Click here to join the effort!
Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you.
God in ways of judgment
Here is a summons to all sorts of judgment. Three classes are named, “priests, people, house of the king.” All sorts are cited to judgment, for corruption was gone over all.
1. When God comes in ways of judgment, He expects we should seriously incline our minds to what He is doing. We should not only “hear,” but “hearken,” and “give ear.” We are bound to hearken and to give ear to God’s commanding word; but if we refuse it, He will have us to hear and give ear to His threatening word; and if that be refused, He will force us to hear and give ear to His condemning word.
2. Generality in sins is no means to escape God’s judgments. With men “one and all” is a word of security. Men think, I do but as others do, and I shall escape as well as they. With men this is somewhat, with God it is nothing; though all sorts offend, yet there is never a whir the more security thereby unto any.
3. The priests have usually been the causes of all the wickedness in, and judgments on, a nation.
4. The people will usually go the way the king and priests go. But they are not to be excused on this ground.
5. Kings and princes must have sin charged upon them, and be made to know that they are under the threats of God, as well as others. The charge is not on evil counsellors, but on the house of the king itself. Evil princes may be as great a cause why there are evil counsellors, as evil counsellors why there are evil princes. Evil counsellors usually see what the design of a prince is, and what is suitable to his disposition, and they cherish that with their wicked counsels.
6. Though kings are to be reproved for sin, some due respect ought to be shown to them.
7. When God pleads against us, let us not disregard. If we do so when He begins to plead His cause with us, if we neglect it because judgment is not upon us, it will proceed to a sentence. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor.
Nets to catch souls
How cunningly have men laid such nets! They say it is but yielding a little to a thing enjoined by authority; besides, it is really unimportant, and is countenanced by the example of many learned and godly men; yea, and why should you hinder yourself of the good you may do? It is after all a mere matter of circumstance connected with decency and order, and consistent with much devotion, and by yielding as far as we can, we may gain papists; none but a company of simple people oppose these ancient customs, which can plead the precedent of the fathers of the Church, yea, of many martyrs who have shed their blood. Thus many souls have been caught, as a bird in a snare, with these lines and twigs thus cunningly twisted together; and so caught that they could not tell how to get out, but being once involved in the meshes were ensnared more and more: as a bird once caught in the net, by its very flutterings is the more entangled; so men, when they yielded a little, could not tell where to stop, but at last have gone so far, and been so completely ensnared as to be wholly unable to extricate them selves, but by their very efforts have become more deeply involved. And the truth is, at length even their consciences have ceased to disquiet them: as a bird, that is perhaps at first alarmed when the net is but stirred, after a while loses its fear. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Mizpah and Tabor
Mizpah, the scene of the solemn covenant of Jacob with Laban, and of his signal protection by God, lay in the mountainous part of Gilead on the east of Jordan. Tabor was the well known (traditional) mountain of the Transfiguration, which rises out of the midst of the plain of Jezreel or Esdraelon, about a thousand feet high, and in the form of a sugar loaf. Of Mount Tabor it is related by St. Jerome that birds were still snared upon it. But something more seems intended than the mere likeness of birds taken in the snare of the fowler. This was to be seen everywhere. The prophet has selected places on both sides of Jordan, which were probably centres of corruption, or special scenes of wickedness. Mizpah, being a sacred place in the history of the patriarch Jacob, was probably, like Gilgal, and other sacred places, desecrated by idolatry. Tabor was the scene of God’s deliverance by Barak. There, by encouraging idolatries, they became hunters, not pastors, of souls. There is an old Jewish tradition that liers in wait were set in these two places to intercept and murder those Israelites who persisted in going up to worship at Jerusalem. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
God’s judicial process and sentence
The plain meaning is, that as fowlers and hunters lay snares and nets for birds and beasts on the mountains of Israel; so their priests and rulers, by their erroneous doctrine, fraudulent counsels, subtle edicts, and profane example, and countenancing of sin, deceived the people, and ensnared them to follow idolatry. Doctrine--
1. There is no rank, but they will be found to have guiltiness to lay to heart, in a time when God pleads a controversy with a land.
2. As the Word of God doth reach and oblige all ranks of persons, be in what eminency they will; and as the Lord’s faithful servants must preach against the sins of all, without respect of person; so the general overspreading of sin is no way to escape judgments, but rather to hasten them.
3. When God is coming against a people in judgment, it concerns them to be very serious in considering what He saith from His Word; and He will at last force audience and attention from the most stubborn.
4. The Lord’s contending with His people by His Word is not an ordinary challenge, as of one displeased only, but the judicial procedure and sentence of the Supreme Judge.
5. God may testify much of His anger against a people, in the teachers and rulers He gives them, as being fit means to ripen them for judgment.
6. Subtle snares and insinuations are more dangerous for drawing men wrong than open violences.
7. It is a great sin in men when they prove a snare to others, or by their insinuations, example, or policy, draw them to sin against God. (George Hutcheson.)
The revolters are profound to make slaughter.
The deep ways of apostates and false worshippers
There can be no blacker brand on a people or a man than this--he is an apostate, a revolter. We must understand this, their revolting, especially in reference to their falling off from the true worship of God to their idolatry.
1. It is a dangerous thing to venture on the beginnings of false worship, especially when the tide is flowing in.
2. It is a dangerous thing to be deeply rooted in superstitious ways. By custom men become deeply rooted.
3. The hearts of apostates are the most deeply rooted in wickedness.
4. Idolaters, especially apostates, are profound and deep. Only those who have the Spirit of God that.searches” the deep things, of God, are likely to stand out against the deep policies of idolaters. God calls their “sacrifices” making “slaughter,” by way of reproach. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
I have been a Rebuker of them all.
Marg. “correction.” The sin of the people was increased by the circumstance that God had not ceased by His prophets to recall the Israelites to a sound mind, since they might not have been wholly irreclaimable. Or God may be thought of here as complaining that He had been an object of dislike to the Israelites, as though He said, “When I sent My prophets, they could not bear to be admonished, because My Word was too bitter for them.” Reproofs are not easily endured by men. What is clear is that the people of Israel were not only apostates, but hopelessly contumacious and refractory in their wickedness. (John Calvin.)
I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from Me.
Knowledge as a basis of judgment
To know Ephraim is to know all his shifts, evasions, and cunning devices, all his plots, pretences, and base ends.
1. God’s eye is upon the secrets of men’s hearts.
2. God’s eye upon our hearts and ways is a special means to humble us.
3. God will deal with men according to their present ways.
4. Defiled worship exceedingly defiles the souls of people.
5. A morally and religiously defiled nation is near to ruin. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Emphasis is laid on the “I.” God had known Ephraim all along. However deep they may have laid their plans of blood, I have all along known them; nothing of them has been hid from Me. Even now, when under a fair outward show, they are veiling the depth of their sin, when they think their way is hid in darkness, I know their doings, that they are defiling themselves. Sin never wants specious excuse. Although (in some way unknown to us) not interfering with our free will, known unto God are our thoughts and words and deeds, before they are framed, while they are framed, while they are being spoken and done; known to Him is all which we do, and all which, under any circumstances, we should do. This He knows with a knowledge before the things were. How strange, then, to think of hiding from God a secret sin, when He knew, before He created thee, that He created thee liable to this very temptation, and to be assisted amidst it with just that grace which thou art resisting. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Nothing hid from God
While the Americans were blockading Cuba, several captains endeavoured to elude their vigilance by night, trusting that the darkness would conceal them as they passed between the American war ships. But in almost every case, the dazzling rays of a searchlight frustrated the attempt, and the fugitive vessel was captured by the Americans. The brilliant searchlight, sweeping the broad ocean and revealing even the smallest craft on its surface, is but a faint type of the Eternal Light from which no sinner can hide his sin. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God.
