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This chapter may be divided into three sections. In the first section, including Hosea 7:1-28.7.7, the prophet reproves with much but deserved severity the depraved morals of king and princes. In the second section, consisting of Hosea 7:8-28.7.11, he rebukes their sinfulness, silliness, pride, and stupid obstinacy, notwithstanding the many manifest tokens of decay. Otherwise the first section deals with the internal corruption of the northern kingdom, and the second exposes their sinful and harmful foreign policy. The third section, continuing from the twelfth verse to the end of the chapter, that is, Hosea 7:12-28.7.16, threatens the infliction of punishment incurred by their gross wicked. Hess and base ingratitude to God.
When I would hays healed Israel. We may, with some, understand this healing of those
(1) prophetic admonitions and rebukes by which God designed to cure the transgressions and heal the backslidings of his people.
(2) It is more probable, however, that the reference is to the partial restoration of the national prosperity in the days of Jeroboam II; who "restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain."
(3) Jerome's exposition is not so natural when he says, "The sense is: When I wished to blot out the old sins of my people, on account of ancient idolatry, Ephraim and Samaria discovered new idols;" the old sins and ancient idolatry he refers to the making and worshipping of the golden calf in the wilderness, while the new idols were the calf-worship which Jeroboam of the tribe of Ephraim instituted, and the people of the capital, Samaria, adopted. When God would heal, or as often as he proceeded to heal, Israel, the evils broke out afresh, or came more fully to light, just like a wound the dangerous nature of which is discovered by the surgeon's probe in the effort to heal it. Then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria. The sin of the northern kingdom manifested itself in high quarters—in the premier tribe of Israel, and in the capital city of Samaria. "Because," says Abort Ezra, in his comment, "they said, He hath torn, and he will heal us, he says, When I was disposed to heal them, the wickedness concealed in their heart stood before my face, which they have not left off until the present time, for they practice falsehood; by night they steal, and by day troops (of bandits) spread themselves outside the cities." Similarly, Rashi explains: "When I was willing to help and to heal them, their iniquities manifested themselves before me, for they practiced lying constantly; while thieves of their number entered in continually, and stole the wealth of their companions, and even their gangs spread themselves for robberies to rob men." For they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth (margin, strippeth) without. Here follows an enumeration of the crimes of which they were guilty. There was falsehood, or fraud, or deception generally, and that, not only in words, but in works; next comes dishonesty, both in public and in private. The thief privately entered the houses, and committed burglary; gangs of highwaymen publicly infested the roads, spoiling the passers-by, or rather roamed or spread themselves abroad for plunder, since it is the causative conjugation of pashat that has the signification of stripping or spoiling others. The thief within, the rubber robs without.
And they consider not in their hearts (margin, say not to their heart) that I remember all their wickedness. Between the common reading libravken and bilravken found in several manuscripts by Kennicott and De Rossi, there is a not unimportant difference. The latter, equivalent to saying "in their heart," which is the usual expression, denotes one's inward thoughts or reasonings with himself; the former, equivalent to saying "to their heart," is an address to, or remonstrance with, the heart with the view of restraining its evil purposes. God's remembrance of wickedness imports its punishment. Now their own doings have beset them about. Their doings
(1) have become evident or conspicuous as a robe or garment with which a man is surrounded, or a troop of body-guards placed about him. Or
(2) the terrors and penal consequences of their sins have surrounded them like a garment, as we elsewhere read, "He clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment." In this latter sense the figure is rather taken from enemies besieging a town or city, and beleaguering it closely all around, or from lictors, i.e. officers of the law surrounding them, or even witnesses confronting them on every side. Kimchi explains the sense as follows: "Now their evil deeds surround them, which were before my face and were not hidden from me; and, while they receive the punishment, they will remember that 1 know all the whole, and that it is I who return their reward upon their head." They are before my face, in the last clause, has a striking and awe-inspiring parallel in the ninetieth psalm: "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance." Aben Ezra's exposition is somewhat obscure; it is as follows: "They think that I do not see them, and they do not observe that their actions encircle them, as they are before my face."
They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies. The moral corruption and depravity of Israel were extreme and universal. They reached from the rabble to royalty, from the common people to the princes of the court. The king and princes were in full accord with fellows of the basest sort, taking pleasure in their wickedness trod applauding their lies.
