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A new and distinct division of the book commences with this fourth chapter and continues till the close. What had previously been presented in figure and symbol is now plainly and literally stated. The children of Israel are summoned in the first verse of this chapter to hear the charge preferred against them and the sentence pronounced. Having convened, as it were, a public assembly and cited the persons concerned, the prophet proceeds to show cause why they are bound to give an attentive hearing. In God's controversy with the people of the land the prophet acts as his ambassador, accusing the people of great and grievous sins, and vindicating the justice of God's judgments in their punishment. The ki with which the last clause of the verse commences may be either causal or recitative, and may thus specify either the ground or subject of controversy. It is commonly understood here in the former sense. Israel is charged with want of truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God. Kimchi comments on this controversy as follows: "With the inhabitants of the land of Israel I have a controversy, for I gave them the land on the condition that they should exercise righteousness and judgment, and on this condition I pledged myself to them that my eyes would be upon them from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. But since they practice the opposite—cursing, lying, etc.—I also will act with them in a way contrary to what I assured them, and will hide my face from them." He adds, "There were some righteous among them, but they were few, and they hid themselves from the face of the multitude who were wicked." Truth and mercy are at once Divine attributes and human virtues; it is in the latter sense, of course, that they are here employed. Truth includes works as well as words, doing as well as saying; it implies uprightness in speech and behavior—thorough integrity of character and conduct, Mercy goes beyond and supplements this. We sometimes say of such a one that he is an honest but a hard man. Mercy combined with truth, on the contrary, makes a man kind as well as honest, benevolent as well as upright. In a somewhat similar sense the apostle conjoins goodness and righteousness when he says, "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die." The knowledge of God is the real root of these two virtues of truth and mercy. If we know God as he is in himself and as he stands in his relations to us, we shall conform our conduct to his character and our actions to his will. If we know God to be a God of truth, who delighteth in truth in the inward parts, we shall cultivate truth in our hearts, express it with our lips, and practice it in our lives. If we know God as a God of mercy, who has shown such boundless mercy to us in pardoning our multiplied and aggravated offences, we shall imitate that mercy in our relations to our fellow-man; nor shall we enact the part of the merciless man in the parable, who owed his lord ten thousand talents, and who, having nothing to pay, was freely forgiven the debt; but finding his fellow-servant, who owed him only an hundred pence, laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me that thou owest," and, deaf to that fellow-servant's supplications, east him into prison till he should pay the debt. The intimate connection of the knowledge of God with the virtues in question is confirmed by the Prophet Jeremiah, "Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him? he judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me, saith the Lord?"
Having given a picture of Israel negatively, he next presents the positive side. The absence of the virtues specified implies the presence of the opposite vices. In the most vivid and impressive manner the prophet, instead of enumerating prosaically the vices so prevalent at the time, expresses them more emphatically by a species of exclamation, using
(1) infinitives absolute instead of finite verbs; thus: "Swearing, and lying, and murdering, and stealing, and committing adultery." They may, however, be regarded as in the nominative as subjects to יֵשׁ. Instead of either supplying לְשָׁוְא, to allot, or closely connecting" allot" with the verb "to lie," which immediately follows, it is better to understand the two verbs separately, as expressing two different species of sin; that is, swearing and cursing, and lying. So the Septuagint renders them by the nouns ἀρὰ καὶ ψεῦδος, equivalent to "cursing and lying;" as also the Chaldee, "they swear falsely and lie." The commandments which the children of Israel thus violated were the third, the ninth, the sixth, the eighth, and the seventh.
(2) The construction, adopted in the LXX; Vulgate, and by Luther in his version, takes the infinitives (nounal expressions of habitual or continued actions) as nominatives to the verb paratsu; thus: "Cursing, and lying, and murder, and theft, and adultery abound (κέχυται or εκκέχυται) in the land;" "Maledictum, et mendacium, et homicidium, et furtum, et adulterium innndavernut;" and Luther translates, "Gotteslastern, Luger, Morder, Stehlen, and Ehebrechen hat uberhand genommen." The common mode
(3) of constructing the infinitives independently as above in (1) or gerundively as in the Authorized Version, and in either ease understanding an indefinite subject to paratsu, is preferable on the whole; thus: "By swearing, etc; they break out." The allusion to the water overflowing its banks and spreading in all directions, implied in the Septuagint Version, is approved by Jerome in his Commentary: "He (the prophet) did not say est, but, to demonstrate the abundance of crimes, introduced inundaverunt (overflowed)." The common meaning of parats is to tear or break—break in upon, especially with violence, as robbers and murderers; so paritsim has the sense of murderers and robbers. It is better, therefore, to take the verb here as a present perfect connecting past and present, and to translate it" break through," or" in to," that is, as burglars into houses. So Kimchi, though figuratively: "They break through the wall which is the fence of the Law, and multiply transgressions." Similarly, De Wette has "Gewaltthat uber sie;" and Maurer likewise: "Jurare et mentiri et occidere et furari et adulterari! Violenter agunt et sanguines sanguines altingunt." The Massoretic accentuation favors (putting athnach at naopt) this construction; while the context, which speaks of bloodshed, is quite in keeping with acts of violence.
These verses relate, with much particularity, the sufferings consequent on sins, especially such as are specified in the preceding verses. The montaging of the land mentioned in Hosea 4:3 may be understood either figuratively or literally. If in the former way, there are many Scripture parallels which represent nature in full accord with human feelings, sympathizing with man, now in joy, again in sorrow; for example: "The little hills rejoice on every side;" the valleys "shout for joy, they also sing;" on the other hand, "The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish." But if the expression be taken literally, it conveys a solemn fact, and one in perfect harmony with the entire tone and character of the old economy, according to which moral evil transmutes itself into physical evil, and impresses itself in dismal characters on the face of inanimate nature. The Hebrew commentators seem to understand the statement literally; thus Rashi: "The land shall be laid waste, and there shall be great mourning;" likewise Kimchi: "The land of Israel shall be laid waste and desolated." The latter has this further comment: "After the land of Israel shall have been laid waste, man and beast shall be cut off out of it. But under the beasts of the field the prophet does not mean the wild beasts, but the large domestic animals which dwell with the sons of men, likewise called חיה. It is also possible that even the beasts that roam at largo are included, for the wild beast does not come to inhabited places that are laid waste, unless they are partially inhabited." He also adds, in reference to the fowls of heaven, "When he speaks of the fowls of heaven, it is because most of the fowls do not dwell in the wilderness, but in inhabited places, where they find seeds and fruits and blossoms of trees. Or the fowls of heaven are mentioned by way of hyperbole to represent the matter in its totality; and, according to this sense, it is used in the Prophet Jeremiah; and it explains itself in like manner in one of these two ways." With the mourning of the land the dwellers therein languish. Nor is this languishing condition confined to rational beings; it comprises the irrational as well, and that without exception. The dominion assigned man at the beginning over the whole creation of God is here reversed in the case of Israel; while the denunciation of wrath has that reversal for its dark background. The terms of the dominion to man by the Creator are, "Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth;" but in this denunciation these terms are reversed and read backwards, being," with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also." Thus all nature, inanimate and animate, and all creation, rational and irrational, are involved in the consequences of Israel's sin. The particles "yea, even," preceding "the fishes of the sea" (such as the Sea of Galilee or other inland seas and rivers), show the entirely unexpected as well as unusual nature of the event. The Chaldee paraphrases the clause as follows: "And even the fishes of the sea shall be diminished in number, on account of their (Israel's) sins." Earth refuses sustenance to man and beast, no longer yielding grass for the cattle or herb for the service of man; the waters of the sea, being lessened by drought or becoming putrid by stagnation, no longer supply their accustomed quota of fishes for human food. An illustration of the literal sense has been quoted by Rosenmüller and Pusey from Jerome. It is the following: "Whoso believeth not that this befell the people of Israel, let him survey Illyricum, let him survey the Thraces, Macedonia, the Pannonias, and the whole land which stretches from the Propoutis and Dosphorus to the Julian Alps, and he will experience that, together with man, all the creatures also fail, which afore were nourished by the Creator for the service of man." The le before היis explained by Abarbanel in the sense of through, as though the inhabitants would be slain by wild beasts: by Hitzig as extending to; by Keil as of in enumeration. It is simply with. Verse 4 looks like an interjected clause, coming in the middle of the enumeration of Divine judgments; and the purpose is not so much to justify the severity of those judgments as to intimate their inefficacy, owing to the incorrigible character of the people. There is
(1) the rendering of the Authorized Version, Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another. This seems to show that mutual reproof was out of place, since one was as bad as another; or that every one was to look to his own sins, and not throw the blame on others; but this rendering is not tenable nor capable of being supported by such an expression as ish beish. The correct rendering
(2) is rather, only let no man strive (with them), and let no man reprove them. This imports
(a) that reasoning with them would be useless, and reproof thrown away, in consequence of the desperate obstinacy of these offenders; or
(b) that they were so self-willed that they would not allow any one to reprove them for their conduct.
(1) is favored by Kimchi: "Let a man not strive, nor reprove his fellow for his wickedness, for it profits him not, because he also does evil like him." The fact often experienced in a season of public calamity, that every one comes forth as a correcter of morals, and transfers to his neighbor the cause of such calamity, Hitzig illustrates by the following words of Curtius: "Quod in adversis rebus fieri solet, alius in allure culpam transferebat." The explanation (2, b), which is pretty much that of Ewald, is supported by the comments of Rashi and Aben Ezra. The former explains: "Ye warn the true prophets against striving with you and against reproving you;" the latter: "There is no one that strives with another or reproves him: and yet it was the right of the priest to reprove Israel; but now they turn to reprove the priest, for he also is wicked in his works." But
(3) Pusey's rendering, though only a slight modification of the preceding, conveys a different sense. It is "Only men let him not strive, and let not man reprove," which he explains as follows: "God had taken the controversy with his people into his own hands; the Lord, he said (verse 1), had a controversy (rib) with the inhabitants of the land. Here he forbids man to intermeddle; man let him not strive (he again uses the same word). The people were obstinate and would not hear … so God bids man to cease to speak in his Name. He himself alone will implead them, whose pleading none could evade or contradict." The rendering
(2) is, in our opinion, decidedly entitled to the preference both on the ground of simplicity and agreement with the following clause. That clause, for thy people are as they that strive with the priest, is thought by Abarbanel to allude to the opposition of Korah and his company to Aaron the high priest, as recorded in Numbers 16:1-50; and referred to in Psalms 106:1-48. In the former passage, at the eleventh verse, it is asked, "And what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?" while in the latter, at Psalms 106:16, we read the statement: "They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the Lord." This allusion, by which the Israelites of the prophet's day were compared to the Korathires, will appear to most as far-fetched.
(1) The usual acceptation is both simpler and more satisfactory. It takes the expression to denote such contumacy as is reproved in Deuteronomy 17:12, "The man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel." The contumaciousness of Israel is thus compared to that of persons who were so obstinate and presumptuous as neither to obey nor reverence, but rather rebel against, the true priests of Jehovah, who, in his Divine Name and by Divine authority, instructed or reproved. Such persons neither feared God nor regarded man. It was the refractoriness of pupils acting in opposition to their teacher, or of a people rising in rebellion against their spiritual instructors. Thus the Chaldee understands it: "And thy people contend [quarrel] with their teachers." The last clause of Deuteronomy 17:4 is fairly well explained by Kimchi (except that he explains kaph of certainty and not similitude) as follows: "The prophet says, The priest should have taught, striven with, and reproved the people; but at this time the people strive with the priest; for it is not enough that they do not receive his reproof, but they strive with and reprove him, after the way they say, 'A generation that judges its judges.' Or the explanation is, 'The priest is as wicked as they, and if he reproves them so also they reprove him.'"
(2) The LXX. has ὡς ἀντι λεγόμενος ἱερεὺς, as a priest spoken against. The text being thus somewhat doubtful, Michaelis made a very slight change in the pointing, putting a patach instead of tsere in the word for "contend;" thus: כִמְרבַי instead of כִמְרִיבֵי, so that the translation would be, "And thy people are as my adversaries (those who contend with me), O priest." The people that should have learnt the Law from the lips of the priest would not even submit to reproof from the Most High himself. The expression, "priest-disputers" or "priest-gainsayers," is admittedly an unusual one, and given as a specimen of the peculiarities of this prophet's style, to which, however, there is a parallel in "boundary-movers" (cf. Hosea 5:10). Still, we see no real advantage gained by the conjectural emendation of Michaelis, though some are disposed to accept it on the ground that the representation of the incorrigibleness of a people by gainsaying opposition to the priest appears incongruous with the immediately succeeding denunciation of the priesthood. The objection is obviated by understanding, as above, opposition to the true priests of the Lord. Another conjectural reading is that of Beck, via וְעַמִּי כַכְּמָרָיו, equivalent to "and my people are like their priests." Such conjectural emendation is needless as useless.
The parallelism of this verse is marked by the peculiarity of dividing between the two members what belongs to the sentence as one whole. Instead of saying that the people would fall (literally, stumble) in the day, and the prophet with them in the night, the meaning of the sentence, divested of its peculiar form of parallelism, is that people and prophet alike would fall together, at all times, both by day and by night, that is to say, there would be no time free from the coming calamities; and there would be no possibility of escape, either for the sinful people or their unfaithful priests; the darkness of the night would not hide them, the light of the day would not aid them; destruction was the doom of priests and people, inevitable and at all times. And I will destroy thy mother. Their mother was the whole nation as such—the kingdom of Israel. The expression is somewhat contemptuous, as though he said of the individual members that they were truly their mother's children—resembling her erewhile in sin and soon in sorrow.
(1) Though the verb דמה is seldom used in Qal to denote "likeness," Abarbanel, as quoted by Rosenmüller, translates, "I have been like thy mother," and explains of the people addressing priest and prophet as a mother reproving her petulant children in order to improve them. Besides the far-fetched nature of such a rendering, there is the formidable grammatical objection that, in the sense of "similitude," this verb requires to be constructed with le or el. so that it should be le immeka or el immeka. "This word, when derived from demuth, likewise has el with seghol after it; but without el, it has the meaning of destroy," is the statement of Aben Ezra. The LXX; assigning to the verb the sense of "similarity," renders the phrase by πυκτὶ ὀμοίωσα τὴν μητέρα σου, "I have compared thy mother to night."
(2) Jerome, connecting the verb with דוּם or דָמַם, understands it in the sense of "silence:" "I have made thy mother silent in the night; that is, "Israel is delivered up in the dark night of captivity, sorrow, and overwhelming distress." The Syriac likewise has: "And thy mother has become silent" (if shathketh be read). The Chaldee, though more periphrastic, brings out nearly the same sense: "I will overspread your assembly with stupefaction." To the same purport is the exposition of Rashi: "My people shall be stupefied as a man who sits and is overwhelmed with stupor, so that no answer is heard from his mouth." The meaning "destroy" is well supported by the cognate Arabic, and gives a good sense; thus Gesenius renders: "I destroy thy mother, that is, lay waste thy country." Rather, the nation, collectively, is the mother; while the members individually are the children. Nor shall private persons escape in the public catastrophe—root and branch are to perish. Kimchi's comment on דמיחי is: "I will cut off the whole congregation, so that no congregation shall remain in Israel; for they shall be scattered in the exile, the one here, the other there."
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Here the verb is plural and its subject singular, because, being collective, it comprehends all the individual members of the nation. The word כדמו is rendered
(1) by Jerome in the sense of "silence:" "conticuit populus incus," which he explains to mean "sinking into eternal silence." So also the Chaldee.
(2) The LXX; understands it in the sense of "likeness:" "My people are like (ὡμοιώθη) as if they had no knowledge." Aben Ezra disproves this sense as follows: "This word, if it were from the root signifying 'likeness,' would have after it el with seghol, as, 'To [el with seghol] whom art thou like in thy greatness?' (Ezekiel 31:2); but without the word el it has the meaning of ' cutting off.'" So Kimchi: "Here also it has the sense of 'cutting off.'" The article before "knowledge" implies renewed mention and refers to the word in verse 1; or it may emphasize the word as that knowledge by way of eminence, which surpasses all other knowledge, and without which no other knowledge can really prove a blessing in the end. The knowledge of God is the most excellent of all sciences. Paul counted all things but loss in comparison with its possession; and our blessed Lord himself says, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;" while the Prophet Isaiah attributed the captivity to its absence: "My people are gone into captivity because they have no knowledge." Because thou hast rejected knowledge … seeing thou hast forgotten the Law of thy Son. The cause of this ignorance is here charged on the unfaithfulness of the priesthood. They rejected knowledge and forgot the Law of their God. The two concluding clauses of this verse may be regarded as "split members" of a single sentence. As rejection implies the presence of the object rejected, while forgetfulness implies its absence from the mind or memory, some have understood rejection of knowledge as the sin of the priest, and forgetfulness that of the people. This separation is not necessary, for what men continue for a time to despise they will by-and-by forget. The forgetfulness is thus an advance upon rejection. The sin of these priests was very great, for, while the priests' lips were required to keep knowledge, they neither preserved that knowledge themselves nor promoted it among the people; hence the indignant and direct address. Thus Kimchi says: "He addresses the priestly order that existed at that time: Thou hast rejected he knowledge for thyself and to teach it to the people, consequently I will reject thee from being a priest unto me. Since thou dost not exercise the office of priest, which is to teach the Law, I will reject thee so that thou shalt not be a priest in my house." I will also reject thee that thou shalt be no priest to me … I will also forget thy children, even I. The punishment resembles the offence; the human delinquency is reflected in the Divine retaliation. To make this the more pointed, the "thou on thy part (attah)" at the head of the sentence has its counterpart, or rather is counterbalanced by the "even I" or "I too (gam ani)" at its close. The severity of the punishment is augmented by the threat that, not only the then existing priests, but their sons after them, would be excluded from the honor of the priesthood. This was touching painfully the tenderest part. It needs scarcely be observed that forgetfulness is only spoken of God in a figurative sense, and after the manner of men, that being forgotten which is no longer the object of attention or affection. "The meaning of אשׁ fo g," says Kimchi, "is by way of figure, like the man who forgets something and does not take it to heart." The unusual form אֶמְאָסְאָךָ has been variously accounted for. The Massorites mark the aleph before caph as redundant; it is omitted in several manuscripts of Kennicott and De Rossi, as also some of the early printed editions. Kimchi confesses his ignorance of its use. Olshausen treats it as a copyist's error; but Ewald "regards it as an Aramaean pausal form." Some take the reference to be to Israel as a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6) rather than to the actual priesthood.