Framing the doings
This is one of those strong Old English expressions which have been retained in our north country speech. People say, “He frames well,” meaning of a new servant, he sets hopefully to his work, he shows adaptation. Hosea lived at the time when Israel, whose sin had ripened before Judah’s, was beginning to suffer its punishments. Hosea directs the eye of Judah to the miseries falling on Israel, bidding her take warning and hasten to turn back from all her wicked ways to God. In the case of Israel there is a kind of hopelessness that they would ever repent, and the text expresses this hopelessness,--“They will not frame their doings,” etc. Such a description of men’s state in relation to God is suitable to every generation.
I. Every man’s first duty is to turn unto his God. Shew it is his duty from these considerations.
1. The claims and relations of God. The eye of every created thing but man is towards God. Whatever view may be taken of those relations--Creator, King, Father--this is certain, God ought to be something to every man--ought to be all that He can possibly be. Man should turn to Him.
2. The conditions of our being. Our condition is one of dependence. Possibly one of gracious friendship with our Creator. We are certainly under temporary conditions on which depend the eternal conditions.
3. The fact that man is turned from God. None are disposed to deny that fact. The consequences are too plainly written on the care-burdened earth--too certainly stamped in on human consciousness. Men everywhere are trying to turn to God, then they must be turned from Him.
4. The special call made by God, in His mercy, through Christ. All natural calls of God are sealed and intensified by His extraordinary call. A new pressure God has put on men--urging them to Himself in Christ. The voice of the Cross is, “Turn ye; turn ye”! It is man’s greatest duty, because not concerning the transitory but the eternal, not the temporary but the essential. A true life is a continual turning to God, as the needle to the pole.
II. Precisely in this first and greatest duty most men fail. One of the most constant efforts of a Christian ministry is to point out the various hindrances keeping men from God, their self-delusions, their religious delusions, their procrastinations. Men’s doings are the apparent hindrance; men’s bad wills are the real hindrance. By “men’s doings” are not meant single, isolated acts, but sets and courses of conduct, habits of life, moulds in which conduct is regularly cast. These become such power for evil, because they re-act on the will, enslaving it. So the Old Testament and our Lord and His apostles all say so much about men’s doings. What will be the real seeking after God? Its fountain must be in the heart. Penitent yearning of the soul for God. Its expression must be in confession and prayer. The test and proof of its sincerity must be a changed conduct. In every case there will be a suitable “framing of the doings.” Men are not without heart desires for God, nor without lip confessions and seekings; but how few can stand the further test of the way in which they “frame their doings.” Let us test ourselves by the Scripture terms for the spirit of the ungodly.
1. Lust of the flesh. Indulgence of bodily passion. What have we given up in order to turn to God?
2. Lust of the eyes. The higher pleasures of mind.
3. Pride of life. The great sin of our times. Further, test our religious profession by our unforgivings and envyings. What sincerity then is there in our turning to God? This is the Lord’s reproach. “Ye will not frame your doings to turn unto God.” A man’s sincerity is seen in what he will give up for an object. Illustrate from the going to war; framing their doings to show their patriotism. God looks for a like sincerity. But, after all, behind the doings is the real thing keeping men from turning to God. It is the bad will, the self-centred will. And so this must be the Divine reproach, “Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life.” (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
Framing the doings
The words in the original are very elegant. Jerome and Vulgate render,: “They will not give themselves to think of such a thing.” Mercer and Castellius, “They will not do their endeavours.” Tremellius, “They do not apply any action of theirs any way to turn unto the Lord.” Drusius and Pagninus, “Their custom in their ways of sin will not suffer them to turn to the Lord.” Septuagint and Calvin, “They give not their counsels, their studies, to turn to the Lord.” They will not give their mind to turn to the Lord, they will not put forth themselves into any posture that way. It is true, we can do nothing without the Lord, but yet the sin lies in our wills rather than in our power, therefore the will is charged by God. They cannot turn unto God of themselves, but yet they may do somewhat, they may bend themselves upon it, they may think of it, they may attend upon the means.
1. Israel will not so much as set his heart to think of anything that will bring him unto God. Not so much as to think, are my ways right or not right?
2. Though a man cannot turn to God, yet through the common work of God’s Spirit he may do this, he may be willing to hear and consider what is said for the ways of God.
3. They will not wait on God in the use of means.
4. They will not apply the rule of the Word to their actions. Whatsoever they think will make for their own cuds, that they will follow.
5. The light and power they have they will not use.
6. They will not join in with the work of God.
7. They will adhere to their old customs, to their former ways, to what they have received from their forefathers, and been trained up in.
8. They will take and improve to the uttermost every advantage they can have against the ways of God. If we will not frame our doings to turn unto the Lord, He may break us, break that frame which we raise in our own imaginations.
(1) Apostates seldom have any inclination to turn unto God. No meltings of spirit, no yieldings, but their hearts are hardened, and they depart farther and farther from God.
(2) True repentance is not only to leave evil, and to do good, but to turn unto God as our God.
(3) It is God’s just judgment to give men over to the devil to be blinded and hardened when they forsake Him and His truth.
(4) Impetuousness of spirit blinds the mind. “The spirit of whoredoms is in them”; and then follows, “they have not known the Lord.” Whatsoever is said against their way cannot convince them. When the mind is possessed by passion, love, fear, sorrow, or any other strong affection, and carried out powerfully to the object that excites them, it will not listen to, it will not understand anything urged against it; the voice of reason is unheeded, charming never so wisely. Some have a spirit of sluggishness and love their ease; a spirit of covetousness, and they must have their estates; a spirit of ambition, and they must have their honour and respect; a spirit of pride and self-love, and they must not on any account grant that they are ignorant and mistaken; therefore they cannot see the truths, the ways of God. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
The perfection and beauty of all life--vegetable, animal, intellectual, and moral--depends largely on “framing,” by which I mean culture. Scotland was once a barren soil, but industry and skill have turned it into one of the most fruitful and prolific lands to farmers in Europe. More: the orchid would not be so popular as it is, but for the care and skill of the botanist: the rose would not be the beautiful flower that it is, but for the gardener: nor would the carnation, nor the chrysanthemum be the favourites they are, but for the care bestowed upon them by professionals. The same law applies to the feathered tribes. It is a well-known fact that the almost endless variety of pigeons we have in England sprang from the common blue-rock pigeon; and Dr. Drummond says that if all these pigeons could be banished to some distant island for a few years, and their descendants brought back, they would be totally changed; for they would have become blue-rock pigeons. The same law applies with redoubled force to man. Let a man neglect his body for a little while, and he would become little better than a beast or a savage. Let a man neglect his mind, and disorder will follow. Let him neglect his moral nature, and his sympathies will be stunted, and his conscience will cease to commend him when he does right, and to warn him when he does wrong. This was the sin of those to whom the prophet spoke: “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God.”