(1) Rosenmüller quotes the explanation of Abarbanel to the following purport: "He (the prophet) means to say that the violent men of that ago were accustomed to narrate their atrocities to their kings, that the latter might thence derive entertainment." It is much the same whether the king and princes of that time took pleasure in the villanies which were perpetrated, or in the narratives of those villanies to which they listened,
(2) A somewhat different rendering, and consequently different exposition, have much to recommend them: "In their wickedness they make the king merry, and in their feigning the princes;" their wickedness was their diabolical design to assassinate king and princes; with this object in view they make the king merry with wine so that he might fall an easy and unsuspecting victim; their feigning was their fell purpose of assassination under the profession of friendship. Such was the desperate treachery of those miscreant conspirators. This view tallies well with the context.
Hosea 7:4, Hosea 7:6, and Hosea 7:7 are linked together by the figure of an "oven," common to them; while 4 and 6 have also in common the figure of a "baker." Further, we are helped to the literal meaning of the metaphorical language of Hosea 7:4 and Hosea 7:6 by Hosea 7:5 and Hosea 7:7 respectively. They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker. Whether the sin indicated was idolatry, which is often represented as spiritual adultery, or adultery in the literal sense, which was its frequent accompaniment; or in a larger sense faithlessness to solemn obligations such as treason, treachery, or perfidy in general; it was their habitual practice, as intimated by Piel participle in its iterative or intensive sense. The persons charged with this sin were kullam, all of them—sovereign and subjects, princes and people alike. The traitors of the time referred to, or rather their heart heated with lawless lust and pernicious passion, is pictured by the prophet as an oven; and the oven is heated by tile baker, or more literally, burning from the baker. Who or what is represented by the baker? This may be a personification of the spirit of treason like the spirit of whoredoms (Hosea 5:4), or evil agency that impelled these men to their nefarious deeds; or we may understand by the "baker" those persons who were the prime movers in such matters, and who instigated others to become their tools and execute their plans. In either case the burning, once commenced, continued of itself; the primary instigators had no difficulty in securing agents ready and willing as themselves for such bad and bloody work, and who, once set ageing, needed no further impulse, but of their own motion delighted to carry it through. Who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened. An interval of time elapses between the inception and execution of the work. The baker ceaseth from raising, more literally, from stirring or stoking; after kindling the fire in the oven he lets it burn on and leaves off stirring it until the kneaded dough is fully fermented. This respite is allowed that the leaven of wickedness may do its work, and completely pervade the minds into which it has been introduced, and until matters are thoroughly matured for action. Meantime the fire burns steadily and sufficiently, until the oven requires to be more highly heated for the well-prepared and perfectly leavened dough. The use of the participle מֵעִיד is well explained by the principle stated by Ewald as follows: "Just as the idea of the verb 'to be' is placed in immediate construction with the word which more exactly forms the predicate, so also may those verbs which describe a somewhat more specific kind of being, e.g. verbs which signify 'commencing' to be, i.e. becoming … verbs of hastening, i.e. quickly becoming … and those of ceasing to be, Hosea 7:4 … The following verb, if such a word be required for the more specific predicate, most readily chooses the participial form.; verbs denoting continuance would be constructed in the same way." The particle עַד, equivalent to usque ad, implies the completeness of the leavening.
In the day of our king. This may mean the anniversary of his birth—his birthday celebration, or the anniversary of his accession or coronation; or it may have been used in an ambiguous sense, and to include the day of his destruction, like the tragic irony or contrast between the knowledge of the spectator and the supposed ignorance of the actor. The expression "our" is either a real acknowledgment of the kings of Israel, or rather the lip-loyalty of the traitorous princes who were compassing his ruin. The princes have made him sick with bottles of wine. The literal rendering is, have made sick the heat of him; i.e. made him sick with heat from wine. The construction resembles Micah 6:13, "I will make sick thy smiting;" i.e. I will make thee sick through smiting thee. The heat from wine repeats in some sort the preceding figure of a heated oven. The object of these wretches was twofold—to inflame their passion, and nerve their hands for the bloody work on which they were set; and to leave the king powerless, a helpless victim in their hands. He stretched out his hand with scorners. Whatever the real origin of this phrase may be, the meaning is plain—he joined in fellowship with those wicked princes, and took part on terms of equality with them in their brutish debauch and profane carousal. He stretched out his hand and hailed them as boon-companions.
