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Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king. The persons here addressed comprise all the estates of the realm—priests, people, and princes. The house of Israel is the northern kingdom; and the house of the king is the members of the king's family, of his court and of his government. Thus the rulers and the ruled, the spiritual teachers and the taught, are comprehended in this address. Neither priestly office, nor popular power, nor princely dignity was to be exempted. But, though all are summoned to give audience, the heads of the people, the men of light and leading, are first arraigned. For judgment is toward you, as the clause is correctly rendered; not, "it devolves on you to maintain judgment," as some understand it. It had, indeed, been the province of the priest to teach, and of the king to execute the judgments of God in Israel; but now they are themselves the subjects of judgment. Judgment was now to begin at the house of the king and of the priest; God was about to execute judgment upon them—the judgment from that judgment-seat where justice never miscarries, and where no mistake is ever made. The cause of this is assigned. Because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor. Instead of being safeguards of the people, they had been a snare to them; instead of being true leaders, as God had intended them, they had misled them; instead of contributing to their security, they had seduced them to sin and so helped to prepare them for destruction; they had been a snare to entrap and a net to entangle. East as well as west of the Jordan their evil influence had wrought ruin. Mizpah, now es-Salt, was on the east of the river among the hills of Gilead, where Jacob and Laban entered into covenant; Tabor, like a solitary cone or sugar-loaf, rises up from the plain of Jezreel, or Esdraelon, on the west of the river. On the wooded slopes of Tabor and the beacon-hill of Mizpah game, no doubt, abounded and found covert, and hence the origin of the figure here used; but they had probably become scenes of idolatry or wickedness.
And the revolters are profound to make slaughter (or, profuse in murders or in sacrifices, or in dealing corruptly), though I have been a rebuker of them all (rather, but I am [bent upon] chastisement for them all). The literal rendering of the first clause is, slaughtering they have made deep, which is an idiom analogous to "they have deeply revolted;" literally, "they have made revolting deep" (Isaiah 31:6). The slaughtering, though understood by Wunsche of sacrifices, is rather meant of the destruction and carnage which the revolters caused to the people. Rashi explains it literally in this way: "I said, Every one that goes not up to the stated feasts transgresses a positive precept; but they decree that every one who goes up to the stated feasts shall be slain." This seems to imply that liers-in-wait were set probably on Mizpah and Tabor, the places mentioned in the preceding verse, to slay the Israelites that were found going up to the feasts at Jerusalem. Aben Ezra, taking this second verse as continuing the sentiment of the first, interprets as follows: "Ye have been a snare on Mizpah that ye might not allow them to go up to the feasts to the house of the Lord; and to slay (victims) in the usual way." The revolters or apostates he takes to be the worshippers of Baal. "They made deep," he adds in his exposition, "the snares, those that are mentioned, that passers-by might not see them; but I will chastise all of them for this evil which they have done, since it is not hidden from me why they have hid (made) it so deep." The slaughtering is thus understood by Aben Ezra of slaying the sacrificial victims. Similarly Kimchi interprets thus: "He says that the revolters who are the worshippers of idols, who depart from the ways of God—blessed be he!—and kern his service, like a woman who is a revolter from under her husband, have made deep their revolt, slaying and sacrificing to idols." lie would understand the slaughtering neither of victims with Kimchi and Aben Ezra; nor of literally slaying Israelites to prevent persons going up to Jerusalem, the proper seat of Jehovah's worship; but of the destructive consequences which the conduct of these apostates brought on the people. The work of chastisement God now takes in hand in good earnest. Droppings of the coming shower there had been; but now the full flood is to descend, for God presents himself to misleaders and misled alike under the sole aspect of rebuke. "I," he says, "am chastisement" (give myself to it). A like form of expression occurs in Psalms 109:4, "I am prayer;" that is, am a man of prayer, or give royal. If to prayer. Thus Kimchi explains the idiom: "The prophet says, Say not that no man shall correct and reprove them, therefore they sin; for I am the person who reproves them all, and day by day I reprove them, but they will not hearken to me. But raani moser wants the word ish, man, as (in Psalms 109:4) raani tephilah, which we have explained raani ish tephilah."
I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me. All attempts at concealment are vain, though sinners try ever so much to hide their sins from the Divine Majesty. However deep they dig downward, God will bring their evil doings up and out to the light of day and punish them. For now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled. Israel is the northern kingdom, and Ephraim, being the most powerful tribe, is often identified with Israel; here, however, they are distinguished—Israel is the kingdom as a whole, and Ephraim is its leading tribe. This powerful tribe, ever envious of Judah, was the ringleader in the calf worship of Jeroboam and other idolatries; and through Ephraim's evil influence the other tribes, and so all Israel, were defiled.
In this verse their evil doings are traced to an evil spirit of whoredoms that is, of idolatries, which impels them blindly and resistlessly to evil, while at the same time it expels the knowledge of God. The first clause is differently rendered. The textual rendering of the Authorized Version, viz. they will not frame (literally, give, direct) their doings to turn unto their God, denotes their total and absolute refusal to repent or to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. The actions are an index of the state of the heart, but neither the thoughts of Israel at this time, nor their deeds which indicated these thoughts, were in the direction of repentance. In heart and life they were impenitent. This rendering is supported by most of the Hebrew commentators. Rashi says, "They forsake not their evil way;" Aben Ezra," They perform not works so as to turn." Kimchi also gives an alternative sense: "Or the sense of the words is thus: They cling so closely to their evil works, that even should they for once conceive in their heart the idea of turning, they immediately repent them of it." The marginal rendering also yields a good sense; it is, Their doings will not suffer (allow) [them] to turn unto their God. The pronominal suffix for "them" is wanting, yet it may be dispensed with, as the appending of it to "doings" and "God" makes the sense sufficiently explicit. It is favored by Ewald, Keil, the Targum, and Kimchi, who explains: "Their evil works do not allow them to return to their God, as if he said, To such extent have they multiplied transgression that there is no way left them to return, until they receive their punishment." Such and so great was the power of their evil habits that they could not break them off or break away from them by repentance; or so intimately connected is a change of heart with a change of life that, in the absence of the latter, the former is impossible. According to either rendering, the reason assigned is contained in the next clause: For the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord. So overmastered were they, as though by some fiendish spirit that held them in check and exercised despotic power over them, that they rushed headlong down the steep incline, like the Gadarene herd of swine, which, when the unclean spirits entered into them, ran violently down a steep place into the sea. Neither was there any counteracting force to turn them back or reverse their course. Such a force might have been found in the knowledge of God, of his covenant mercy, of his power, love, grace, and goodrich. But this was wanting, and the absence of this knowledge at once increased their impenitence and aggravated their guilt. It was Israel's privilege and Israel's duty to know the Lord; for he had revealed himself to them as to no other nation; he had given them his Law, he had made them depositaries of his truth and the conservators of his living oracles; their ignorance, therefore, was altogether inexcusable, while it evinced greatest ingratitude to Jehovah, who had taken them into covenant with himself, and declared himself to be their God.
And the pride of Israel doth testify to his face. This may be understood
(1) of Jehovah, who was Israel's glory, as we read in Amos 7:7 of "the excellency of Israel." This explanation suits at once the sense and the context. They knew not God, notwithstanding the special advantages they enjoyed for that knowledge; they had no liking to the knowledge of' Go,], they did not concern themselves about it; and now Jehovah, who should have been their excellency and glory, but who had been thus slighted by them, will testify against them and bear witness to their face by judgments. But
(2) another interpretation recommends itself as equally or more suitable. This interpretation understands "pride" more simply to mean the prosperous state and flourishing condition of which Israel was proud, or rather, perhaps, the haughtiness of Israel, owing to those very circumstances of worldly wealth and greatness. This vain pride and self-exaltation was the great obstacle in the way of their turning to the Lord. If this sense of the word be accepted, the verb had better be rendered" humbled," a meaning which it often has; thus, "humbled shall be the pride of Israel to his face" (that is, in his own sight). Such is the translation of the LXX.: Ταπεινωθήσεται ἡ ὕβρις του Ἰσραήλ εἰς πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ, "The pride of Israel shall be brought low before his face;" while the Chaldee translates similarly, "The glory of Israel shall be humbled while they see it;" the Syriac has, "The pride of Israel shall be humbled in his presence," or before his eyes. Aben Ezra also takes the idea of the verb to be humiliation or depression; while Kimchi takes gaon not so much in the sense of the inward feeling, as of those outward circumstances that promoted it—their greatness and grandeur and glory; and, alluding to the words of the Chaldee rendering, "in their sight," he says, "While they are still in their land before their captivity, they shall perceive their humiliation and degradation, instead of the glory which they had at the beginning." Kimchi, however, as well as most other commentators, seems to have understood the verb in the sense of "testify;" thus, "Israel's pride will testify to his face, when he shall take upon him its punishment." Therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them. Pride usually goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. The consequence of Israel's pride was the fall here mentioned. The ten tribes composing the northern kingdom fell into gross and grievous sin, and therefore also into long-suffering and sore sorrow. Even Ephraim, that tribe pre-eminent for power as for pride, and the perpetual rival of Judah, shall fall as well as and with the rest. Judah also, that is, Judah proper, and Benjamin, participating in the same evil course, fell like Israel into sin, and, though more than a century later, into ruin.
In verses 6-10 the prophet details the unavailing and ineffectual efforts of Israel to avert, or at least escape from, the threatened judgments.
They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord. In this way they attempt to break, if not pro-vent, their fall. With numerous and costly sacrifices they endeavor to propitiate Jehovah. With sheep and goats out of their flocks, and with bullocks and heifers out of their herd, they try to make reparation for the past or to secure present and future favor. But in vain. Israel might go to Bethel and Judah to Jerusalem; but to no purpose. They shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself. Their repentance came too late; or when it did come it wanted sincerity; or it was a wrong motive which prompted it—fear of approaching calamity and not love to their Creator; or their sins ran parallel with their sacrifice. Forgetting that obedience is better than sacrifice, they cherished a disobedient spirit or continued in their course of disobedience notwithstanding their outward sacrificial service. For one cause or other they fail in their efforts to find him; for, instead of being a present help in time of trouble, he has withdrawn beyond their reach; he has removed the Shechinah-glory of his presence from among them; or he has loosed himself from all those ties that once bound him in mercy to them, just as a husband frees himself from all responsibilities and disarms all liabilities on behalf of a faithless partner whom he has been forced to divorce. And such is the specific reason assigned in the next verse.
They have dealt treacherously against the Lord: for they have begotten strange children. This may refer to inter. marriages with idolaters, when the offspring of such forbidden unions departed still further from the worship of Jehovah; or the children of godless Jewish parents reflected yet more the wicked works and ways of such parents. In consequence of the infidelity of the wife, the children were not the offspring of lawful wedlock or conjugal union; in other words, they were children of whoredom—an adulterous generation. Lord's infidelity to the holy covenant had as its result a graceless, godless race—children strange and supposititions in the spiritual sense. Now shall a month devour them with their portions. If
(1) "month" be the right rendering, it is a note of time like "the day of the Lord;" and the sense is that a short time shall see the end of them—not only of their persons, but their properties, that is, their hereditary portions in Palestine. But
(2) if "new moon" be the correct translation, the new moon, or sacrificial feasts celebrated at that season, will only rut,, not relieve, them. Their sinful sacrifices and vain oblations, on which they now placed their reliance, will procure, not their salvation, but perdition.
Hosea 5:8, Hosea 5:9
Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah. Intimation had been given in the preceding verse that the period of their fast-approaching destruction was at hand; that, as Kimchi expresses it, the now moon would soon come at which their enemies would destroy them. Now he pictures them as already on the march, and just advancing to execute the work of destruction; while the terror and alarm consequent thereon are here presented with great vividness, but at the same time with much brevity. A similar scene is depicted at full length by Isaiah 10:28-32, where the line of the Assyrians' march seems to be indicated, if, indeed, it be not a poetic representation of it, which the prophet gives. Thus from Aiath (el-Tell) to the pass of Michmash, now Mukmas, where he lays up his baggage; forward to Gobs, where they quarter for the night; then on to Nob, where he halts in sight at the holy city, and scarce an hour's march distant. The alarm was to be sounded with the shophar, or far-sounding cornet, made of curved horn, and the chatsotserah, or straight trumpet, made of brass or silver, used in war or at festivals. This signal of hostile invasion was to he sounded in Gibeah, now Tuleil-el-Ful, some four miles north of Jerusalem, and in Ramah, now er-Ram, two miles further distant. Both these towns, situated on eminences, as the names denote, belong to the northern boundary of Benjamin. The overthrow of the northern kingdom is rims presented as an already accomplished fact; while the invading host has already reached the frontier of the southern kingdom. Cry aloud at Beth-avon, after thee, O Benjamin. This cry is the sound at' the war-signals already mentioned, and the repetition intensifies the nature of the alarm and the urgency of the case. Beth-avon was either Bethel, now Beitin, on the border of Benjamin, or a town nearer Michmash, belonging to Benjamin. The meaning of the somewhat obscure words in the concluding clause can give little trouble, when read in the light of the context. The sounding of the alarm of war indicates with tolerable plainness what was coming behind Benjamin; nor is there need to supply the words, "the enemy rises behind thee," with same, or" the sword rages behind thee," with others. The signals announce the foe as arrived at the frontier of Judah. The enemy is close behind thee, Benjamin, in close pursuit after thee, upon thy very heels. Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke. The day of rebuke is the season when God rebukes sin by punishment; the punishment in this case is no slight rebuke or temporary chastisement. On the contrary, it is extreme in severity and final in duration. Famine, or pestilence, or war might lay a country desolate for a time, and yet relief might soon ensue and recuperative power be vigorously developed. Not so here. Ephraim is made more than desolate partially and for a short period; it becomes a desolation—"an entire desolation," as the words literally mean. In this desolation the other tribes would be involved. Nor was the menace lightly to be regarded or treated as meaningless; it was firm—well grounded as the word of the Eternal, and irreversible as his decree.