Hosea 4:7, Hosea 4:8
As they were increased; rather, multiplied. Whether כְּרֻבָּם be taken as infinitive with suffix and prefix, or as a noun, it will amount to the same. The reference is rather to the multitude of the population than to the greatness of their prosperity or the abundance of their wealth. In the latter sense it is understood by the Chaldee paraphrase, but in the former by the Syriac translator. So also Kimchi, where he says, "As for Aaron the priest their father, the Law of truth was in his mouth; but now that his sons have multiplied and spread abroad, they have sinned against me and forgotten my law; according as I did them good they did evil." He also gives as the explanation of others, "As I increased them in wealth and riches, they sinned against me." Their glory will I change into shame. The "therefore" of the Authorized Version is inserted unnecessarily. Both the Chaldee and Syriac render, "And they changed their glory into shame;" as they took אָמִיר for the infinitive הָמִיר, and that in the sense of the preterit; or the infinitive in the gerundival sense: "changing their glory into shame." Kimchi explains the meaning correctly: "Therefore I made them beads over the people and expiators, yet if they do not observe my Law I will change their glory into shame; and the people will contemn and despise them." Their numbers multiplied with the multiplication of idols, and the apostasy of the people kept pace with both; and now as a fit punishment they are to be deprived of their priestly glory—their dignity and splendor. They eat up the sin of my people. The word חַטַּאה may be understood in either of two senses; and the meaning of the verse will correspond thereto. It may either mean that these faithless priests lived upon the sin of the people, deriving their livelihood and profit from the people's idolatrous practices; or that they were delighted with their sin, approving rather than reproving them for the same. The other explanation understands the word of sin offering, and is thus expressed by Kimchi: "They are only priests for eating up the sin and trespass offering which the people offer on account of sins, not for teaching the Law or right way." To their iniquity they lift up (each one) his soul. They set their heart upon and eagerly desire the continued practice of sin on the part of the people that they may profit by the sacrifices. Thus Kimchi explains this clause in accordance with his exposition of the former: "The priests lift up every one his soul to the sin of the people, saying, When will they sin, and bring sin offering and trespass offering that we may eat?"
Like people, like priest. As it had fared with the people who had sinned and had been punished, as is stated in the third and fifth verses; so shall it be with the priest or whole priestly order. He has involved himself in sin and punishment like the people, and that as the consequence of his extreme unfaithfulness; whereas by faithful dealing with the people and discharge of his duty he might have delivered his own soul, as stated by Ezekiel 33:9, "Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul." It is well explained by Kimchi as follows: "These two caphs of likeness are by way of abbreviation, and the explanation is—the people are like the priest and the priest is like the people. And the meaning is that, as the people and the priest are equal with respect to sin, so shall they be equal in relation to punishment." And I will visit upon his ways, and his doings I will bring back to him. The retribution here threatened includes the whole priestly order, not people and priest as one man, according to Pusey, who, however, makes the following excellent comment on מעלליו: "The word rendered doings signifies great doings when used of God, bold doings on the part of man. These bold presumptuous doings against the Law and will of God, God will bring back to the sinner's bosom," or rather, down overwhelmingly upon his head. The singular individualizes; so both Aben Ezra and Kimchi: "Upon every one of them."
For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase. This part of the verso states the punishment to be inflicted and the reward to be received; it is thus an expansion of the closing clause of the preceding verse, with an obvious allusion to the sin specified in the eighth verse. To eat and not be satisfied may occur in time of famine, or be the effect of disease or the consequence of insatiable craving. "Since," says Kimchi, "they eat in an unlawful manner, their food shall not be to them a blessing." This was one of the punishments threatened for violation of the Law, as we read in Leviticus 26:26, "When I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied." Further, the multiplication of wives or concubines would not increase their posterity; Solomon long previously had been a notable exemplification of this. "So in their cohabitation with their women, since it is in a whorish manner, they shall not increase, for they shall not have children by them; or, if they have, they shall die from the birth." The Hiph. hiznu has rather the intensive sense of Qal than that of causing or encouraging whoredom. Because they have left off to take heed to the Lord. The verbal lishmor either
(1) has Jehovah for its object, as in the Authorized Version; or
(2) durko or darkair may be supplied, as is done by Kimchi and Aben Ezra. The former has, "To observe his ways, for they have no delight in him and in his ways; to observe his ways they have left off;" the latter has, "They have forsaken Jehovah, to observe his way or his Laws." But
(3) Kimchi informs us that "Saadiah Gaon of blessed memory has connected the word with the verse that comes after it; they have forsaken the Lord to observe whoredom and wine and new wine."
It makes no great difference whether we regard this verse as concluding the foregoing or commencing a new paragraph, though we prefer the latter mode of connecting it. It states the debasing influence which debauchery and drunkenness are known to exercise over both head and heart: they dull the faculties of the former and deaden the affections of the latter. The heart is not only the seat of the affections, as with us; it comprises also the, intellect and hill; while the word יִקַּת is not so much to take away as to captivate the heart, Rashi gives the former sense: "The whoredom and drunkenness to which they are devoted take away their heart from me." Kimchi's explanation is judicious: "The whoredom to which they surrender themselves and the constant drunkenness which they practice take their heart, so that they have no understanding to perceive what is the way of goodness along which they should go." He further distinguishes the tirosh from the yayin, remarking that the former is the new wine which takes the heart and suddenly intoxicates. The prophet, having had occasion to mention the sin of whoredom in Hosea 4:10, makes a general statement about the consequences of that sin combined with drunkenness in Hosea 4:10, as not only debasing, but depriving men of the right use of their reason and the proper exercise of their natural affections. The following verses afford abundant evidence of all this in the insensate conduct of Israel at the time referred to.
The first of these verses exhibits the private life of the people as depraved by sin and folly; the second their public life as degraded by idolatry and lewdness; while the third points to the corresponding chastisement and its cause. My people ask counsel at their stocks (literally, wood), and their staff declareth unto them. Rashi explains "stocks," or literally, "wood," to mean "a graven image made out of wood;" while Aben Ezra prefaces his exposition of this by an observation which serves well as a link of connection between the eleventh and twelfth verses. It is as follows: "The sign that they are in reality without heart, is that my people turn to ask counsel of its stocks and wood." Kimchi not inaptly remarks, "They are like the blind man to whom his staff points out the way in which he should go." The stupidity of idolatry and the sin of divination are hero combined. By the "wood" is meant an idol carved out of wood; while the staff may likewise have an image carved at the top for idolatrous purposes, or it may denote mode of divination by a staff which by the way it fell determined their course. Theophylaet explains this method of divination as follows: "They set up two rods, and muttered some verses and enchantments; and then the rods falling through the influence of demons, they considered how they fell, whether forward or backward, to the right or the left, and so gave answers to the foolish people, using the fall of the rods for signs." Cyril, who attributes the invention of rabdomancy to the Chaldeans, gives the same account of this method of divination. Herodotus mentions a mode of divination prevalent among the Scythians by means of willow rods; and Tacitus informs us that the Germans divined by a rod cut from a fruit-bearing tree. "They (the Germans) cut a twig from a fruit tree, and divide it into small pieces, which, distinguished by certain marks, are thrown promiscuously on a white garment. Then the priest or 'the canton, it' the occasion be public—if private, the master of the family—after an invocation of the gods, with his eyes lifted up to heaven, thrice takes out each piece, and as they come up, interprets their signification according to the marks fixed upon them." The sin and folly of any people consulting an idol of wood about the success or otherwise of an undertaking, or deciding whether by a species of teraphim or staff divination, is sufficiently obvious. But the great aggravation of Israel's sin arose from the circumstance not obscurely hinted by the possessive "my" attached to "people." That a people like Israel, whom God had chosen from among the nations of the earth and distinguished by special tokens of Divine favor, and to whom he had given the ephod with the truly oracular Urim and Thummim, should forsake him and the means he had given them of knowing his will, and turn aside to gods of wood, evinced at once stupidity unaccountable and sin inexcusable. "The prophet," says Calvin, "calls here the Israelites the people of God, not to honor them, but rather to increase their sin; for the more heinous was the perfidy of the people, that, having been chosen, they had afterwards forsaken their heavenly Father… Now this people, that ought to be mine, consult their own wood, and their staff answers them!" For the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a-whoring from under their God. In this part of the verse the prophet attempts to account for the extreme folly and heinous sin of Israel, as described in the first clause. It was an evil spirit, some demoniac power, that had inspired them with an insuperable fondness for idolatry, which in prophetic language is spiritual adultery. The consequence was a sad departure from the true God and a sinful wandering away from his worship, notwithstanding his amazing condescension and love by which he placed himself in the relation of a husband towards them.
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good. The prophet here enlarges on the sin of idolatry mentioned in the preceding verse, and explains fully how it showed itself in the public life of the people. Two places are specified as scenes of idolatrous worship: one was the tops of mountains and hills; the other under every green tree, here specified as oaks, poplars, and terebinths, whether growing alone or in groves, in vale or upland. The hills and mountain-tops were selected on account of their elevation, as though the worshippers were thus brought nearer to the objects of their adoration; the green trees as affording shade from the scorching heat of an Eastern sun, secrecy for their licentious rites, and a sort of solemn awe associated with such shadow. In such scenes they not only slew victims, but burnt odors in honor of their idols. The resemblance to, if not imitation of, the rites of heathenism in all this is obvious. Among the Greeks the oak was sacred to Jupiter at Dodona, and among the old Britons the Druidical priests practiced their superstitions in the shadow of the yaks. The poplar again was sacred to Hercules, affording a most grateful shade; while in Ezekiel 6:13 we read that "under every thick terebinth" was one of the places where "they did offer sweet savor to their idols." The inveterate custom of these idolaters is implied in the Piel or iterative form of the verb; the singular of the nouns, under oak and poplar and terebinth, intimates that scene after scene of Israel's sin passes under the prophet's review, each exciting his deep indignation; the mention of the goodly shadow seems designed to heighten that feeling of just indignation, as though it came into competition or comparison with "the shadow of the Almighty," the abiding-place of him that "dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High." Therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses (properly, daughters-in-law) shall commit adultery. כַּלָּה primarily signifies "bride," but for the parents of the bridegroom, "daughter-in-law," its secondary sense. The bad example of the parents acts upon their children and reacts upon themselves; on their children in causing bad conduct, on themselves by way of chastisements. The parents had been guilty of spiritual whoredom by their idolatry; their daughters and daughters-in-law would commit whoredom in the literal and carnal sense. This would wound the parents' feelings to the quick and pain them in the tenderest part. Their personal honor would be compromised by such scandalous conduct on the part of their daughters; their family honor would be wounded and the fair fame of posterity tarnished by such gross misconduct on the part of the daughters-in-law. The following observations are made on the last member of this thirteenth verse by the Hebrew commentators: "Because the men of the house go out of the city to the high mountains and under every green tree there to serve idols, therefore their daughters and daughters-in-law have opportunity to commit whoredom and adultery" (Kimchi). To like purpose Aben Ezra writes: "The sense is—On the bare mountains and so on the hills they sacrifice; they say to the priests of Baal that they shall sacrifice; and therefore, because the men go out of the cities in order to burn incense, the daughters and daughters-in-law remain in the houses behind, therefore they commit whoredom." Somewhat different is the explanation of Rashi: "Because ye associate for idolatry after the manner of the heathen, and the heathen associate with you, and ye form affinities with them, your daughters also who are born to you by the daughters of the heathen conduct themselves after the manner of their mothers, and commit whoredom."
I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery. The spiritual adultery of parents and husbands would be punished by the carnal adultery of daughters and wives; sin would thus be punished by sin. Their own dishonor and disgrace, through the unfaithfulness of persons so near to them, would impress them with a sense of the dishonor done to God, the spiritual Husband of his people; their feeling of pain and shame in consequence would convey to them a clearer notion of the abhorrence which their offences had occasioned to God. But their punishment would become more severe, and their pain intensified by the Divine refusal to avenge them by punishing the lewdness that caused such dishonor. While punishment would prevent the sin and consequent reproach, impunity, or the postponement of punishment, would leave the offenders to go on in their course of sin and shame. Aben Ezra comments on this fourteenth verse as follows: "The sense is—It is not to be wondered at if the daughters commit whoredom; for they themselves, when they go up to the tops of the mountains to burn in-cerise, eat and drink with harlots and commit whoredom—all of them. And, behold, the sense is, not that he shall not punish them at all, but he speaks in regard to, i.e. in comparison with, the fathers; for they teach them to commit whoredom doing according to their works. Perhaps the daughters are still little, therefore I shall not punish." Rashi thinks that this threatening refers to the disuse of the bitter waters of jealousy, so that suspected guilt could not be detected. But there is nothing to intimate such a reference; nor would it be in keeping with the scope of the passage. Again, some, as in the margin of the Authorized Version, read the words, not indicatively, but interrogatively—"Shall I not punish," etc.? This would require such a meaning to be read into the passage as the following: "Assuredly I shall punish them; and not the daughters and daughters-in-law only, but the parents and husbands still more severely, because of their greater criminality." Equally unsatisfactory is the explanation of Theodoret, who, taking פָקַד in a good sense, which it has with the accusative, understands it of God's refusing any protection or preservation of their daughters and spouses from outrage at the hands of a hostile soldiery, so that such sins as they themselves had been guilty in private, would be committed with the females of their family in public. For they themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots. The change of person appears to imply that God turns away with inexpressible disgust from such vileness, and, turning aside to a third party, explains the grounds of his procedure. The Qedesheth were females who devoted themselves to licentiousness in the service of Ashtaroth, the Sidonian Venus. Persons of this description were attached to idol temples and idolatrous worship in heathen lands in ancient times, as in India at the present time. The 'Speaker's Commentary' calls them "devotee-harlots," and cites an allusion to the custom from the Moabite Stone, as follows: "I did not kill the women and maidens, for I devoted them to Ashtar-kemosh." After stating the humiliating fact that fathers and husbands in Israel, instead of uniting with their wives in the worship of Jehovah, separated themselves, going aside with these female idolaters for the purpose of lewdness, and shared in their sacrificial feasts, the prophet, or rather God by the prophet, impatient of the recital of such shameless licentiousness, and indignant at such presumptuous sinning, closes abruptly with the declaration of the recklessness, and denunciation of the ruin of all such offenders, in the words—the people that doth not understand shall fall; margin, be punished; rather, dashed to the ground, or plunge into ruin (nilbat). Both Aben Ezra and Kimchi give from the Arabic, as an alternative sense of silbat, to fall into error.
In this section the prophet, as if despairing of any improvement or amendment on the part of Israel, still resolutely bent on spiritual whoredom, addresses an earnest warning to Judah. From proximity to those idolatries and debaucheries so prevalent in this northern kingdom, and from the corruption at least of the court in the southern kingdom during the reigns of Joram, Ahaziah, and Ahaz, Judah was in danger; and hence the prophet turned aside, with words of earnest warning, to the sister kingdom not to involve herself in the same or similar guilt. Rashi's brief comment here is, "Let not the children of Judah learn their ways."
And come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-avert, nor swear, The Lord liveth. From a solemn warning in general terms, he proceeds to a specific prohibition. The prohibition forbids pilgrimages to places of idol-worship, such as Gilgal and Bethaven; it also forbids a profession of Jehovah-worship to be made by persons inclined to idolatrous practices. Gilgal, now the village of Jiljilia, which had been a school of the prophets in the days of Elijah and Elisha, had, as we may rightly infer from passages in Hoses and Amos, become a seat of idolatrous worship. The Hebrew interpreters confound the Gilgal here referred to with the still more renowned Gilgal between Jericho and the Jordan, where Joshua circumcised the people a second time, and celebrated the Passover, and where, manna failing, the people ate of the old corn of the land. "And why," asks Kimchi, "to Gilgal? Because at Gilgal the sanctuary was at the first when they entered the land; therefore when they went to worship idols they built high places there for the idols. But with respect to the tribe of Judah, what need has it to go to Gilgal and to leave the house of the sanctuary which is in their own cities?" And Beth-el, now Beitin, had become Beth-avon—the house of God a house of idols, after Jeroboam had set up the calf there. Judah was to eschew those places so perilous to purity of worship; also a practice hypocritical in its nature and highly dangerous in its tendency, namely, confessing Jehovah with the lips, and by a solemn act of attestation indicative of adherence to his worship, but belying that confession by complicity in idolatrous practices, like the peoples who "worshipped Jehovah, but served their own gods." Kimchi observes as follows: "For ye engage in strange worship, and yet swear by the Name of Jehovah; this is the way of incensing and despising him."