I. What is this life framing to which the word of God calls us?
1. Each man possesses a soul, which must exist for ever amongst the spirits of the redeemed, or be consigned to eternal punishment.
2. Some men tell us that the brain is the greatest power in man; others, that that power lies in the heart; while others contend that it lies in the will. The fact is, Christian character calls all these powers into requisition (1 Timothy 6:9-11). How is this character to be secured?
(1) There must be repentance.
(2) Prayer and self-denial. These are as necessary to expel the evil propensities of your nature as they were to expel devils in our Saviour’s day.
(3) Faith in Christ.
(4) All men can live such a life if they will. A man may be humble in his origin, and poor in his circumstances, but these things do not prevent him rising to the dignity of a perfect man in Christ.
II. Look at some of the reasons which men urge for the neglect of this duty. “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God.” The reasons which men urge for the neglect of this important work are, at best, mere excuses, and too often hollow pretexts.
1. Some plead the unfavourable situation in which they are placed. Their companions stand in the way. They would sneer at them, revile them, or even persecute them if they could. To read the Bible, to pray, and to talk about religion in their presence would be impossible. Oh, man, where is thy courage, where is thy manhood?
2. Others plead the pressing claims of their worldly occupations. These are allowed to take precedence. Thought, conversation, and care are bestowed on houses, lands, and worldly wealth, as if there were no better inheritance for man.
3. Business is urged as an excuse. They have to build their house, educate their children, provide for their families, and these leave them no time to carry into effect that which they know to be their duty to God and to themselves. Now observe--
(1) There is time enough for every one to save his soul, Others find time to do their duty to God, and you can if you will but try.
(2) That family duties and cares need not stand in your way, for the calm influences of religion are just what you need to help you to bear life’s heavy cares,
(3) There are methods of amassing wealth in our day which are hurtful to men and abominable to God.
4. Others plead the strength of their passion. They are naturally intemperate, or unchaste, or dishonest, or grasping.
5. All these excuses indicate a shocking indifference to the claims of God upon you, and show, besides, an amazing ignorance of religion. They show that you don’t understand the necessity of religion, as you under stand the necessity of food for the hungry, raiment for the naked, or houses for the homeless. You undervalue its importance as compared with other interests.
6. What does God say to these excuses? (H. Woodcock.)
The guilt and danger of refusing to serve God
Men will not act upon the principle that the great business of life is to serve and please God, and enjoy His favour, here and hereafter.
1. They will not treasure up that truth which is the only medium of sanctification.
2. They will store up folly till there is no room in their minds for Divine and sanctifying truth.
3. Men so associate themselves together that it would rupture all their friendships to become the friends of God.
4. Men so commit themselves against religion, the Bible, the Sabbath, the people of God, etc., as to cause them great embarrassment when there shall be occasion to take back these commitments.
5. Men so locate themselves and enter such employments as to require a change, and perhaps a rupture of all their earthly relationships, should they turn to serve and please the Lord.
6. They pollute their consciences with those acts of moral defilement which will greatly pain them should they become the children of God.
7. They advance such sentiments with regard to Divine things before the ungodly that should they change their course they wilt be thereby much hindered in their efforts to do good.
8. All their habits of thinking, speaking, and acting axe at variance with the habits of godliness.
9. They put off religion until all their preparation for eternity is crowded into the few last moments of life. Remarks--
(1) What a calamity it is that men will not use a little of their wisdom in the matters of eternity, and not be continually blocking up their way to heaven.
(2) The people of God have great cause for gratitude that He has not suffered them to go on to a returnless distance from Him.
(3) Every benevolent man will be doing all in his power to hold back his fellow-men from ruin.
(4) It would be wise if men would calculate to be saved, and be shaping their ways for heaven. (National Preacher.)
s:--They cannot set up any framework of God; they are poor moral carpenters; their fingers lose all skill when they seek to put up something that shall have the appearance at least of morality and goodness. They no sooner set up one side of the edifice than the other fails down, and the framework will not hold together, because the spirit is wrong. Away with your mechanical morality; away with your frameworks of honour and social security, even of education when it is meant as a substitute for moral earnestness and purity. It is the spirit that must be renewed; we do not want a framework, but a genius of heart, an atmosphere of soul, a new manhood. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good. Do not trouble yourselves about the framework. You are not carpenters, you are men; you are not mechanics, you are souls. Do not trifle with the tragedy of life. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The use of means
A people are yet the more inexcusable in their impenitency when they will not so much as think on endeavouring or using the outward means which might tend towards repentance. They might have fought and yet not come speed, because of their unsoundness and formality in their way; but they were either so ignorant, or malicious and impious, as they did not so much as endeavour to bend their course that way. They would not “frame their doings.” (George Hutcheson.)
Outward conduct preventive of inward repentance
Dr. Pusey says, “The rendering of the margin, although less agreeable to the Hebrew, gives a striking sense, ‘Their doings will not suffer them to turn unto their God’ Not so much that their habits of sin had got an absolute mastery over them, so as to render repentance impossible, but rather that it was impossible that they should turn inwardly, while they did not turn outwardly. Their evil doings, so long as they persevered in doing them, took away all heart, whereby to turn to God with a solid conversion.” Sin begets sin, and the longer men indulge in it the weaker they become in good desire and earnest resolution. But the Hebrew gives another idea. “They,” the people in general, Ephraim is no longer addressed personally, “will not frame,” lit., will not give (LXX οὐκ ἔδωκαν; Vulg., Non dabunt cogitationes suas). Their will is concerned, the seat and centre of their life is wrong, and so long as that is alienated from God (Ephesians 4:18), they do not, they cannot frame their doings. They have created and cherished a mighty impulse within them which drives them on, like the devils drove the swine into the deep. This implies resistance to God and His Spirit (Acts 7:51). (J. Wolfendale.)
Betsy, an old coloured cook, was moaning around the kitchen the other day, when her mistress asked her if she was ill “No, ma’am, not ‘zactly,” said Betsy. “But the fac’ is, I don’t feel ambition ‘nough to get out of my own way. As we read this, our memories ran back over a long line of meetings, in which we recalled the faces of many, who after long seeking have never been converted, or others who have never grown in grace, or still others who have never been entirely sanctified, because like Betsy, they have not had ambition enough to get out of their own way. Almost every sort of difficulty has been suggested, perhaps they will can didly confess that Betsy has exactly hit it. (Dr. Pepper in “Christian Standard. ”)
Necessary preliminaries to a godly life
Few have any notion that there is a certain way to repent and believe, and fewer still indicate the nature of that way. How are men so to frame their doings as to turn unto their God?
I. By thinking on certain subjects. We act from motives when we act as men. But what are the motives? The creation of our own thoughts. The man who centres his thoughts on the advantages of fame, or wealth, or knowledge, turns to their pursuit. His thoughts excite his feelings, and his feelings urge him to a resolution. If I am to repent I must think of my sins in relation to the character of the Holy God, and the self-sacrificing Christ. It is only as I muse that the fires of penitence will burn. If a man is to turn to any new course of conduct, he must have new motives, and if he is to have new motives, he must have new thoughts.