The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound. The individual who had the temerity to remove his neighbor's landmark was not only guilty of a great sin, but obnoxious to a grievous curse. Thus Deuteronomy 19:14, "Thou shall not remove thy neighbor's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance;" and again Deuteronomy 27:17, "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen." The removal of the landmark characterizes the conduct of men entirely regardless of the rights of others—utterly reckless. The Jewish nobles, the king's ministers and high officers of state, are compared to those who remove the landmark, disregarding alike what was due to their fellow-men and to their God. The Jewish commentators differ in their exposition between tact and figure—some of them taking the removal of the boundary as a matter of fact, the caph being for confirmation; thus D. Kimchi; while I. Kimchi explains it of the rejection of the appeal for justice against removers of landmarks; others understanding it figuratively, and the whole as expressing general lawlessness, thus Rashi: "Like a man who removes his neighbor's landmark, just so they hasten to hold fast the ways of Israel their neighbors … according to the literal sense, They grasped at the fields; but this, in my opinion, is harsh, for then the prophet must have written merely מסיגי, and not נמסיגי." Similarly Aben Ezra: "They exercise violence towards those who are in their power, whilst they are like those who secretly remove the landmark." The people of Judah had also sinned, and, like Israel in sin, they resemble them in suffering. Therefore I will pour out my wrath upon them like water. The word "wrath" here is from a root which signifies "to overflow;" it is thus the overflowing of Divine indignation; while the outpouring thereof denotes the full flood of wrath that will overwhelm those lawless leaders of a misguided and misgoverned people. The execution of the threatening was reserved for the Assyrians. who, under Tiglath-pileser and Sennacherib, invaded and laid waste the land. And yet those judgments, though so severe and plentiful, were not to end in total and lasting devastation as in the case of Israel. The following verses 11-15 teach the inevitable nature of the judgments that were coming upon both Israel and Judah, and from which no earthly power could deliver them. The only relief possible depended on their seeking God in the day of their distress.
Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment. The expression retsuts mishpat is
(1) by some explained, "crushed by the judgment," that is, of God, according to which mishpat would be the genitive of the agent as mukkeh Elohim. But "crushed of judgment" or in judgment is justly preferred by others, the genitive taking the place of the accusative. Again, though the combination of ‛ashūq with rutsuts is frequent, occurring as early as Deuteronomy 28:33, the latter is the stronger term. The oppression is
(2) not that which their own kings and princes practiced upon their subjects, according to Aben Ezra, "Their kings oppressed and cheated them;" nor the injustice practiced by the people of Ephraim among themselves, as implied by the LXX; "Ephraim altogether prevailed against his adversary, he trod judgment underfoot." The reference
(3) is rather to Ephraim being oppressed and crushed in judgment by the heathen nations around; thus Rashi explains, "Oppressed is Ephraim ever by the hand of the heathen—chastised with chastisements;" so also Kimchi, "By the hand of the heathen who oppressed and crushed them through hard judgments." The construction is asyndetous, like So Ezra 2:11, "The rain is over, is gone." Because he willingly walked after the commandment. This clause assigns the reason of Ephraim's oppression. They evinced ready willing-hood in following
(1) the commandments of men instead of the commandments of God. Tsav is thus understood by Aben Ezra, and in like manner Ewald explains it to mean an arbitrary or self-imposed precept. The LXX.
(2) seem to have read שָׁו, equivalent to שָׁוְא, vanity, translating, "for he began to go after vanities (τῶν ματαίων);" which the Chaldee and Syriac fellow. But
(3) it is rather the commandment of Jeroboam about the worship of the calves which lay at the root of the nation's sin. It is welt explained by Kimchi: "Although the word 'Jeroboam' is wanting, so that he makes no mention of it after tsav, such is the scriptural usage in certain places, i.e. to omit a word where the sense is plain. For it was a well-known fact that in that generation they walked not after the commandment, but after that of Jeroboam; therefore he has abbreviated the word to indicate the worthlessness, and used tsav instead of mitsvah." Perhaps it may have the concrete sense of the object of idolatrous worship.
Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness. This verse is well explained by Calvin as follows: "The meaning of the prophet is by no means obscure, and that is, that the Lord would by a slow corrosion consume both the people; and that, though he would not by one onset destroy them, yet they would pine away until they became wholly rotten." The two agents of destruction here named—the moth which eats away clothes, and the woodworm which gnaws away wood—figuratively represent slow but sure destruction. They are found together in Job 13:28. Kimchi explains the sense in like manner: "Like the moth which eats away garments, and like the woodworm which consumes bones and wood, so shall I consume you." The pronoun at the beginning of the verse is emphatic: "I your God, who would have been your protector and preserver, whom you have sinfully forsaken, and whose commandments you have arbitrarily set aside—even I am to you as the source of rottenness, and of slow but sure ruin."
Then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb. Both kingdoms became conscious of their disease and decline; Ephraim felt its sickness or internal consumption, Judah its wound or external corruption (mazor, a festering wound, from zur, to squeeze out); they were both conscious of rottenness in their condition. That diseased condition was rather spiritual apostasy than political adversity, though these were connected as cause and effect. But, instead of applying to Jehovah, Ephraim had recourse to Assyria and its king for health and help, but in vain; for no earthly power could avert the Divine judgments. The punishment threatened in the twelfth verse prompts the efforts to obtain succor mentioned in this. The general sense of the verse is given by Kimchi as follows: "When Ephraim and Judah saw that the enemies were constantly invading and plundering them, they seek help from the King of Assyria; but turn not back to me, nor seek help from me, but from flesh and blood, which, however, cannot help them when it is not my pleasure."
(1) Some, as the Jewish interpreters, refer the first clause as a matter of course to Ephraim, but the second to Judah; thus, Jerome in like manner understands Ephraim's visit of that to Pul, recorded in 2 Kings 15:1-38; and the message of Judah to Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 16:1-20); but an interval of thirty years lay between the two events thus described as synchronous. Rashi explains the former clause of Hoshea's visit to Shalmaneser the King of Assyria, and the second of Ahaz's to Tiglath-pileser; Kimchi, again, refers the former to Menahem visiting Pul, and the second of Ahaz to Tiglath-pileser. But
(2) Ephraim is the subject in both clauses, so that there is no need of a supposed reference to Judah in the second. Calvin correctly restricts them both to Ephraim, and accounts for the restriction as follows: "Why, then, does he name only Ephraim? Even because the beginning of this evil commenced in the kingdom of Israel; for they were the first who went to the King of Assur, that they might, by his help, resist their neighbors, the Syrians; the Jews afterwards followed their example. Since, then, the Israelites afforded a precedent to the Jews to send for aids of this kind, the prophet expressly confines his discourse to them." He admits, however, that the accusation had respect to both in common; or Ephraim may have applied on behalf of Judah as well as for herself. There is much diversity of opinion with regard to the word "Jareb." Some take it
(1) for a proper name, either of an Assyrian king or of some place or city in the country of Assyria. as the LXX; Aben Ezra, and Kimchi; but the absence of the article is opposed to this, neither is Jeremiah 37:1, "and Zechariah reigned as king" (vayyimloch melech), a proper parallel. Others
(2) more correctly explain as a qualifying epithet to "king," that is, "pleader," "striver," or "warrior," in ether words, a warlike or champion king, like the epithet of σωτήρ among the Greeks. The indefiniteness in this case gives the idea of majesty or might, as in Arabic; thus, "a champion king, and such a king!" Yet could he not (yet shall he not be able to) heal you (plural, and so Ephraim and Judah), nor cure you of your wound. Whatever the distress was, whether arising from hostile invasion or domestic troubles, those degenerate kings had recourse to foreigners for aid. With the profitlessness as well as the sinfulness of such attempts they are hero sharply rebuked. Thus Calvin: "Here God declares that whatever the Israelites might seek would be in vain. 'Ye think,' he says, ' that you can escape my hand by these remedies; but your folly will at length betray itself, for he will avail you nothing; that is, King Jareb will not heal you.'"
Hosea 5:14, Hosea 5:15
These verses assign a reason for the powerlessness even of the mighty Assyrian monarch to help; and that reason is the Divine interposition. The irresistible Jehovah himself (the addition of the pronoun intensifies, yet more its repetition) now interferes for the destruction of the apostate and rebellious people. For I am unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah. As we are taught in these words, Jehovah's mode of procedure is now changed. Before it had been slow and silent, though sure destruction, as signified by the moth and woodworm; but now it will be public and patent to the eyes of all, as wall as decisive and powerful, as intimated by the comparison of a lion and young lion. Nor is that all: lion-like, lie will rend before removing the prey—a tearing in pieces and then a carrying away. This well-known habit of the lion finds its counterpart in the subsequent facts of Hebrew history. The northern kingdom was first rent or broken up by Shalmaneser; subsequently the population were carried away into captivity; in like manner the southern kingdom suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. I will go and return to my place. The figurative comparison with a lion is continued in the first clause of Hosea 5:15 also. The lion tears his victim and carries it away, then he retires into his cave or den; so Jehovah, after bringing calamity upon Israel, withdraws from the scene and retires to his own place in heaven, though the heaven of heavens cannot contain him. There, in that unapproachable ether, he is inaccessible to and beyond the reach of the guilty nation that knew not nor valued the former times of merciful visitation. One remedy, and only one, is left and that is found in penitence and prayer. Once they find out their guiltiness and humble themselves in repentance, they may hopefully seek his face and favor. Turning away from human help, and supplicating the gracious help of the Divine presence, they are encouraged by the prospect of relict' and revival; while the means to that end are, no doubt, painful, yet profitable. In the school of affliction they learnt penitence and were brought to their knees in prayer.
God here arraigns the sins of princes, priests, and people.
Their degeneracy had been very great and their sins very grievous. Though there is no formal catalogue given of those sins, yet they are incidentally exhibited in the reproofs and rebukes which follow.
I. ALL CLASSES ARE ADDRESSED BY THE DIVINE WORD. It is directed to the high and to the low alike; to the rich and to the poor; it speaks to every grade in society and every rank in life; there is none so high as to be above its teaching, and none so lowly as to be beneath its notice. To sovereigns as to the meanest subjects of their realm; to magistrates and men in authority, as well as to those under their jurisdiction, the warnings and admonitions of Scripture reach. To all, of every class and condition, of every caste and clime, the Divine Word is offered as a light to their test and a lamp to their path.
II. ALL CLASSES ARE AMENABLE TO THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS. The judgments of God are denounced against all workers of iniquity—from the poorest and meanest of the people to the priests who should be their instructors and examples, and to the princes and principal men, who should not only rule and guide, but protect and preserve them to the utmost of their power. And yet there is a distinction; for those who, through their exalted position or extensive influence, seduce others to sin, expose themselves to sorer condemnation. But, while those who entrap others into sin are doubly guilty, the persons entrapped are not on that account guiltless. Subjects sometimes suffer through the mistakes of their sovereigns; but when subjects and sovereigns are both involved in guilt, they must expect to have their respective share in punishment. When God has a controversy with a people, and his judgments are approaching, it is a time for serious consideration and solemn reflection. Hence we have a triple call to attention in this first verse: "Hear ye this, hearken ye, give ye ear." It was an earnest time and an emphatic call; for God "will at last force audience and attention from the most stubborn."
III. ALL CLASSES HAD PERVERTED THE WAY. The revolters seem to have belonged to all ranks and to have comprehended all classes. If the "slaughter" which they made refers to the slaying of sacrifices, it is spoken of with contempt, because those sacrifices, whether from defects in their own nature, or imperfection in the manner in which they were offered, or the wrongness of the motive with which they were presented, were unacceptable to God. Accordingly he speaks of them disparagingly; for "though the prophet spake of sacrifices, he no doubt called sacrificing in contempt killing; as though we should call the temple the shambles, and the killing of victims slaughtering." If, on the other hand, the slaughter referred to be understood literally of actual murder, the criminality is still greater, and they bear the brand of red-handed assassins. In either case, the idiom employed is a very energetic mode of expression "The slaughter they have made deep," or, "they have gone deep in slaughtering," conveys the idea of the great length to which they had gone, either in sacrifices to idols and contrary to legal appointment, or in murderously shedding blood, or even in the more modified sense of causing destruction. They had gone to an extreme in the direction indicated, whichever sense is assigned to slaughtering. It is not so much that they hid their doings deep, as that they went deeply into their works, or sunk deeply in their sin. Further, the aggravation of their sin consisted in its being without excuse. They could not plead ignorance, for they had had line upon line, and precept upon precept. They could not say that they had been left to themselves without let or hindrance, for had they not enjoyed the instructions and admonitions of those prophets of God whose sphere of labor lay in the northern kingdom? Warnings they had had from Ahijah, Elijah, Elisha, and others; corrections moderate in measure and salutary in design they had, no doubt, been favored with. Yet all had been to no purpose; they sunk deeper and deeper in the slough of sin, so that their sin had become exceeding sinful.
IV. ALL DISGUISES OF SINNERS ARE TRANSPARENT TO THE EYE OF OMNISCIENCE. Many are the pretences men make to cover their sins, and artful the pretexts by which they seek to hide them. But however men may strive to conceal their sins from their fellow-men, however they may gloss them over so as to deceive their own souls, and however they may cloak them, as though it were possible to cheat the Almighty; yet all such artifices, by which they try to deceive their neighbors, or blind themselves, or even escape the eye of Omniscience, will prove miserable evasions, leaving them at last—even the inmost thoughts and intents of their hearts—open and naked before the eyes of him with whom they have to do. "The Lord seeth not as man seeth: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." The sin of Ephraim, the premier tribe of Israel, was known to God, and he pronounced it whoredom, spiritual whoredom, that is, idolatry. The effect of that sin, which, originating with Ephraim, infected all the other tribes of Israel, was not hid, and could not be hid, from the omniscient One, and he denounced it as defilement—pollution loathsome as sinful. Many a specious excuse had been offered, we cannot doubt, for the worship of the calves. Did it not originate with Jeroboam, that patriot king who came to the rescue of the people, and delivered them from unjust and grinding taxation? Was not Jerusalem too far distant from the center of the country to be the gathering-place of the tribes? Was not Bethel a consecrated place—a holy spot from that early time when Jacob had his wondrous vision of the ladder connecting earth with heaven? Was not Dan conveniently situated for the northern and remoter tribes? These, and such arguments as these, might serve to palliate the will-worship of Ephraim and the idolatry of Israel. But no; the eye of God saw through it all; for now, whatever excuse might be alleged; now, whatever plausibilities might be employed; now, whatever veil might be thrown over their procedure;—it stood out in its true colors, and in the sight of Heaven, idolatry, defilement—sin in inception and sin in execution, sin in act and sin in effect. Thus Omniscience is proof against all the plausible pretexts with which men surround their sins by way of excuse, apology, or palliation.