For Israel slideth back as a back, sliding heifer: now the Lord will feed them s, a lamb in a large place. This verse conveys the reason of the warning contained in the preceding; and that reason is the punishment which is to overtake Israel as the consequence of their refractoriness. If this view of the connection be correct, it will help to the right understanding of a difficult passage. The "backsliding," according to the Authorized Version, is rather "stubbornness," "intractableness," or "unmanageableness." Keil renders it "refractory." This refractoriness was Israel's sin; the people would have their own way, and became refractory, like an unmanageable heifer, which rebels upon being trained. Aben Ezra explains סֹרֵרָה (which, by the way, has tsere before the tone syllable) as follows: "סי is he who turns aside from the way that is appointed him, so that he does not walk in it. And, behold, he compares Israel to a stubborn cow, with which a man cannot plough." So also Kimchi: "Like a heifer which goes on a crooked way, and curves itself from under the yoke, that a man cannot plough with it; so Israel are crooked under their God, as they have taken upon them the yoke of the Law and of the command-meats which he commanded them, and curve themselves under the yoke, and break from off them the yoke of the commandments." Israel rebelled against instruction, waxed stubborn and intractable. They would have their own way, and worshipped according to their own will, in indulging all the while with a high hand in vilest lusts. Now the season of punishment is arrived; and as they refused instruction and rebelled against Divine guidance, God, in just judgment and deserved punishment, leaves them to themselves. Carried into captivity, they may worship what they will, and live as they list. In these circumstances they will resemble a lamb taken away into a wilderness, and left there to range the wild and live at large, but without provision and without protection. Untended by the shepherd's watchful care, unguarded from ravening wolves or other beasts of prey, that lamb is in a lost and perishing condition. So shall it be with Israel. Aben Ezra gives as an alternative sense: "Now (Jehovah will feed them like a lamb) alone in a wide place, and it wanders to and fro." Kimchi cites as the opinion of others: "Some say, Now will Jehovah let them feed alone in a wide place, like a lamb which bleats and goes to and fro, and neither rests nor feeds." Another meaning has been attached to the verse, to the effect that Israel, subdued by chastise-meat, will renounce their stubbornness, and, rendered tractable and tame, become like a lamb, which, brought to feel its helplessness amid a wilderness, requires and receives the shepherd's care. We much prefer the former.
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone. Ephraim being the dominant tribe, gave its name to the northern kingdom. The idols were Ephraim's folly, and to that they were wedded; and in consequence they are left to their folly, and at the same time surrendered to their fate. They may persist in their folly; they cannot be prevented. "Give him rest," as the words literally mean, from exhortations and expostulations, from remonstrances and reproofs; he will persist in his folly, prepare for his fate, and perish by his sin. This abandonment of Ephraim proves the desperate nature of his case. Left to his own recklessness, he is rushing towards ruin. Judah is warned to stand aloof from the contagion, lest by interference he might get implicated in the sin and involved in the punishment of Ephraim. The Hebrew commentators express the word rendered "joined to" in the Authorized Version (Hosea 4:17) by words importing "yoked to," "allied with," and "cleaving to." Again, הַנַה, imperative of הֵנִחַ, is explained by them as follows:—Rashi: "Leave off, O prophet, and prophesy not to reprove him, for it is of no use." Aben Ezra: "Let him alone till God shall chastise him; perhaps his eyes shall then open." Kimchi: "Jehovah says to the prophet, Cease to reprove him, for it is of no use ... As a man who is angry with his fellow, because he will not hearken to him when he reproves him, and says, Since thou hearkenest not to me, I will cease for ever to reprove thee."
Hosea 4:18, Hosea 4:19
The first of these two verses gives a picture of the degeneracy of the times; the second predicts the destruction that would ensue. Their drink is sour (margin, is gone): they have committed whoredom continually. If the first clause be taken literally,
(1) it denotes a charge of drunkenness preferred against Ephraim. To this vice the people of the northern kingdom, as is well known, were addicted: the wine, from oft-repeated potations, became sour in the stomach and produced loathsome eructations.
(2) Some, connecting closely the first and second clauses, and translating as in the margin, explain the meaning to be that "when their intoxication is gone they commit whoredom." But though drunkenness and debauchery frequently go together, it is rather during the former than afterwards that the latter is indulged in.
(3) The first clause had better be understood figuratively, and the latter either literally or figuratively, or both. Thus the sense is the degeneracy of principle among the people in general, or rather among the principal men of that day. By the finest wine becoming vapid, the prophet represents the leading men of the nation, on whom so much depended and from whom so much might be expected, as becoming unprincipled, and as being addicted to immorality or idolatry, or probably both (hazneh hiznu): "whoring they have committed whoredom."
(1) Her rulers (margin, shields) with shame do love, Give ye; or rather,
(2) her shields lore, love shame. The first takes הֵביּ for הָבוּ, as imperative of יָהַב, to give, and should rather be, "Her shields love, ' Give ye—shame, as there is no preposition before the word "shame;" even thus it is awkward. Most modern expositors take הֵבוּ as a contraction of אָהֵב ו, and so a repetition of part of the full verb preceding; thus: אָחְבוּ הֵבוּ, equivalent to "loved, loved." Ewald, Delitzsch, and Pusey understand it so; the latter says this "is probably one of the earliest forms of the intensive verb, repeating a part of the verb itself with its inflection." And Keil calls it "a construction resembling the pealal form." Among the sebirin, or conjectural readings, we find both words united into one; thus: אֲהַבהֵבוּ, equivalent to "mightily love." The shields are the princes, or natural protectors of the state, as in Psalms 47:9, "The princes of the people are gathered together.; for the shields of the earth be. long unto God." The shame they loved was the sin which is a shame to either princes or people, causes shame, and ends in shame. Isaiah expounds the thought (in Isaiah 1:22), a comparison of which confirms the above exposition.
(1) The wind hath bound her up in her wings; or,
(2) she hath bound up the wind with her in her skirts.
In the one case the wind is the strong storm-wind of Divine wrath that will seize on Ephraim, wrap her up with its wings, and carry her away. In the other, Ephraim wraps up the wind, that is, disappointment, the result of her sin, in the fold of her skirt. The
(1) translation of the first clause of verse 19 is supported by Rashi: "The storm takes her in its wings, as that bird which the wind does not let rest until it makes him go far away; so the enemies will come upon them and carry them into exile." Translation
(2) is favored by Aben Ezra and Kimchi; the former says, "As the man who binds the wind in the folds of his robe without finding anything therein." And they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices. Frustrated in her hopes, and disappointed by the idols, from which she hoped so much and got so little, she is ashamed of the sacrifices she offered them; not of the altars (LXX), for the preposition min is indispensable.
Israel's sin and consequent suffering.
The prophet is Jehovah's mouth-piece, and as such he calls on his fellow-men to hear the word of the Lord; he thus speaks by commission and with authority. Having thus claimed an attentive hearing in his Master's Name, he denounces Israel's sins, and declares the judgments that await them. In this discharge of his duty the prophet has a twofold object in view. By his timely and truthful warning he hopes to reclaim some, at least, of his countrymen, and in any case he means to leave all without excuse. God by his ambassador displays in this way both his mercy and his justice. His mercy in that he speaks to them before he strikes them—he warns them of their danger while it is yet impending, and before they are actually involved in it; his justice—for he condescends to debate the matter with his people, and convince them of the reasonableness of his dealings, that they may see that he does not contend with them without cause, and that when he is forced to execute sentence for their sills, that sentence has been well deserved.
I. RELIGION IS THE SURE FOUNDATION OF MORALITY. True religion begins with a saving knowledge of God. This is the fountain-head; moral duties are the salutary streams that issue from it. Godliness is the source of uprightness; piety towards God produces propriety of conduct in demeaning ourselves and in dealing with others; where the right knowledge of God is absent, we need not expect truth or mercy among men. On the contrary, a profession of piety without the performance of duty to our fellows God will disown; without truth and mercy religion is only a pretence, a painful hypocrisy. Religion, then, is the rich soil in which virtue strikes root and its growth is maintained.
II. THE RELATION OF THE VIRTUES HERE SPECIFIED. With regard to mercy and truth, Kimchi has well remarked that "no truth" imports that there is "no one doing the truth, and no one speaking the truth;" while on the words "nor mercy," he adds, "Hew much [does it follow thence] that there is no mercy, for mercy is the superabundance of goodness over and above what is meet; and as to him who does not maintain either truth or justice, how much less will he show mercy?" The combination of truth, mercy, and knowledge of God may be compared with the triple duties specified by Micah, as doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God; and with the apostolic triad of living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. In each of these our duty to ourselves, to our neighbor, and to our God is expressed; so, too, in the verse before us. While mercy mainly respects the duty we owe our fellow-man, and knowledge of God our relation to him, truth has to do with a man himself as well as with his neighbor. We are to be true to conscience, seeking to have it enlightened, striving to keep it clear, and having the courage of our convictions. We are to be true to ourselves, in our strangely composite personality; true to the soul by seeking its salvation, for "what shall it profit a man, should he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" true to the body by preserving its purity, maintaining its sobriety, and securing its health, that we may possess a sound mind in a sound body. Of course, truth has large scope in our intercourse with others. We are required to be truthful in our utterances, true to our promises, true in all our engagements, true and just in all our dealings. The duty of mercy, in a world where sin has wrought such ruin and caused such misery, is obvious. As sinful creatures, we need the mercy of our Creator; as suffering, sorrowful beings, we are strongly obligated to the exercise of mercy towards each other.
"The quality of mercy is not strain'd:
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
The mightiest in the mightiest;…"
"In the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation."
III. OMISSIONS SOON MAKE WAY FOR COMMISSIONS. When the duties of truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God were omitted, the grossest sins succeeded and took their place. But we must notice the expression, "in the land;" this appears to mean more than the general prevalence of such through all this country; it seems to hint at Israel's ingratitude. God had given them that good land, where God should have had grateful worshippers and a holy people. Kimchi makes the following judicious comment on this subject: "I have a controversy with them (the inhabitants of the land of Israel), for I gave them the land conditionally that they should exercise justice and judgment; and herein I made a covenant with them, that my eyes should be upon it from the beginning of the year even to the end of the year. But since they acted in a way contrary to this—perjuring, stealing, and committing adultery—I also will act towards them in a way contrary to what I promised, and hide my face from them; and the land shall mourn, and all the dwellers in it shall languish." The sins committed by Israel at this period evidence an almost disorganized state of society. The most important duties were omitted and the most enormous sins committed; nor was this strange, when there was no knowledge of God in the land; and yet this very circumstance was the great aggravation both of their omissions and commissions. It was the privilege of the highly favored inhabitants of that land to know God; as we read, "In Judah is God known: his Name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling-place in Zion." But while both tables of the Law were transgressed, and fearfully transgressed, the violations of the sixth commandment were something shocking. This black feature in Israel's iniquity is made prominent by the prophet, and specially noticed by the Hebrew expositors. Rashi says, "They multiply the shedding of bloods until the blood of one slain man touches the blood of his neigh-bout;" and Kimchi's comment is, "The bloods of the slain touch one another from abundance." Though we may not be able to fix with certainty the period referred to, it may with considerable probability be conjectured that about this time the numerous and dreadful regicides occurred. Shallum slaying Zechariah; Menahem slaying Shallure; Pekah slaying Pekahiah; and Hoshea slaying Pekah; so that "the land was polluted with blood."
IV. HUMAN SINFULNESS DRAPES NATURE IN WEEDS OF WOE. We have here at once an expansion and illustration of the sentiment of the psalm (Psalms 107:33, Psalms 107:34), "He turneth … a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein." Man and beast, fish and fowl alike, are sufferers in consequence of human sin. The whole creation groaneth and suffereth together in consequence of the creature having been subjected to vanity. "When," says Jerome, on this verse, "the inhabitant is removed, the beasts also, and fowls of heaven, and fishes of the sea shall fail; and even the dumb elements shall feel the wrath of God." Many actual illustrations of this state of things, we doubt not, had taken place in the history of Israel, as in the days of Ahab and many a time besides. When rain was long delayed and drought ensued, the land mourned and its inhabitants languished.
V. PERVERSENESS IS A PREPARATIVE FOR DESTRUCTION. When people become so froward and perverse as to be beyond reproof, so that God says of them, as he does in effect of Israel in this passage, "Let them proceed and reproof cease," they are on the very verge of a fearful precipice. Israel had gone so far towards that perilous position that no private person was permitted to warn, if so disposed, or reason with his neighbor; not even the priest, God's appointed minister, in those days dared venture to do so, or if he did it was labor lost. They stumble and fall, teacher and taught, prophet and people together. As also both night and day alike; by day, when danger was least and the disgrace greatest; in the night season, when darkness made destruction inevitable. Worst of all, no helper to be hoped for; or, rather, the mother—she that might be expected to hold up or lift up her children—is herself doomed. That mother, whether Samaria, the mother city, or the commonwealth itself, the mother of them all, was devoted to the silence of destruction.
Priestly neglect and its consequences.
This section deals with the sin and punishment of the priests, as the preceding one had described the sin and punishment of the people. The priests here referred to were probably Levitical priests still scattered through the northern kingdom, since God speaks of them as his priests; while those which Jeroboam appointed out of other tribes than that of Levi, and from all, even the lowest, ranks of society, were rather priests for the worship of the calves.
I. MINISTERIAL UNFAITHFULNESS. The ignorance of the people is here attributed to priestly negligence. They disliked and despised the knowledge of God for themselves, and consequently had no heart for dispensing it to others. The means available for knowing God they did not take advantage of, and accordingly their own ignorance unfitted them for instructing the people. Idleness combined with indifference in the ease of these unfaithful ministers of religion, so that they were neither rightly instructed themselves nor capable of instructing others; while their carelessness increased their incapacity. It is incumbent on all public teachers to be diligent in their private studies; and a fearful responsibility is incurred by those who, appointed to instruct others in religious matters, refuse to take the pains necessary to qualify them for the efficient discharge of such important duty. It is a grievous sin for ministers of religion to serve God with what costs them nothing, and so to feed God's people with husks instead of the finest of the wheat. How different is the picture our Lord gives us of one who is faithful to such an important trust! "Therefore," he says, "every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old."
II. THE PUNISHMENT CORRESPONDS TO THEIR SIN. They had rejected Divine knowledge; God rejects their priestly services. They had forgotten the Law from disuse, no doubt having previously forsaken it; God threatens to forget them, and, what was more galling, their children after them, so that the priesthood would be lost to them forever. Wunsche and some others insist that it is the people and not the priesthood that is here addressed; that the whole nation is addressed as a single person, and that consequently the children are the individual members of the nation. Both priests and people were guilty in this matter. Both had shut their eyes upon the light, and the light was at length withdrawn. Both had said, "Depart from us: we desire not the knowledge of thy ways;" and God in turn had virtually said to them, "Depart from me: I know you not." The priests, whose duty was to teach the people knowledge, had been unable or unwilling to do so, and the people remained in ignorance; the people, who should have received the Law from the priests' lips, are represented as striving with, and gainsaying, their spiritual instructors. The consequence was that they destroyed themselves, for the verb nidmu has here the proper reflexive sense of the Niphal; nor is it without knowledge, but because of the want of (mibbeli) the necessary knowledge. The punishment, if it be not a re-echo, yet reminds us of 1 Samuel 15:26, where Samuel says to Saul, "For thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel." The worst feature of the case was their gross and grievous ingratitude; for just in proportion as,, they increased in numbers and in wealth they multiplied transgression; just as of old when Jeshurun waxed fat, he kicked," Kimchi, indeed, in mentioning the exposition of those who regarded the increase as financial rather than numerical, says, "Some interpret 'according to their increase' as equivalent to as I increased them in wealth and riches so they sinned after the manner of 'when Jeshurun waxed fat he kicked.'" Their either in number or riches—and both we think, are included—ministered to the sins of an unthankful people, and afforded occasions of trespassing yet more and more against God. Justly, then, did God turn to shame that which he had given Israel for the Divine glory, but which Israel used for vain-glory. "He," says Pusey," 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;' riches and abundance of population tempt nations to wars which become their destruction, or they invite other and stronger nations to prey upon them." Jehoash's reproof of Amaziah and the result, as recorded in 2 Kings 14:9-14, furnishes a good illustration of this subject.
III. GAIN TAKES THE PLACE OF GODLINESS. Whichever interpretation be adopted, the general sense here remains the same. The priests pandered to the sins of the people, and, lest they should lose their influence with them, they connived at and countenanced their sins when they should have sharply censured them. Or they encouraged sin that they might share the sin offerings presented in expiation. What was this in either case but to live by and upon the sin of a people sinful and laden with iniquity? Calvin, who makes the priests and people share the sin in common, says, "There is a collusion between the priests and the people. How so? Because the priests were the associates of robbers, and gladly seized on what was brought; and so they carried on no war, as they ought to have done, with vices, but, on the contrary, urged only the necessity of sacrifices; and it was enough if men brought things plentifully to the temple. The people also themselves showed their contempt for God; for they imagined that, provided they made satisfaction by their ceremonial performances, they would be exempt from punishment. Thus, then, there was an ungodly compact between the priests and the people; the Lord was mocked in the midst of them."
IV. WHAT IS GOT BY SIN GIVES NO SATISFACTION. "Ill got, ill gone," is a common proverb and a very pithy one; so with these faithless priests in their ministrations for a sinful people. They said in effect, "The more sin the more sacrifices, and so the greater share of our profits;" but there was no satisfaction in such things and no success by our share of profits;" but there was no satisfaction in such things and no success by them.
1. The pleasures of sin are mostly sensual; they last only for a season—a short one; and they afford no real satisfaction even when they do last. "What profit," asks the apostle, "had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death."