II. By thinking on certain subjects in a certain way.
1. With concentration.
2. With persistency.
3. With devotion.
III. By thinking on certain subjects with a practical intent. Merely to increase our theological knowledge, or make our feelings glow with religious sentiment would be of little service, but to think in order to translate the thought into action, to embody the idea in the life--this is the way. Thoughtlessness is the curse of humanity. Think on right subjects; think in a right way; think with a practical intent. (Homilist.)
They have not known the Lord.
Ignorance of the national Jehovah
By this sentence the prophet extenuates not the Sin of the people, but, on the contrary, amplifies their ingratitude, because they had forgotten their God, who had so indulgently treated them. As they had been redeemed by God’s hand; as the teaching of the law had continued among them; as they had been preserved to that day through God’s constant kindness,--it was truly an evidence of monstrous ignorance that they could in an instant adopt ungodly forms of worship, and embrace those corruptions which they knew were condemned in the law. It was surely an inexcusable wickedness in the people thus to withdraw themselves from their God. This is the reason why the prophet now says that “ they know not Jehovah.” But if they were asked the cause, they could not have said that they had no light, for God had made known to them the way of salvation. Hence, that they knew not Jehovah was to be imputed to their perverseness; for, closing their eyes, they knowingly and wilfully ran headlong after those wicked devices which they knew, as it had been stated before, to be condemned by God. (John Calvin.)
And the pride of Israel doth testify to His face: therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity.
The fall of Israel
Tiglath pileser died in b.c. 727, and was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV. The refusal of Hoshea to continue the annual tribute brought the new Assyrian monarch into the West. Tyre was besieged unsuccessfully, Hoshea carried away captive, and Samaria blockaded for three years. During the blockade Shalmaneser died, and the crown was seized by one of the Assyrian generals. The latter assumed the name of Sargon, in memory of the famous Babylonian monarch who had reigned so many centuries before. The capture of Samaria took place in his first year (b.c. 722); 27,280 of its inhabitants were sent into exile, but only fifty chariots were found in the city. An Assyrian governor was appointed over it, who was commissioned to send each year to Nineveh the same tribute as that paid by Hoshea. The comparatively small number of Israelites who were carried into captivity shows that Sargon contented himself with removing only those persons and their families who had taken part in the revolt against him; in fact, Samaria was treated pretty much as Jerusalem was by Nebuchadnezzar in the time of Jehoiachin. The greater part of the old population was allowed to remain in its native land. This fact disposes of the modern theories which assume that the whole of the Ten Tribes were carried away. (Prof. Sayce.)
Pride aggravating sin
1. It is a great aggravation of sin when men are swelled with conceit under it, so that their thoughts of themselves are nothing lessened, but they dare defend sin, please themselves in it, and rise against such as do reprove it, and be filled with proud impatience under corrections inflicted because of it.
2. As pride is a sin that will not conceal itself, so this sort of pride is a notorious proof of men’s guiltiness which will justly condemn them, and plead for God in so doing.
3. Sin will certainly bring on ruin, especially when men are not only obstinate in it, but swelled with pride for all that.
4. God’s judgments will be universal on all ranks, according as they have sinned. (George Hutcheson.)
Pride before destruction
The prophet, having condemned the Israelites on two accounts--for having departed from the true God--and for having obstinately refused every instruction, now adds, that God’s vengeance was nigh at hand. “Testify then shall the pride of Israel in His face”; that is, Israel shall find what it is thus to resist God and His prophets. The prophet no doubt applies the word “pride” to their contempt of instruction, because they were so swollen with vain confidence as to think that wrong was done them whenever the prophets reproved them. It must at the same time be observed that they were thus refractory, because they were like persons inebriated with their own pleasures; for we know that while men enjoy prosperity, they are the more insolent, according to that old proverb, “Satiety begets ferocity.” (John Calvin.)
He hath withdrawn Himself from them.
“Withdrawn” is a word that may well chill our heart. It would be enough to express intolerable displeasure, if it stood just as it stands in this verse; but a larger meaning belongs to the word. “Withdrawn” is in some senses a negative relation, but it was a distinctly positive and we may add repelling action which the Lord meant to convey by the use of the term. All words were originally pictures, and the real dictionary when it appears will be pictorial. The Lord in this instance frees Himself from them. That is the literal and broader meaning of the prophecy. He releases Himself, He detaches Himself, He shakes off an encumbrance, a nuisance, a claim that is without righteousness. This may be taken in two senses.
1. The people are going with flocks and herds as if bent on sacrificial purpose; they will give the Lord any quantity of blood--hot, reeking blood; but the Lord says, I will have no more of your sacrifices; they are an abomination to Me; I hate all the programme of ritual and ceremony and attitude, if it fail to express a hunger and a reverence of the heart and mind. So the Lord is seen here in the act of taking up all these flocks and herds, and all these unwilling priests, and freeing Himself from them, throwing them away, as men pass out of their custody things that are offensive, worthless, and corrupting. Or--
2. It may mean that the Lord shakes Himself free from the clutch of hands that have no heart in them: He will walk alone. He will not give up His shepherdliness, though He have no flock to follow Him. Every woman is mother, every man is father, and a man is not the less father that all his children are thrice dead, and are as plants plucked up by the roots, and cast out to the burning. The shepherdliness is not determined by the number of sheep following or going before; shepherdliness is a quality, a disposition, an inspiration, an eternal solicitude. If need be God will continue His shepherdliness though every sheep go astray, and every lamb should die. Mark the disastrous possibility! Men may be left without “God; the Almighty and All-merciful may have retired, gone away; away into the shade, the darkness of night; He may have enshrouded Himself in a pavilion of thick darkness, where our poor prayers are lost on the outside. To this dreadful issue things may come. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The heap of their sacrifices should not recall the sentence against them, nor bring any mitigation of their trouble, nor procure access to God and His favour, who had justly deserted them.
1. The greatest contemners of God may at last stand sensibly in need of Him.
2. Impenitent sinners may make offer of many things, when they do not give themselves to God.
3. It is a very sad stroke, when the Lord is not only away, but has really deserted a people, “withdrawn Himself from them.” (George Hutcheson.)
But they shall not find Him.
I. The most important of all works. “Seek the Lord.” This implies a distance between man and his Maker. It is not the distance of being, but the distance of character. The great work of man is to seek the Lord morally, to seek His character.
1. This is a work in which all men should engage.
2. This is a work which all men must attend to sooner or later.
II. The most important of all works undertaken too late. “They shall not find Him.” “He will withdraw Himself from them.” This is the language of accommodation. He puts forth no effort to conceal Himself, He alters not His position, but He seems to withdraw from them. As the white cliffs of Albion seem to withdraw from the emigrant as his vessel bears him away to distant shores, so God seems to withdraw from the man who seeks Him “ too late.” (Homilist.)