V. SINS, LIKE SORROWS, LOVE A TRAIN. How often one sin leads to another, and that, again, to many more! Sins not infrequently are linked together. Israel by this time was bound by the chain of their own sins; and the links of that chain were many. Beginning our enumeration with idolatry, we find in its wake impenitence, ignorance, insolence, and iniquity in general.
1. It is bad enough when men fall into sin, but worse when they persist in it; nor is there any real repentance unless there are fruits meet for repentance. But when men will not have recourse to any of those outward means that might tend toward repentance, the obduracy of their heart is extreme and their condition desperate. Thus was it with Israel when they would not" frame their doings to turn unto their God."
2. The alternative rendering of these words shows us the slavery of sin. Never was there a more cruel bondage than that of iniquity. "Their doings will not suffer them to turn;" they have put the yoke on their neck, and having worn it long they are loath to part with it; and if they would they could not. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." So in Peter we read of persons "having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin."
3. When men continue long in a course of sin, hardening themselves against remonstrance and reproof, and holding out against all inducements and invitations to repent, God may, and sometimes does, give them up to judicial blindness of one kind or other. An evil spirit of idolatry or impunity, or both, had taken possession of the people's heart at this period. "A strong man armed keepeth his palace—his goods are in peace;" so the infatuation of a particular course of sin, like a Satanic spirit and with Satanic power, completely overmastered and dominated them.
4. Profession without practice is both hypocritical and vain. The Israelites at this time had a profession of religion, for God is called "their God," which could only be by their profession, or owing to the original covenant engagement, the conditions of which they had fallen away from, or by reason of his long-suffering mercy waiting for their return. It is, rather, the first of these that justified the use of the possessive in this case. And that being so, they claimed to possess knowledge of God; but "as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind," or, as the margin has it, "to a mind void of judgment." Continuance in sin proves men's ignorance of the true character of God, of the beauty of holiness, of the hatefulness of sin, and of the dreadful consequences of backsliding. The custom of sinning deprives men of whatever knowledge of such things they had or seemed to have, so that "he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath."
5. This ignorance was evidence of their ingratitude. "The prophet," says Calvin, "extenuates not the sin of the people, but, on the contrary, amplifies their ingratitude, because they had forgotten their God who had so indulgently treated them. As they had been redeemed by God's hand, as the teaching of the Law had continued among them, as they had been preserved to that day through God's constant kindness, it was truly an evidence of monstrous ignorance that they could in an instant adopt ungodly forms of worship, and embrace those corruptions which they knew were condemned in the Law."
VI. PROOFS AND CAUSES OF ISRAEL'S PRIDE. Ephraim's pride and envy of Judah produced the disruption and perpetuated it. Two privileges of the birthright forfeited by Jacob's firstborn had been shared by these tribes. Joseph got the double portion in connection with Ephraim and Manasseh; and Judah gained the pre-eminence. Though Judah was superior both numerically and by largeness of territory in the land of promise, Ephraim enjoyed countervailing advantages. All along from the blessing of Jacob Ephraim was inspired with the hope of great things for himself and tribe. The Ephraimites had the choicest of the land, and a central position contributing to their influence over the other tribes. Joshua, the chosen chief who had led the people into the land of promise and settled them in it, sprang from Ephraim; Samuel, the last of the judges, was a native of Mount Ephraim; for three centuries and a hair' the national sanctuary remained at Shiloh, within the confines of the tribe of Ephraim; the men of that tribe had highly distinguished themselves in the war with Midian, securing the fords of Jordan and beheading the two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb, who had escaped at the head of fifteen thousand men. Igor were they slow to assert their claims; such was their pride, that they could not brook a subordinate position, but insisted on pre-eminence. Their self-assertion and even unreasonable petulance were severely chastised by Jephthah. For a time the superiority inclined or actually belonged to Ephraim; but the preponderance given to Judah by the elevation of David, and Solomon his son, completely turned the scale. Moreover, the transference to Jerusalem, both of the seat of ecclesiastical authority from Shiloh and of the civil capital from Shechem, deeply wounded the pride of Ephraim, and greatly increased the rivalry with Judah. To the slight thus put upon Ephraim there is a distinct reference in several verses of the seventy-eighth psalm; thus, "God was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: so that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;" and again, "He refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved." For seven years they held out against David; they were the strength of the Absalomic rebellion; they abetted the usurpation of Jeroboam, and accepted the idolatrous worship which, for political purposes, he commended to them; and all from their pride and overweening estimate of themselves, and envy towards their brethren of Judah.
VII. THE HUMILIATION OF PRIDE, OR ITS TESTIMONY.
1. This overbearing spirit of Israel as a nation, and of Ephraim its kingly tribe, was sorely crushed, and the pride of both sadly humbled, when, as had been foretold, they first went into captivity.
2. The other rendering of testify is well explained by the following observations of Pusey: "They could not give up this sin of Jeroboam without endangering their separate existence as Israel, and owning the superiority of Judah. From this complete self-surrender to God their pride shrank and held them back. The pride which Israel thus showed in refusing to turn to God, and in preferring their sin to their God, itself, he says, witnessed against them, and condemned them."
3. It must have been an addition to Israel's calamity that they had been a snare to Judah, and helped to drag them down into the same slough of sin, and eventually into the same catastrophe with themselves.
4. But how are we to account for the seeming contradiction between the safety previously promised Judah and the calamity now denounced? Calvin's reply to a similar inquiry is pertinent and plain. "The prophet," he says, "speaks here not of those Jews who continued in true and pure religion, but of those who had with the Israelites alienated themselves from the only true God and joined in their superstitions. He thus refers here to the degenerate, and not to the faithful Jews; for to all who worshipped God aright salvation had been already promised."
No place found for repentance.
They would seek the Lord with sacrifices from the flock and from the herd, but they would not find him; they multiplied sacrifices, but the Lord had withdrawn himself. Thus in the New Testament we read that Esau "found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears;" or, according to the Revised Version, "even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it diligently with tears." In one of our Lord's parables—the parable of the ten virgins—we read that after those who were ready had gone in with him to the marriage, "the door was shut." This brief sentence is in one aspect of it among the most impressive and solemn in the whole Word of God. The sentiment conveyed by it is somewhat, indeed much, akin to that of the statement of the prophet in reference to Israel.
I. IT IS IMPORTANT TO REALIZE THE NATURE OF SUCH WITHDRAWAL. The loss of earthly friends or their estrangement from us is much to be deplored; how much sadder it is when we forfeit the favor of Heaven, and God withdraws himself! On earth friends may, from misconduct on our part, or misconception on their part, or misrepresentation on the part of some intermeddler, or misapprehension of one kind or other, shut the door against us, or we may shut the door against ourselves. But however such an event is to be regretted, still a proper understanding may reopen the once friendly door, or time may unbar it, or the kindly interposition of mutual friends may again open it; or, failing all this, another door may be opened in its stead, and other friends replace those whose friendship has been lost, or even better friends may be raised up in their room. But when the Lord shuts to the door and withdraws himself, no interposition shall unbar it, no time reopen it, no explanation ever fling or force it back; nothing shall ever be able to remove the bar that closes it. Once shut, it is shut forever; once closed, it never opens; once locked, no key can enter its wards; once bolted, that bolt remains an everlasting fixture.
II. IT IS WELL TO REFLECT ON THE TIME WHEN GOD WITHDRAWS HIMSELF AND IS NO LONGER TO BE FOUND. There may be some difficulty in ascertaining the precise times when God withdraws himself and is no longer found.
1. One thing, however, is abundantly certain, that in the case of sinners who live and die in sin, impenitent and unpardoned, this withdrawal takes place at death; for there is neither knowledge nor device in the grave. Then the day of grace is concluded, then the time of probation ends, then the means of salvation terminate, then the space for repentance is past, and God has forever withdrawn himself. Death seals the sinner's doom irreversibly; the last opportunity is gone, and for ever; prayer is then powerless and penitence hopeless. There remains only the dooming, damning sentence, "I know you not whence ye are." Hollow-hearted hypocrites ye must have been, workers of iniquity, and nothing more and nothing better, false professors, fruitless fig trees, cumbering and cursing the rich vineyard soil. Children of God ye never were; I never owned you as such; I cannot do so now. And thus he withdraws, leaving them to their fate.
2. But even before death this withdrawal may take place, at least in a certain sense. We are warned in Scripture that the Spirit will not always strive. To the Israelites of old he swore that they would never cuter into his rest, and so a whole generation of them was excluded from the land of promise; in reference to which the inspired penman utters the solemn warning, "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall alter the same example of unbelief". In this very book God's abandonment of Ephraim and consequent withdrawal are affirmed. "Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone." Let us, then, beware of provoking God to withhold or withdraw the gracious influences of his Spirit, and thus leave us to judicial blindness. Let us beware of sinning away our day of grace, and in this respect outliving it.
3. We would not venture to limit the mercy of God, or set bounds to his sovereign grace.
"While the lamp holds out to burn
The vilest sinner may return."
But God at any moment may withdraw the breath of his Spirit, or withhold the oil of his grace, and the lamp go out in everlasting darkness! Pusey makes a very interesting distinction, as follows: "The general rule of his dealings is this: that when the time of each judgment is actually come, then as to that judgment it is too late to pray. It is not too late for other mercy, or for final forgiveness, so long as man's state of probation lasts; but it is too late as to this one."
III. IT IS OF MOMENT TO ASSIGN SOME REASONS WHY GOD WITHDRAWS HIMSELF. This frequently takes place, we doubt not, in consequence of men silencing conscience and stifling convictions. Conscience may become callous or seared, and convictions may wear gradually weak, nay: at length cease altogether. The same result may be brought about by allowing any sin to have the mastery, and in consequence of not seeking grace to resist it, or not summoning up resolution to break its yoke.
1. The people particularly referred to by the prophet had not sought the Lord in time. It was only when ruin stared them in the face that they bethought themselves of seeking God; it was fear drove them to his service.
2. They were only half-hearted in his service, and it was a divided allegiance they rendered; but God claims the whole heart of his worshippers, otherwise he will not be found of them.
3. Their repentance was not genuine; it appears to have been outward sacrifice, not inward service. They brought their herds, not their hearts; their flocks, not the feelings of their souls.
4. Their faithlessness had a prospective as well as present evil influence. Their children, instead of being trained in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, inured to idolatry and irreligion both by the precept and example of their parents, would, as a matter of course, prove as faithless and godless, or more so than they.
5. No wonder God set a time to ease him of his adversaries and avenge him of his enemies. That time, a month, was certain, short, and sudden.
IV. GOD SPEAKS BEFORE HE STRIKES. God suffereth long with the provocations of sinners. He warns them of the evil of their ways; he apprises them of the ruinous consequences of their sinful courses.
1. He threatens before he inflicts the blow; he gives notice of his judgments before they arrive. Dark clouds precede the coming storm. Milder judgments are sent as precursors of more severe visitations. It is of God's mercy that men are not only informed of their duty, but apprised of their danger. Ministers of the gospel are to sound the alarm, that men may flee from the wrath to come.
2. When God's judgments are near at hand, their approach has a startling effect. Those who made light of them, or thought them far off, are confounded and amazed; while this confusion may be reflected in the very abruptness of the expression, "After thee, O Benjamin;" at thy back comes the enemy—disaster, destruction, desolation.
3. The judgments of God, thus announced as near, at the very door, are represented as sure. They are no mere menaces or make-believes; they are not meant merely to alarm; they are dread realities, which impenitent sinners can by no means escape or evade. "Among the tribes of Israel have I made known that which shall surely be." To all notice had been given, so that no one could urge the plea of ignorance on his own part, nor charge precipitancy on the part of God. In his mercy he had made it known to all without exception, in his truth he will make it sure. They had been warned, called to repentance, chastened paternally; but they had despised all this. And the day of mercy is now past; the time of judgment is come; the final doom, fixed and irreversible, is denounced. When princes, making their will law, trample on the privileges of their people, or infringe the Law of God, or in any way set aside sacred and solemn obligations, they incur a fearful responsibility. When, not only by their edicts but by their example, they set aside the enactments of Heaven, and encourage their subjects to do likewise, they open upon themselves the flood-gates of Divine wrath which God pours out upon them, like the waters of the deluge on the guilty antediluvians. Pusey supposes that the reference to the princes of Judah being "like them that remove the bound," contains some such allusion as the following: "Since the prophet had just pronounced the desolation of Israel, perhaps that sin was that, instead of taking warning from the threatened destruction and turning to God, they thought only how the removal of Ephraim would benefit them by the enlargement of their borders. They might hope also to increase their private estates out of the desolate lands of Ephraim their brother."
God's judgments differ both in degree and kind.
Ephraim had obeyed man rather than God, and God gives them over to man for punishment. The men who oppressed Ephraim acted unjustly, but God, in permitting that unjust oppression, was exercising his prerogative of justice. Neither could Ephraim palliate their sin by alleging compulsion on the part of their rulers, nor throw, the blame entirely on the ungodly commandment of an ungodly rang, or those who might enforce it by pains and penalties. They obeyed it, not by constraint, but willingly; not through compulsion, but of a ready mind.
I. THE DESIGN AND NATURE OF MINOR AND MILDER JUDGMENTS. The moth and woodworm may symbolize lesser judgments. Such visitations frequently have for their object the repentance and reformation of the people or persons so visited. God's design in sending them is gracious; his purpose is merciful. The process, notwithstanding, is painful and the affliction grievous. It goes on silently, so that little alarm is made; noiselessly, so that little apprehension is felt; hence it is that grace is needed for men to know the time of such visitation. It proceeds slowly, so that time is allowed men to mend their ways, and space given them for repentance. The judgments here spoken of proceed gradually, and are designed to prevent greater. Thus mercy is mingled with judgment; for judgment is God's strange work, while mercy is his darling attribute.
II. THE IMPOTENCY OF MERE HUMAN HELPERS. They felt their sickness, they suffered from their painful wound, and became conscious of rottenness in their state. They did not discern with equal clear-sightedness the cause of that sickness, nor perceive the source whence that rottenness proceeded. They were equally blind to the right way of relief. Had they seen their sin in their suffering, God's hand in their stroke, and his justice in its infliction, they would have been nearer the right way to the remedy. They sought help from the creature, not from the Creator; from the monarch of Assyria, not from the King of kings, and yet he only distressed them and helped them not. So with men too often in time of their distress. They put confidence in human means, but find at last that they are leaning on broken reeds; they hew out for themselves cisterns, but find too late that they are broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Not only so, by such sinful expedients they are in no way bettered, but rather get worse, and increase thereby at once their sin and their sorrow.