For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all the night; in the morning it burneth as a flaming fire. Their heart is the oven, as the comparison here teaches us; the fire by which it is inflamed is the fire of sinful passion, and the fuel that feeds the flame is the murderous machination on which they are at present so intent; the baker is either the original contrivers and prompters of their wickedness, or their own wicked spirit, or the evil one himself at the head of all. But, though there is a temporary suspension, there is no real cessation of their evil purpose; they are only biding their time, lying in wait; the baker sleeps, but it is only whilst the dough is leavening. Soon as the suitable time has come, soon as the occasion has arrived, and all circumstances in readiness, in the morning the baker rouses from his nocturnal slumber, stirs up the fire, and sets the oven ablaze Now that the dough is sufficiently leavened, and the oven thoroughly heated, the bread is put in—the meditated assassination is accomplished—it burneth as a flaming fire. This is the second and last stage of the proceeding, the last scene of the last act of the tragic drama,
They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen. Here we have the application, and so the explanation of the figurative language of the preceding verse, which, as we have seen, is the second stage of the action. The heat of the oven denotes the intense violence of their passion, as also their fierce and fiery power of destruction. Inferior rulers and magistrates fell victims to it; while regicides in incredible number were the result of it. Three regicides were perpetrated in thirteen years; and four in less than forty, the victims being Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah. Also Nadab, Elah, Zimri, Zibni, and Jehoram perished by their successors. There is none among them that calleth unto me. Amid such horrid scenes of blood and violence, of disorder and anarchy, there was none of them to realize the calamities of the times or recognize the cause. Consequently there was no one to discover the remedy, and apply to the true and only source of relief.
The difficulty of the section including Hosea 7:4-28.7.7 has occasioned considerable difference of exposition; it may not, therefore, be amiss to supplement the foregoing observations.
1. Aben Ezra accounts for בערה being accented as milel
(1) on the ground that, though a feminine formation, it is really masculine (to agree with תניו), like נחלה and לילה, both of which, though feminine in form, are notwithstanding of the masculine gender. Abarbanel, who is followed by Wunsche,
(2) takes בֹּעָרְה as a participle feminine for בֹּעָרהָ or בֹּעֶרָח, which is justified by the circumstance that the names of fire and of what is connected therewith are feminine in the Semitic, so that חנור is feminine.
2. The word מֵעִיר, which Ewald and others take, properly we think,
(1) as participle of Hiph; is treated
(2) by Genenius and Maurer as infirmitive Qal with min prefixed, which would occasion the awkward and unusual combination of two infinitives each prefixed with min in immediate sequence; while
(3) Kimchi takes it as infinitive Hiph. contracted for מֵהֵעִיר.
3. More important still is the interpretation of the verse. There is
(1) that already given, and which is in some measure supported by the following rabbinic comments: "Their evil passion," says Rashi, "which stirs them up, rests from kneading the dough until it is leavened, i.e. from the time that any one has thought on evil in his heart how he shall execute it, he rests and sleeps till the morning, when he shall be able to execute it, as the baker rests from kneading the dough until it is leavened, when he can bake it." Similar and yet somewhat peculiar is the concluding portion of Kimchi's comment: "As soon as he lays the pieces of wood into the oven, in order to heat it, he commands the women to knead, and he ceases to stir them (the women) up until the dough is leavened, as he estimates it in his heart, and then he rouses them to come with the dough to bake it. And this is the time when the oven is heated."
(2) The LXX. takes עיר as a noun prefixed with the preposition min (ἀπὸ τῆς φλογός), and translates the whole as follows: "They are all adulterers, as an oven glowing from flame for hot-baking, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened." The interpretation
(3) of Wunsche differs considerably from both the preceding; it is, "They are all adulterers, like an even, burning from a baker, who rests while stoking from the kneading of the dough till its fermentation;" and he cites in favor of this view Aben Ezra as follows: "This verse is inverted, and accordingly the sense is: As the oven of a baker burneth from the kneading of the dough till its fermentation, so that the baker can scarcely cease to stir it up, but must stir it up and heat it violently."
A like diversity of exposition is found in connection with Hosea 7:5, at least it, first clause.
1. There is
(1) the rendering already given; but
(2) Wunsche, taking החלו from חלל, to begin, as is done by the LXX; Syriac, Chaldee, and Jerome, translates:" The princes begin [i.e. open] the day of our king in the heat of wine." Consequently, yom is
(a) the object of this verb; while,
(b) according to the usual rendering, it is the accusative of time, equivalent to ביוֹם; others again
(c) take the word as a nominative absolute, or translate the clause as an independent one; thus Simson: "It is the day of our king."