Repenting too late
The main truth in this and other passages of Holy Scripture which speak of a time when it is too late to turn to God, is this; that it shall be “too late to knock when the door shall be shut, and too late to cry for mercy when it is the time of justice.” God waits long for sinners; He threatens long before He strikes; He strikes and pierces in lesser degrees, and with increasing severity, before the final blow comes. In this life He places man in a new state of trial, even after His first judgments have fallen on the sinner. But the general rule of His dealings is this; that when the time of each judgment is actually come, then, as to that judgment, it is too late to pray. Not too late for other mercy, but too late as to this one. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
About thirty years ago, a gentleman from New York, who was travelling in the South, met a young girl of great beauty and wealth, and married her. They returned to New York, and plunged into a mad whirl of gaiety. The young wife had been a gentle, thoughtful girl, anxious to help all in suffering or want, and to serve her God faithfully. But as Mrs. L. she had troops of flatterers; her beauty and dresses were described in the society journals; her bon-mots flew from mouth to mouth; her equipage was one of the most attractive in the park. In a few months she was intoxicated with admiration. She and her husband flitted from New York to Newport, from London to Paris, with no object but enjoyment. There were other men and women of their class who had some worthier pursuit--literature, or art, or the elevation of the poorer classes--but L. and his wife lived solely for amusement. Mrs. L. was looked upon as the foremost leader of society. About ten years ago she was returning alone from California, when an accident occurred to the railroad train in which she was a passenger, and she received a fatal internal injury. She was carried into a wayside station, and there, attended only by a physician from the neighbouring village, she died. The doctor said that it was one of the most painful experiences of his life. “I had to tell her that she had but one hour to live. She was not suffering any pain. Her only consciousness of hurt was that she was unable to move; so that it was no wonder she could not at first believe me.” I have but an hour, you tell me? “Not more” And this is all that is left me of the world. It is not much, doctor, with a half smile. The men left the room, and I locked the door, that she might not be disturbed. She threw her arm over her face and lay quiet a long time; then she turned on me in a frenzy. ‘To think of all that I might have done with my money and my time! God wanted me to help the poor and the sick! It’s too late now! I’ve only an hour’, She struggled up wildly. ‘Why, doctor, I did nothing--nothing but lead the fashion! The fashion! Now I’ve only an hour! An hour!’--But she had not even that, for the exertion proved fatal, and in a moment she lay dead at my feet.. No sermon that I ever heard was like that woman’s despairing cry, ‘It’s too late now!’”
Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah.
An earnest ministry
The idea of the passage is, Give an earnest warning of the judgment about to break on the people, sound the alarm and startle the population.
I. The nature of an earnest ministry. “Cry aloud.” Let the whole soul go forth in the work. Earnestness is not noise. “A celebrated preacher, distinguished for the eloquence of his pulpit preparations, exclaimed on his death-bed, ‘Speak not to me of my sermons: alas’! I Was fiddling whilst Rome was burning:”
1. It is not frightening people.
2. It is not bustle. He is always on the “go.” Genuine earnestness is foreign to all these things. It has nothing in it of the noise and rattle of the fussy brook, it is like the deep stream rolling its current silently, resistlessly, and without pause.
3. An earnest ministry is living. It is the influence of the whole man.
4. Such a ministry is a matter of necessity. The Divine thing in the man becomes irrepressible, it breaks out as sunbeams through the clouds.
5. Such a ministry is constant. It is not a professional service; it is as regular as the functions of life.
6. Such a ministry is mighty.
II. The need of an earnest ministry. Why was the “cornet” to be now blown in Gibeah, and the “ trumpet” in Ramah? Because there was danger.
1. The moral danger to which souls around us are exposed is great.
2. It is near. It is not the danger of an invading army heard in the distance. The enemy has entered the soul and the work of devastating has commenced.
3. It is increasing. The condition of the unregenerate soul gets worse and worse every hour. (Homilist.)
But after much observation and many deep yearnings over those who are going astray as sheep without a shepherd, it is my firm conviction that here is at least one key to the situation. This was the method of the great evangelical revival of the last century. Whitefield took his place on Kensington Common; where the bodies of executed criminals were left dangling on the gallows, and there, with twenty or thirty thousand of the lowest rabble before him, he would point to the gallows, and, with that voice which was like the sound of many waters, exclaim: “If you want to know what wages the devil pays his servants, look yonder.” Such methods at first grated on the fine sensibilities of Wesley. He says: “I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, having been till lately so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls a sin if it had not been done in a Church.” Can we reconcile ourselves to such irregular methods? Can we accept the twofold requirement and preach the Gospel not only “in season” but “in season, out of season”? (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)
Earnest Christian effort
Godly Baxter says of himself, “I confess, to my shame, that I remember no one sin that my conscience doth so much accuse and judge me for, as for doing so little for the salvation of men s souls, and dealing no more earnestly and fervently with them for their conversion. I confess that, when I am alone, and think of the ease of poor ignorant, worldly, earthly, unconverted sinners, that live not to God, nor set their hearts on the life to come, my conscience telleth me that I should go to as many of them as I can, and tell them plainly what will become of them if they do not turn, and beseech them, with all the earnestness that I can, to come to Christ, and change their course, and make no delay. And though I have many excuses, from other business and from disability and want of time, yet none of them all do satisfy my own conscience when I consider what heaven and hell are, which will one of them be the end of every man’s life. My conscience telleth me that I should follow them with all possible earnestness night and day, and take no denial till they return to God.”
After thee, O Benjamin.
There is good reason to believe that this was the tribal battle-cry. The R.V., in its margin, favours this idea It there reads, “After thee, Benjamin! (see Judges 5:14).” The reference is to the passage in the Song of Deborah: “After thee,” Benjamin, among thy people.” Many commentators interpret this as addressed to Ephraim; e.g., Delitzsch: “Behind thee,!” i.e., “Ephraim, there followed Benjamin among thy (Ephraim’s) people (hosts).” On the other hand, the Pulpit Commentary reads, “Following thee, O Benjamin, with thy people”; and Dean Stanley (Jewish Church, vol. 1.) renders, “After thee, Benjamin, in thy people.” Psalms 68:1-35, seems to corroborate this interpretation. This psalm is a glorious song of triumph. It refers to past history; it recalls to mind God’s wondrous dealings with His favoured people; the miracles He had wrought for them, the victories He had enabled them to win. The allusion to Zebulun and Naphtali in verse 27 seems to be a direct reference to the Song of Deborah, where these two tribes receive honourable mention (verse 18): “Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.” But first among the four tribes mentioned in the psalm we have Benjamin: “There is little Benjamin, their ruler,” or leader; i.e., ruling or leading the procession. But why thus ruling or leading the festal procession? Perhaps with some reference to the fact that the first judge and the first king had sprung from their tribe. But also, no doubt, because this was the position that its warriors had taken on many a hard-fought field. Though a small tribe, it was famous for its warlike character, and bore out the prediction of Jacob: “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil” (Genesis 49:27).
I. A noble motto. Lead the way. To be among the first in things that are good is a grand ambition. Emulation is praiseworthy if “a man strive lawfully.” It is not to be confounded with envy, which seeks to outstrip another from mere jealousy; nor with self-exaltation, which springs from vanity; nor with that meanness which seeks to make one’s self great by lowering or debasing another. It is the desire to be in the front rank in what is good; to be zealous and active for the right. “After thee,” then, O my soul, let others be, in striving to do good. “After thee,” in helping the oppressed, in succouring the needy. Not holding back, but pressing to the front. “After thee,” in time of danger and difficulty. Lead the way; join the forlorn hope.