III. WHY THE SORER AND SEVERER JUDGMENTS ARE RESORTED TO. The lion and the young lion are emblematical of the severer judgments. God threatens to deal with the people of Israel and Judah more rigorously than heretofore. "I will not be any longer like a moth and a worm; I shall come like a lion to you, with an open mouth to devour you.... I will rage against you as a fierce wild beast: your grievance shall not now be from moths and worms; but you shall have an open and dreadful contest with the lion and the young lion.... Men, when they attempt to oppose vain helps to the wrath of God, gain only this, that they more and more provoke and inflame his wrath against themselves. After God has first gnawed, he will at length devour; after he has pricked, he will deeply wound; after he has struck, he will wholly destroy." But why are these severer visitations had recourse to? The answer is very well given by Cyril as follows:
"As in human bodies such affections as are violent and do not yield to gentle remedies are frequently overcome by fire and sword, in like way and manner affections occurring in human souls, if they do not give way to mild words, and are overcome by prudent reasoning, are expelled by labor and chastisement and severe calamities."
IV. A RESPITE RESULTING IN REPENTANCE. The infliction of punishment is represented as executed in lion-like fashion: he is not forced to retreat, nor is there any possibility of rescue, nor does he retire stealthily and with fox-like secrecy and cunning, but openly, powerfully, and victoriously. When God visits with judgments, he comes forth out of his place and men are forced to feel his presence; when his corrections are completed, he returns to his place, and there, though he seems to take no notice of, and to be far removed from, his people, he has taken his place on the mercy-seat and is waiting to be gracious. God here speaks after the manner of men; "for he neither so hides himself in heaven that he neglects human affairs, nor withdraws his hand but that he sustains the world by the continued exercise of his power, nor even takes his Spirit from men, especially when he would lead them to repentance; for men never of their own accord turn themselves to God, but by his hidden influence." Thus, when God had punished both Israel and Judah by exile, he seemed to hide his face from them, as though unmindful of them, and having neither care nor regard for them. This hiding of his face allowed time for repentance. His purpose was to induce them to repent and return to him. This was the true and only remedy.
V. MEN RETURN TO GOD BY REPENTANCE AND FAITH. The first step men take as they return to God is confession of sin—"they acknowledge their offence;" the first part in the process of healing is the correct diagnosis of the disease and discovery of its cause. The second thing required for reconciliation with God is to "seek his face." Thus repentance and faith go hand in hand; not that either of them is the meritorious cause of pardon. The one is a condition—a suitable condition or proper qualification for pardon; the other is the cordial acceptance of pardon, or rather of that righteousness which is the true ground of pardon. The mercy of God is transparent throughout the entire process, while a practical realization of persons acknowledging their offence and seeking the tare of God is found in the case of Daniel, as may be seen by a perusal of the ninth chapter of the book of that prophet.
VI. AFFLICTION SERVES AS A SPIRITUAL RESTORATIVE. During the long and dreary period of the seventy years' captivity in Babylon the captives had a convenient season to repent of their sins and return to the Lord; nor did they ever after backslide into idolatry. During the present prolonged dispersion of that wonderful people, many of them will repent of their national rejection of Messiah and return to God, looking unto him whom their forefathers pierced with tearful eyes; and at the close of the period in question, though" blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, all Israel shall be saved."
APPLICATION. "When," says a godly Puritan expositor, "we are under the convictions of sin and the corrections of the rod, our business is to seek God's face.... And it may reasonably be expected that affliction will bring those to God that had long gone astray from him, and kept at a distance. Therefore God for a time turns away from us, that he may turn us to himself and then return to us."
HOMILIES BY C. JERDAN
National sin and punishment.
The general strain of this chapter is similar to that of the preceding. "The judgment" (Hosea 5:1) which has already been pronounced there is still continued. In Hosea 4:1-19; however, Judah was addressed as occupying a different position, morally and religiously, from Israel; whereas here the southern kingdom is represented as sharing in Israel's guilt and condemnation. It would appear, therefore, that when the warning of Hosea 4:15 was uttered, Judah's defection was already beginning.
I. THE NATURE OF SIN. It is a "dealing treacherously against Jehovah" (Hosea 4:7), the rightful Spouse of the soul, who expects from his people that faithfulness which a wife owes to her husband. It is also "whoredom" (Hosea 4:3); for infidelity to the marriage covenant leads to the cherishing of many objects of sinful desire. It is also "pride" (Hosea 4:5)—that deeply rooted self-will which is the secret spring of idolatry. Sin in all these forms dishonors God and grossly defiles the soul.
II. THE ROOT OF SIN. Sin is not merely an outward work. It is not confined to acts of the will. The root of it is "the spirit of whoredoms" (Hosea 4:4). This spirit has its seat at the very center of man's being. The Apostle Paul calls it "the law of sin" (Romans 7:23, Romans 7:25). It is the controlling principle of the unregenerate life, and it often leads the believer captive even in spite of his renewed nature. "The spirit of whoredoms" dominates the soul like a demon, and the sinner serves it as its slave. Satan lays hold upon this spirit as his helper in his constant assaults upon the minds of men. And only the Holy Spirit can impart adequate strength to prevail against it.
III. THE CONTAGIOUSNESS OF SIN. The condition of Israel at the time to which the prophet here refers graphically illustrates this. Hosea saw that the national life was leavened with iniquity. The pyramid of the commonwealth, from apex to base, was honeycombed with idolatry and impurity. The national sin was shared by:
1. The priests. Instead of being the spiritual guardians of the people, they were as snares and nets to entrap them. Ministers of religion become such:
(1) By neglecting teaching, as the priests of the ten tribes had done (Hosea 4:1).
(2) By preaching unsound doctrine. So, in 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' the Flatterer, "a black man clothed in white," led Christian and Hopeful into his net.
(3) By living inconsistent lives. So the wickedness of Eli's sons made many unbelievers.
2. The courts. The princes, too, were men-trappers—"sportsmen rather than watchmen" (Jerome). Jeroboam L had been such. He "drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin" (2 Kings 17:21). Ahab had been such, in introducing the worship of Baal and Asbtaroth (1 Kings 16:30-33). Menahem was such, for his reign was steeped in cruelty, and he laid his help upon King Pul of Assyria rather than upon the God of Israel (2 Kings 15:19). Even the princes of Judah were becoming such; they were removing the landmarks between the worship of Jehovah and idolatry (verse 10). Our rulers in like manner entrap the British nation into sin, when they promote immoral legislation upon pleas of expediency or state policy (e.g. the attempted state regulation of vice in the army, and the patronage of the opium trade between India and China).
3. The entire Hebrew nation. The people of both kingdoms foolishly fell into the snares and nets which were spread for them. They were full of "pride" (verse 5) and vain confidence. They despised prophetic instruction, and became contumacious and refractory in their sin.
IV. THE HEREDITY OF SIN. Had Israel continued faithful to the national covenant with Jehovah, he would have begotten children to God, instead of "strange children" (verse 7), who did not belong to the home, and did not spring from the marriage union. But a godless nation is composed of godless parents, who bring up godless children. Infants who have done no evil yet inherit evil, and may bring with them into life terrific predispositions towards it. The iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the children. It is comforting, however, to remember that good traits descend by inheritance as well as bad ones. God's way of regenerating the world is to maintain his Church in it, and to cultivate thereby the heredity of holiness. There is a sense in which grace does run in the blood (Exodus 20:6; Psalms 112:2; 2 Timothy 1:5). The children of Christian parents are not "children of wrath" (1 Corinthians 7:14; Acts 16:31).
V. THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN. Ephraim's "whoredom" was detected (verse 3). It lay exposed every moment to the eye of God. He penetrated all the fair excuses which the people made to themselves for it. "The pride of Israel doth testify to his face" (verse 5), i.e. he shall be openly convicted of it, and condemned for it. The punishment is to be:
1. Immediate. (Verse 7) "A month shall devour them." Destruction shall overtake them as swiftly, so to speak, as the moon shall wane. Already the sword of vengeance is hanging over their beads by a single hair.
2. Sudden. (Verse 8) The invasion of the Assyrian power as the rod of the Divine anger is announced with an injunction to sound horn and trumpet. For the prophet already sees the drawn sword of Jehovah in the conqueror's hand.
3. Certain. (Verse 9) The punishment "shall surely be." God is as true to his threatenings as to his promises.
4. Terrible. "Israel and Ephraim shall fall (verse 5). "A month shall devour them" (verse 7). "Ephraim shall fall (verse 5). "A month shall devour them" (verse 7). "Ephraim shall be desolate" (verse 9). "I will pour out my wrath upon them like water" (verse 10). The whole nation became wasted with misery and was plunged headlong into destruction. The story of the decline and fall of the Hebrew monarchies illustrates very vividly the doom of sin.
VI. HOW THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN MAY BE AVERTED. Even this dark passage is not altogether without some hopeful suggestion.
1. A false expedient. (Verse 6) The festivals and worship of the Mosaic Law were still observed at the idol-shrines of Bethel and Dan. So Ephraim, when his doom began to overtake him, endeavored to pacify the Divine anger by bringing costly sacrifices of Socks and herds. But, although the people sought the Lord thus, they did "not find him;" for they came in a spirit of slavish fear, and did not bring the sacrifice of a contrite heart and an obedient will.
2. The eight way. (Verse 4) God is waiting to be gracious; but he requires of sinners a willingness to "frame their doings to turn unto their God." We must gladly allow the Holy Spirit to regenerate and purify our souls. The only use of the external sacrifices of the Law was to typify the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Sacrifice for sin; and to symbolize the "living sacrifices" which men offer to God when they yield themselves wholly to his service.—C.J.
The Jews were not a mercantile nor a manufacturing people, but a nation of agriculturists. Each citizen had his own piece of ground allotted to him as the family inheritance; and great pains were taken that his descendants should be secured in it forever. A man might pledge his portion until the year of jubilee, but it was not lawful absolutely to sell it (Numbers 36:7). Hence the sacredness of landmarks, as a means of preserving accurately the boundaries of family possessions. One of the curses spoken from Ebal was directed against the man who should remove them (Deuteronomy 27:17). Elijah pronounced doom upon Ahab, not for the murder of Naboth alone, but also for "removing the bound" of his vineyard (1 Kings 21:19). Our text, however, invites us to consider rather the spiritual truth which this offence suggests. "The princes of Judah" were guilty of still deeper sin than the removal of boundary-stones. They had broken down moral and religious harriers. And this form of evil is a crying one in the world still.
I. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" OF THE INSPIRED WORD. The Bible closes with a curse upon such (Revelation 22:18, Revelation 22:19). Yet the Jews committed this sin in relation to the Old Testament Scriptures by venerating the traditional law, as written in the Talmud, more than "the commandment of God" itself (Matthew 15:6). The Church of Rome errs in the same way, by giving the Apocrypha a place alongside of the canonical Books, and by insisting upon apostolical and ecclesiastical tradition as the complement of Scripture—equally inspired with it, and equally authoritative as a rule of faith. And those Protestants also "remove the bound" who deny the plenary inspiration of the Bible, and adopt the theory of partial inspiration in any of its forms.
II. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE. Both of these are Divine institutions—the one spiritual in its nature, and the other secular. The spheres of the two are distinct; and each within its own sphere is independent of the other. But bow hard have men found it to let the landmarks between Church and state remain where God set them! In one country the Church invades the domain of the state, directing and controlling it—a usurpation which, in its fully developed form, is Vaticanism. In another country the state encroaches upon the domain of the Church, and exercises rule in sacred things—which is Erastianism. "Render therefore unto Caesar," etc. (Matthew 22:21).
III. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" AS REGARDS PURITY OF WORSHIP. "The princes of Judah" had shifted the landmarks between the worship of Jehovah and idolatry. And this offence is committed still by all who introduce modes of worship which are not in accordance with the Word of God. An elaborate sensuous ceremonial, and any form of service which assumes that ministers belong to a distinct sacerdotal order, are a removing of the bound. The secularization of the sabbath belongs to the same class of sins. Those who teach that now every day is alike sacred to the Christian are doing their best, although without intending it, to undermine one of the foundations of morality. For the sabbath law is imbedded in the Decalogue. Not only so, but "Christ hath took in this piece of ground" (George Herbert). So it is at our peril if we remove the boundary-stones which separate the Lord's day from the other days of the week.
IV. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION. The conflict between the two is concerned very much about the landmarks of their respective provinces. In old times it was the theologian who was generally the chief offender. It was the Church that forced Galileo to abjure the sublime truths of his scientific creed, and that condemned the three laws of Kepler as heretical. At present, however, the chief "remover of the bound" is the scientist. The student of physical nature, unless he be decidedly a Christian, is prone to lack ability to appreciate moral evidence. Thus some of our most eminent scientific investigators in these times would have us give up our faith in moral freedom, in personal immortality, and in the existence of God himself. But the domain of physical science is one province of truth, while that of religion is another. Scientific questions are to be settled on scientific grounds, and by men who have had a scientific training. The theologian, on the other hand, must keep within his own frontier, and resolutely defend those moral facts and religious truths with which it belongs to him to deal. It is his function to assert the reality of moral freedom, the supremacy of conscience, the intuition of immortality, and those deep experiences of guilt and soul-hunger to which only the gospel of Christ can respond. A curse shall fall upon those who remove these landmarks.
V. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" OF EVANGELICAL DOCTRINE. Orthodoxy has its landmarks which separate the apostolic doctrine from "another gospel." What are the great historical creeds and confessions, but so many bounds which the Church has erected in order to discriminate truth from error? And is not every article in one of these creeds, as it were, a boundary-stone? Experience has shown Christendom that the most effectual way of exposing heresies is to translate the doctrinal teaching of Scripture into the philosophical language of a confession. Yet there have always been "removers of the bound" of "sound doctrine." The Broad Churchman and the rationalist object to the evangelical boundaries; and they have never done so more loudly than at the present day. Even in some orthodox Churches, doctrines contained in the standards are from some of the pulpits unblushingly contravened. We must "hold fast the form of sound words." It is at our peril if we "remove the bound."