2. Again, חֲמַח st. construct of חֵמָה, from the root חמם or יחם, (for the construct state is used, not only for the genitive-relation, but also before prepositions, the relative pronoun, relative clauses, even ray copulative, etc), is
(1) the accusative of the clause, equivalent to "in the heat (proceeding) from wine;" or
(2) be may be understood; or
(3) the preposition rain may be regarded as transposed,—Rashi explains it: "From the heat of the wine that burneth in them;" or
(4) בַּעֲלֵי may be supplied, as Wunsche suggests, equivalent to "possessors (bearers) of heat from wine."
3. לֵץ is a scoffer and worse than כְסִיל, a fool, or פְחִי, a simpleton; the last acts through inexperience, the second from unwisdom, the first, though possessing in some measure both wisdom and experience, acts in disregard of both. The meaning is given by Kimchi in the following comment: "The sense of חי מי is that the one came with his bottle full of wine, and the other with his bottle; and they made the king sick;" and to this there is an exact parallel in Habakkuk 2:15, "Woe unto him that giveth his neigh-hour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also." In the second clause the expression, "drawing out the hand," is borrowed from drunken carousals, in which the hand is stretched out in asking, receiving, and handing the goblets; or, more simply, according to Pussy, who says, "Men in drink reach out their hands to any whom they meet, in token of their sottish would be friendliness."
This verse, Wunsche thinks, is probably the most difficult in the whole book.
1. The translation of the first clause in the Authorized Version is susceptible of a more literal and improved rendering.
(1) "For they bring near as an oven their heart, whilst they lie in wait;" that is, they approach the king with loyalty on their lips, but hatred in their heart. Their heart (which is the fact) is heated with evil passion, as an oven (which is the figure) is heated for baking purposes; while they are secretly set for wickedness.
(2) Wunsche, after enumerating a great variety of renderings and expositions, with none of which he is satisfied, gives the following: "For they press close together; like an oven is their heart in their artifice (cunning)." The meaning, according to the same author, is that all, scoffers and king alike, press near each other, being of one heart and disposition; cunning makes them one single society.
(3) Keil translates more simply as follows: "For they have brought their heart into their ambush, as into the oven." In this rendering he combines the explanation of Ewald and Hitzig.
2. In the second clause which Keil translates in the same sense as
(1) the Authorized Version, Wunsche
(2) changes the common reading into אַפְהָם, equivalent to אַפָם, their anger, and translates accordingly, "All night their anger sleeps, in the morning it burns like flaming fire." That the reading here is somewhat doubtful may be inferred from the fact that the LXX. has Ἔφραιμ: while the Chaldee and Syrian rugzehon, their fury; still, as it is only a conjectural emendation, we prefer abiding by the ordinary reading and rendering, at least in this instance. The following explanation of the whole verse by Aben Ezra gives a consistent sense: "By בארבם are meant their evil purposes, which they devise all night long. And their heart is like an oven, only with the difference that there the baker sleeps the whole night, and only in the morning kindles the oven; but their heart does not sleep at all, but devises evil the whole night." It is curious how Rashi and Kimchi, while giving in the main the same explanation with Aben Ezra, differ from him about the meaning of the sleeping. The former has the following brief comment: "Their baker lights the oven. After they have prepared their heart and thought out the consummation of their wickedness, how they could carry the same into effect, then their baker sleeps, that is, they sleep till morning; at the break of day, however, they burn like fire, until they have brought their wickedness fully to an end." Kimchi goes into the matter a little more fully, as is usual with him; he comments as follows: "The heart is the instrument of the thought, and the power that works therein is the baker by way of figure. And as the baker lights the oven at night, and in the morning finds that the pieces of wood have burnt out, and he baketh therein the bread, which is the chief end of the work of heating; and lo, the baker sleeps in the night after he has put the pieces of wood into the oven, because he has nothing more to do till the morning. Just so the baker in this figurative sense, which is the power of thought—he sleeps in the night; as if he said he lies there and rests, because the project comes not forth into execution until the morning; and the prophet calls him who thinks sleeping, because that there is no effort of the body in thought, In the morning he burneth, as if he said that they are in flame in the morning to execute the evil which they have devised at night."
1. "To call unto me (God)" is to cry to God for help and succor, to seek safety and deliverance with him. It is not the same with that other expression, viz. "to call on the Name of Jehovah," which is rather to reverence and worship Jehovah.
2. The word דין is more poetic than שָׁפַט, though the meaning of both is "judging," the latter probably derived from שָׁפַח, to set, then to set right, defend.
3. Their not calling unto God is well explained by Kimchi as follows: "Also they (the people) had failed by the hand of their enemies, the kings of the Gentiles; but, notwithstanding this, no one among them calls to me. They should have thought in their heart, There is no power in the hand of our king to help us out of our distress; we will turn to Jehovah, for he will be our Helper." This verse is not so difficult as the three preceding; we proceed, therefore, in regular order to the next.
Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. The people of the northern kingdom had fallen away from Jehovah, and mixed themselves with the heathen nationalities. They resembled a cake which, through neglect of turning, was burnt on the one side and raw on the other. The best commentary on the first clause of this verse is found in Psalms 106:35, Psalms 106:36, and Psalms 106:39; they "were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them … Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a-whoring with their own inventions." The second clause is well explained by Bishop Horsley as follows: "One thing on one side, another on the other; burnt to a coal at bottom, raw dough at the top. An apt image of a character that is all inconsistencies. Such were the ten tribes of the prophet's day; worshippers of Jehovah in profession, hut adopting all the idolatries of the neighboring nations, in addition to their own semi-idolatry of the calves." Similarly, the Geneva Bible has, "Baked on one side and raw on the ether, he is neither through hot nor through cold, but partly a Jew and partly a Gentile." Jehovah had chosen Israel out of the nations of the earth, and given them a special constitution. The object of this segregation was that Israel should be a peculiar people and a holy nation. Thus distinguished, they were to dwell alone; but, ungrateful for this high distinction, and unmindful of their high destiny, they mingled with the nations, learned their heathenish ways, and worshipped their hateful idols. Thus they forfeited their theocratic pre-eminence. While it was their privilege as well u duty to follow the precepts of Jehovah, and serve him with undivided affection, they fell away from his service and adopted the idolatries and habits of the heathen; it was only a just retribution, therefore, when God gave them ever into the hand of those heathen peoples to waste their resources and leave them shorn of their strength. The second clause is the counterpart of this; exactly like the peoples subsequently brought from Assyria, and planted in the lands of the dispossessed Israelites, they worshipped the Lord, but served their own gods—they were neither true worshippers of Jehovah nor out-and-out followers of Baal. In religion they were mongrels—inconsistent and worthless hybrids; they were, in fact, what Calvin in rather homely phrase says of them," neither flesh nor fish." The comment of Kimchi is concise as it is clear: "The prophet means to say, He (Israel) mixes himself among the peoples; though God—blessed be he I—separated them from them, yet they mix them. selves among them and do according to their works." His explanation of the second clause is not so satisfactory when he says, "As a cake which is baked upon the coals; if they do not turn it, it is burnt below and not baked above, so is the counsel that is not right when they do not turn it from side to side (sense to sense) until they bring it upon their wheels (into action). So (thoughtless and hasty) is Ephraim in his determination to serve the calves and other gods without proving and choosing what is good."
(2) Other explanations need only be referred to in order to be rejected, as
(1) that of Rashi, who is followed by Grotius. He takes the verb in the future sense: "Ephraim in exile shall be mixed among the peoples." But it is obviously the present, not the future time, that is intended—the present sin, not its future punishment. There is
(2) the explanation of Aben Ezra, followed by Eichhorn and Maurer, referring to the alliances or treaties which the northern kingdom formed with their neighbors to repel their enemies, and by which the resources of the land were consumed; while the second clause,
(a) according to Aben Ezra, refers to the over-hastiness and thoughtlessness with which Israel proceeded in their resolutions; and,
(b) according to Maurer, Jerome, and Theodoret, it signifies what is spoiled, ill-advised, and worthless.
Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not. Israel's intercourse with other nationalities could not but issue in disaster; a specimen of that disaster is here given. As the Greeks called all who did not speak the Greek language, whether they were savage or civilized, barbarians, so Israel called all foreigners, whether near or far off, strangers. The foreign nations here meant were those with which Israel had entered into treaties or formed alliances, in contravention of the constitution which God had given them. These nations, moreover, devoured their national resources by the imposition of taxes and hostile incursions; thus the King of Syria left "of the people to Jehoahaz only fifty horsemen, and ton chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the King of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing;" again, when "Pul, the King of Assyria, came against the laud," we read that Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the King of Assyria;" then, "in the days of Pekah King of Israel came Tiglath-pileser King of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazer, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria. "The strength here mentioned includes all those things which constitute the wealth and well-being of a country, the produce of the soil and the riches of its inhabitants. Thus Aben Ezra rightly explains this clause, referring it to "the tribute which the Israelites gave to Assyria and Egypt, as is written in the Book of Kings." Yea, grey hairs are here and there (margin, sprinkled) upon him. What from foreign foes and internal feuds, the body politic was manifesting unmistakable symptoms of decay and decrepitude and approaching dissolution, just as grey hairs on the human body give indication of the advance of old age, with its decay of strength and nearness to the tomb. "The course of nature," says Aben Ezra, "has sprinkled grey hairs upon him, just as grey hair comes on men in consequence of the course of nature;" this corresponds to the sentiment of the preceding clause, for, according to the commentator just named," the grey hair denotes that their power is weakened and their possession perished." Yet he knoweth not is parallel to. "And he knoweth (it) not," and repeats the same sentiment, of course with emphasis of what was Israel thus ignorant? Not, surely, of the declining state of the national strength and the decay of the national importance. After so many drains upon their resources and the unsatisfactory position of their foreign relations, they could not shut their eyes upon the steadily and even rapidly approaching decadence. But though they could not pretend ignorance of the fact, they remained in ignorance of the cause, its consequence, and the cure. Notwithstanding the already exhausted condition of their country, and the process of exhaustion still going on, they overlooked the lamentable cause of all, which was their sin, national and individual, in departing from the Lord; and at the same time the dangerous consequences that were neither remote nor capable of being staved off; as also the only possible cure to be found in direct and immediate return and application to that God from whom they had so revolted. The "it" supplied in the Authorized Version
(1) had better be omitted;
(2) the construction adopted by Rashi and others, who make the first part of each clause the object of the second, is erroneous, as we have shown in the preceding observations. "They took it not to heart that the kings of Syria consumed them in the days of Jehoahaz" is the exposition of Rashi just referred to; but that of Kimchi favors the first and correct construction, as may be inferred from the words, "And he (Israel) knows not that on account of his iniquity all this has come upon him, and yet he turns not from his wickedness."
And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him for all this (amid all this). If with Keil and others
(1) we understand "the pride of Israel" to mean Jehovah the glory of Israel, and take the verb in the sense of "testify," the meaning will be that Jehovah bore witness to the face of Israel by the weakening and wasting of their kingdom, as portrayed in the preceding verse. We prefer
(2) to understand "the pride of Israel" in the souse of "the haughtiness" of Israel, and the verb in the sense of "being humbled," as at Hosea 5:5. The real meaning, then, is expressed in the following rendering: And the haughtiness of Israel shall be humbled to his face. This humiliation is the effect of the wasting mentioned in the preceding verse; while the evidence of their humiliation is specified in the succeeding verse by their resorting to Egypt and repairing to Assyria from a consciousness of their helplessness. This rendering is countenanced by the LXX; both here and at Hosea 5:5; while Rashi says, "The verb עגה has the meaning of "humiliation." For all this. This emphasizes the obstinate blindness and perverseness of Ephraim, when, amid all the calamities and miseries of the kingdom both within and without, they turned not to Jehovah to solicit help and deliverance, but concluded treaties or made alliances with foreign nations in hope of being lifted up out of their national impotence. On this Aben Ezra makes the judicious remark: "They turned not to Jehovah as paupers who have nothing more to give foreign nations that they may help them."
Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart. The silliness of the dove, with which the stupidity of Ephraim is compared, is not manifested by its missing its nest and resting-place, and then helplessly fluttering about, according to Ewald; nor by its falling into the net of the bird-catcher in its effort to escape from the hawk, according to Hitzig; nor by its neither grieving nor searching for its young when it is robbed of them, according to Jerome; nor by its becoming dejected or devoid of consideration when it has lost its young, according to the Targum; but by its flying right into the net of the bird-catcher, without suspecting or observing it in its search for food, according to Rosenmüller. Thus Kimchi explains it: "The prophet compares Ephraim to a dove which gets caught in a net owing to its simplicity, because it has no sense to perceive that, when it goes to gather grains of corn, a net is spread there to catch it. So Ephraim, when they went and asked help from Assyria or from Egypt, (did not perceive) that they went to their hurt, when they sought help from the foreign nations and not from God—blessed be he!—in whose hand all is. And he mentions the dove, though it is the manner of other birds, because the dove has no bitterness, as if it went in simplicity and without apprehension of the evil that would come upon it." They call to Egypt, they go to Assyria. The position of Palestine exposed its inhabitants to attacks from the two great rival powers of Egypt and Assyria, or Babylon. "It stood midway," says Stanley, "between the two great seats of ancient empire, Babylon and Egypt. It was on the high-road from one to the other of these mighty powers, the prize for which they contended, the battlefield on which they fought, the lofty bridge over which they ascended and descended respectively into the deep basins of the Nile and Euphrates." Accordingly the rulers of the people sought help, now from Egypt to strengthen them against the oppression of Assyria; at another time they sought to secure the support of Assyria. The most powerful enemy of the northern kingdom was Assyria, which distressed that kingdom more and more, until at last they made an end of it. "But," says Kimchi, "while they think to obtain help by them (Egypt and Assyria), they fall into the net of the Almighty—blessed be he—and this is what he says (in the following verse). As they go I spread my net over them."