II. A noble motto, without God’s blessing, is unavailing. Hosea depicts the invading hosts in the midst of Benjamin. “The evil day and destruction denounced, is now vividly pictured as actually come. All is confusion, hurry, alarm, because the enemy was in the midst of them. The cornet, an instrument made of horn, was to be blown as an alarm, when the enemy was at hand. The trumpet was especially used for the worship of God. Gibeah and Ramah were cities of Benjamin, on the borders of Ephraim, where the enemy, who had possessed himself of Israel, would burst in upon Judah.” (Pusey). Then in this supreme moment of danger and anxiety an endeavour is made to rally the warriors of the tribe; their battle-cry is raised, “After thee, O Benjamin.” But in vain. The hand of the Lord is against them (verses 9, 10). Without God no effort can be successful. He alone can give the strength. The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich. Without it there is no true prosperity; high aspirations cannot be reached; lofty ideals, great efforts will not avail. Against God who can be successful? Learn--We must have God’s blessing on our efforts, otherwise they are in vain. Therefore, “Seek ye the Lord.”
III. A noble motto, when transferred to the cause of sin, becomes doubly disastrous. It is very sad to see splendid opportunities wasted. This is sad. But it is more sad to see noble abilities, precious opportunities, large means used for evil purposes, against God and what is good. To sin is bad enough; but to be a leader and teacher of sin is satanic. The right use of the noble Benjamite motto demands, therefore, the preliminary inquiry in the council chamber of the soul, “In what direction am I going? In what things do I desire to be found amongst the first?” (J. S. S. Sheilds, D. D.)
Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke.
The Lord’s anger
“Desolate” may be reckoned with energetic adjectives. It was another form of the word that the prophet used; it was a substantive, colder than ice, hollower than the wind: Ephraim shall be a desolation. Here we come from the descriptive word into the concrete term--a desolation; a word which carries its own limitations and qualifications. You cannot amend the word, you cannot enlarge it, you can add nothing to its cheerlessness; desolation admits of no companion term; it must be felt to be understood. There have been times when the house was a desolation; there was no light in the windows; though they stood squarely south, and looked right at the sun at mid-day, yet they caught no light; there was silence in the house; no sound; the fire crackled and spluttered, and spent itself in vain explosions, but there was no poetry in all the way of the flame, there was no picture of home in all the blank shining of the hollow tongues of fire that licked the grate, but said nothing, yet only hinted that the place was empty; bed and cot and favourite fireside, all vacant, and the very grandeur of the house an aggravation of its vacancy. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Why is God so wrathful? Is this an arbitrary vengeance? Doth He delight to show His omnipotence, and to chastise the insects of a day because He is almighty? Never. There is always a moral reason,--“The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound.” God has always been jealous of the landmark. God is honest; would His Church were also honest! God will not live in the house until the false weights and scales be taken out of it; God will not tabernacle with men whilst they are pinching the poor of one little inch of the yard length; He will trouble the house with a great moan of wind, until the balances be right; then He will say, You may now pray. And every sentence will be an answer. From the beginning we have seen that God would have the landmark respected. Here are the princes of Judah, thieves. It must be an awful thing to rob the poor as they were robbed by the great in all ages. It must be an infinitely difficult thing for a prince to be honest; it is an almost impossible thing for a rich man to be really honest. The Lord is the defender of the poor. We cannot understand how, but there is in history, taking it in great breadths, a spirit that reclaims what has been taken unrighteously, that punishes the men who trifle with landmarks and boundaries, and old family fences, God rebukes the rich; God never blesses human greediness. Judge not by appearances, or by narrow instances; take in cycles of time, great spans of history, and see how the slow moving but sure moving spirit of providence readjusts and reclaims, and finally establishes according to the law of honesty and righteousness. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound.
It was a custom among the heathen and the Romans, if any man removed the bound, the ancient landmark, to adjudge them, if poor, to slavery, to dig in deep pits; if rich, to banishment, and a forfeiture of the third part of their estates. The princes of Judah broke down the bounds in a fourfold manner.
1. They took away other men’s estates, as Ahab did Naboth’s.
2. They broke all bounds; all laws and liberties. They will not be bound by laws, saying thus, “Laws were made for subjects, not princes.”
3. They broke the bonds of religion. This is the great breach of bonds, when people provoke God.
4. They broke the bonds of their own covenants, and regarded them not. The bounds of religion and laws, as they keep in obedience, so they keep out judgments. And we ought to look on laws in both these points of view, not only as means to keep us in order and duty, but also to keep out wrath. If we break our bounds, we must look that wrath should break in upon us; therefore we had need do as men that live near the sea, when the sea breaks in upon them, they presently leave all other businesses, to make up the breaches. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Landmarks, or bounds
In the East, advantage was taken, wherever possible, of natural divisions, such as river beds, tributary stream lines, or edges of valleys; but in the open ground, the separate properties were only marked by a deeper furrow, or by large stones almost buried in the soil. Stealthy encroachments might easily be made by shifting these stones.
Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth.
The moth; or God’s quiet method of destroying
“And I am like the moth to Ephraim, and like the worm to the house of Judah.”--Keil and Delitzsch. “The moth and worm are figures employed to represent destructive powers: the moth destroying clothes (Isaiah 50:9; Isaiah 51:8; Psalms 39:12), the worm injuring both wood and flesh.” The words indicate God’s quiet method of ruining. In two or three verses in this chapter He is spoken of as proceeding in His work of destruction as a lion. Here as a “moth”--working out ruin silently, slowly, and gradually.
I. He works decay thus sometimes in the bodies of men. Oftentimes men die violently and suddenly, but more frequently by some insidious hidden disease which, like a “moth,” works away quietly at the vitals, gradually poisoning the blood and undermining the constitution. The moth is often so small and secret in its workings that medical science can seldom find it out, and when it finds it out, though it may check it for a time, it cannot destroy it: the moth defies all medicine. At the heart of some of the strongest trees in the forest there are hosts of invisible insects noiselessly at work; the forester knows it not, the tree seems healthy; until one fine morning before a strong gust of wind it falls a victim to these silent workers. So with the strongest man amongst us.
II. He works decay thus sometimes in the enterprises of men. Often men find it impossible to succeed in their worldly avocations. Mercantile establishments that have been prosperous for generations have the “moth” in them. They have not been conducted by godly men and that in a right spirit; so God sent a “moth,” and the moth has been working away for years silently, secretly, and gradually, until all the vitality has been eaten up.
III. He works decay thus sometimes in the kingdoms of men. Effeminacy, luxury, ambition, greed, self-indulgence, servility, irreverence, these are moths, and decay sets in, and it falls not by the sword of the invader but by its own “rottenness.”
IV. He works decay thus sometimes in the churches of men. What destroyed the churches of Asia Minor? The “moth” of worldliness and religious error. Some of our modern churches are obviously slowly rotting away. A realising faith in the invisible; brotherly love; practical self-sacrifice; Christliness of spirit, are being eaten up by the moth of secularity, sectarianism, superstition, and religious pretence. Thus, too, individual souls lose their spiritual life and strength. God deliver us from those errors of heart that like a moth eat away the life! (Homilist.)