VI. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" AS REGARDS NONCONFORMITY TO THE WORLD. The evil one labors to obliterate as much as possible all distinct boundary-lines between the Church and the world. He tempts ministers always to preach "smooth things." He tempts the rulers of the Church to neglect the administration of discipline. He tempts the members of our congregations to imbibe the spirit of the world, and to try to serve both God and mammon. The Ten Commandments are so many boundary-stones which mark the track of the narrow way; but we often regard the path as too strait, and would fain remove the stones back a little. We ask concerning certain worldly pleasures,—"What harm is there in them?" instead of inquiring what good there is. The tendency of the Church in these times is by no means towards asceticism or Puritanism. Few Christian people are too strait-laced; the danger is rather that we become spiritually lax, and that we "remove the bound."—C.J.
The Divine judgments.
In this strophe the Lord denounces as useless and foolish the policy which Israel had adopted of seeking to strengthen himself by alliances with Assyria. In doing this the nation was only adding to its guilt, and precipitating its doom.
I. THE NATURE OF THE JUDGMENTS. We gather from the passage that these are of three orders, each being more severe than the preceding.
1. Slow consumption. (Verse. 12) The "moth" and the "worm" suggest silent, stealthy, secret destruction. So the kingdom of the ten tribes is as a garment eaten by a moth, while the kingdom of Judah is as a tree slowly destroyed by a worm. The worm makes way much more slowly than the moth does; and we find, accordingly, that the "moth" ate up Israel in two generations from the time of this prediction, while the "worm" did not accomplish its work in Judah until after the lapse of a century and a half. Now, God's judgments still, both upon nations and individuals, are often like the moth and the worm. Many an ungodly commonwealth has the heart eaten out of it by a process of imperceptible moral deterioration. And frequently a young man of reputable character, who has never gone astray into gross vice, yet degenerates in spiritual tone, and loses the finer fibers of his nature, just because he has not cultivated elevating tastes, and has been content to cherish low ideals.
2. Sudden ruin. (Hosea 5:14) If God sometimes punishes slowly, he does so at other times swiftly. The two Hebrew kingdoms resisted his judgments, when, in his long-suffering, he came at first somewhat lightly as the "moth" and the "worm." So he is compelled to adopt measures more dramatic and terrible. Jehovah will be to Ephraim as a strong full-grown "lion"—full-grown because the northern kingdom is very soon to fall; and he will be to Judah "as a young lion," which must become mature before it will do its work of destruction. Both kingdoms, however—each in its turn—are to be overwhelmed with a sudden rush of ruin. "'I, even I,' the Lion of the tribe of Judah, will tear the nation and take it hence. I will no longer be its guardian; I will make it my prey." How many powerful Gentile states also have been suddenly destroyed! And how many ungodly men, who "spread themselves like a green bay tree," have been "cut down like the grass"!
3. Settled desertion. (Hosea 5:15) The Divine judgment upon the sinner, in its superlative form, consists in the withdrawal of the Divine favor and protection. When the two captivities took place respectively, the Hebrew nation became, as it were, God-forsaken. The Lord smote Ephraim and Judah, and tore them, and "returned to his place," leaving them bruised, bleeding, and to all appearance dying. To be thus God-deserted is, to a moral and spiritual being, the acme of punishment. When a soul becomes consciously God-forsaken, it begins to taste the pains of hell.
II. THE CAUSE OF THE JUDGMENTS. They fell upon the Hebrew people on account of their idolatry, aggravated by the unbelief which they showed in resorting for aid to the Assyrian power.
1. The worship of false gods. (Hosea 5:11) "The commandment" refers to Jeroboam's idolatrous innovation in erecting the two golden calves. This measure was the result of considerations of state policy on the part of a prince who did not himself rely upon the Divine protection. But the people accepted it "willingly," showing thereby that their hearts also were not right in the sight of God. The calf-worship was the root of the entire apostasy of Israel; it prepared the way fur the grosser idolatry of Baalism, with its attendant train of moral disorder, vice, and crime. It was Jeroboam's sin that sowed the seeds of the ruin of the whole Hebrew nation.
2. The calling in of incompetent physicians. (Hosea 5:13) Israel was suffering from the "sickness" of anarchy, and bleeding from the" wound" of revolution; yet he would not recognize in these distresses a token of the Divine displeasure. He refused to listen to the messages of warning which God sent him by Hosea, and kept looking to second causes alone, both for the disease and the remedy. Ephraim "sent to King Jareb." The word "Jareb" means "warrior," "adversary," "avenger;" and it is to be understood probably not as a proper name, but as a poetical epithet applied by the prophet himself to the King of Assyria. Again and again the two Hebrew kingdoms sought to make peace with the Assyrian power, buying him off by tribute, and occupying a position of abject vassalage (2 Kings 15:1-38.—18). All, however, was in vain. This un-theocratic policy did not even heal the hurt slightly; it made matters worse (2 Chronicles 28:20). But the nations still have their King Jarebs to whom they apply when seeking a cure for their moral maladies. How numerous are the favorite social nostrums! With some, the hope of Great Britain is the further expansion of trade; with others, the spread of education; with others, "local option;" with others, parliamentary reform; with others, religious equality. But such expedients, however desirable in their own place, are at best only plasters and patches. Where the heart is the seat of the disease, the cure must be inward and radical. We must send, not to King Jareb, but to King Jesus. So, also, there are Jarebs to which guilt-stricken and sin-sick souls still apply. One seeks an anodyne in the pursuit of wealth; another fills high the bowl of sensuous pleasure; a third pays court to culture and the fine arts; a fourth labors hard in his own strength to live a clean moral life. But none of these pursuits can salve the wounds of sin. Only the application of the blood of Christ can bring spiritual life and health and blessing.
III. THE DESIGN OF THE JUDGMENTS. (Verse 15) The Book of Hosea is full of clouds and darkness; but behind them somewhere the sun is ever shining. And as we gaze upon the storm we see the rainbow of grace springing up in its very bosom. This closing verse of the chapter reminds us that the judgments are inflicted:
1. To produce penitence. For, after all, the Lord has only withdrawn a little way from his apostate people. If they will but have it so, he has only "returned to his place" for a short time (Isaiah 54:7-10). He has not cast them off finally, but only until they shall become convinced that they can have no comfort or salvation apart from himself. The first step in repentance is conviction and acknowledgment of sin. And multitudes of souls have been brought to take this step during a time of "affliction."
2. To bring back to God. To "seek God's face" is to seek his favor, his Son, his Spirit, the ordinances of his grace. To "seek him early" is to do so urgently, after the manner of one who will rise before the morning in very eagerness. If we view this verse as a prediction regarding the future of the Hebrew nation, we may find partial fulfillments of it towards the close of the Babylonish exile (Daniel 9:1-27), and on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47); and we know that it will be fully realized in that national conversion of the Jews which is to precede the second advent of Christ (Zechariah 12:1-14.; Romans 11:1-36). But the promise before us has a perennial lesson also to "sinners of the Gentiles." It assures us of the glad welcome which our God will give us—despite whatever guilt may have stained our lives, and the deep corruption which assuredly still dwells within our hearts—if only we turn to him in penitence, and make him our Righteousness and Strength and Hope.—C.J.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
The misuse of Divine judgments.
It is well for our rest and strength when, like the prophet, we can exercise steadfast faith in the unseen Ruler of all human affairs. Many events appear to contradict the theory of a wise and loving government. Causes which are seen seem adequate to produce the effects which arise from them, and we fail to discern God behind the ambitions and the follies of men. Happy is he who, like Hosea, hears God's voice amidst the tumult, believes in a plan underlying confusion, and recognizes a hand which moulds and shapes all events to a wise end. He can "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." It is more difficult to see God in passing events than in past history. The mists of antiquity envelop the actors and they become less real; whereas in modern events the actors project themselves in all the greatness of their individuality upon our thought, to the exclusion of him who is greater than they. Coming from Chamounix towards Geneva, the tourist sees the near hills, but does not catch a glimpse of the snowy peaks of Mont Blanc till he is far away; but in the greater distance the lower hills fade into indistinctness, and the everlasting heaven-lighted mountain once more asserts itself. In the study of these far-off scenes we see something of him who rules over all things, God blessed for ever. "Our lives through various scenes are drawn," etc. Learn from the passage—
I. THAT THE SHARING OF SIN INVOLVES MEN IN THE SHARING OF SIN'S PUNISHMENT.
1. The sin of Israel is mentioned in verse 11. "He was oppressed because he willingly walked after the commandment." The Hebrew (tsar) signifies a human ordinance as opposed to a Divine law, and refers here to the commandment of Jeroboam which inculcated calf-worship, on which the kingdom of Israel, established by his revolt, was founded (see 1 Kings 12:26-33). This idolatry was willingly, willfully chosen by Ephraim, and it destroyed him. How often the thing chosen by the sinner is the means of his destruction! The Jews cried, "We have no king but Caesar," and Caesar destroyed them. A nation chooses prosperity, not righteousness, and the prosperity of fools destroys them. Instances from history.
2. The princes of Judah shared this sin of idolatry. (Verse 10) They "were like them that remove the bound." In a literal sense no doubt this was true. Deuteronomy 27:17 was disobeyed. The infringement of another's rights, whether in business or policy, ever brings a curse. Probably Judah would speculate as to the profit that might be made out of Israel's loss—how its own bounds might be extended when the kingdom of the ten tribes was removed; but the reference in the text is not to that. Hosea alludes to the sin of Judah in breaking down that barrier which idolatry had raised between the two kingdoms, which separated between God's people and Baal's people. The act was fatal. It was like the opening of a dyke, which no longer could keep out the floods around; and the tide of invasion swept over Benjamin and Judah. The cornet and trumpet on the beacon-hills of Gibeah and Ramah (verse 8) proclaimed this woe too late to avert it. "I will pour out my wrath upon them like water." Show how the breaking down of the barriers between the Church and the world, between Christianity and paganism, between the Christian and the godless, in business, society, etc; brings desolation to spiritual life and to the kingdom of Christ.
II. THAT THE WARNING OF GOD IS TO BE SEEN SOMETIMES IN SIGNS OF GRADUAL DECAY. The gradualness of the earlier judgments is pointed out in verse 12 as distinguished from the overwhelming destruction suggested by verse 14. The "moth" and the "rottenness" do their work stealthily and slowly. You take out the cloth laid by: it is consumed. You rest your weight on the furniture: it breaks down with a crash. Perhaps a distinction is suggested here. "The moth" destroys the softer cloth more rapidly than "rottenness" the harder wood. An indication that Judah would be more slowly consumed. The main idea, however, is that destruction would not come at first suddenly and without warning. This is true of the method of him to whom judgment is a strange work. Examples:
1. A nation suffers, from its want of integrity, justice, etc; in depressed trade, severance and suspicion between various classes of society, wars costly in treasure and blood. All this comes far short of national destruction; yet each is a call to sobriety, self-rule, integrity, humiliation before God, lest worse things befall it.
2. An invalid finds his health slowly Impaired. Weakness gradually increases. Senses become less keen. All such symptoms are reminders that he should be seeking after a forgotten God.
3. There is a consuming of character which may be illustrated from this verse. A distaste for what is good creeps over the heart; doubts which at first seem trivial bring insecurity to the religious profession; indulged sins honeycomb the spiritual life, etc. As the moth is hidden and makes no sound, yet does its fatal work, so may men lose innocency and truth, till nothing is left of the old fabric of faith and hope. Therefore pray, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
III. THAT THE TEMPTATION TO THE DISTRESSED IS TO FIND HELP IN MAN RATHER THIS IN GOD. (Verse 13) The "sickness," or inward disease, refers to moral corruption; the "wound," caused by a blow from without, to national weakness resulting from wars and political disasters. The first recognition of these evils produced this effect—"Then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb." Not two persons, but one referred to here. Jareb (equivalent to "the warrior") is Hosea's epithet for Assyria's king. An account of this incident is given in 2 Chronicles 28:19, 2 Chronicles 28:20, where it is expressly stated that Assyria "helped him not." The sin and curse involved are pointed out in Jeremiah 17:5, Jeremiah 17:6. How ready we are to fellow Ephraim in this I We involve ourselves in difficulties by our folly and self-seeking, and then try to disentangle ourselves by force or fraud. Examples: A nation bound by cords of its own weaving cuts its way to deliverance by the sword. A man in business becomes embarrassed by overtrading, and tries to right himself by further speculation, which ruins himself and others. A Church fails of the outward prosperity it seeks, and resorts to unholy methods to win transient success. This was the temptation our Lord endured and conquered (Matthew 4:8-10): "All these things wilt I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."
APPLICATION. To those in sorrow about sin. Beware of getting rid of your anxiety by plunging into gaiety or companionship, but pray to the Father who seeth in secret. Resist the temptation to trust to outward observances, to self-improvement, etc; instead of falling at the feet of him who says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I wilt give you rest." For none are the words (Hosea 6:1) more intended than for you, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up."—A.R.
The affliction of God's withdrawal.
Jehovah here threatens to withdraw his presence from his people, until, conscious of their weakness and loneliness, they return to him. In the affliction of the seventy years' captivity many did seek him. After that night of darkness the dawn of a new day brought a few gleams of hope, and some bestirred themselves "early" to find mercy with God (see Daniel 9:3-6).
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS AFFLICTION IS to be found in unrepented sin. 1. The unwillingness of God to send trouble to his creatures is constantly insisted on in Scripture. "He is very pitiful, and of tender mercy;" "Judgment is his strange work," its object being to show the need we have of the mercy he proffers. Evidences of the loving-kindness of God to his creatures reveal themselves more distinctly as we study their condition and circumstances. Illustrations from insects, birds, and beasts, in their relations to food and habitation. Example in provision for every child of man. The babe is cast in its helplessness upon us. We are to shield it, to foster its life, to foresee and provide for its wants. This is as much for our good as for the child's good. We learn thereby to conquer ourselves, to exercise frugality and diligence, and the rough nature is softened by the touch of tiny tender fingers. In the ways of Christ "a little child shall lead them." Then, as life develops, pleasure is found in the sights and sounds of nature, in the exercise of each faculty, etc. "Lord, when I count thy mercies o'er," etc.