When they shall go, l will spread my net over them. Threats of punishment are contained in this and the following verses. He begins by the application of the comparison of Ephraim to a dove. Exactly as a dove in its silliness falls into the net set by the fowler, so Israel runs into the net of destruction in seeking help from Egypt and Assyria. The literal rendering is, according as they go, or, whatsoever way they shall go. God threatens to spread a net over them, from which there can be no escape. The chief aim of Hebrew sovereigns and rulers was to defend themselves from Egypt by the help of Assyria, or from Assyria by the aid of Egypt; in either case God threatens to spread over them the net of destruction as the bird-catcher. The application to one or other of these powers God forbade, but when they go to either for relief, the result is sure to prove fatal. The image of a net is frequent in Ezekiel; so in Job, he "hath compassed me with his net." I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven. The comparison with birds and bird-catching continues. Though their sunward soaring flight be high as the eagle's, or rapid as the soft swift wing of the dove, they cannot outspeed or escape the hand of God, but shall be brought down to earth. Or the idea may be that, swiftly as a bird of prey swoops down out of the free air of heaven upon its quarry on the low-lying earth, Jehovah will bring Israel down out of the air of freedom into the net of captivity. Thus in Obadiah 1:4 we read, "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord;" likewise in Amos 9:2, "Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down." I will chastise them as their congregation hath heard. The word אַיְסִידֵם is an anomalous Hiph. instead of אֵיסִירֵם, that is, yod mobile instead of yod quiescent or diphthongal zere. The literal rendering makes the meaning more obvious; it is: "I will chastise them according to the tidings [or,' announcement '] to their congregation." In the Law and by the prophets it was repeatedly declared that judgments would fall upon the disobedient and rebellions. As specimens of such announcements, we may refer to Leviticus 26:14-3.26.39; Deuteronomy 28:15-5.28.68; and Deuteronomy 32:15-5.32.35 The prophet now assures Ephraim that the judgments so frequently and forcibly announced to the congregation of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and repeated in subsequent times by the prophets, would be executed on the rebellious rigorously, and in exact accordance with those many previous denunciations. Kimchi has the following comment: "I will assemble them through the chastisement of the peoples, as I announced to their assembly in the wilderness words of chastisement, which are written in the Law, if they will not hearken to the words of the Law." The LXX. may have read צרתם, as their rendering is ἐν τῇ ἀκοῇ τῆς θλίψεως αὐτῶν, equivalent to "'I will chasten them with the rumor of their (coming) affliction,"
Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction (margin, spoil) unto them! because they have transgressed against me. Of these exclamations, the first is general and indefinite, the second is specific and precise. The thought of coming chastisement calls forth the exclamation of woe; while the second exclamation fixes the character and explains the nature of that woe denounced. In neither case does יְהִי or יֱבֹא need to be supplied; the opposite expression is שָׁלוֹם לָהֶם or בְּלָכָה לָהָם In assigning the reason, there is a retrospective reference to the figures of the two immediately preceding verses. The word נָדַד with rain is employed in relation to birds which, when scared from their nest, fly away. Kimchi thinks it applies to the abstention or withdrawal of the Israelites from Divine service in the national sanctuary in Jerusalem. His comment is: "They fly from me, from the service of the house of my sanctuary, to the service of the calves; and this is a breach of faith and defection from me." The LXX. translate the beginning of the second clause freely by δειλαῖοι εἰσὶν, equivalent to "they are cowards;" and Jerome by "miseri (maticulose) erunt, et semper timentis ac formidantes." The cause assigned is their breaking covenant with God, which is expressed by פָשַׁע, literally, "to break away from," "tear one's self loose from." Though I have redeemed them. This first part of the last clause is rendered
(1) as a past by some, as Jerome, who refers it to the redemption from Egypt; thus also the Chaldee: "And I was their Deliverer." Rosenmüller approves of this, but, instead of restricting it to the deliverance from Egypt, includes their recent deliverance from the Syrians by Jeroboam II. It is
(2) better rendered in a voluntative or optative sense: "I would (should like) to redeem them, but they speak lies against (or, concerning) me." The verb 'ephdem cannot with any propriety be taken for a preterit. Yet they have spoken lies against me; rather, but they on their part have spoken lies concerning me. The prophet had already charged them with lying at Hosea 7:3, and previously at Hosea 4:2; but their lies were not confined to their intercourse or dealings with their fellow-men; they spoke lies against or, as the preposition sometimes signifies, concerning God. The lies in question included, no doubt, a denial of his essential Deity or sole Divinity; of his power or willingness either to protect or punish. Or they might consist in their falsehood in drawing near to God with their lips without either true faith or real affection in their hearts; some were directly opposed to the claims of Jehovah, some insincere in his service, and others turned aside to the idolatry of the calves—all, with probably some honorable exceptions, had proved false to his covenant with Israel. The last clause has been taken
(3) independently by Ewald, without any considerable alteration of the sense: "I, for my part, would redeem them, but they, on their side, speak lies against me." Other acceptations,
(a) interrogative and
(b) conditional, evidently mistake the sense.