2. The priests, instead of reproving sin, did practically recommend it by their own godless conduct; and the people were well pleased to have it so. Alike in sin, however, they shall be alike in suffering; they helped each other in sin, they must have their share in punishment. The priests abused their position by neither practicing piety themselves nor inculcating its practice on others; the people, freed from all restraint and having no fear of God before their eyes, sinned with a high hand. Both ran to an excess of riot, and both are to be punished with equal severity; neither can reasonably expect to be spared.
3. The root of the evil was their leaving off to take heed to the Lord. The word shamar, here rendered "to take heed to," is very expressive; it means to have a sharp eye upon, then to observe attentively. Applied to a person, it signifies to have the eye steadily set on his will, to meet his wishes, to obey. Thus it is said of one waiting on his master, as in Proverbs 27:18, "He that waiteth on his master shall be honored;" while in the hundred and twenty-third psalm we have a good practical illustration of the observance indicated: "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us."
Faults in the life breed errors in the brain, and errors ¢n the brain produce in turn faults in the life.
Thus it was with Israel. Debauchery and drunkenness, and this to an extreme degree, had darkened the understanding, hardened the heart, paralyzed the will, and seared the conscience. In this enfeebled state of their intellectual and moral powers, they had recourse, in cases of doubt or difficulty, not to the high priest, or prophets of God, or Divine Word, for guidance and direction, but to their images of wood or idolatrous divining staff.
I. SIN LEADS TO SIN. If sorrows love a train, sins like a series. How often the culprit endeavors to conceal his guilt by lying, and thus adds one sin to another! Lewdness and intemperance, as here intimated, frequently go hand in hand. Since, then, sins are so linked to each other, our safety as well as our duty is to resist the very beginnings and buddings of evil in the soul. Every time sin is indulged the power of resistance is weakened, until men become the prey of the evil one, and, after a few weak wrestlings of the spirit against the flesh, the heart is easily taken captive. An effectual way of avoiding vice or any vicious course is to practice the opposite virtues. This is vastly more than forming a theory of virtue in one's thoughts; for, as Butler has shown, "from our very faculty of habits passive impressions, by being repeated, grow weaker," but "practical habits are formed and strengthened by repeated acts."
II. THE FOLLY OF SIN. The stupidity of which Israel gave evidence is traced to a spirit of whoredoms. The ruach, or spirit, in this passage somewhat resembles the personification of Ate by the Greeks, which in Homer denotes the infatuation or spirit of error that prompts to crime, then the crime committed, and also the punishment that overtakes crime. In the allegoric representation of Ate by Homer she has different and apparently contradictory attributes: as infatuation, taking possession of the mind; and blinding its faculties through passion. She has tender feet, does not tread on the ground, but moves gently and noiselessly over men's heads, surprising them in their unguarded moments, to their unspeakable injury. Again, in the commission of crime her gait is marked by strength of body and firmness of step and strong excitement, while in the punishment of crime the retribution is sudden, powerful, and certain. In these two capacities, that is to say, the perpetration of crime and its punishment, she is vigorous and firm of step. To the spirit of whoredom as an evil spirit of infatuation, like this Greek Ate, bewilderingly misleading men to the perpetration of evil and making them obnoxious to punishment, the prophet traces Israel's stupidity in consulting idols and similar means of divination on the one hand, and their sin in departing from God, the loving Husband and rightful Head of his people, on the other. Thus the spirit of whoredoms may be compared with similar Scripture expressions, such as a spirit of jealousy, a lying spirit, an unclean spirit; or it may denote the vehement spirit with which men, bent on idolatry and adultery—adultery both in the spiritual and carnal sense—were hurried along; while the faithlessness of the adulteress fitly represents the spiritual infidelity of Israel.
III. ZEAL CONTRARY TO KNOWLEDGE. The people of Israel fancied that they were worshipping God on the high hills and under the tall trees; but this was ignorant will-worship, or worse. God had appointed Jerusalem as the place of his worship, and had commanded sacrifices and incense to be offered there, and nowhere else.
1. The multiplication of altars and memorials elsewhere, however praiseworthy Israel might imagine it, was really a violation of the Divine command; and so God regarded it, for "behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams? Will-worship may have a show of wisdom in it, and may be well meaning, yet it is will-worship all the same. If we will worship God acceptably, then it must be in the place he has appointed and in the manner he has himself prescribed. Mountains have often been associated with sacred service and sacred scenes. Thus the sacrifice of Isaac was to be on a mountain; the giving of the Law was on a mountain; the temple was erected on a mountain; the transfiguration, the crucifixion, and the ascension, were each on a mountain. But mountains became scenes of idolatry and sin, and therefore God, when he forbade such worship, forbade the scenes thereof.
2. Israel's zeal was worthy of a better cause. That zeal characterized their sacrifices, for it is the intensive form of the verb that is used—yezabbechu (Piel), not yizbechu (Qal); it distinguished their burning of incense, for again it is first yeqatteru, not yaqteru. "The words express," says Pusey, "that this which God forbade they did diligently; they sacrificed much and diligently; they burned incense much and diligently." Nor was this all. They performed with equal diligence both the important parts of the service—the sacrifice and the burning of incense.
3. The blood of the sacrifice signified atonement; the pleasant smell of the incense typified service acceptably offered. "Incense, being fragrant, represented that which is pleasing, and which has in it acceptability; and when offered along with prayer, praise, or any feeling of the soul, exhibited a type of the merits of the Surety enveloping his people's services."
IV. MEN'S OWN SINS ARE OFTEN MADE THEIR SCOURGES. Never did the great poet of human nature give expression to a truer sentiment than that—
"The gods are just, and of our pleasant ricer
Make instruments to scourge us."
This was eminently the case with Israel. They had committed spiritual adultery, renouncing their subjection to him by violation of the marriage covenant, and thereby forfeiting that protection secured to them by the conditions of that covenant. "They," says an old writer," who commit idolatry, and follow false religions, and so do renounce subjection to God, and put themselves from under his directions, do also put themselves from under his protection; for in both these respects it is true that Israel went a-whoring from under their God." They prostituted themselves to idols, and withdrew from under God's authority, casting off the obedience they owed him and the reverence which was his due. Nay, more, fathers of families and husbands at the head of households were not only guilty of spiritual whoredom or idolatry; they were guilty of carnal whoredom with those vile priestesses to abominable idols and prostitutes to the worshippers—devotee-harlots who had consecrated themselves to a life of sin, as though such shameful desecration of themselves were consecration to Divine service. Now they are in turn disgraced and distressed by the whoredom of their daughters and the adultery of their wives; nor are they allowed to comfort themselves by the hope of a speedy cessation of such corruption, for, unchecked by chastisement, the licentiousness continues, prosperity in sin tempting to perseverance. "So," says Pusey, "through their own disgrace and bitter griefs, in the persons of those whose honor they most cherished, they should learn how ill they themselves had done, in departing from him who is the Father and Husband of every soul. The sins of the fathers descend very often to the children, both in the way of nature, that the children inherit strong temptations to their parents' sin, and by way of example, that they greedily imitate, often exaggerate them."
A passing word of warning is addressed to Judah.
The prophet pauses in his dark catalogue of Israel's sins and sorrows, and, turning aside, speaks a word of warning to Judah, that the people of the southern kingdom might be deterred from the crimes and awed by the calamities of their northern neighbors. In the large heart and catholic spirit of the prophet both Judahite and Israelite found a place; he had a message from God for both.
I. PLACES PERILOUS TO PIETY SHOULD BE SHUNNED. Judah had hitherto maintained their superiority to Israel both in religious worship and moral conduct; but their proximity to such neighbors was fraught with peril. Evil communications exercise a fearful potency in corrupting good manners; sensual indulgences, especially in the guise and under the name of religion, present strong inducements; scenes of sin have not infrequently a fatal glamour about them. If Judah would steer clear of the rocks on which the faith of Israel had been wrecked, they must keep aloof from such places of peril and scenes of dissipation as Gilgal and Beth-avon. Wantonness and crime had proved disastrous to Israel, therefore let Judah beware and take warning in time. if men are in earnest in their prayers and in their efforts to avoid temptation, they must keep away from those places and those persons that would tend to lead them into temptation. Hypocritical profession with irreligious practice was both detrimental and dangerous. After this friendly warning to Judah, Hosea resumes his complaint about Israel.
II. PUNISHMENT IS OFTEN A DARK REFLECTION OF MEN'S SINS. Israel had refused God's yoke, comparatively easy as it was, and started backward or turned sideward instead of drawing forward. They declined God's service, and determined to have full liberty and license. They got their desire, but it was given them in judgment. The limits of the law and its straitness provoked their resistance; now they will be permitted to wander forth as captives through the wide wilderness of the East, or as exiles with all the world before them. They had been strong and stubborn as a headstrong, unmanageable heifer; now they are to become solitary as a lamb shut out from its flock or separated from its dam, and in a state as helpless as that same weak creature when exposed to savage beasts of prey, and left alone amid the wasteness of a wilderness. Ephraim, turning away her affections from her Maker as her Husband, got attached to idols, and clave fast to them; and so they are given up to their own hearts' lusts. They don't wish to part with their beloved idols, or to be parted from them; nor shall they. They are incorrigible, and God gives the m up as beyond reproof and without hope—absolutely desperate. They wished to be left to themselves and their own ways, and so they are; not even Judah is to interfere with them. They are to be let go on without check from conscience, or reproof from prophet, or warning from the Divine Word, or any interference by Providence. "It is a sad and sore judgment for any man to be let alone in sin: for God to say concerning a sinner," He is joined to his idols, the world and the flesh; he is incurably proud, covetous, or profane, an incurable drunkard or adulterer,—let him alone; conscience, let him alone; minister, let him alone; providences, let him alone. Let nothing awaken him till the flames of hell do it. The father corrects not the rebellious son any more when he determines to disinherit him. "Those that are not disturbed in their sin will be destroyed for their sin."
III. PERSISTENCE IN EVIL PROVOCATIVE OF DIVINE DESERTION.
1. Persistence in evil. Idolaters are so attached to their idol-gods that they will not give them up, however hideous those idols or however vile those gods may be.
(1) The people of Israel were bound to their idols; as another prophet says, "They hold fast deceit;" they are even as loath to change as to give up their idols. "Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods?" The word in the original is the same as that used in Genesis 14:1-24. of the kings who came together as confederates unto the valley of Siddim; and never was there a more unholy alliance than that of Israel and Israel's idols, or that of sinners and their beloved lusts in general. The word is also used of fascination, by binding magical knots; and never was magical knot tighter or fascination stronger than that of an easily besetting sin over its victim. Men have been found to sacrifice their best and dearest interests for the sake of some low lust, some evil propensity, or some sinful habit.
(2) A great disproportion. "But," says an old writer, "will idolaters thus adhere to their idols? will their hearts be united to them? are they willing to be one spirit with them? Oh, how much more should we be joined to the Lord our God, to Jesus Christ [the Savior, and to the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier—the glorious triune Jehovah], to be as one spirit with him! That exhortation of Barnabas (Acts 11:23), that with full 'purpose of heart they should cleave unto the Lord,' is seasonable at all times."
2. Divine desertion. This was implied in the injunction to whomsoever it was addressed.
(1) If addressed to Judah, as it seems, it enjoins them to withdraw from Israel, though their countrymen and brethren—to have nothing more to do with them, to leave them to themselves, to let them alone. Few things are worse to bear than spiritual isolation. When the saints withdraw from a man because of the stubbornness of his rebellion against God, and his incorrigible willfulness in the pursuit of sin, it is a heavy judgment from God; it is equal in bitterness to the curse pronounced on the man who loveth not the Lord Jesus Christ, and of whom it is said, "Let him be Anathema-Maranatha." As if it were said, "Let a curse rest on the devoted head of such a one; let him be left to himself, deserted by the saints and servants of God; in a word, let him alone till the coming of the Lord, and the Lord will deal with him."
(2) If the injunction is addressed to the prophet, it means that he is to take no further trouble with Ephraim, and cast no more pearls before swine; that he is to cease his ministry in that direction, and shake the very dust off his feet as a testimony against such wayward rebels. So when ministers have exhausted all their powers of persuasion, and all the varied resources of admonition, warning, entreaty, remonstrance with stout-hearted, refractory sinners, a time comes when they must just let them alone, leaving them to be dealt with by the Maser at his coming.
(3) But, worst of all, God himself lets them alone; and when he does so, it is a token of their rejection. A father has used all legitimate means to reclaim his profligate, prodigal, or rebellious son; and when all has proved in vain, he is forced to say, "I have done with him; I disown him; I will have nothing more to do with him; I will leave him to himself, and let him alone." So God lets men alone when he gives them over to themselves, leaving them to their own devices, to their lusts, to their evil ways, to their doings that are not good. "They would none of me," saith God, "so I gave them up to their own counsels." The Spirit of the living God has striven with that man to turn him away from his injustice, or profanity, or drunkenness, or impurity, or hypocrisy; but he has resisted the Spirit, stifled the voice of conscience, and gone on in his way of wickedness, till God, long-suffering though he be, and full of infinite loving-kindness, says at last, "My Spirit shall not always strive. Let him that is filthy be filthy still; let him that is unjust be unjust still."
(4) Consider the dreadful import of this brief sentence—"Let him alone." It is as if God said, "Let him alone—he is rushing on ruin; let no barrier interpose to stop him; let him take his own way. Hitherto, and for long, he has been checked by the restraints of Providence; now let him alone." It is all very well when a man is at ease, in safety, or among his friends, to let him alone; but when he is rushing into the sweltering tide of ocean, or into the blazing fire of a widespread conflagration, or in among most deadly enemies, to let him alone is to consign him to destruction. It is not necessary that God should send his power to overwhelm us, in his justice to condemn us, or his wrath to consume us; he has only to let us alone, and our destruction is inevitable. When he let Adam alone, leaving him to himself, he undid himself and his posterity; when he let Hezekiah alone, what misery that good king brought upon himself and his subjects!
(5) Let the fear of this terrible Lord God awe us! Beware of committing willful sin, lest God should say, "Let him alone." Dread of being thus let alone is a sure sign that God has not let us alone, and safe way of keeping us from being let alone. May the good Lord preserve us from such a fearful fate!
HOMILIES BY C. JERDAN
The Lord's lawsuit.
The introduction to the Book of Hoses consists of a symbolical narrative, contained in Hosea 1-3. The body of the book is occupied with discourses, which are full of mingled reproaches, threatenings, and promises. Hosea 4:1-19. evidently reflects the condition of the nation during the interregnum which followed the death of Jeroboam II. The key-word of the first strophe (Hosea 4:1-5) is the word "controversy" (Hosea 4:1), used in the sense of a legal action—a suit at law. Jehovah represents himself as prosecuting Israel for breach of contract.
I. THE SUMMONS. (Hosea 4:1) A solemn covenant had been concluded at Sinai between God and the chosen nation. It had the Decalogue for its basis, and it had been ratified by sacrifice (Exodus 20-24). But the people of the ten tribes had infringed the covenant, and exposed themselves (taking the figure of the passage) to legal proceedings for breach of contract. The summons, however, was not served without extreme provocation. For the Lord is not litigious. He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalms 103:8). We shall see from the indictment that almost every obligation of the sacred compact had been violated.
II. THE INDICTMENT. (Hosea 4:1, Hosea 4:2) It is a tremendous one. There are two weighty counts in it, and together they show that by this time the very bonds of society in Israel had been dissolved.
1. Religion was dead. (Hosea 4:1) "No truth." "Truth" may here be taken to cover the entire masculine side of the religious character, and to include all such strong virtues as veracity, faithfulness, integrity, righteousness, immutability. To love truth is one of the first duties of religion. "Igor mercy." This word represents the feminine side of piety, and includes such graces as pity, clemency, kindness, sympathy. These fatal defects were due to the lack of" knowledge of God in the land." Mercy and truth are glorious perfections of the Divine nature, and their existence as virtues of social ethics depends upon right conceptions regarding him. But Israel had lost the knowledge of Jehovah. The calf-shrines had been her ruin. The image-worship had destroyed the spiritual service of God. And the failure of the heart knowledge led to the failure of head-knowledge also, and that in turn to the loss of all virtue. How sad that there should be "no knowledge of God in the land." For was it not the land of Immanuel, and were not its citizens "a people near unto him"? How dreadful such an indictment against the nation of whom the psalmist exultingly sings, "In Judah is God known: his Name is great in Israel" (Psalms 76:1)!
2. Immorality was rampant. (Hosea 4:2) The sin of Jeroboam I; in setting up the golden calves and encouraging the systematic violation of the second commandment, had become the fruitful source of disobedience to the whole moral Law. It had paved the way for the deeper apostasy of Baalism (1 Kings 16:31); and, the first two commandments being overturned, little respect was any longer paid to the others. Hosea 4:2 presents a picture of the eleven years which followed the death of Jeroboam II; when the forces of revolution and anarchy were struggling for the upper hand. Then the land was full of perjury and violence. All kinds of evil broke forth like a flood. The third commandment, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, were alike disregarded. One deed of blood trod upon the heels of another; assassination following assassination, and slaughter avenging slaughter. The character of the people, and of their prophets and priests, was hopelessly bad. Reproof would be in vain (Hosea 4:4). The men of Israel were as contumacious as those who refused to obey the priest when he gave judgment in Jehovah's Name (Deuteronomy 17:12). Indeed, the sin of the whole kingdom, which began with the renunciation of the Aaronical priesthood, may be symbolically described as that of" striving with the priest." And now, at last, even the very mercy of God had to be withdrawn from the nation.