2. There are seeming contradictions, however, to the loving-kindness of God's rule. The helpless racked with pain, the innocent born to a heritage of shame, the noblest and most useful snatched away by death, etc. Hence heathen philosophy believed in two antagonistic deities. Trace the belief in ancient philosophy and in modern idolatry. Holy Scripture declares there is but one God, concerning whom we read, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). The boldness of that conception stamps it as Divine. We know not the effect on other worlds and beings of the conflict waged here between good and evil. We cannot judge God from what is seen in this tiny fragment of his universe. A sea-anemone in its pool feels the rush of the tide over it and all around it, and its subsequent and certain withdrawal. If it could think, it would argue that the ebb and flow of the tide was God's law for all life. It knows nothing of fair fertile fields and busy cities, where the moaning of the sea is never heard. Our knowledge of God's method and character from what is around us is as slight.
3. The revelation of God in Christ shows that the sorrow is rightly mingled with the sin—just as storms are good for a vitiated atmosphere. We cannot breathe without creating poison. If the air were motionless it would be fatal to us and others. By Divine ordinance the air, because it is vitiated and heated, must move; and then comes the draught which chills the invalid and kills him, and the storm which sweeps over the sea and causes wreck. Yet the law which causes these disasters is for the world's salvation. So evils which would corrupt the earth, as in olden time, are not left unheeded. Sorrow comes till men "acknowledge their offence and seek God's face."
II. THE NATURE OF THIS AFFLICTION. "I will return to my place." God is everywhere; but relatively to us he is sometimes near, sometimes far away. He is to us according to the conditions and desires of our hearts. He is said to withdraw when the sense of his care and favor is gone. This would be no great trouble to some. They have yet to learn that to be apart from God is to be away from light and love and hope forever. It is to be in "the outer darkness." None of us know to the full the sweetness of the Divine presence, and therefore do not completely know the bitterness of its withdrawal. Who of us has prayed till the heavens were opened, and we saw visions of God? Who of us has gazed on Christ till he was transfigured before us, and we cried, "It is good for us to be here?" Who of us knows the deepest meaning of the promise, "If any man open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me"? It is in proportion as we have realized these blessings that we can realize this curse. Imagine yourself stricken down by fatal illness, growing sensibly weaker, no hope of recovery and no God near; going down into the darkness of death, feeling in vain for a hand that does not meet yours—a God-forsaken man! Or read the utterances of men who knew more of God than we. See the agony of the psalmist as he prays, "Be not silent unto me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit" (Psalms 28:1; also Job 13:24; Psalms 44:23, Psalms 44:24, etc). If the message comes to the nation, to the Church, or to you, "I will go and return to my place," no organization we can frame, no force we can muster, will avail us. It will be time for us (as it was for Israel when Jehovah refused to go up amongst them, and promised only indirect guidance) to put off our ornaments, to bewail our sin, to acknowledge our offence, and seek him early. "Oh, satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."
III. THE RESULTS OF THIS AFFLICTION. "In their affliction they will seek me early."
1. Acknowledgment of sin is the first sign of the change. The reference is not to the unconsidered declaration that we are "miserable sinners," but to the intelligent and prayerful confession which follows on that self-examination which affliction does so much to stimulate. When severe weather keeps us within doors, we discover the faults of our house. When the vessel is under the stress of storm, her weak places reveal themselves. So with character, when thoughts are driven in upon ourselves. In society a man asks himself, "What have I?" in solitude he asks himself, "What am I?" A true answer to that question leads to confession. Acknowledgment of sin is not synonymous with the cry of pain or despair. See how David distinguishes between these in his own experience in Psalms 32:1-11. He speaks of himself as "roaring" with his pain, yet that brought no relief; but he adds, "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord: and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." The same distinction is drawn by Hosea himself (Hosea 7:14), "And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds." If a man were on the rack the executioner would not stay his hand because of his shrieks, but the first whispered words of a confession would give instant relief.
2. The seeking after God is a further sign of this change. We may condemn ourselves, we may resolve to be holier, we may confess our faults to our fellow-man, without having the true repentance described here. Judas was conscious of sin, and it drove him to despair; but Peter, when contrite, went to the Lord's feet, and was able still to say," Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." "In their affliction they shall seek me early." To bring this about we are sometimes so encircled by troubles that we cannot look over them or see beyond them, but can merely look up to the hills whence true help comes. Apply this to the Christian who has been forgetting God, and to the sinner who has never known him.
APPEAL. Wait not till the sorrows of life make you feel your need of God. We may be thankful that we may go even at the last, but how ignoble to leave it till then! Point out the shame of leaving the gladness of youth unconsecrated to him who gave it; of waiting till the cares of life so press upon the spirit that, weary and heartsick, we return to the Father; of delaying till the evening of life is deepening, and enfeebled by age we say, "Now let us turn to God." Show how destitute of magnanimity, how fraught with peril, such a course must be. Whether in affliction or in joy, "seek him early."—A.R.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Uninspired teachers often act upon imperfect information. Ministers of religion take some people to be better and others to be worse than they really are. From this unavoidable infirmity of men the omniscient God is free. In dealing with a sinful soul or a sinful community he speaks and acts from a perfect knowledge.
I. THE FACT OF DIVINE OMNISCIENCE. It is incredible that there should be any bounds to Divine knowledge; yet it is scarcely to be realized by us that there should be none. See how this thought inspired the psalmist (Psalms 139:1-24). This natural attribute of the Creator is one mode, so to speak, of his infinite perfection.
II. THE BEARING OF THE DIVINE OMNISCIENCE UPON THE STATE OF THE SINNER.
1. No aggravation of the sinner's guilt is hid. If Ephraim sinned against light, this was known to Jehovah; if Israel rejected the counsels of the prophets divinely sent, this was not hid from him.
2. No extenuation of the sinner's guilt is hid. The temptation to which he yields, the weakness which succumbs, the regret and remorse which follow sin,—all are known to Heaven.
3. The judgment which God passes is righteous and unquestionable. There is no escape from the Divine tribunal to our own; for the voice within accords with that from above.
III. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS OF THE DIVINE OMNISCIENCE.
1. It should lead to a full and immediate confession. God knows all, and if we do not acknowledge our sin it will not be hid from him. Whilst "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive."
2. It should lead us to watchfulness and prayer. If his eye is ever upon us, let our eyes ever be up unto him; if hid ear is ever open, let our cry ever ascend unto him.
3. It should lead the accepted soul to constant fellowship with God. To the Christian the thought of the Divine omniscience is fraught with holy, filial, rejoicing confidence. It is not only our sins that are not hidden from him; he knows our prayers, our love, our hopes, our all.—T.
When the Lord invited Israel's approach, Israel remained afar off in unbelief and impenitence. And when, in distress and anxiety, Israel drew near the Lord, it was to find that he would no longer reveal his face or bestow his favor.
I. THE OCCASION OF THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL. The Scriptures often represent the Lord as hiding his face, as turning away his ear, as repenting him of the favor he had shown, as hiding himself. Why such action? Surely this withdrawal is always and only because of human sin. Whilst his subjects are loyal, they always find him gracious and accessible; but from the rebellious and obstinate he withdraws himself in displeasure.
II. THE SIGNS OF THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL. In the case of Israel prayers were unheard, sacrifices were disregarded, enemies were suffered to triumph, and national disasters followed one another thick and fast. God has ways of withdrawing himself from a soul as well as from a nation. He removes the joyful light of his countenance, and suffers afflictions to befall those from whom tie hides his face for a moment.
III. THE PURPOSES OF THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL. It is a purpose of mercy, not of malevolence or vindictiveness. If men will not obey God, he leaves them to taste the fruits of disobedience. When they are wearied of his absence, and turn unto him, it is with great mercies that he gathers them.—T.
Israel's idolatry was unfaithfulness and treason to Jehovah. And every one who does wickedly in departing from God is similarly guilty, and is similarly marked by Divine omniscience and regarded with Divine displeasure.
I. THE PROOFS OF TREACHERY. The main principle of infidelity and traitorousness is the preference of another for God. Whether our own carnal gratification, or the applause of men, or the wealth of this world, be desired rather than the service and favor of God, in every such case treason, spiritual treason, has been committed. This is shown by idolatry, by sensuality, by worldliness, by pride; all of which are evidences of a treasonable intent.
II. THE SIN OF TREACHERY. This appears when we consider:
1. God's claim upon our fidelity. In calling us his and treating us as his, in providing for all our wants, our Divine Lord has established and exhibited his right to our loyal subjection and service.
2. God's grace and indulgence. He has shown His affection by his considerate care for our happiness. To be disloyal to him is base insensibility and ingratitude.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF TREACHERY. God is as a king, who cannot be indifferent to the treason, the rebellion, of his subjects; he is as a husband, who cannot pass over the infidelity of his wife. He will exercise his sovereign power, vindicate his righteous claims, and punish the disloyal and the traitorous. To avoid a doom so awful, "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way."—T.
Human physicians helpless.
The reference here is to both Israel and Judah; for both kingdoms were alike suffering, alike guilty of reliance on human help and deliverance, and alike in their experience of its utter vanity.
I. NATIONAL DISEASE AND SUFFERING. The language is, of course, figurative, but it is very expressive. Whoever reads the chronicles of the chosen people must become familiar with the civil troubles, afflictions, and disasters they were called upon to endure. Had they been faithful to God and to one another they would have been spared very much which they brought upon themselves of sorrow and of disaster.
II. THE APPEAL TO POLITICAL PHYSICIANS. It was to Assyria that the Israelites were often so foolish as to appeal. Beset by Babylon on the cast and Egypt on the south, the Hebrews were often at a loss how to steer their course. Their danger was lest they should rely for healing and for safety upon "an arm of flesh." It was not unnatural that they should do so; but it was wrong and foolish policy, as the event always proved.
III. THE POWERLESSNESS OF THE NATIONS TO HEAL THE MALADIES AND WOUNDS OF ISRAEL. The children of the covenant gained nothing by going after other gods or by courting the alliance of heathen kings. These physicians, when called in, could effect no cure and could afford no relief. In this we discern a symbol of the powerlessness of all human friends and helpers to bring deliverance to the captive soul, health to the spiritually sick and suffering, relief to the burdened.
"I have tried, and tried in vain,
Other ways to ease my pain."
IV. THE LESSON OF THIS EXPERIENCE. It is an easy one to understand, but a difficult one to practice. We are summoned to cast aside all confidence in human helpers, and to rely simply and only upon the Divine Physician. In him is salvation. "There is balm in Gilead; there is a physician there." Christ is the Healer alike of body and of soul, of individuals and of nations; and his healing is both for time and for eternity.—T.
Fruits of affliction.
Prosperity is not so unmixed a blessing as men are prone to imagine. It often withdraws the attention from the unseen world and the eternal future. And, on the other hand, much as men may dread adversity, multitudes have had reason to be grateful for affliction. "Before I was afflicted I went astray," etc.
I. AFFLICTION IS DIVINELY APPOINTED. The order of things, as a result of which troubles and privations befall men, is constituted by Divine wisdom. In the Hebrew manner of thought this fact is conveyed by the language put into the lips of Jehovah, "I will go and return to my place."
"Lot us be patient; these severe afflictions
Not from the ground arise."
II. AFFLICTION IS INTENDED TO DIRECT THE THOUGHTS TO THE SUFFERER'S SINS. It is often idle curiosity to speculate upon the connection between disobedience and particular troubles. But, as a general principle, sin is the root of which suffering is the fruit. And times of affliction call upon the "tried" and harassed to scrutinize their own conduct and their own heart, "till they acknowledge their offense," or "hold themselves guilty." Men go on sinning, from one crime or folly to another, and confirm themselves in their evil courses, until a check comes, until calamity overtakes them, until they are constrained to ask themselves—Have we forgotten that the world is ruled by a righteous God, who is angry with the wicked every day? Thus they are led, by God's grace, to confession and to penitence.
III. AFFLICTION IS INTENDED TO DIRECT THE THOUGHTS TO GOD. It is not enough for the offender to look inwards to himself; he must look upwards to his God. "Till they seek my face;" "They will seek me early." In days of calm, of pleasure, of health, of plenty, God has been forgotten. But "sweet are the uses of adversity;" and there is no use sweeter, more profitable, than this—its tendency to raise the mind to heaven. To seek forgiveness for careless, forgetful days, to seek the favor which has been justly forfeited, to seek the help which has been despised,—such is the attitude of the humbled and the contrite. And such suppliants shall not seek the face of God in vain.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"Hear ye this, O priests; and hearken, ye house of Israel; and give ye ear, O house of the king; for judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor. And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all. I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me: for now, O Ephraim, thou committest whoredom, and Israel is defiled." "With the words, 'Hear ye this,' the reproof of the sins of Israel makes a new start, and is specially addressed to the priests and the king's house, i.e. the king and his court, to announce to the leaders of the nation the punishment that will follow their apostasy from God and their idolatry, by which they have plunged the people and kingdom headlong into destruction" (Keil and Delitzsch). These words lead us to consider the depravity of a nation.
I. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED IN IT. "Hear ye this." All orders and degrees of men are here cited to appear before the Almighty on account of the sin of the country. Both priests and rulers, clergy and kings, ought, not only to be unimplicated in the moral corruption of a country, but to be evermore the most zealous and efficient agents in purifying the spirit and elevating the moral character of a nation. In their elevated positions they should not allow a breath of general depravity to touch them, but pour down evermore upon all grades of people sentiments and influences that shall purify and bless. Alas! it has been otherwise; both have, for ages, proved the greatest contaminators and curses of their race. Priests have oftentimes been fiends in sacerdotal robes, and kings beastly voluptuaries in royal garb and stately gait. No man is a real priest of God, and no man a true king, who is not the most distinguished exemplar and promoter of those heavenly virtues which alone can confer peace, stability, and honor upon a country.
II. UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD IS A PROOF OF IT. "For judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor." "As hunters spread their net and snares upon the hills Mizpah and Tabor, so ye have snared the people into idolatry, and made them your prey by injustice." As Mizpah and Tabor mean a "watch-tower" and a "lofty place," a fit scene for hunters; playing on the words, the prophet implies, "In the lofty place in which I have set you, whereas ye ought to hare been the watchers of the people, guarding them from evil, ye have been as hunters entrapping them into it." The meaning is "These kings and priests use their elevated positions in turning men away from the true God." "And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all." "Revolters" means apostates, and these apostates were "profound," deeply rooted, sunk into the lowest depths of idolatry. "To make slaughter." Their offerings were not sacrifices, they were mere slaughters, butcheries; there was nothing sacred about them. Here, then, is a proof of the general depravity of a nation. A nation that is unfaithful to its true God is a tree rotten in its roots, a river poisoned in its spring. Philosophically there can be no morality where there is no fidelity to him whose existence is the foundation and whose will is the rule of all virtue.