The mention of the moth in Scripture is, with a single exception, confined to the destruction caused in clothing by the larvae of the little clothes’ moth (Tineidae), of which very many species are found in Palestine. No other lepidopterous insect is alluded to in Scripture, and the class, including butterflies and moths, is not very numerously represented in the Holy Land, the dry climate of which, together with the scarcity of wood, is not particularly favourable to the development of this group. The number of recorded species in the Holy Land is about two hundred and eighty. (Canon Tristram.)
When Ephraim saw his sickness . . . then went Ephraim to the Assyrian.
The folly of creature-confidence
Men continually provoke God to chastise them, but rarely make a due improvement of His chastisements. Instead of turning to God, they dishonour Him more by applying to the creature under their distress rather than to Him.
I. Men, in times of trouble, are prone to look to the creature for help rather than to God.
1. In troubles of a temporal nature. Sickness of body• Distress of mind. Straitened circumstances. God is invariably our last refuge.
2. In spiritual troubles. Under conviction of sin. In seasons of temptation or desertion. Though foiled ten thousand times, we cannot bring ourselves to lie as clay in the potter’s hands.
II. The creature cannot afford us any effectual succour. There are circumstances wherein friends may be instrumental to our relief; but they can do--
1. Nothing effectual; and
2. Nothing of themselves.
(1) Let us guard against this sinful propensity, both in our national and personal concerns.
(2) Let us especially rely on Christ as the healer of our souls. To Him then look with humble, uniform, unshaken affiance. (Sketches of Sermons.)
Wrong methods of relief
Under a grievous sense of their disease and weakness, instead of applying to Jehovah, Ephraim and Judah went to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb. The Assyrian king was ever ready for his own aggrandisement to mix himself up with the affairs of neighbouring states.
I. Men are often made conscious of their spiritual malady. Depravity is a disease of the heart. It impairs the energies, mars the enjoyments of the soul, and incapacitates it for the right discharge of the duties of life. A great point is gained when a man becomes conscious of his disease, and the sinner of his sin.
II. Men frequently resort to wrong means of relief. The Assyrians had neither the power nor the disposition to effect the restoration of Ephraim to political health. Sometimes men go--
1. To scenes of carnal amusement; or
2. To sceptical philosophisings; or
3. To false religions. These are all miserable comforters, broken cisterns.
III. Resorting to wrong methods of relief will prove utterly ineffective. What can worldly amusements, sceptical reasonings, and false religions do towards healing a sin-sick soul? Like anodyne, they may deaden the pain for a minute only, that the anguish may return with intenser acuteness. There is but one Physician of souls. (Homilist.)
Christ as physician of the spiritually sick
Wherever we look, or wherever we go, we are met by one or another of God’s loving mercies. In the extremity of their distress, Ephraim and Judah chose the most unholy and unlawful means for their deliverance. They had no bright confidence in the fountain of living waters.
I. The entire Israel of God suffers more or less from heart and soul sickness. There is not a prophet under the old dispensation, nor an apostle under the new, but speaks without one qualifying term of the sinfulness of man. Does not God’s Word, however, seem to contradict the saying that the spiritual sickness of a guilty soul is universal? Is not this inferred--that some souls are nut in this lapsed condition--when Jesus said, “They which be whole need not a physician”? Those words were directly addressed to the Pharisees, and were meant as a rebuke to that proud, self-righteous seed, whose thoughts were always running upon their own moral excellency. No sinner, with the taint and defilement of sin upon him, can possibly be whole in the scriptural acceptation of the word.
II. We are often driven in our distress to unavailable sources for our relief. Assyria was, at that time, a mighty nation, and apparently held in her large grasp the destinies of the house of Israel: nevertheless, when that distressed people came to her king for succour, his hands were tied and his instruments were powerless. Yet they took the best wisdom of the children of this world. The heart of man is a very insufficient, I had nearly said the worst of all imaginable counsellors. And men have no knowledge of their true Physician, or no taste for His medicines; they have no life to seek the grace of salvation, or no love freely to embrace it. There is a class of professors who accept the invitations of Jesus, but only in a qualified sense. They receive Him as a great Prophet, an intercessory Priest, an everlasting King. But only the sick care to hear of Him as the Great Physician.
III. He who cures our malady must himself be free from it. Christ and none but Christ is pointed at in these words, “For He who knew no sin was made sin for us.” After what manner did He cure?
1. By changing the appearance of sin, and showing what we thought mere little scars to be large wounds.
2. By giving a new channel to the thoughts when they have beheld enough of corruption to alarm, to disturb, and to humble the whole man.
3. By teaching a praying penitent songs of praise, and testifying so strongly to the length and breadth and height of His mercy, that he shall have no depth of desire for anything else. When the heart is cured, how can it do otherwise than sing? When the will is cured, its principal delight is to search the revealed counsels of the Most High; the cure is effectual; the thanks-offering must not be less than cordial. (F. G. Crossman.)
Sin and sorrow
I. Sin, however rejoiced in, brings many sorrows in its train. Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah his wound. Sin is the disease of the soul; bitter to bear, difficult to cure. Like the leprosy over the body, it overspread the entire framework of the mind. Conscience itself is either blind or dumb; blind, that it does not see our danger, or dumb, that it does not sound an alarm. Sometimes it is a silenced preacher, or an ambassador in bonds. The disease of the body may be known by various symptoms, so may that of the soul. The taste is vitiated. Disease produces want of rest. It prostrates the strength. It darkens and obscures the beauty of the outward frame. Some diseases rob the soul of reason. Sinners are described as “mad upon their idols.”
II. Men, when involved in suffering, often have recourse to wrong sources of belief.
1. They do so in worldly trials. Illustrate by Ephraim sending to King Jareb. So with men now. The creature is everything and God nothing.
2. In spiritual distress. Men are often sorry for their troubles, not for their transgressions. When conscience is aroused men try partial repentance and amendment; sacraments, etc.
III. A succession of trials may be needed to convince men of their sin and danger, and drive them off from false refuges. Various are the means God employs. If lighter judgments fail, heavier are sent.
IV. The ultimate design of God’s procedure with His own people is not destruction but salvation. “They will seek Me early.” “Come, and let us return.” (S. T.)
Storm-signals--a caution for sin-sick souls
There is a tendency in the heart of man to want something to look to rather than something to trust to. Looking at the fallacy of Ephraim as illustrative of a common tendency of mankind, and using the text as the picture of a sinner in a peculiar state of mental anxiety, notice--
I. The sinner’s partial discovery of his lost estate. It is here but a partial discovery. Ephraim felt his sickness, but he did not know the radical disease that lurked within. He only perceived the symptoms. How many men there are who have got just far enough to know there is something the matter with them. They little reck that they are totally ruined. They still cling with some hope to their own devices.
II. The wrong means which he takes to be cured of his evil. He tries to make himself better. All that man can do apart from the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ is utterly in vain. Matthew Wilks used to say you might as well hope to Sail to America on a sere leaf as hope to go to heaven by your own doings.