III. THE JUDGMENT. (Hosea 4:3-5) The Lord does not cite and plead in vain. He is "justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges." The punishment of Israel's sin is to be universal and very terrible. The judgment is to fall upon:
1. The soil. (Hosea 4:3) The threatening here is that of a universal drought. The very ground is to be cursed because of the people's guilt. The famine is to be one of fearful severity. In a sense, the soil of Palestine may be said to be lying under that visitation yet. Canaan is naturally "a fruitful land; ' but God has turned it "into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein."
2. The lower creatures. Animal life is to decline by reason of the drought. The brute creation shall be reduced to an extremity of hunger on account of the people's sin.
3. The people themselves. They are to be punished with:
(1) Loss of health. "Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish "-the physical frame losing strength and tone, and "joy being withered away from the sons of men" (Joel 1:12).
(2) Loss of food, due to the breaking of the two staffs of life—the failure of the harvests and the destruction of the animals.
(3) Loss of grace (Hosea 4:4). Expostulation with the people would be useless. They hated reproof. God's Spirit had ceased to strive with Ephraim; he was "joined to idols" (Hosea 4:17). The men of Israel were so desperately wicked that it was "impossible to renew them again unto repentance."
(4) Loss of life (Hosea 4:5). "Evil shall slay the wicked." The people of the ten tribes, with their false prophets, are to perish in their sins. The slaughter is to be continuous, neither day nor night being free from it. It is also to be indiscriminate, and at last universal. And the loss of temporal life is only the shadow of deeper spiritual loss, beyond in eternity.
4. The nation as such. (Hosea 4:5) "I will destroy thy mother." The Israelitish state was the "mother" of the people; and already, by reason of the family wickedness, she is driving fast along the highway to destruction. These closing words, indeed, are her funeral knell.
CONCLUSION. Two lessons of this passage are specially prominent, viz.
(1) the essential connection between religion and morality;
(2) the inevitable connection between national sin and national suffering. Wherever the right knowledge of God is wanting, there sin and Satan are sure to triumph. Ancient Greece gave to Europe the glorious beginnings both of political and intellectual life and was herself resplendent with the choicest triumphs of literature and art; yet some of her wisest philosophers countenanced the practice of unmentionable vices. The sun never shone upon a more brilliant company of scholars, poets, philosophers, orators, jurists, and litterateurs, than that which adorned the court of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome; yet during the Augustan age the Roman people were plunging into depths of moral degradation which ultimately led to the ruin of the empire. On the other hand, when the general overthrow of the continental monarchs took place in 1848, and the throne of Great Britain remained as stable as ever, M. Guizot said one day to Lord Shaftesbury, "I will tell you what saved your empire. It was not your constable; it was not your army; it was not your statesmen. It was the deep, solemn, religious atmosphere that still is breathed over the whole people of England." For nations, knowledge of God and acceptance of his salvation are necessary, in order to the prevalence of that righteousness which is the source of national stability. And for each citizen in like manner, "This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent."—C.J.
Israel's guilt and punishment.
Priests and people were guilty alike, and would be overtaken by one common doom.
I. THE SIN OF THE PRIESTS.
1. They rejected the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:6). They did not engage in the study of the Divine Law, and their lives were a violation of its precepts.
2. They consequently failed to teach the Law to the people (Hosea 4:6).
3. They connived at the national idolatry, on account of the material profit which they obtained from it (Hosea 4:8). The calf-worship brought them many sacrificial fees; so the priests, instead of rebuking the iniquity, "set their heart" upon its continuance.
II. THE SIN OF THE PEOPLE.
1. They willfully forgot the Law of God (Hosea 4:6).
2. The more prosperous they became externally, the more grievously they sinned (Hosea 4:7).
3. They addicted themselves to idolatrous divination, using sometimes teraphim, and sometimes divining rods (Hosea 4:12). In worshipping wooden gods, they showed themselves to be at once wooden-headed and wooden-hearted (Psalms 115:8).
4. They practiced the sensual rites of nature-worship with the temple prostitutes of Ashtaroth, and even were so shameless as sometimes to appear with them at the altar (verses. 13, 14). Impurity in one's religion is often joined with uncleanness of body.
III. THE DOOM THREATENED UPON BOTH. (Hosea 4:9)
1. The priests and their sons would be deprived of their office, and the people would lose their high prerogative of being a priestly nation (Hosea 4:6).
2. The glory of the kingdom would be turned into shame by reason of the loss of the numbers, wealth, and power in which they gloried (Hosea 4:7).
3. Their sin would also become its own punishment (Hosea 4:10, Hosea 4:11). The Lord would cause them to "eat of the fruit of their own way." The result would be surfeit, not satisfaction. Their sin would be their torment.
4. God would "give them up to vile affections;" he would cease to correct them for their idolatry and licentiousness, and thus visit them with reprobation (Hosea 4:14).
CONCLUSION. Hosea 4:11 contains the solemn statement of a great moral truth respecting all sin, and which is specially applicable to sins of sensuality. Who can place confidence in the moral judgments of an adulterer or a fornicator? How sad when such men occupy positions of influence in Church or state!
"Beware of lust; it doth pollute and foul
Whom God in baptism washed with his own blood:
It blots thy lesson written in thy soul;
The holy lines cannot be understood.
How dare those eyes upon a Bible look,
Much less towards God, whose lust is all their book!"
Like people, like priest.
In this passage' the Lord charges the priests of the ten tribes with having grievously abetted the idolatry and immorality which were rampant in Israel; and in the verse before us he declares that, as people and priest have been one in guilt, they shall be one also in punishment. When the judgment falls, there shall be no "benefit of clergy." The four words of the text sound like a proverb (Isaiah 24:2). We may justly view them as an apothegm respecting the mutual relation of pastor and people. We read the word "priest" here "writ large" as "presbyter." We use it in its widest sense as denoting a minister of religion—one who officiates in the sacred service of the Church.
I. THERE IS A LIKENESS IN THE NATURE OF THINGS. In their relations to God and to their fellow-men, it is "like people, like priest."
1. The principle applies to matters of personal life. The priest is "taken from among men" (Hebrews 5:1-3). He is by nature guilty, sinful, polluted, helpless, like every other member of the congregation. If he be a true believer, he has been washed in the blood of Christ, and justified by the grace of God, and made a partaker of the Spirit, like other believers. He is exposed to temptations, and prone to backslidings, as they are. He must "fight the good fight of faith," just like others.
2. The principle applies to social relations. A minister does not cease to be a man when he becomes a minister. He is to be "one that ruleth well his own house" (l Timothy Hosea 3:4). Like other citizens, he ought to interest himself in politics. The cause of liberty and righteousness, the redress of wrongs, and the elevation of the masses, should be specially dear to him. He must not allow himself to seem an emasculated man, who either has no opinions on public questions, or is afraid to avow them.
3. The principle applies to business habits. The priest is to eat his bread "in the sweat of his face," like other men. Observation of his habits ought not to produce the impression that he is without any engrossing occupation. No man in the congregation should be busier. No other work makes so constant a demand upon all the best energies of human nature as the work of the Christian pastor.
4. The principle applies to the matter of his work itself. According to the spirit of New Testament teaching, no hard-and-fast line is to be drawn between the Christian ministry and other useful occupations. The pastor ministers to a higher part of man's nature than the merchant does; that is all. "Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17); that is the Christian law of work for all godly men alike. The life of the priesthood has no halo around it which does not belong to the life of the people.
5. The principle applies to spiritual privileges. The pastor enjoys the blessings of grace in common with the people—all of them, and no more. He has the same access to God which other Christian men and women have; no other access, and no nearer. He does not belong to a sacerdotal caste. He is in no respect a mediator. The special application of the term "priest," as denoting one who offers sacrifice, is not for the Christian pastor. In that sense the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Priest of the Church. The one respect in which the pastor is a "priest to God" is that in which, as Archbishop Leighton has put it, "all Christians are God's clergy."
6. The principle applies to the final account. It shall be "like people, like priest," at the day of judgment. His reward, like theirs, shall be in proportion to his diligence, efficiency, and success. And, contrariwise, the punishments inflicted for indolence shall be equally impartial. This is the very point of the text: "I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings." This general principle is so obvious, and so constantly enforced in the teaching of the New Testament, that it seems strange that it should ever have been contravened. Yet the subversion of it has been one of the most cherished errors of the Christian Church. Is not the denial of this principle the cornerstone of the Papacy? The Romish Church exalts one man, and one class of men, to absolute control over the consciences of their fellows. And does not the ritualism of our time at home involve the same error? Ritualism might be harmless if it meant only an ornate and beautiful service; but, meaning as it does a return to sacerdotalism, and the fettering of the spiritual liberty of the Christian people, it is full of deadly poison. Many communions, also, which are free from the temptations to clericalism in its grosser forms, are often in danger of separating those responsibilities, on the part of minister and people, which God has joined together. E.g. do not some minds harbor the notion that a higher standard of piety is appropriate for the pulpit than what is necessary for the pew? And are there not some popular amusements which it is thought quite lawful for other members of the Church to indulge in, but which a minister is expected to abstain from, under peril of being judged an unspiritual man? There is, however, no mention in the Bible of a broader and a narrower gauge of righteousness There, it is" like people, like priest."
II. THERE IS A LIKENESS PRODUCED BY RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE. The relationship between pastor and people is a very sacred one. It is a union in which the one party does not absorb the other; rather, they tend to become filled with the same common life, and to be mutually assimilated in views, sentiments, and spiritual tone. We need not stay to speak of, the influence which the priest has upon the people. For the one direct end of the ministry is to move men to live for God and Christ. ]t is designed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to influence the hearts and habits of the people, not only upon the Lord's day, but during every hour of their lives. In what remains we shall rather consider the influence; which the people exercise upon the priest, to mould his character as a man, and to affect his efficiency as a pastor. The text does not read, "Like priest, like people," although it is frequently misquoted so. It reads, "Like people, like priest;" and thus it invites us to view more especially the influence which the pew has upon the pulpit—an influence which is everywhere present, and which is very subtle and powerful. The priest springs from the people. He enters the ministry with his mind already largely molded by the intellectual and religious influences which obtain amongst them. He may be expected to reflect in his own character the prevalent spirit in relation to Divine things amidst which he has been brought up. A long barren period of spiritual indifference will inevitably give to the Church a race of sapless anti-evangelical ministers; but when, on the other hand, there is a general revival of religion, many earnest young men from among the new converts will be found devoting their lives to the work of spreading the knowledge of salvation. Again, this influence is greatly promoted in connection with the more democratic systems of Church government. The writer of this homily, as a Presbyterian, may be allowed to point out that in every free Presbyterian communion the sap of the Church's influence rises from the people through sessions and presbyteries to the supreme court; and so, peculiarly under this system, it is, "like people, like priest."
1. Sometimes ibis influence is for evil. Take, e.g; the sin of priestcraft itself. It is the corruption of the people, in the first instance, that makes this sin possible. Look at the case of the golden ox at Horeb (Exodus 32:1). Or take that of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. Jeroboam was trading with the spiritual degradation of the ten tribes when he instituted his false gods and his false priests. The malign influence continued down to the time of Hosea, and by-and-by involved the northern kingdom in destruction. Meanwhile, too, the evil leaven was spreading into the yet surviving monarchy of Judah (Jeremiah 5:31). And thus is it still. Whenever the blood of religion runs cold, and opposition to the doctrines of grace prevails, the Church will seek out teachers after her own degenerate heart (2 Timothy 4:3). At such times the congregation desires to have a tacit understanding with the prophet that he is not to "use great plainness of speech" (Isaiah 30:10). Every true minister has sometimes to contend against the temptation to suppress unpalatable truth. It is little more than a generation since thousands of pulpits in the United States submitted to be muzzled regarding the wickedness of Negro slavery; and since hundreds of ministers in the Southern States were laboring to prove that slavery was the proper condition of the Negro. In our own country, on the other hand, the warning voice of the pulpit in relation to the evil of the drinking customs is still a somewhat muffled one compared with what it has long been in New England. Finally, here, the priest's personal relations to his people are so intimate that their attitude towards him goes largely to affect even the moral tone and fiber of his character. If he submit to be continually petted, the danger is that all manliness will gradually ooze out of him, and that he will come to expect on all occasions different treatment from other men. But surely the Christian ministry ought to be the manliest of callings. The pastor should be one of the hardiest of the trees of grace, and not a mere greenhouse plant. He should desire no allowances to be made for him which are not made for men of other callings. The whole Church should take care that it is not her fault if he is not every inch a man.
2. But often the influence of the people upon the priest is good and honorable. A congregation whose conception of the ministry is formed as the result of the devout study of the New Testament, will look and pray for men in the pulpit who possess the tongue of fire, i.e. the power of the Holy Ghost; not the power to compose eloquent paragraphs and perorations, but power to arouse, convert, edify—power under which hearts will melt, and lives will begin anew. When conversions occur, the pastor preaches with an enlarged heart and prays with redoubled fervor, and his path seems bathed in sunshine. After all, too, it is the people, quite as much as the priests, who guard the orthodoxy, purity, liberties, and spiritual life of the Church. For it is they who constitute the body of Christ; the pastors are only the servants of the Church for Jesus' sake.
1. It is doubtless sometimes the fact that the priest and the people never become assimilated to each other at all. It was so, e.g; in the case of Hosea; in that of Jeremiah; in that of the Lord Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry. But what the text expresses is simply an ordinary tendency in connection with this sacred relationship.
2. Let our closing thought be this, that the obligation involved in the pastoral tie is a mutual one. If his Church responsibilities should weigh heavily upon the minister's heart, they should also press upon the conscience of each member. Both are responsible for the results of the tie. It is, "like people, like priest."—C.J.
Ephraim and Judah.
In this passage, as in Hosea 1:7, the kingdom of Judah is presented in contrast with that of Israel. Here, for the first time in Hosea, we meet with the name "Ephraim." As the United Kingdom over which Queen Victoria reigns is often called simply "England," so the kingdom of the tea tribes sometimes receives the name of" Ephraim," that tribe being the most powerful of the ten, and having within its bounds the seat of government.
I. EPHRAIM'S SIN. It consisted in the subversion of the entire moral Law.
1. General ungodliness. He had broken:
(1) The first commandment, by turning from Jehovah to serve the Baalim.
(2) The second commandment, by leaving the one rightful altar, and bowing down to Jeroboam's graven images. Gilgal had once been a holy place to Jehovah, but it was now noted for the idolatries which were practiced there; and Beth-el, "the house of God," where Jacob had seen the stairway and the vision of the Almighty, is now for the same reason nicknamed Beth-avon, "house of iniquity" (verse 15).
(3) The third commandment, in swearing by Jehovah while worshipping the calves (verse 15).
2. General licentiousness. The worship of Baal and Ashtaroth became as impure and revolting as it is possible to imagine. The groves were the scenes of the foulest debaucheries. Every bond of truth and justice was broken. The judges loved to say, "Give ye;" i.e. they gaped for bribes, and sometimes sold their judicial decisions to the highest bidder. Morally, Ephraim was utterly degenerate; he had become just like "turned" or "sour" milk (verse 18). He was constant in his sin: "They have committed whoredom continually' (verse 18). He was refractory: in moral conduct he resembled a stubborn cow (verse 16). And he was obdurate: a fearful and unholy union subsisted between Ephraim and the dead idols which he served (verse 17).
II. EPHRAIM'S DOOM. It will fall upon him swiftly. It will come in the form of:
1. Banishment. Israel had felt the Lord's fold to be too tight, and the life within it too slow. So the ten tribes are to be driven into exile. They are to be exposed to danger like a timid" lamb" (verse 16) in the wide wilderness of the world. A tempest of judgment shall suddenly seize them, lift them up, and carry them away like chaff (verse 19).
2. Shame. (Verse 19) As long as the northern kingdom seemed strong and prosperous, its citizens gloried in "their sacrifices" to idols. But now, in these days of conspiracy and revolution, Ephraim will be disappointed in his expectation of help from the Baalim, and will be covered with shame on account of his infamous idolatries. We know that one chief result of the Assyrian and Babylonish captivities was to thoroughly wean the Hebrew nation from its polytheism.
3. Abandonment. (Verse 17) Judah is directed to "let Ephraim alone." God's people within the southern kingdom are to send no missionary to reprove him, or to attempt to convert him. They are to leave him to "eat of the fruit of his own way." This word spoken to Judah is often understood as if it referred to the desertion of incorrigible sinners by the Lord the Spirit. Such, however, is at best only a secondary and inferential meaning. It is evident that in this verse God himself pronounces no decree of final abandonment, for we find him saying afterwards (Hosea 11:8), "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" The abandonment here denotes the loss of the "kindness" and "excellent oil" which belong to the reproof of "the righteous."
III. AN ADMONITION TO JUDAH. (Verses 15, 17) The southern kingdom is cautioned to shun the contagion of Ephraim's wicked example. For:
1. Judah's condition was meanwhile better. Up to the time to which Hosea 4:1-19; refers, Judah was comparatively uncorrupted. There had always been a difference morally and spiritually between Ephraim and Judah. The southern kingdom possessed Jerusalem, and the temple, and the Aaronical priesthood, and the royal dynasty of' David. Many of its monarchs had been godly men, who "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord." And God's restraining grace towards Judah had been so great, that if he had any saints just now in the world, these were in Judah. But:
2. Judah was in danger of contamination. The people of Judah were near neighbors to the ten thousands of Ephraim. They were brethren—two segments of the same nationality. They possessed the same great history, and inherited the same traditions. Israel, moreover, was the larger state, and the more prosperous. Jehovah, therefore, in his anxiety about Judah, warns him to keep away flora such polluting places as Gilgal and Bethel (Hosea 4:15). The Divine counsel to him is, "Let Ephraim alone;" i.e. have no intercourse with him, lest he pollute thee. Stand off from him, for "evil communications corrupt good manners." No effort on your part will avail to cure him of his idolatry; and perchance you may yourself become a partaker of it.