III. THE JUDGE OF THE WOULD IS COGNIZANT OF IT. "I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me." No covering can conceal it, no argument will disprove it. It lays bare to the eye of Omniscience. "I know Ephraim." Though they were ignorant of him, he knew them and read them through and through. Nations often cover over their depravity By the promotion of benevolent institutions by encouraging the ordinances of public worship, and by a public profession of religion. But there is an eye that penetrates through the thick covering—he sees the devil in the angel; "He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins of the children of men."
CONCLUSION. Suppose not that national depravity is something distinct from the depravity of the individual. It is but the aggregation of individual depravities. Nor suppose that, because priests and kings may be the mightiest agents in promoting national immorality and irreligion, each individual in the nation is less accountable for his sins on that account. No priest or king can compel us to sin. Sin is an act of freedom, and for it each man is held responsible to the Most High. Daniel Webster was once asked, "What is the most important thought you ever entertained?" He replied, after a moment's reflection, "The most important thought I ever had was my individual responsibility to God."—D.T.
Necessary preliminaries to a godly life.
"They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God," etc. Preachers do not always deal wisely with their hearers. They call upon men to repent; they often describe repentance with metaphysical accuracy, and enforce it with resistless logic and pressing rhetoric. So with faith; they explain its nature and enforce its duty. They say, "Repent or be damned," "Believe or be damned." They seldom go further. But few have any notion that there is a certain way to repent and believe, fewer still indicate the nature of that way. Long have I had the impression, which deepens with years, that there is as truly a way to "repent and believe," as there is a way to cultivate the farm, build the house, or master any art or science. The text implies this, "They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God." What is the way? How are men to frame their doings as to turn unto their God?
I. BY THINKING ON CERTAIN SUBJECTS. We ever act from motives when we act as men. But what are motives? The creation of our own thoughts. The man who centers his thoughts on the advantages of wealth, or fame, or knowledge, turns to their pursuit. His thoughts excite his feelings, and his feelings urge him to a resolution. But what are the subjects which thought must dwell on in order that we may move religiously? If I am to repent I must think of my sins in relation to the character of the holy God and the self-sacrificing Christ. It is only as I muse that the fires of penitence will burn. If I am to believe, I must think upon the object who alone has the attributes to command my highest confidence and unbounded trust. If I am to love supremely, I must meditate on the perfections of him who is supremely good. In fact, if a man is to turn to any new course of conduct, he must have new motives; and if he is to have new motives, he must have new thoughts. "I thought of my ways, I turned my feet unto thy statutes." Thought is the rudder of the soul; as it is turned, the vessel takes the direction.
II. By thinking on certain subjects IN A CERTAIN WAY. There is a way to think. You may think on the most serious subjects in such a way as to produce profanity and mirth. How must you think, then, on these subjects?
1. With concentration. The whole thinking force of the soul must be centered on them. The most solemn of them, taken up lightly and dispatched with a reflection or two, will not produce the result. if you would bring the beams of the sun into a scorching flame, you must draw them to a focus. And if you would make the great truths of religion kindle repentance within you, you must focalize them by a process of intense thinking.
2. With persistency. It is not enough to bend even the whole force of the mind upon them now and then at distant intervals; it must be done consecutively. They must be kept constantly before the mind as objects in its horizon so grand and solemn that all else shall seem trifling and contemptible.
3. With devotion. God must be brought to them. His presence and aid must be invoked.
III. By thinking on certain subjects WITH A PRACTICAL INTENT. TO think upon religious subjects in order to increase our theological knowledge or to make our feelings glow for a time with a religious sentiment would be of little service; but to think in order to translate the thought into action, to embody the idea in the life—this is the way. They must be thought upon in order to answer the question, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
CONCLUSION. "This is the way; walk ye in it." Think. Thoughtlessness is the curse of humanity. Think on right subjects; wrong subjects will do you harm. Think on right subjects in a right way; thinking on right subjects in a wrong way must prove disastrous. Think on right subjects with a practical intent, not for speculation nor sentimentalizing, but for action—real, living, godly action. Thus frame your doings, and "turn unto the Lord." Think, brethren, think; there is nothing like noble thoughts. "It is a grand thing when, in the stillness of the soul, thought bursts into flame, and the intuitive vision comes like inspiration; when breathing thoughts clothe themselves in burning words, winged as it were with lightning; or when a great law of the universe reveals itself to the mind of genius, and, where all was darkness, his single word bids light be, and all is order where chaos and confusion were. Or when the truths of human nature shape themselves forth in the creative fancies of one life, the million-minded poet, and you recognize the rare power of heart which sympathizes with and can reproduce all that is found in man" (F.W. Robertson).—D.T.
"They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them." This verse directs us to two subjects of thought.
I. THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL WORKS. "They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord." "Seek the Lord:" this implies a distance between man and his Maker. The Bible abounds with allusions to this distance. What is it? It is not the distance of being, for both are in close vital contact. "In him we live and move and have our being." It is the distance of character. Between the sympathies, principles, and aim of the two there is a distance vast as infinitude. "His thoughts are not our thoughts," etc. Hence the great work of man is to seek the Lord morally—to seek his character, and thus become a "partaker of the Divine nature."
1. This is a work in which all men should engage. The grand duty of all souls is to be "holy, even as he is holy." Holiness is the condition of fellowship with him in "whose presence there is joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
2. This is a work which all men must attend to sooner or later. The time hastens on when the most wicked and worthless man on earth will wake up to the importance of holiness, and strenuously try for his friendship. Of all works, then, this is the most important. Every ether avocation of life is puerile compared with this. Man's great want is the Lord—the Lord's character, the Lord's fellowship. Without this, whatever else he has, he is lost—lost to happiness, to usefulness, and to the grand ends of his being.
II. The most important of all works UNDERTAKEN TOO LATE. "They shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them." Though they take with them their flocks and their herds, and are prepared to make the greatest sacrifices, their efforts are fruitless—"He hath withdrawn himself from them." This is the language of accommodation. He puts forth no effort to conceal himself, he alters not his position, but he seems to withdraw from them. As the white cliffs of Albion seem to withdraw from the emigrant as his vessel bears him away to distant shores, so God seems to withdraw from the man who seeks him "too late."
CONCLUSION. "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices." D.T.
An earnest ministry.
"Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud at Beth-aven, after thee, O Benjamin." The prophet in vision sees Divine judgment coming on the rebellious nation, and commands an alarm to be given of the approach of the enemy. Gileah (Joshua 18:28) and Ramah (18:25) were two elevated places in the tribe of Benjamin, and were well adapted for signals on account of their lofty elevation. The introduction of these particular towns, which did not belong to the tribe of Israel, but to Judah, is intended to indicate that the enemy had already conquered the ten tribes, and had advanced to that on the border of Judah. The idea of the passage is—Give an earnest warning of the judgment about to break on the people, sound the alarm, and startle the population, The subject suggested is that of an earnest ministry. Notice—
I. THE NATURE OF AN EARNEST MINISTRY. "Cry aloud." Let the whole soul go forth in the work. Let us not mistake the nature of earnestness. It is not noise. Ignorant people imagine that the minister who makes the greatest noise, roars and raves the most in the pulpit, or parades his doings most in journals and reports, is the earnest man. "A celebrated preacher, distinguished for the eloquence of his pulpit preparations, exclaimed on his death-bed, 'Speak not to me of my sermons. Alas! I was fiddling whilst Rome was burning.'" It is not frightening people. Often he who is the most successful by graphic and impassioned descriptions of the judgment day and hell fires, in terrifying men, is considered the most earnest. This is a mistake—a popular and fatal mistake. It is not bustle. He who is always on the "go," whose limbs are always on the stretch, into this house and that house, into this meeting and that, who is never at rest, men are always disposed to regard as an earnest man. Genuine earnestness is foreign to all these things. It has nothing in it of the noise and rattle of the fussy brook; it is like the deep stream rolling its current silently, resistlessly, and without pause. An earnest ministry is living. It is not mere preaching or service, occasional or even systematic; it is the influence of the whole man. It is the "Word" made flesh; so permeating the whole man that every word, act, and expression are as the blasts of a Divine trumpet, rousing sinners to a sense of their moral danger. Such a ministry is a matter of necessity. The Divine thing in the man becomes irrepressible, it breaks out as sunbeams through the clouds: "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." Such a ministry is constant. It is not a professional service; it is as regular as the functions of life; it is a thing that is "in season and out of season"—in shops and in sanctuaries, on hearths as well as in pulpits. Such a ministry is mighty. Men can stand before the most thunderous words and violent attitudinizations, but they cannot stand before such a ministry as this; they are before it as snow before the sun.
"Oh! let all the soul within you
For the truth's sake go abroad!
Strike! let every nerve and sinew
Tell on ages—tell for God."
II. THE NEED OF AN EARNEST MINISTRY. Why was the "comet" to be now blown in Gibeah, and the" trumpet" in Ramah? Because there was danger. The moral danger to which souls around us are exposed is great. There is the danger of losing, not existence, but all that makes existence worth having—love, hope, power, friendship, etc. "To be carnally minded is death." It is near. It is not the danger of an invading army heard in the distance. The enemy has entered the soul, and the work of devastating has commenced. It is increasing. The condition of the unregenerate soul gets worse and worse every hour. Brothers, let us be earnest in our work, always "abounding in the work of the Lord!"
"Time is earnest, passing by;
Death is earnest, drawing nigh;
Life is earnest; when 'tis o'er
Thou returnest nevermore."
The moth; or, God's quiet method of destroying.
"Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness." "And I am like the moth to Ephraim, and like the worm to the house of Judah" (Keil and Delitzsch). "The moth and worm are figures employed to represent destructive powers—the moth destroying clothes (Isaiah 1:9; Psalms 39:12), the worm injuring both wood and flesh." The words indicate God's quiet method of destroying. In two or three verses in this chapter he is spoken of as proceeding in his work of destruction as a lion: "I will be unto Ephraim as a lion." Here as a "moth"—working out ruin silently, slowly, and gradually.
I. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN' THE BODIES OF MEN. Oftentimes men die violently and suddenly, but more frequently by some insidious hidden disease which, like a "moth," works away quietly at the vitals, gradually poisoning the blood and undermining the constitution. In truth, the seed of death, like a moth, gnaws away day after day and year after year in every human frame. The moth is often so small and secret in its workings that medical science can seldom find it out, and, when it finds it out, though it may check it for a time, it cannot destroy it: the moth defies all medicine. Truly we are crushed by a moth. At the heart of some of the strongest trees in the forest there are hosts of invisible insects noiselessly at work; the forester knows it not, the tree seems healthy; until one fine morning, before a strong gust of wind, it falls a victim to these silent workers. So with the strongest man amongst us.
II. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN THE ENTERPRISES OF MEN. Often men find it impossible to succeed in their worldly avocations. Mercantile establishments that have been prosperous for generations have the "moth" in them. For years the fabric has been so firm that it has made but little way, the tree has grown and flourished though the worm was at its root; but the time comes when the effects are seen, and the existing proprietors begin to wonder they do not go on as usual, why the fruit is not so juicy and abundant as in their father's time. One of their projects brings poor results, and another fails, at last the establishment collapses; the outsiders wonder, and a panic is created in the market. What is the matter? There has been a "moth" there for years. It has not been conducted by godly men, and that in a right spirit; so God sent a "moth," and the moth has been working away for years silently, secretly, and gradually, until all the vitality has been eaten up.
III. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN THE KINGDOMS OF MEN. For a time a country flourishes; there is a vigor, an elasticity, an enterprise, a love of justice and honor in the spirit of the people, and all things seem to prosper. Its commerce flourishes, its laws are respected, its influence great amongst the nations, but there is a "moth" in its heart. Effeminacy, luxury, ambition, greed, self-indulgence, servility, irreverence,—these are moths, and decay sets in, and it falls, not by the sword of the invader, but by its own "rottenness." We fear there is a "moth "secretly but regularly working out the ruin of England. "I will be unto Ephraim as a moth." it was thus with the nations of antiquity. Where are they? The moth has eaten them.
"When nations go astray from age to age,
The effects remain a fatal heritage;
Bear witness, Egypt, thy huge monuments
Of priestly fraud and tyranny austere!
Bear witness, thou, whose only name presents
All holy feelings to religion dear—
In earth's dark circlet once the precious gem
Of living light, O fallen Jerusalem!"
IV. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN THE CHURCHES OF MEN. What destroyed the Churches of Asia Minor? The "moth" of worldliness and religious errors. Some of our modern Churches are obviously slowly rotting away. A realizing faith in the invisible, brotherly love, practical self-sacrifice, Christliness of spirit,—these, which constitute the moral heart of the true Church, are being eaten up by the moth of secularity, sectarianism, superstition, and religious pretence. Thus, too, individual souls lose their spiritual life and strength. Many a soul, once earnestly alive to the higher things of being, has lost its vigor and fallen into spiritual decay. God deliver us from those errors of heart that like a moth eat away the life! "We read," says Archbishop Trench, "in books about the West Indies of a huge bat, which goes under the ugly name of the vampire bat. It has obtained this name, sucking as it does the blood of sleepers, even as the vampire is fabled to do. So far, indeed, there can be no doubt; but it is further reported, whether truly or not I will not undertake to say, to fan them with its mighty wings, that so they may not wake from their slumbers, but may be hushed into deeper sleep, while it is thus draining away the blood from their veins. Sin has often presented itself to me as such a vampire bat, possessing as it does the same fearful power to lull its victims into an even deeper slumber, to deceive those whom it is also destroying."—D.T.
Wrong methods of relief.
"When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb: yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound." The" moth" had so far eaten into the political heart of Ephraim and Judah that they began to feel the wound and to grow conscious of their weakness. They felt, it may be, that from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there was no soundness in them, but wounds and bruises and putrefied sores. Under a grievous sense of their disease and weakness, instead of applying to Jehovah for help, they went "to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb." The Assyrian king was ever ready for his own aggrandizement to mix himself up with the affairs of neighboring states, and profess to undertake Israel and Judah's cause. As the real disease of the two kingdoms was apostasy to the Lord, which ever gives rise to all the evils that destroy political states as well as individual souls, we are justified in giving the text a spiritual application; and we raise from it the following remarks:—
I. Men are OFTEN MADE CONSCIOUS of their spiritual malady. Depravity is a disease of the heart; it is often represented as such in the Bible, and it is so. As a disease it impairs the energies, mars the enjoyment of the soul, and incapacitates it for the right discharge of the duties of life. Often men remain insensible to this disease, but the time comes when they become deeply conscious of it. As "Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound," they see their moral wretchedness, and cry out, "Who shall deliver us from the bondage of this sin and death?" A great point is gained when the sinner becomes conscious of his sins.
