel-truth contained in it. Under the seductive influence and example of Ahab and his queen Jezebel, the revolt of Israel had become complete. From the false worship of the true God they had turned further aside to the worship of false gods, and were as really idolaters as the heathen nations around them. But it was not all at once, or without many measures aimed at their reformation, that God finally abandoned them. The spirit of His dealings with them, for a long period, was expressed in those tender words, as if spoken by a father over a prodigal son, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” A succession of prophets, like Elijah and Elisha, was sent to remonstrate with them; severe chastisements, such as famine and other national calamities, were commissioned to “hedge up their way with thorns,” to bring their sins to their remembrance, and to lead them to a penitent return to God. But while individuals were thereby recovered, any good effects upon the nation were temporary and partial. And then, at length, the patience of a long-suffering God becoming exhausted, He declares His holy purpose to suspend all further measures for their recovery. This unfolds the meaning and presents the remarkable central doctrine of the verse. Some have indeed understood it to bear a different sense, and to convey a seasonable warning to the neighbouring kingdom of Judah, rather than to announce the final rejection of Israel. As if it were said: “He is joined to idols; beware of following his evil example; keep aloof, yea, at a far distance from him. You cannot touch pitch and not be defiled. When the dove associates with the raven, it soon begins to smell of carrion. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, hut rather reprove them.” And this is a most seasonable thought in itself, which has been anticipated in a previous verse; but it is not the immediate truth expressed in these solemn words. Their general meaning is, that when individuals or a nation continue and obstinately persist in sin, especially in the face of providential chastisement and means of grace, it is not an uncommon thing with God at length to give up His gracious dealings with them, and to abandon them to ruin. The same doctrine, declaring one of the laws of the Divine procedure, comes out with startling distinctness in other passages of Scripture. Thus in Ezekiel: “As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord God, Go ye, serve ye every one his idols.” And in the Book of Psalms: “My people would not hearken to My voice, and Israel would none of Me: so I gave them to their own hearts’ lusts, and they walked in their own counsels.”
II. And this doctrine or law of God’s moral government has written itself in many retributive facts on the history of not a few of the nations of the earth. Thus, when a people have shown a disposition, in the mass of their population, to reject and persecute the religion of Christ, and they have persisted in this even when lengthened opportunities for repentance have been given them and they have been tried by various agencies to bring them to a right state of mind, they have at length been abandoned and given over to the error and darkness which they preferred. It would be easy to name more than one nation in Europe which, at the great Protestant reformation three centuries ago, drove away the Gospel from their gates, and turned its messengers into martyrs, and which have been sinking lower and lower in the scale of nations ever since. The same thing holds true of individuals, only with a depth of meaning which, from the nature of the case, is not applicable in its full extent to organised communities. When men persist, in indifference and unbelief, and in following after their hearts’ idols, and all this in the face of measures to break them off from their forbidden attachments, God at length withdraws every means of recovering them, and gives them over to their merited doom. This terrible experience is not indeed to be confounded with that temporary withdrawal of the light of His countenance with which the Father sometimes punishes those children who have partially wandered from Him. This form of Divine dealing is wise, merciful, and paternal, and is referred to in a subsequent verse: “I will go,” says Jehovah, “and return to My place, till they acknowledge their offence and seek My face: in their affliction they will seek Me early.” But the dealing of which this verse speaks is judicial and punitive. And so it also was with the miserable, blighted, heaven-deserted Saul, like his own mountain of Gilboa, with no dew resting on it. It is a melancholy thing to see a physician leaving the sick-chamber, and declaring that he can do no more for his patient. It is sad to hear of a crew leaving a wrecked ship, escaping from the doomed thing, and making no more efforts to keep it from sinking. But what is this to God’s abandoning an incorrigible human spirit! Lord, afflict me with chastisements, bereave me with strokes, do anything to me rather than say, “He is joined to idols: let him alone.” (A. Thomson, D. D.)
The wind hath bound her up in her wings.
The simple meaning is that Israel shall be borne away from her land, suddenly and violently, as by the winds of heaven. There is retributive justice in the universe.
I. Its emblem. The wind. It is like wind--
1. In its agitation. Wind is a disturbance or agitation of the atmosphere, The average condition of the air is silence and serenity. The normal condition of Divine government is quiet. It has no tempest where there is no wickedness.
2. In its violence. Power is in the wind. Cambyses being once in the wilderness with the soldiers, a strong and violent wind broke forth and buried thousands of them in the sand. Who can stand before retributive justice when it comes forth in its power?
II. Its effect. “Ashamed because of the sacrifices.”
1. The shame of disappointment. All plans broken, all purposes thwarted, all hopes destroyed.
2. The shame of exposure. The wicked always live in masquerade, they always appear to be what they are not. Retributive justice takes off the mask.
3. The shame of remorse. This is the most burning shame of all. It sends its fires down into the very centre of man’s being, and sets all the moral nerves aflame. Let the wicked take warning. Let not the present stillness of their atmosphere deceive them. Their sins are generating a heat that must, sooner or later, so disturb the elements about them as to bring on ruin. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18