3. The effect of this admonition. Judah did remember it for a time; at least, a great theocratic revival and religious reformation took place during the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. Afterwards, however, a deep spiritual decline set in; and Judah, too, fell into the fatal grasp of Babylon only three or four generations after the fall of Ephraim.
1. We must refuse to partake of other men's sins, if we would not share their punishment. One cannot touch pitch without being defiled.
2. We must beware of the "large place" outside of the Lord's fold. The broad way leadeth to destruction. Men of firm Christian principle are sometimes called "narrow;" but we must dare to be as narrow as the straight line of God's righteousness, and at no time depart from the leading of the good Shepherd.
3. We must cherish shame now for our own spiritual idolatries, and break with every idol, however dear, if we would have confidence before Christ at his coming.—C. J.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Insensibility the result of impenitence.
The people of Israel are here designated by the name "Ephraim." This tribe rapidly rose to influence beneath the shadow of Joshua's greatness. Under that hero, one of its greatest sons, Ephraim was located in the most fertile part of Palestine, and being less exposed than other tribes to external attack, grew in numbers and affluence. When another Ephraimite, Jeroboam, led the revolt against the house of David, and became the first king of Israel, this tribe, already strong, stood foremost, and its name became henceforth a synonym for Israel. In this chapter Hoses exhibits the sins of the people in a series of graphic pictures. He tacitly asks whether they had anything to urge in stay of judgment. He would prove to their own consciences the righteousness of the Divine decision, so that they would be left without excuse. There ever comes from the throne of God, as once there came from Mount Sinai, a voice which appeals to human conscience to confirm the Divine sentence: "Let all the people say, Amen l" Our text exhibits a nation abandoned by God—to whom all expostulation bad proved useless. It suggests a moral condition similar to the physical condition of some patient on whom the surgeon has operated again and again; who has often pleaded to be left alone, and from whom at last, with heavy heart, the skilful kindly friend turns away, saying, "It is best that he should be left alone now, for his disease is fatal." That Divine abandonment is possible may be shown from Jeremiah 6:30, compared with Matthew 5:13. At times God seems to reply to man's wish by an echo (compare Job 21:14 with Matthew 25:41). The solemnity of the fact that insensibility follows impenitence.
I. THE WICKEDNESS OF IDOLATRY. "Joined to idols" implies vital association with them. Ephraim would not part with idols, and could not be parted from them without death. Three forms o/idolatry prevailed. Each appealed to a distinct section of the people, and all alike drew their hearts from God. The calves introduced by Jeroboam from Egypt were deification of "nature," and became at Gilgal and Bethel centers for political and national gatherings. Baal, the sun-god, was a deification of "power," and was worshipped in mountains and high places. Ashtaroth, the Astarte of the Greeks, the Venus of the Romans, was worshipped in the groves, under the shadow of which hideously licentious rites completed the degradation of the people. Each had its own cultus and its own worshippers. We all recognize that an idol may exist in our thought as well as in our sight. The essence of idolatry is the preference of anything to God, so as to allow it to take the place he should fill in our thoughts and affections. The same object does not tempt us all, nor will the same allure us in all the stages of our life. In youth you may worship Astarte; in manhood, Baal; and in old age, the golden calves. Speak of forms of idolatry prevalent in England.
1. The idolatry of wealth. We do not allude to the gaining of money, which is possible to a man who wins it by his shrewdness and skill, by his industry and probity in business. The Lord has given him power to get wealth, which he uses as a steward for God. Describe one who makes money-getting the object of life. lie chooses a business, without any care about its evil associations. He steels his heart to misery and to the claims of his own kin. He ignores the standard of integrity which an enlightened conscience sets up. If advantage is to be gained by bribe or trick, he is not the man to lose it from scrupulousness. He has no time for home duties, for Church work, etc; which claim his efforts. In brief, he dismisses, and feels that he must dismiss, God from his plans; and as the habit grows he becomes "joined to idols," and in his avaricious hardness God lets him alone.
2. The idolatry of pleasure is not extinct. Picture a young girl introduced to society, in whose gaieties she henceforth finds herself entangled. Simple of heart as she is fair of face, she is insidiously injured by the unwholesome excitement, the late hours, the inane and profitless chit-chat of such an existence. Too tired to pray, too flattered to conquer self, she forgets those solemn realities to which the present life is only a vestibule, until in the scales of Eternal Justice she is "weighed in the balances and found wanting." Slowly but surely her early sensibility decreases; and she whose heart was once easily touched, whose conscience was keenly sensitive, becomes the hardened, scheming woman of the world. She is joined to idols: let her alone.
3. The idolatry of sensuousness. The halls of entertainment in which the lusts of the flesh and of the eye are pandered to are thronged nightly by lads whose incipient manliness becomes deteriorated. There, and elsewhere, drink exercises a fatal influence. Short of intoxication, the will is weakened, the memory obscured, the imagination so excited as to find pleasure where otherwise there would be none; and so the first step to ruin is often taken half consciously. Little by little the power of drink asserts itself, till self-control is gone, and its victim cannot live without it; and so joined to idols is he that God says, "Let him alone." In these as in similar temptations many resent holy influence till they cannot feel it; they are "twice dead," "given over to a reprobate mind."
II. THE WOEFULNESS OF INSENSIBILITY.
1. Its nature. "Let him alone," is God's command to all who have been speaking in his name, the prophet being their representative. A minister preaches, and many under the influence of the truth are moved to thought and penitence. One hears as others do, but, unlike them, is hard and callous. Often has he said to himself, "I wish I could go to a place of worship without feeling uneasy;" and at last God says," You shall. Ministers, let him alone!" Friends spoke faithfully to another, urging him to prayer, pleading with him, even with tears, to turn from sin. Sometimes he laughed at their anxiety, sometimes he was angry, at their interference, heartily wishing that they would interfere with him no more. Now they do not. One friend has removed to a distance, the voice of another is stilled by death, and another has given up further effort in utter despair of success. God has said, "Let him alone." Solemn events once stirred to thought, but now their influence is gone. The voice within which warned and entreated is sensibly weaker and less frequently heard. To conscience God has said," Let him alone," and now it is sleeping.
2. The dreadfulness of this condition is seen in the fact that the noblest art of man is gone. Suppose your hand was injured so that you were in pain night and day. Driven to desperation, you take a red-hot iron and sear the flesh, destroying nerves and tissue ruthlessly. The sore heals, the pain is gone. Ay, but the band is useless, and nothing can restore it. So may you deal with conscience. Refusing to go to the good Physician when conscious of your peril, you sin deliberately against God, and thus conscience may be "seared as with a hot iron." Note, also, the ominousness of being left alone. We see all the trees in an orchard pruned with an unsparing yet skilful hand, and are told that they will be the more vigorous and fruitful in the autumn, One tree, however, has been left untouched by the knife. Why? Is it because it is a favorite? You see the answer in the red cross on its trunk, which shows that it is marked for cutting down as a cumberer of the ground. Take another illustration. Two prisoners are convicted of offences against the law. The one, on the ground of his youth and possible reformation, is sent home for his father to chastise, and he goes weeping. The other, a hardened criminal, is to receive no stripes, but may have anything his appetite craves. Yet all look on him with horror. The fact that he is to receive no chastisement is ominous; for he is under condemnation of death. That you are so little troubled by serious thought is no sign of safety; it may be the indication that soon, "being past feeling," you will be "given over to a reprobate mind." "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
1. Address those who fear they are left alone. If the faint desire to return to God yet lingers, if the fear of being forsaken of God makes you tremble, the curse has not yet fallen. The Lord, who is very pitiful and of tender mercy, still says, "Come now, and let us reason together," etc.
2. Address those in danger of being abandoned. Illustrate their position by the story of two brothers crossing a pass, overtaken by a snow-storm. One longs to sleep. He is dragged on for a time by physical force, is pleaded with earnestly, but at last is of necessity left. He sinks to rest; the snow-flakes fall silently and swiftly, and in the depths he finds his grave, and sleeps the sleep of death. You may say to all good influences, "Let me alone," until God puts his seal on your choice, and says to all that might save you, "Let him alone."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Hear the word of the Lord!
The Hebrew prophets were distinguished from other politicians and moralists in this respect, that they did not address the people upon their own authority, or convey to them the counsels of their own wisdom. It was their practice to keep themselves in the background, and to summon their countrymen, in the language of the text, to "hear the word of the Lord." This language implies—
I. THAT GOD HAS SPOKEN TO MAN.
1. This is opposed to the atheistic doctrine, that there is no God to speak; and to the Epicurean doctrine, that the gods care not to concern themselves in the affairs of mortals. It is also opposed to the modern and pseudo-scientific doctrine, that the universe is so bound in the chains of physical law that there is no opportunity for the mind, if such there be, that shapes and controls all things to communicate with the spiritual nature of man.
2. Yet this belief harmonizes with the highest conception we can form of the Eternal. We refuse to believe that he, who is present throughout his material creation, is cut off from the very nature which is most akin to his own.
3. As a matter of fact, revelation is a word of God to man. The prophets, evangelists, and apostles were taken possession of by a supernatural power, that spake to them, in them, and by them, to their fellow-men.
4. Christ himself, the Word of God, sums up in his person, ministry, and sacrifice all that God has of especial interest and value to impart to the minds of men.
II. THAT MAN IS UNDER AN OBLIGATION TO LISTEN TO THE WORD OF GOD.
1. The finite and fallible nature of man stands in need of Divine instruction, guidance, encouragement, and admonition.
2. There is in man a conscience which attests the divinity of the word to which he listens when God speaks.
3. Humility and reverence are becoming to such as thus come into contact with the utterances of Eternal Wisdom.
4. To hear aright involves a prompt and cheerful obedience. For the Word of God conveys not only speculative truth, but the most valuable practical counsels as to conduct, He received aright the word of God who exclaimed, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth!"—T.
Language such as this shows how readily the inspired writers made use of human relationships in order to impress upon the minds of the people great moral facts and lessons. There is, of course, great difference between the disputes and controversies which arise among men, and any matter of estrangement between God and men; yet how vigorously and effectively does this language set forth human sin and Divine righteousness!
I. THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTROVERSY. On the one side is a rightful Ruler; on the other, rebellious subjects. The Ruler is possessed of infinite power; the rebels are feeble, and their resistance is vain. The Ruler has established, by his grace and forbearance, the strongest claims upon his subjects' gratitude and loyal affection; the rebels have shown amazing insensibility and obduracy. This is indeed a just picture of the righteous and merciful God, and of the disobedient and rebellious children of men. The inhabitants of the land, i.e. of Israel, are in this matter representative in their attitude and conduct of an ungodly race.
II. THE GROUND OF THE CONTROVERSY. The prophet, speaking in the name of Jehovah, charges Israel with evil-doing of two kinds.
1. Immorality. The two great classes of human duty are simply described by the two terms, truth and mercy. If men are just and benevolent in their dealing with one another, they fulfill moral obligations; for these virtues comprehend all excellences which may be displayed in human life and intercourse. But where faith is broken and pity is withheld, the bonds of society are loosened, and its dissolution has begun.
2. Impiety. "The knowledge of God in the land" is essential to the well-being of a nation. Where God is unknown, where men live" without God in the world," where his knowledge is suffered to lapse, and the rising generation are trained with no fear of God before their eyes—there vice and crime will be rampant and unchecked, and there will be no guarantee for social order and peace.
III. THE ISSUE OF THIS CONTROVERSY.
1. It cannot be in the victory of the rebellions.
2. It must be in the maintenance of Divine authority and honor.
3. It should be in the repentance and submission of the disloyal, and in a reconciliation between the penitent offenders and the righteously offended God.
4. The gospel is especially intended to bring this controversy to a close, in a way honoring to God and advantageous to sinful man. "We beseech you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."—T.
Ignorance and destruction.
All classes in Israel were guilty of forsaking Jehovah, and all classes were reproached with the same sin. It is usually the case that rebellion against a righteous Lord, and neglect of sincere worship and devotion, are chargeable, if not equally so, upon high and low, learned and ignorant. And when none are free from guilt, none are exempt from condemnation.
I. TRUE RELIGION IS BASED UPON KNOWLEDGE. Idolatry and superstition are compatible with ignorance, and are favored by ignorance. But the religion which is alone proper to man and acceptable to God is spiritual, and therefore intelligent. If this was the case with the Mosaic economy, how much more so with the Christian! In the Old Testament, the" fear of the Lord" and "wisdom" were the same; in the New Testament we are taught that life eternal consists in the knowledge of the true God through his Son. A religion of formal assent or observance, a religion of mere feeling and excitement, is vain. Knowledge alone is insufficient, but knowledge is nevertheless indispensable to true Christianity.
II. THOSE SPECIALLY QUALIFIED AND APPOINTED AS MINISTERS OF RELIGION ARE BOUND TO DIFFUSE KNOWLEDGE. In Israel the priests and the prophets seem to have been both, if not equally, to blame for the irreligion and defection of the people. The priests taught religious knowledge by symbol, the prophets by word of mouth. Both orders were chargeable with negligence of these sacred and honorable duties. In the new and spiritual kingdom of Christ, there are no officers exactly corresponding to either the priests or the prophets of the Hebrews. But those whose ministry it is especially to teach, and all who by reason of their own gifts and position have the opportunity of imparting spiritual knowledge, are bound to communicate the Word of life.
III. THE REJECTION OF KNOWLEDGE ON THE PART OF ANY INVOLVES THEIR OWN REJECTION BY GOD. Lack of knowledge is itself destruction. It is the starving of the soul through defect of spiritual nourishment. "They die without wisdom," is the mournful lamentation of the spectator of moral delinquency am] consequent destruction. Israel was rejected, and punished, was sent into a long captivity, because of religious defection and hardened impenitence. And it [is a law of the Divine government that willful ignorance should entail moral deterioration. The plant cannot be taken into the darkness without suffering; its vitality is at once enfeebled, and gradually diminishes until it dies. It is so with the soul; it is so with the nation. This is a solemn warning to those who love moral darkness rather than light. It is an admonition to those who have the light that they walk therein.
IV. THE HEAVIEST PENALTY FALLS UPON THOSE THROUGH WHOSE NEGLECT THE PEOPLE ARE LEFT IN SIN. Although a prophet himself, Hosea upbraided those called to the prophetic office who left the people in ignorance, and those priests who encouraged and led the people in sacrifices to the gods of' the heathen. Such were threatened with the Divine displeasure, and assured that they should no more sustain sacred offices, but should be deprived of all that made them honorable. It is ever the case that abuse of trust is worse than neglect of privileges, and that those who not only wander themselves, but lead others astray, as their guilt is greater, shall experience a sorer condemnation.—T.
Like people, like priest.
This and similar passages show the justice and impartiality with which the inspired prophets fulfilled the office to which they were called. Neither the fear of the priest nor the favor of the people was allowed to act as a motive to deter them from plain speech and faithful dealing with men's souls.
I. THERE IS ACTION AND REACTION BETWEEN THE PEOPLE AND THEIR RELIGIOUS LEADERS. A spiritual and vigorous ministry tells lamentably upon the moral and religious habits of the community, and a formal and selfish ministry is a check to moral improvement and a hindrance to national purification. The importance is manifest of securing for every community clergy and teachers who shall raise the moral tone of society. Yet it is only here and there that a minister of religion will be found truly alive to God in the midst of a corrupt and worldly society. For good and for evil, teachers and taught, leaders and led, rise and fall together. "Like people, like priest."
II. THE PEOPLE AND THEIR RELIGIOUS LEADERS ARE ALIKE AMENABLE TO THE RIGHTEOUS RULE OF GOD. If the watchman be faithful amidst general corruption and defection, if he give the people warning, he shall deliver his soul. But if he neglect to do this, and the people perish, shall the slothful or unfaithful watchman escape, in the day of inquisition and of judgment? No! when the people are punished for their ways and rewarded for their doings, the pastors who have encouraged the sheep in their wanderings, and left them to perish in the wilderness, shall be overtaken by the penalties attaching to sinful neglect and abuse of trust. Their official position, even the formal fulfillment of their official duties, shall not exempt them from the fate of the faithless, "Like people, like priest."
1. Let people value a faithful ministry, and give heed to wise and righteous warnings, ere it be too late.
2. Let ministers of religion beware lest they fall into negligent habits, and perform their services in a perfunctory and unspiritual manner, and thus encourage the people in impiety.—T.
Sensuality is ruin.
Whilst the language of this prophet regarding debauchery is sometimes to be taken figuratively, we have no option but to read this statement in its obvious and literal sense. Evidently the worship of foreign deities in northern Palestine was accompanied by licentious rites and debasing moral habits. In this verse is set forth the general law that the indulgence of the animal nature involves mental and moral deterioration and destruction.
I. SENSUALITY AFFECTS THE MIND THROUGH THE BODY. Whoredom and intoxication have ever been, and are to-day, the two great "sins of the flesh." Man's bodily nature is so constituted that these practices derange the nervous system, and render the sinner mentally incapable of many of the serious duties of life. The lunatic asylums are peopled with those who have lost their mental powers through addictedness to wine and to women. And where the evil has not gone to lengths so great, it is nevertheless sufficient to affect the powers of application, the memory, and the judgment.
II. SENSUALITY INJURES THE MIND BY CONSTANTLY DIRECTING IT TO MEANS OF CARNAL GRATIFICATION. The man who is besotted with the hove of pleasure, and is constantly planning new means of animal gratification and excitement, has little energy to spare for loftier flights. Even his intellectual efforts are tainted with the poison. if he be a man of genius, the trail of the serpent is over his works.