III. The right means of finding healing and deliverance. Whoever will be saved must know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down from heaven, lived a life of sanctity and suffering, and at last became obedient unto death. He is a Divinely ordained Saviour. You must believe He is willing to save. There must be a leaning on Him, a dependency on Him. God requires nothing of you but that you should depend for all on Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Israel and King Jareb
So Ephraim and Judah went to the wrong person, and did not gain much by their application. It seemed to them an excellent policy. Israel could not choose to be independent. Neither can we be independent. Where is there a man that seriously reflects upon our earthly lot that does not feel there is a secret sickness, a hidden wound, somewhere? Man is the great sufferer the wide world over. Either man has been unduly and abnormally elevated, or else he must needs be fallen. Man’s distresses and disappointments spring from his fall. He is not what God intended him to be, and therefore he does not enjoy what God intended him to enjoy. He is out of harmony with God, and therefore out of harmony with nature. Besides outward evils, there is the prevalence of moral evil, which in many cases proves the very worst evil of all. When Ephraim and Judah saw that things were not all right with them, they fell back upon the Assyrian, instead of throwing themselves upon God. And even so when men begin to be conscious of the disappointments of life, and feel an inward discontent, like a disease preying upon their hearts, how often do they follow the example of Israel, and seek in the creature what can only be found in the Creator! Some take refuge in the pre-occupations of business. Others fly to more intoxicating excitements. There is the distinct attempt of human perversity to get away from its inward sense of want, and emptiness, and helpless misery, by falling back upon the world, instead of turning to God. How shall God deal with us when we show ourselves so perverse and froward? What course do we force upon Him by our folly? The appearance that God bears to us will ever be determined by the attitude that we assume towards Him. It was a terrible and startling part that the God of Israel undertook to maintain in dealing with His ancient people. It would have been no true kindness on God’s part if He had granted them prosperity when they were apostate from Him. This must have led them to feel the more satisfied with their apostasy, and the less disposed to repent. As it was, the prophets could point to each fresh disaster as a proof that the nation was under the judgment of God, and that their sin was proving their ruin. It is no less His love to us that makes Him deal with us in a similar manner. He has to thwart us just that He may show us how little King Jareb can do for us. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Help sought from the creature
Carnal hearts seek to the creature for help in time of difficulty. They saw their sickness, their wound, and they “sent to King Jareb.” They look to no higher causes of their trouble than second causes, therefore they seek to no higher means for their relief than second causes. They regard their troubles as such as befall other men as well as them, and so look not up to God. They are led by sense, and the second causes are before them, and near to them, but God is above them and beyond them, and His ways are often contrary to sense. They little mind God in their straits, but send for help unto the creature. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
The wrong physician
A poor fisherman in the town of Nairn, on the Moray Firth, had for some years been afflicted with a troublesome cough, and, having consulted many doctors, was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse. He had heard, however, that there were very skilful men in Edinburgh, and he decided to go. During the voyage, he told some of the sailors his object in going to Edinburgh, and they advised him to see Sir James Simpson. It was often a very difficult matter to get an interview with Sir James, but, to his surprise, he was at once admitted to the consulting-room, stated his case, and after a short examination Sir James said, “You’ve applied to many doctors already, you said?” “Yes, sir, a good many.” “Have you gone to the Great Physician?” The man was silent. “Well, my good man,” resumed Sir James, “I advise you to go to Him; I am sorry I can do you little good. You had better go home, and just take as good care of yourself as you can.” The man was very much affected, for he now understood that his case appeared hopeless. Putting his hand in his pocket and taking out a few coins, he said, “What have I to pay you, doctor?” “My friend,” said Sir James, putting his hand kindly on his shoulder, “I don’t want any money from you. I ask only an interest in your prayers. Good-bye. Don’t forget to go to the Great Physician.” After thanking the doctor, he returned home, sought and found Christ as his spiritual Physician and Saviour, and soon afterwards died.
I will go and return to My place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face: in their affliction they will seek Me early.
God’s end and design in affliction
This whole chapter, with the following one, contains a pathetic remonstrance, of God’s just quarrel with. His people; aggravated by much long-suffering and lenity, and many warnings, verbal and real, on His part, and much stubbornness, impenitence, and multiplied provocation on theirs; He using all means to reclaim and save them, and they using all means to despise Him, and ruin themselves. In the text we have the Lord concluding upon a severe course, as being necessary, and likely to be more effectual for their conversion.
I. The procuring cause of God’s afflicting His people.
1. The procuring cause is made up of these two--sin and impenitence.
(1) We may see how unwilling God is to afflict His people. Judgments are termed “His strange work.” but mercy is His darling attribute. He will not leave them, unless they drive Him away.
(2) We see where the true blame of the many sufferings and miseries of the Church is to be found. The abounding of sin, and the want of repentance, these make her troubles to abound. This is our folly, that usually we abuse all God’s goodness, and will not part with our sins, till we smart, for them, and be beaten from them. We pull punishment out of God’s hand.
II. God’s ways of afflicting His people. Upon the withdrawing of His gracious presence, as necessarily follows affliction, as mist upon the setting of the sun. This was heavier than all His corrections. No evil does the child of God fear so much, or feel so heavy, as God’s absenting and withdrawing Himself in displeasure
III. The end of god’s thus afflicting His people.
1. God’s intention in the means. To bring them to a sorrow for their offences, and an ingenuous confession of it. If He withdraw Himself it is not to leave them for ever and look at them no more. On the contrary, it is that they may learn whether it is better to enjoy Him or their sins.
2. The efficacy of the means for reaching it. There is moral fitness in great affliction to work a diligent seeking of God, before neglected, and acknowledgment of sin, before unfelt. Affliction sets men in upon themselves, calls in their thoughts, which, in a fair season, more readily dissipate and scatter themselves abroad. When a man is driven by force from the comforts of the world, then, if he have any thoughts concerning God, these begin to work with him. When a man is straitened on all hands by a crowd of troubles, and finds no way out, then he finds his only way is upward. (Archbishop Leighton.)
God’s withdrawal and return
Sin is here characterised as an offence.
1. It is committed against God.
2. It is contrary to the nature and judgment of God.
3. It awakens the indignation of God.
I. Because of sin, God withdraws Himself from His people.
1. He goes and returns to His place, when He leaves His people in the hands of their enemies, and does not interfere.
2. When He removes from them the ordinances of His grace--the symbols of His presence.
3. When He allows these to continue, but is not in them.
4. When He leaves them to insensibility under His dealings.
5. When the soul, feeling His absence, seeks for Him in vain.
II. God’s withdrawal from His offending people is not absolute and for ever.
1. Though God withdraws from His people, He does not cease to love them.
2. He never withdraws His spirit and grace for their preservation in the faith.
3. He never withdraws from them finally, and so as never to return.
4. Sometimes, when He withdraws in the way of ceasing to afford sensible comfort, He is present in the way of restraining, and defending, and sanctifying--in the way of chastisement. There are degrees in the withdrawings of God.
III. That God returns to His people when they acknowledge their offence and seek His face.
1. They must acknowledge their offence. This implies that they have discovered it. That they see its enormity. That they are contrite and penitent. That they forsake it. That they go to Christ’s blood.
2. They must seek God’s face. They feel that their comfort is in God only. They mourn and lament His absence. They seek Him in the appointed ordinances of His house. They seek Him by prayer. They are dissatisfied with the choicest of means and ordinances, if God be not in them. They seek Him in Christ. (James Stewart.)
Coming to God in trouble
“We only see those birds, sir, when the storms are about,” said an old man to me on the seashore last week. That is typical of some people who only come to God in times of storm, and dearth, and epidemic, and never make their dwelling in God. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28