II. Men under a consciousness of their spiritual malady FREQUENTLY RESORT TO WRONG MEANS OF RELIEF. Ephraim now "went to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb." The Assyrians had neither the power nor the disposition to effect their restoration to political health. How often men whose consciences are touched by the events of providence and the truths of the gospel appeal for help to some moral Assyrian! Sometimes they go to scenes of carnal amusement; sometimes to skeptical philosophizings; sometimes to false religion's. These are all "miserable comforters," "broken cisterns."
III. That resorting to wrong methods of relief WILL PROW UTTERLY INEFFECTIVE. "Yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound." What can worldly amusements, skeptical reasonings, and false religions do towards healing a sin-sick soul? Nothing. Like anodyne, they may deaden the pain for a minute only, that the anguish may return with intenser acuteness. There is but one Physician, and that is Christ. Public amusers, skeptical philosophers, entertaining novelists, ceremonial priests,—these have been tried a thousand times, and have failed—signally failed. Christ only can bind up the broken-hearted. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
God and man.
All classes are addressed by the prophet—priests, king, nobles, the whole house of Israel. The prophecy makes an advance. In the previous chapter judgment is threatened; in this it is announced as imminent. Judah also is menaced with punishment (Hosea 5:5, Hosea 5:10, Hosea 5:12).
I. GOD WILL ENSNARE THE ENSNARERS. (Hosea 5:1) The dignitaries-priests, kings, and nobles—had led the people astray. They had put stumbling-blocks in their way. They had become a snare to them. Mizpah and Tabor may be referred to as conspicuous centers of wickedness. The figure is taken from the ensnaring of birds. We may ensnare:
1. Through evil example. The example of a court, of the aristocracy, of ministers of religion, of the wealthy, has a powerful influence on the tone of morals and religion. If evil, it gives an immense impetus to corruption. The multitudes think nothing wrong which they see in their betters (cf. Massillon's sermon on 'Des Exemples des Grands').
2. Through traps set for virtue. The idolatrous festivals patronized by the great were direct temptations put in the way of the people. What shall we say of the countenance given by many in high positions in our own land to the turf, to demoralizing sports, to gambling institutions, to Sunday festivals, etc.? The toleration and licensing of vice by public authorities is the spreading of a "snare." Every effort should rather be made to remove stumbling-blocks from the midst of a community.
3. By direct solicitation to evil The vicious take a wicked delight in seducing others. They gloat in seeing the innocent brought down to their own level. They are active and unremitting in compassing men's destruction. They cannot bear that any should remain to be a rebuke to them. Hence the ensnaring influence of evil companionships. God, however, declares that the ensnarers in Israel shall not escape his judgment. "Judgment is toward you." He will dig a pit for those who are digging pits for their fellows. He will take them in their own net, and destroy them suddenly (Psalms 7:11-16; Psalms 9:15, Psalms 9:16).
II. GOD IS MORE PROFOUND THAN THE PLOTTERS. (Hosea 5:2, Hosea 5:3) The revolters in Israel were "profound to make slaughter." They laid their plots deep. They concocted conspiracies (Hosea 7:3-7) and planned deeds of blood (Hosea 6:8, Hosea 6:9). They thought that no one knew of their doings. But God was more profound than they were. "I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me." They would find him "a rebuker" of them all. All their sins were "naked and open" to him—their plottings, their "whoredom," and everything else.
1. The wicked pride themselves on their deep cunning. They imagine that their deeds are wrapped in impenetrable darkness. They are strong in a fancied security. They think no one can find them out.
2. They forget about God. All the while God is watching their doings; he is privy to their most secret counsels; he knows how to counterwork and defeat their plots; he will at last "bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
III. GOD IS NOT REGARDLESS OF THOSE WHO REFUSE TO KNOW HIM. (Hosea 5:4, Hosea 5:5)
1. The sinner puts God out of his thoughts. Israel had turned its back on Jehovah. It would not know him. "They will not frame their doings," etc. The cause of this was the evil heart of unbelief in the people, leading them to depart from the living God. "The spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them." The alternative rendering of the clause first suggests that, once the sinner has embarked on evil courses, he finds it difficult again to leave them: "Their doings will not suffer them to turn unto their God." The "spirit of whoredoms" binds the transgressor in love to ways that are not, right. These fix themselves as habits, customs. The latent sense of wrongdoing in the mind will not allow of further debate with conscience. The sinner, in this condition, is apt to think that, because he has succeeded in forgetting God, God has forgotten him as well.
2. God, however, is not forgetful of the sinner. With the latter it may be "out of sight, out of mind; ' but there is neither" out of sight" nor "out of mind" with God. The "pride of Israel" here (Hosea 5:5) and in Hosea 7:10 is best interpreted—after the analogy of the similar expression, "excellency [pride] of Jacob," in Amos 8:7—of God himself, Israel's glory. Israel had forgotten God, but God remembered Israel, and testified against it "to its face." He testified now
(1) by reproofs; and would testify afterwards
(2) by judgments. "Therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity." What applied to Israel applied also to Judah—"Judah also shall fall with them;" and applies to every sinner. God testifies to the sinner of his sins, of his ingratitude, of his folly, and of his certain punishment. This, through conscience, in the Word, by the Spirit, by the reproofs of his servants.
IV. GOD CAN WITHDRAW HIMSELF WHEN MEN SEEK. (Amos 8:6, Amos 8:7)
1. The time would come when, convinced of its folly, Israel would begin to seek eagerly after God. "They shall go with their flocks and with their herds," etc.
2. But it would then be too late. "He hath withdrawn himself from them." The reason why God would thus withdraw himself would be that there was no sincerity in their approach. They would come with flocks and herds, but not with the essential sacrifice—the contrite spirit. The character of Israel was not such as held out any hope of genuine repentance. "They have dealt treacherously against the Lord," etc. (Amos 8:7). The right time to seek the Lord is while he "waits to be gracious." After that it is too late (Proverbs 1:24 34).
3. They would be cut off in a short time, and in the very midst of their sacrifices. "A month shall devour them with their portions" (cf. Zechariah 11:8).—J.O.
Ephraim and Judah.
The judgment is represented in these verses as already fallen. Shrill cornet and trumpet blasts announce the presence of the invaders. They fill the land. They are at the borders of Judah. They menace Benjamin.
I. IS THE GRASP OF THE DESTROYER. (Hosea 5:8, Hosea 5:9)
1. Ephraim's destruction came upon him suddenly. It was on him before he was aware. Ere almost he could realize the fact, the land was in possession of invaders. It is thus that God's judgments commonly overtake transgressors. While they are saying to themselves, "Peace and safety," "sudden destruction cometh upon them" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). They mocked at the warning and professed to disbelieve it. Now, to their amazement, they find God's word come true. They are caught in the wave of judgment. "The sorrows of death compass them, the pains of hell get hold upon them." It was so at the Flood (Matthew 24:38, Matthew 24:39); at Sodom (Luke 17:28, Luke 17:29); at the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 17:30, Luke 17:31); and shall be so at the Lord's second advent (Matthew 24:48-51).
2. When Ephraim's hour came he was powerless to save himself. He might blow his trumpets; he might raise cries of frantic distress; he might warn Benjamin; but he could not deliver his own soul. So, in the day of judgment, the haughtiest of those who now exalt themselves against God will find themselves to be impotent. They will find their foe to be one against whom there is no contending. They may cry for mercy; may shout to the mountains and rocks to fall on them (Revelation 6:16); may plead, like Dives, for their "five brethren" (Luke 17:27, Luke 17:28); but they will know that for themselves there is no hope in resistance.
3. Ephraim's desolation would be complete. "Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke," etc.
(1) The judgment would fall in successive strokes. The land was frequently overrun by the Assyrians, prior to the final overthrow. There is an evolution in God's judgments. They run on till they are fulfilled. "That which shall surely be."
(2) It would be entire. The land would be reduced to utter desolation.
(3) It would be lasting—"great plagues, and of long continuance" (Deuteronomy 28:59). So the last clause may be rendered, "I have declared what is lasting."
II. THE DANGER TO JUDAH. (Hosea 5:8, Hosea 5:10)
1. The ruin of one sinner is a warning to others. Judah was partaker in Israel's sins. The destruction of Ephraim was therefore of very special significance to the sister state. It portended judgment to it also. When the northern kingdom was in the hands of the foe, the cry might well be raised, "After thee, O Benjamin."
(1) The sinner overtaken by judgment gives warning. He is now conscious, if he was not previously, that" it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Transgressors have often died warning those related to them against drinking, sabbath-breaking, bad company, and whatever else brought them to their shameful end.
(2) Conscience gives warning. When judgment is seen descending on another, conscience is quick to interpret the meaning for one s self. "After thee, O Benjamin."
2. The ruin of one sinner foretells judgment on others. It not merely warns of it; it predicts it. It says, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). Judah's punishment was as certain as Ephraim's.
(1) Judah's sins called for punishment. "The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound." They changed God's commandments. They refused to be bound by the Law God had given them. They altered the limits of conduct to suit themselves. They called that good which God called evil. They were thus like boundary-removers. All sin is a boundary-removing. It is the refusal to abide within prescribed limits. It is "transgression," a stepping across. It is "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4).
(2) God had threatened Judah with punishment. That threatening he now ratifies and repeats. Ephraim's overthrow was a pledge of its fulfillment. "I will pour out my wrath upon them like water." The judgment predicted is not of so fatal a kind as that on Ephraim, but it would be still very terrible. It is well to remember that there is wrath in God; that it is roused against sin; and that, in its effects, when poured forth, it is dreadful and overwhelming. Here it is figured as a flood which carries all before it.
III. MORAL CAUSATION. (Hosea 5:11, Hosea 5:12) The moral state of Ephraim and Judah, and the judgments which overtook them, stand in the relation of cause and effect. There is nothing arbitrary in the Divine government. God but gives to the sinner what his own doings have earned (Hosea 4:9).
1. Judah's sin and Ephraim's sin were practically the same sin.
(1) Judah's princes removed the bound; but this also was the sin of Ephraim. What was the institution of the calves but a removing of bouncer set by God's commandments? It was the substituting of a human statute for a Divine—the setting aside of a prohibition of the Decalogue.
(2) The people of Ephraim "walked willingly after the commandment," i.e. after the man-made statute; but so also did the people of Judah. They followed the example of their princes. Both kingdoms were antinomian.
2. Judah's punishment and Ephraim's punishment would accordingly be alike. "Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness." The agency at work in their destruction, while supernatural in origin, would work through natural causes and in accordance with natural laws. Destruction is prepared for by a process of internal decay. This decay is gradual, secret, sure, ruinous. It affects all parts of the social fabric. It so eats away its substance that it needs but a touch to make it fall in pieces. This is precisely what happens in a state when moral laws are tampered with.—J.O.
The false physician and the true.
The aid of the King of Assyria was, when times became troublous, freely sought by both Ephraim and Judah. Ephraim, however, was the chief offender. The relations between Israel and Assyria were at this time very close.
I. THE FATAL SICKNESS. (Hosea 5:13) "When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound," etc. The sickness was a deadly one. Its diagnosis is not difficult. "The real disease," one has said, "was apostasy from the Lord, or idolatry, with its train of moral corruption, injustice, crimes, and vices of every kind, which destroyed the vital energy and vital marrow of the two kingdoms, and generated civil war and anarchy in the kingdom of Israel." It was the disease of sin, which in more or less aggravated forms afflicts us all. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isaiah 1:5).
II. THE PHYSICIAN THAT COULD NOT HELP. (Hosea 5:13, Hosea 5:14) "Then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb [the warlike king]," etc.
1. The sinner will apply to any helper rather than to God. Israel had God to come to, but he would not avail himself of this aid. He preferred to send to the Assyrian. The reason was that he did not believe much in God's help. He knew, too, that, did he come to God, he would require to "acknowledge his offence" (Hosea 5:15) and give up his evil ways. For this he was not prepared. In like manner, the sinner's first resort is usually to earthly helpers. He neglects the great Physician. He looks to man for his comfort, counsel, strength, assistance, and happiness. He tries the "broken cisterns" (Jeremiah 2:13). He seeks remedies, not in the gospel, but in science, philosophy, politics, literature, and art. It is in vain. The physician is not to be found there.
2. No helper other than God can heal the sickness. "Yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound." "King Jareb" could not heal Israel, and neither can these earthly physicians we speak of heal the trouble of the sinner. It passes their skill. The Assyrian could not heal Israel; for:
(1) The cause of the trouble lay, not in anything outward, but in the moral state. Social, moral, and political evils need a deeper remedy than any earthly helper knows how to apply. Unless a cure can be discovered for sin, other remedies will fail. The seat of the mischief is in the heart. It is that which needs healing.
(2) God's hand was against Israel. "For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah," etc. So long as God had this "controversy" with the people it was vain to look for healing. God being against them, no human being could make things go well. They might heal, but he would rend again. They might rescue, but he would take away. They might gather, but he would scatter. There is no help so long as God is angry with us.
(3) After all, the Assyrian was not honest in his help. He did not really mean to help Israel. He sought only his own ends. Once he got the nation in his power, he would turn and rend it. Instead of helping, Assyria became the chief instrument in God's hand in inflicting the threatened punishment. Equally vain is the help we seek from earthly physicians. They cannot render it, even supposing they were willing, and they often are not willing. Our own age finds no real balm for its wounds in its theories and systems. It needs Christ. He is the only true Physician.
III. THE PHYSICIAN THAT COULD HELP. (Hosea 5:15) This was Jehovah. But him, as yet, Israel would not seek.
1. Only on one condition could his help be bestowed. This was that they should "acknowledge their offence, and seek his face." It was the indisposition to do this which kept Israel back.
2. Till Israel was brought to this point of acknowledgment God would hide himself in chastisements. "I will go and return to my place," etc. It is the sinner that must change. God cannot.
3. There remained the hope that affliction might ultimately lead them to seek him. "In their affliction they will seek me early."—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hosea 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29