III. SENSUALITY CURSES THE MIND WITH SELFISHNESS. Whatever makes a man selfish takes away his heart. The sensual become machines bent upon the vain task of satisfying the bodily appetites. Those addicted to vice have no room in their souls for generous impulses, and have no disposition to engage in works of philanthropy and public good.
IV. SENSUALITY INDISPOSES THE MIND TO RECEIVE THE ENLIGHTENING AND QUICKENING INFLUENCES OF RELIGION. Christianity is a rebuke to the lover of pleasure; for it summons man to a spiritual life, imposes spiritual service, and proffers spiritual joys. He that liveth in pleasure is dead while he liveth. Christ calls us to mortify the deeds of the body. His religion is, indeed, not ascetic; at the marriage-feast at Cana he sanctioned wedded love and the proper use of wine. But he cannot tolerate a sensual life, and has declared plainly that the debauched and the drunken can have no place in his kingdom. For such have permitted Satan to take away their heart, and they have none left to give to Christ.
APPLICATION. Let the young be warned against the insidious and seductive snares which the world lays for their downfall, and into which their weak and sinful nature is too apt to lead them; there is safety only by the cross, and by the Spirit of the Holy Savior.—T.
Ephraim is in this book taken as the representative of the northern tribes, because it was the most numerous and powerful, and seems to have been the leader in the apostasy of Israel. The principle of this verse is one which we can recognize as just, but one upon which it would be dangerous, without authority, for erring man to act.
I. THE CASE DESCRIBED IS ONE OF RESOLUTE APOSTASY AND IDOLATRY. Ephraim is represented, as not only idolatrous, but confirmed in idolatry. Having forsaken the Lord, Israel has gone after strange gods, and is joined unto them as in an adulterous connection. There are those who not only fall into sin, but wallow in sin; who are not only tempted, but delight in yielding to temptation.
II. THE HUMAN ABANDONMENT HERE COUNSELED. "Let him alone." This presumes that many efforts to reform the sinful have been made. It would not, indeed, be lawful for man to give such a direction as this; but God gives it. Why? Doubtless that the sinner may be left to his own devices, to reap the consequence of his sinful ways. Expostulations, entreaties, threats, have all failed; and man can do no more. It is time for God to work; and he teaches by allowing the disobedient to eat the fruit of their conduct. "The way of transgressors is hard;" and they must walk therein in order to learn that this is so.
III. THOSE ABANDONED BY MEN ARE NOT ABANDONED BY GOD. Mercy dictates the treatment here counseled. Ephraim is "let alone," in order that, learning by bitter experience the evil of sin, Ephraim may turn unto the Lord, and so seek and find pardon and acceptance. The eye of God is upon the abandoned sinner, and the hand of God is ready, at the right moment, to be stretched forth to deliver and to save. For such the mercy of the Sovereign, the grace of the Savior, may yet avail.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Hosea 4:1, Hosea 4:2
A corrupt people and an expostulating God.
"Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood." In the previous chapters the prophet's language had been highly and somewhat perplexingly symbolical. It is so much so in the short chapter preceding this, that we pass it by. Here he begins to speak more plainly, and in sententious utterances. From the first to the nineteenth verses of this chapter, he reproves both the people and the priest for their sins during the eleven years' interregnum that followed Jeroboam's death. He makes no mention, therefore, either of the king or his family. The subject of these two verses is—A corrupt people and an expostulating God.
I. A CORRUPT PEOPLE. The people are "the children of Israel," or the ten tribes who were living during the terrible period of anarchy which followed on the death of Jeroboam II. Their depravity is here represented both in a negative and a positive form.
1. Negatively. "Because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land." These are the great fontal virtues in the universe; and where they are not, there is a moral abjectness of the most terrible description. "No truth!" A people without reality, not only living in fictions, but their very life a lie. "Nor mercy!' No acts of beneficence performed, and the very spirit of kindliness extinct. All tenderness and genial feeling burnt out. "Nor knowledge of God!" The greatest, the holiest, and the most beneficent Being in the universe utterly ignored.
2. Positively. The absence of these great virtues gives rise to tremendous crimes.
(1) There is profanity. "By swearing." Where God is ignored, all reverence is gone; the sentiments of sacredness can never exist in a heart "without God."
(2) There is falsehood. "And lying." God is the foundation of all realities; and estrangement from him is a universe of lies.
(3) There is cruelty. "Killing." What is life to a man who has no truth, or mercy, or knowledge of God? It is a cheap and worthless thing; and the work of the assassin and the warrior becomes natural to him.
(4) There is dishonesty. "And stealing." Rapine and plunder become rife: he who respects not the claims of God will have but little respect for the claims of man.
(5) There is incontinence. "Committing adultery." Domestic sanctities invaded and the Divine institution of marriage outraged.
(6) There is murder. "Blood toucheth blood." An expression that means a profusion of slaughter, as in the case of massacres, insurrections, and national wars. "Blood toucheth blood;" the streams of crimson gore run from the slain and mingle together. "It was about this time that there was so much blood shed in grasping at the crown: Shallum stew Zechariah, and Menahem slew Shallum; Pekah slew Pekahiah, and Hoshea slew Pekah; and the like bloody work it is likely there was among other contenders, so that the land was polluted with blood (Psalms 106:38); it was filled with blood from one end to the other (2 Kings 15:16)." Such are the corrupt people here portrayed. Alas, that there should be so much in modern England like unto this ghastly and revolting picture!
II. AN EXPOSTULATING GOD. "Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land." Of all controversies this is the most awful. A controversy between men and men, between individuals, Churches, nations, is sometimes very awful, but nothing approaching to this.
1. It is a just controversy. Many of men's controversies are most unrighteous, but this is just. Has not the great Ruler of the universe a right to contend against profanity, falsehood, cruelty, etc.? They are repugnant to his nature; they are detrimental to the interests of his creation.
2. It is a continuous controversy. It began with the first sin, has continued through all preceding ages, and is on now as strong as ever.
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; they are too palpable and patent. He cannot plead accidents, for sin has been the law of his life. He cannot plead compulsion, for he is free. He cannot plead some merit as a set-off, for he has none. No, in this controversy he must be crushed. "Julian strove a great while against the Lord, but at length he was forced to acknowledge, with his blood cast up in the air, 'Vicisti Galilaee, vicisti!' Thou hast conquered, O Galilean, thou hast conquered!"
CONCLUSION. IS this controversy going on with you? It is held in the court of conscience, and you must know of its existence and character.—D.T.
A terrible deprivation.
"Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away. Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest. Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother." These words lead us to consider a lamentable deprivation—a deprivation that comes upon the people in consequence of their heinous iniquities. Two remarks are suggested concerning this deprivation.
I. It is a deprivation both of MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL GOOD.
1. Of material good.
(1) A deprivation of health. "Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish." The physical frame loses its wonted elasticity and vigor, and succumbs to decay and depression. "Languish" like a dying man on his couch. Sin is inimical to the bodily health and vigor of men and nations; it insidiously saps the constitution.
(2) A deprivation of the means of subsistence. "The beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away." Literally, this refers to one of those droughts that occasionally occur in the East, and is ever one of the greatest calamities. What a dependent creature man is! The beasts of the field, the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the sea can do better without him, but he cannot do without them. How soon the Eternal can destroy these means of his subsistence! One hot blast of pestilential air could do the whole.
2. Of spiritual good. "Let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest." The meaning seems to be that their presumptuous guilt was as great as that of one who refused to obey the priest when giving judgment in the Name of Jehovah, and who, according to law, for that cause was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:12). One of the greatest spiritual blessings of mankind is the strife and reproof of godly men. The expostulations and admonitions of Christly friends, parents, teachers. What on earth is more valuable; is so essential as these? Yet these are to be taken away. "Let no man strive, nor reprove another." The time comes with the sinner when God says, "My Spirit shall no more strive with thee; Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." Men have become so dog-like in nature that holy things are not to be presented to them; so swinish that you are to cast before them no more pearls (Matthew 7:6).
II. It is a deprivation LEADING TO A TERRIBLE DOOM.
1. The destruction of priests and people. "Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night." The meaning is, that no time, night or day, shall be free from the slaughter, both of the people and the priests. This was literally true of the ten tribes at this time. And it is true in a more general and universal sense. God's law is, that "evil shall slay the wicked;" and it is always slaying them, whether they be priests or people—the laity or the clergy. If they are not true to God, day and night, they are being slain.
2. The destruction of the social state. "And I will destroy thy mother," Who was the mother? The Israelitish state. And it was destroyed. England is our mother, and our mother will be destroyed unless we banish sin from our midst."—D.T.
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, 1 will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the Law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." These words suggest three things in relation to religious ignorance.
I. IT IS DESTRUCTIVE. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Ignorance 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? How can nothing do mischief? 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 and moisture; an animal without the salubrious breeze.
II. IT IS WILLFUL. "Because thou hast rejected knowledge." There is no culpability in a man being ignorant of some things. He may not have the means, the time, or the faculty for the particular attainment. Not so with the knowledge of God; it comes to him whether he will or not. It comes to him in the objects of nature; it comes to him in the necessary deductions of his reason; it comes to him in the intuitions of his moral nature. Besides, in some cases, as with the Israelites, it comes to man by special revelation. He rejects it. Ignorance of God is ever more a criminal ignorance. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse."
III. IT IS GOD-OFFENDING. "I will also reject thee." It is not unnatural or unphilosophic to suppose that the condition of the man ignoring his existence must be to the last degree offensive to him. Hence he deals out retribution.
1. To themselves. "I will also reject thee," etc.
2. To their children. "I will also forget thy children." It is a Divine law springing from the constitution of society, that the iniquities of the fathers shall be visited on their children. Parents cannot do wrong without injuring their offspring.—D.T.
"As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame." The "increase" referred to in the text is in all probability an increase in the number of the population. Israel had become a numerous people. But it might also refer to their increase in wealth; this is the application that we shall make of it, and notice three points.
I. SECULAR PROSPERITY ATTAINED BY THE WICKED. They were an idolatrous and rebellious people, yet they had grown rich. Their lands brought forth plentifully, and their merchandise was prosperous.
1. This is a common fact. Wicked men, in all ages from the beginning, have not only been successful in the accumulation of wealth, but as a rule have been more prosperous than their contemporaries. Two things may account for this fact.
(1) Their secular earnestness. Material good is the one thing that fills and fires an unregenerate soul, and for this he labors with might and main. The more earnest a man is in any pursuit (his aptitudes being equal), the more successful. The mere worldly man is "fervent" in business.
(2) Their moral unscrupulousness. They have no high sense of honor, no inviolable rules of right, no swaying sense of moral responsibilities. Hence they will not reject the fraudulent and the false if they will serve them in their course. Fraud and falsehood are perhaps the chief factors in fortune-making. No wonder, then, that the wicked become rich.
2. This is a trying fact. Men of incorruptible truth, honesty, and high devotion have in all ages been baffled and distressed by this fact. "Wherefore do the wicked prosper?" This has been their puzzle.
II. SECULAR PROSPERITY ABUSED BY THE WICKED. "As they were increased, so they sinned against me." Wealth has a wonderful power either for good or ill. With it the truly generous and holy can widen the empire of spiritual intelligence and advance the cause of human happiness; and by it the wicked can increase the corruption and swell the tide of human depravity. In the hands of the wicked wealth can:
1. Promote injustice. Wealth gives a man power to baffle the cause of justice, trample on human rights, and oppress the poor and the innocent. Wealth fattens the despotic in human nature.
2. Promote sensuality. It provides means to inflame the low passions of human nature, and to pamper the brutal appetites. It tends to bury the soul in the warm and sparkling stream of animal passions.
3. Promote practical atheism. The man who has an abundance of the things of this life, and who has not the fear of God in his heart, is sure to sink into an utter forgetfulness of the Author of all good. Thus, then, "as they were increased, so they sinned against me." A terrible fact this.
III. SECULAR PROSPERITY RUINOUS TO THE WICKED. "Therefore will I change their glory into shame." I will strip them of all they now glory in, all their worldly prosperity, and give them shame instead. I will quench all the lights which they have kindled, and which glare around them, and there shall be darkness. I will bring them into wretchedness and contempt. "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found."
"Today he puts forth
The tender leaves of hopes, tomorrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him:
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost:
And,—when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripening,—nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do."
Feeding on sin.
"They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity." Dr. Henderson renders these words, "They devour the sin offering of my people." "The priests greedily devoured what the people brought for the expiation of their sins; and instead of endeavoring to put a stop to abounding iniquity, only wished it to increase, in order that they might profit by the multitude of the victims presented for sacrifice." The priests lived upon the sacrificial meat (see 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 they "set their heart on their iniquity." That is, they longed for its increase; they had an interest in the growth of sin in the country, so that in truth, without figure, they feed upon the sin of the people. "The more sins," says an old expositor, "the more sacrifice, and therefore they cared not how much sin people were guilty of. Instead of warning the people against sin from the consideration of the sacrifices, which showed them what an offence sin was to God, since it added such an expiation, they emboldened and encouraged the people to sin, since an atonement might be made at so small an expense. Thus they glutted themselves upon the sins of the people, and helped to keep up that which they should have beaten down." Are there no men now that feed and least on the sins of the people? We think such men can be found.
I. THERE ARE SUCH MEN IN THE ECCLESIASTICAL WORLD. There is a class of ecclesiastics who live in palaces, fare sumptuously every day, and roll in chariots of opulence, who profess to be the chief ministers of him who made himself of no reputation, took upon himself the form of a servant, and who, when on earth, had nowhere to lay his head. What is it that sustains these men, keeps up the huge imposture? Simply the "sin of the people." Their credulity, their ignorance, their servility, their superstition. Let these sins die out, and these gorgeous and plethoric hierarchs will have to doff their splendor, live on humble fare, and work as honest men or starve. A story is related of a prelate in Charles V.'s time, who invited his friends to his house, and prepared a hospitable banquet of which they would not partake. "What!" said he, "will you not eat of dainties that are bought at so dear a rate? The meat that I have prepared for you is like to cost me the pains of hell." The prelate felt that he was a priestly impostor, misrepresenting the Man of sorrows, and shamefully neglecting his duty.
II. THERE ARE SUCH MEN IN THE COMMERCIAL WORLD. There are men who have vested interest in the sin of intemperance—brewers, distillers, and traffickers in alcoholic drinks. They live on the sin of intemperance, and raise themselves in hot antagonism against any effort to weaken its power or to limit its influence. There are men who have vested interest in the sin of war. The sin of war! The phrase is infinitely too weak. War comprises all sins. It is the totality of all abominations. Yet the manufacturers of armories and war-ships, and traders in the implements and equipages of fighting men, live on this sin. They hail every intimation of war. The first groan of the infernal lion falls as music on their greedy ears.
III. THERE ARE SUCH MEN IN THE PROFESSIONAL WORLD. What would the lawyer do without chicaneries, breaches of contract, thefts, violences, seductions, and all kinds of social immoralities and crimes? What would popular journalists do were there no scandals, no tragedies, no crime, no fraudulent advertisements? What would become of the sensational novelist if there was no sinful love in the people for the horrible and the prurient?
CONCLUSION. Alas! that men are sinners, but alas! a thousand times more, that men should feed on sin! Herein is the great obstruction to moral reformations. Destroy a popular sin, and you destroy the livelihood of hundreds, and the pomp and splendor of many. How shall sin be put away flora the world? Who shall destroy this work of the devil? Thank God, we have the answer!—D.T.
The reciprocal influence of priesthood and people.
"There shall be, like people, like priest." Though perhaps the translation of Keil and Delitzsch—"Therefore it will happen as to the people, so to the priest"—may give the literal idea, I take the words as they stand, which have become a proverb, "Like people, like priest." Instead of taking up the primary idea of the words, viz. that the rank and wealth of the priests would not exempt them from sharing the same fate as the rest of the nation, I would put into prominence for a moment the idea of the reciprocal influence of priesthood and people. And I make two general remarks on this idea.
I. THERE IS SOMETIMES A DISGRACEFUL RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE.
1. It is a disgrace to a true priest to become like the people. A true priest—that is, a God-made priest—is a man above the average in brain, heart, being, culture, intelligence, and virtue. He who is not above the average is no priest; he is out of his place. A priest is a man to mould, not to be molded; to control, not to cringe; to lead, not to be led. His thoughts should away the thoughts of the people, and his character should command their reverence. Sometimes, nay, too frequently, you see priests become like the people—mean, sordid, groveling. There are men who call themselves priests that are the mere creatures of the people. The true priest is the prince of the people; his ministry is a "royal priesthood."
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 that allow themselves to become like such a priest! And yet the transformation is pretty general. How often one meets in a social circle with those who represent the miserable spirit of their little priest!
II. THERE IS SOMETIMES AN HONORABLE RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE.
1. It is honorable when people become like a true priest. When they catch his broad spirit, cherish his soul-quickening thought, and grasp his lofty aims, when they feel one with him in spiritual interests and Christly pursuits.
2. It is honorable to the true priest when he has succeeded in making the people like him. He may welt 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 key-note, that they are of one mind and one heart in relation to the grand purpose of life.
"I venerate the man whose heart is warm,
Whose hands are pure, whose doctrine and whose life
Coincident, exhibit lucid proof
That he is honest in the sacred cause.
To such I render more than mere respect,
Whose actions say that they respect themselves."
An unholy alliance and a righteous abandonment.
"Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." "Ephraim," the most powerful of the ten tribes, is frequently used by the prophets for Israel. Notice briefly two things.
I. AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE. "Ephraim is joined to idols," is welded to them; his heart is rooted in them. What is an idol? Carved wood, stone, or molded metal, living creatures, flowing streams, or heavenly orbs? No. These are mere representations of idols. The idol of a man is the object supremely loved, whatever that object may be. Gold, fame, beauty, power, pleasure,—whatever the heart is set on, that is the idol. Here in our England we condemn polytheism, but we abound with polytheists. Men have as many idols here as they have objects of supreme love, and they are many. Thousands of Englishmen are joined to their idols; they are chained to them by the ties of their strongest loves and habits.
II. A RIGHTEOUS ABANDONMENT. "Let him alone." It is a hopeless case. Waste no more time in argument and moral appliances. The times comes with every sinner when he is abandoned, his character is stereotyped, and his doom is settled. God says to providence, "Let him alone"—do not disturb him; to conscience, "Let him alone;" to the Spirit," Let him alone." When God abandons the soul, all is over; when the fountain refuses to pour forth its waters, the stream dries up; when the sun refuses to travel up the horizon, all nature will die.—D.T.
"The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices." The simple meaning of this is, Israel shall be borne away from her land, suddenly and violently, as by the winds of heaven. There is retributive justice in the universe. Men are slow to discern it, and it often moves so silently and secretly as to elude the dim vision of the wicked. Still it is in existence, and it works like the thunderstorm; it may sleep silently in the heavens for some time, but break into tempest and fury it must, sooner or later. The verse leads us to notice two things in relation to this retributive justice.
I. ITS EMBLEM. It is here compared to the "wind." Why is it like "wind?"
1. In its agitatior. Wind is a disturbance or an 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 not wickedness. The growing heat of sin so disturbs it that it often breaks into an all-devastating fury, it is like "wind."
2. In its violent. There is often a mighty power in the wind. It sometimes "rends the mountains and breaks in pieces the rocks." It has overturned the "mountains by the roots;" it has "broken the cedars, even the cedars of Lebanon, and shaken the wilderness." Cambyses being once in the wilderness with the soldiers, a strong and violent wind broke and buried thousands of them in the sand. Who can stand before retributive justice when it comes forth in its power? "The wind hath bound her up in her wings." Avenging justice binds its victim up, and carries it away—whether it be an individual, a nation, or a world—as tempests carry off the chaff.
II. ITS EFFECT. "And they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices." Shame—moral shame, the primary element in the soul's hell—ever comes to the victim of retributive justice.
1. There is the shame of disappointment. All plans broken, all purposes thwarted, all hopes destroyed. "Let me not be ashamed of my hope," said David.
2. There is the shame of exposure. The wicked always live in masquerade; they always appear to be what they are not; they are necessarily hypocrites. Retributive justice takes off the mask and lays bare their hearts in all their revolting foulness.
3. There is the shame of remorse. This is the most burning shame of all. It sends its fires down into the very center of man's being, and sets all the moral nerves aflame.
CONCLUSION. Take warning, ye wicked sons of men; let not the present stillness of your atmosphere deceive you; your sins are generating a heat that must sooner or later so disturb the elements about you, as to bring on you ruin and fill you with "shame and confusion of face."
"A year has ended. Let the good man pause,
And think, for he can think, of all its crime
And toil and suffering. Nature has her laws
That will not brook infringement; in all time,
All circumstances, all states, in every clime,
She holds aloft the same avenging sword;
And, sitting on her boundless throne sublime,
The vials of her wrath, with justice stored,
Shall, in her own good hour, on all that's ill be poured."
(James Gates Percival)
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The Lord's controversy.
God had a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. The essential part of the indictment was that they had forsaken him. "There is no knowledge of God in the land." Hence—
I. A FEARFUL OVERFLOWING OF IMMORALITY.
1. With the knowledge of God there had departed also "truth and mercy" (Hosea 4:1). "Truth" and "mercy," or "kindness," are root-principles of morals. The subversion of them is the subversion of morality in its foundations. These foundation-virtues, however, had been subverted in Israel. Morality has never proved able to sustain itself in divorce from religion. The bond which binds man to God is also the bond which binds him to the practice of the moral virtues. To cut this bond is to set him adrift. He who ignores the primal obligation—that to his Maker—is not likely to have much regard for any other.
2. The result was a fearful overspreading of corruption. "By swearing, and lying, and killing," etc. (Hosea 4:2). Ungodliness ran its course unchecked. It brought forth its natural fruits of rapine, dishonesty, licentiousness, profanity, riotousness, and murder. Society seamed dissolving. Irreligion is the foe, not only of private morality, but of social order. It tends to division, to anarchy, to general disregard of law and rights.
II. SEVERE JUDGMENTS ON THE LAND. "Therefore shall the land mourn," etc. (Hosea 4:3). Man's sin, in its effects, is not confined to himself or to his kind. It overflows on the animate and the inanimate creation.
1. The ground was cursed at first for man's sake (Genesis 3:17).
2. It is degraded in being compelled to sustain the sinner, and to serve as the instrument of his vices.
3. It is visited on his account with plagues, droughts, and famines (Amos 4:6-12).
4. It is despoiled and down-trodden, and suffers from his neglect, his misuse, and his ruthless devastations.
5. The animal creation shares in these calamities, besides suffering much directly from man's cruel treatment. Thus in many ways the creature is made subject to vanity (Romans 8:19-22). The consideration should heighten our sense of sin's enormity.
III. APPROACHING RUIN TO THE NATION. (Hosea 4:4, Hosea 4:5) A nation in the moral state above described cannot long escape punishment. It "is nigh unto cursing" (Hebrews 6:8). Its doom hastens on apace. "Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together" (Matthew 24:28). The judgment which would fall on Israel would be:
1. Sure. "Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another," etc. (Hosea 4:4). The thing for the people to do was, not to strive with one another, but to cease to strive with God. But this was a remedy not likely to be adopted. A headstrong, presumptuous, contumacious spirit had got possession of them; they were "as they that strive with the priest"—a proverbial expression for the highest contumacy (cf. Deuteronomy 17:12). It is useless for the wicked to reprove, rebuke, or reproach one another for the miseries which are overtaking them while repentance toward God stands postponed. That is the first and great necessity.
2. Sudden. "Therefore shalt thou fall in the day," etc. (Hosea 4:5). People and prophet would fall continuously, night and day, till all were destroyed. But there seems allusion also to the swiftness with which the calamity would descend. The "day" of their prosperity (Hosea 2:11) would suddenly terminate; a "night" of terrible blackness would succeed. This night would be a specially dark one for the "prophet"—he who had claimed to be a "seer." His predictions discredited, his repute gone, his charlatanry exposed, his visions extinguished in blood, he and his dupes would perish miserably together. "The blind lead the blind," and both at last "fall into the ditch" (Matthew 15:14).
3. Complete. The whole nation would be destroyed. "Thy mother" (Hosea 4:5).—J.O.
Priests and people.
The prophet addresses himself in this section to both priests and people, but chiefly to the priests, whom he regards as mainly responsible for the people's defection.
I. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ALIKE IN THE REJECTION OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. (Hosea 4:6)
1. The tack of the knowledge of God. Israel possessed this knowledge of God once. It did not possess it now. There was little right knowledge of God's character, of God's Law, and of God's past gracious dealings. Jehovah was regarded practically as one of the Baals. Destitute of right ideas of his spirituality, holiness, and moral demands, the people in their sinning did not feel how far they were going astray. Right ideas on these subjects could hardly penetrate into minds besotted with wine, whoredom, and the unholy rites of Baal and Astarte worship. In our own land of Bibles and churches, what dense ignorance of God and of Divine things might be found to prevail, if the matter were inquired into!
2. Causes of this lack of knowledge. The knowledge of God was lost, not through any fault on God's part in not giving the means of knowledge, or in not sufficiently inculcating on the people the importance of using the means. God had given the people a Law (Hosea 8:12); he had laid upon the Levites the duty of teaching and of promoting the knowledge of its requirements (Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 3:5-7); he had laid the same duty on parents (Deuteronomy 6:6-9); he had warned all of the dangers of inattention and forgetfulness. How, then, came the knowledge to be lost?
(1) The priests failed in teaching (cf. Malachi 2:8). A grave responsibility rests on the teachers of a nation. If they are faithful in duty, the knowledge of God can never be absolutely lost. If they do not teach, it is certain that a large number will always remain uninstructed. Their example has an influence on others.
(2) The people tailed in remembering. The priests had rejected (or despised) knowledge; the people had forgotten the Law of their God. The unfaithfulness of the professed teachers did not wholly exonerate those who were neglected. They had other means of knowledge. Had they been diligent in preserving the knowledge they had, and in handing it down by careful parental instruction (Psalms 78:4), this, aided by the study of the Law itself, would have kept alive true knowledge, and have saved the nation. We are responsible for the use we make even of scant opportunities.
(3) The cause of failure in both cases was a moral one. Neither priests nor people cared to retain God in their knowledge. This was how they allowed the knowledge of him to be lost (cf. Romans 1:21, Romans 1:28). The departure of the heart from God comes first. There is then the indisposition to hear about him or learn about him. Thus the knowledge of him is lost. Such ignorance is culpable.
3. The fatal effects of this lack of knowledge.
(1) The people were destroyed. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." They had destroyed themselves. How many are thus destroyed who, had they been rightly taught in youth, might now have been foremost in God's service! Parents, teachers, ministers, cannot too seriously reflect on the measure of their responsibility (cf. Ezekiel 3:17-21; Ezekiel 33:1-33). We must teach men the way of salvation, if we expect them to find it or to walk in it (Acts 10:6, Acts 10:33; Acts 16:17, Acts 16:31).
(2) God rejected those who had rejected him. "I will reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to be." Place, office, honor, opportunities of usefulness, will be taken from us if we misuse them (Proverbs 2:5, Proverbs 2:16).
(3) The children were lost through the unfaithfulness of the parents. "I will forget thy children."
II. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ALIKE IN SIN. (Hosea 4:7, Hosea 4:8) The sins alluded to are pride and covetousness.
1. Pride was the sin of the people. "As they were increased, so they sinned against me." This is the danger of prosperity. "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked" (Deuteronomy 32:15). The heart grows haughty, and rebels at the restraints of the Divine Law. Moses foretold the danger, and warned against it (Deuteronomy 8:10-20). Retribution would correspond in character to the sin. "I will turn their glory into shame."
2. Covetousness was peculiarly the sin of the priests. "They eat up the sin of my people," etc. The reference is to the flesh of the sin offerings, or, more generally, to revenues derived from transgressions (atonement money, etc). The priests prostituted their sacred office for gain. They were glad at the iniquity of the people, if it brought them more income (cf. the Romish sale of pardons, etc). It is shameful, under any circumstances, to seek gain by conniving at sin.
III. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ALIKE IN THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN. (Hosea 4:9-11) "Like people, like priest." It is difficult to say which has the greater influence on the other, priest or people. The people are readily corrupted by their leaders. The leaders, on the other hand, are too apt to take their tone from the community. They act and react, and tend to a moral level. Alike in sin, priests and people are made alike in punishment. "I will punish them," etc. The punishment would be:
1. Congruous with the nature of the sin. "They shall eat, and not have enough," etc. For plenty there would be substituted scarcity; greed would find its recompense in not having enough to satisfy; the nation that boasted of its increase would be made few in number. This is the general character of God's punishments.
2. In part wrought out by the sins themselves. Sin strikes round to be its own avenger. Luxury and waste lead to poverty. The greed of the priest overreaches itself, and leads to the altar being deserted, and the office held in contempt (Judges 17:9,Judges 17:10; 1 Samuel 2:36). Pampered appetite becomes a tyrant and tormentor. Licentiousness diminishes population.
3. Prepared for by infatuation. "Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart." "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first madden." Infatuation precedes doom.—J. O.
The people had parted with the knowledge of the true God, and had become possessed of a spirit of whoredoms. See the effects.
I. THEY WEST AFTER SENSELESS FOLLIES. "My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them" (Hosea 4:12). The spirit of sin is a spirit of "error." It robs men of their better judgment. No limit can be put to the wanderings of the mind under its influence. The worship of a "stock" is absurd enough, even when the devotee knows no better. But that Israel, who had "been once enlightened," and had known the true God, should go back to "stocks" and "staffs," was a singular instance of fatuity. When the soul has abandoned God, there is no anticipating what crazes it will adopt, what "will-o'-the-wisps" it will follow after (the follies of society, the credulity of skepticism, etc).
II. THEY FELL VICTIMS TO SUPERSTITION. "They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains,' etc. (Hosea 4:13). They attached a superstitious importance to mountains, hills, trees, groves, etc; in connection with their worship. The mountains lifted them nearer to heaven (Numbers 22:41; Numbers 23:14, Numbers 23:28); the shade of the trees filled them with awe, True religion delivers from superstition, irreligion leaves men a prey to it. Feelings of a superstitious nature become with many a substitute for religion. They seek, in the materialistic accompaniments of worship, a satisfaction which the worship itself would not afford them (altars, ritual, architectural gloom, vestments, etc).
III. THEY WERE BEGUILED INTO GROSS IMMORALITY. "Therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses [daughters-in-law] shall commit adultery" (Hosea 4:13). The seductions of the place, the character of the worship, and the exciting behavior indulged in at the altar, paved the way for lewd practices. These were incorporated as a part of most heathen worship. The heart which has cast off the fear of God is only too eagerly prepared for licentious conduct. Lust is one of the commonest forms of sin.
IV. THEY SET AS EVIL EXAMPLE TO THEIR JUNIORS. "I will not punish your daughters," etc. (Hosea 4:14). The unblushing conduct of the parents in going to the public altars with immoral women made it impossible to blame too severely the younger generation, who simply followed the example set them by their elders. Thus corruption was propagated, and the most shameless deeds were flaunted in the light of open day.
V. THEY BROUGHT DOWN ON THEMSELVES THE VENGEANCE OF GOD. "Therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall" (Hosea 4:14). The origin of all was the not understanding. They are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).—J.O.
Warning to Judah.
Judah had not yet sunk so low as Israel. She was, however, far from guiltless. Her princes were like them that remove the bound (Hosea 5:10). She is included with Israel in the threatenings that follow (Hosea 5:5, Hosea 5:10, Hosea 5:14; Hosea 6:4, Hosea 6:11). "The people did yet corruptly," is the testimony of the history (2 Chronicles 27:2). Still her case was not so hopeless but that judgment might be averted by timely repentance. There was still "some good thing" in Judah to work upon; something to appeal to. The prophet bids her take warning from the sister kingdom, "Come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-avon [Bethel]," etc. (Hosea 4:15). Judah should be warned—
I. BY ISRAEL'S INTRACTABLENESS. (Hosea 4:16) "Israel is intractable as an intractable heifer." The nation, that is, had proved unruly, obstinate, refractory, backsliding, unteachable. Nothing that God could do would induce it to walk quietly in his ways. This is a picture of the natural, unrenewed temper. "It is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be' (Romans 8:7). In Judah, also, this temper was beginning to show itself. Let it be warned. Israel would soon have liberty enough, and more than it cared for. "Now the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place." Intractableness springs from a false desire of freedom. It counts the yoke of God a bondage. The punishment would correspond. God would relieve the people of his yoke, but would relieve them at the same time of the care and protection they had enjoyed as his nation. Left, in a condition of dispersion, to realize their helplessness, they would learn to long for the yoke they had once despised.
II. BY ISRAEL'S OBDURACY. (Hosea 4:17) Obduracy is defined as that state which implies "a total disregard of Divine calls and warnings, and an insensibility to their importance" (Miller). This is the state to which intractableness tends. In Israel it had been already reached. "Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone."
1. The soul has its idols—its earthly objects, which it puts in the place of God.
2. There comes in time to be such a welding of the soul to the objects of its sinful pursuit, that further remonstrance is useless.
3. When this stage is reached, God "lets it alone." He ceases remonstrating. He abandons it to its sinful courses. Conscience is silent. The Spirit ceases to strive. These awful words, "Let it alone," are the soul's death-knell. Alter this there is no recovery. How solemn the warning to Judah—and to us!
III. BY ISRAEL'S MORAL DEGENERACY. (Hosea 4:18) Everything in the kingdom had become spoiled, degenerate, corrupt—like wine turned sour. The Hebrew word means literally, "to turn aside." Life, when turned aside from its right ends, speedily degenerates. So do gifts and blessings. The land is badly tilled; its fruits are wasted in gluttony and debauchery; health degenerates through the waste of the powers of life in profligacy; feasting sinks to mere animalism, etc. This was the state into which Israel had come. "Her rulers [shields] have loved, have loved, shame." They loved shame, and the print of shame was on them. The spectacle should deter Judah from following in their steps.
IV. BY ISRAEL'S EXPERIENCE OF THE FUTILITY OF TRUST IN IDOLS. (Hosea 4:19) Destruction was about to descend on the nation. The tempest would carry them away on its wings. A fate
Then it would be manifest how helpless their idols were to aid them. They would be ashamed of the sacrifices they had offered to them. The wicked will one day be driven out of their false confidences.—J. O.
1. We offend when we frequent places notorious for wickedness. This was the character of Gilgal and Bethel.
2. We offend when we lend countenance to impieties practiced in the name of religion. One of Jeroboam's calves was at Bethel. Its presence changed Beth-el, the "house of God," into "Beth-aven," "house of vanity."
3. We offend when we are partners to any profanation of the Name of God. "Nor swear, The Lord liveth." An oath is so solemn a thing that it ought not to be taken except on the most solemn occasions. The light use of God's Name in any connection—especially in connection with circumstances otherwise dishonoring to him—is a heinous transgression.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hosea 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29