The whole clause is correctly explained by Kimchi thus: "It was in my heart to redeem them out of their distress; but they speak lies against me, while they say that I know nothing nor exercise any providential care over their actions, whether their actions are good or bad. Therefore I have withdrawn my providential oversight, and have hidden my face from them, and they shall be consumed."
And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds. This clause may be more correctly rendered, They did not cry to me in their heart, but howl upon their beds. Their falsehood manifested itself in works as well as words; a practical example is here given. They did not, in reality, seek help from God; if they sought at all, it was insincerely. They cried to God, but that cry did not proceed from their heart. They gave vent to their feelings of distress by howlings upon their beds; but those howlings were the expression of unbelief and despair, not by any means evidences of faith. "They do not cry to me," says Aben Ezra, "as the sick man cries to the physician." The comment of Kimchi is still fuller and more explicit: "They have not cried to me in their heart, because of their notion that I do not see their cry nor know what is good or bad for them; but they howl upon their beds, i.e. when they are upon their bed and when they think of that misfortune which is coming upon them. They howl and weep because of their evil case, and do not think that the evil falls on them from me, because they have broken faith with me." The form of יְיֵלִלִוּ is correctly explained by Gesenius as future Hiph. with preformative put before the third person, the yod of the simple form being superficially taken to belong to the stem. His derivation from אֵל, God, as if a cry to him for help, is incorrect; it is really an onomatopoetic word. They assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me. What this
(1) assembling of themselves was does not clearly appear; whether it was in the market-place or elsewhere to purchase corn in time of famine, as some think; or in idol-temples to propitiate their deities, like the Roman supplicatio or lectiosternium, as others suppose; or for the performance of some extra rite of worship to Jehovah; or for the purpose of plunder in a season of scarcity; or generally their assembling in knots and crowds to discuss anxiously and lament despairingly the distressed state of the country;—their chief design and highest aim being a good supply of corn and wine, that is, the supply of mere bodily wants.
(2) The LXX. seem to have read ויתגדדו, as their rendering is κατετεμνόντο, equivalent to "they cut themselves," or" pined for corn and wine;" corresponding to which rendering is Cyril's exposition: "As enthusiasts and fanatics making incisions with steel in their breasts and both hands, and absurdly all but shedding in sacrifice their own blood, perhaps to graven images."
(3) Jerome, taking the verb from גָּרַר, to ruminate, translates accordingly: "super triticum et vinum ruminabant."
(4) The Syriac, tracing it to גוּר, to be afraid, translates: "They feared (or, were fearfully anxious) about corn and wine." The common reading and rendering are clearly preferable; Kimchi's exposition is in harmony therewith: "When corn or new wine comes into the city for sale, they all assemble at (or, round) it on account of the famine which is in the city; and yet they fall away from me."
The construction of the last clause is pregnant, that is
(1) "they turn aside (and turn) against me." Here, again
(2) the LXX. seem to have read יִוָּסְרוּ, to which their translation, ἐπαιδεύθησαν ἐν ἐμοί, equivalent to "they were instructed by me," corresponds.
Though I have bound (margin, chastened) and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me. The first clause of this verse is more accurately translated as follows: And yet I have instructed, have strengthened their arms. Here we have another instance of God's goodness and Israel's ingratitude. He had done much for them, and would fain have done more; and yet the return they made was devising mischief against him. The arms are the seat and symbol of strength, as the hands and fingers symbolize skill; thus, in reference to the latter the psalmist says, "Blessed be the Lord my Strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight;" and with regard to the former he says, "He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms." Two benefits are here included in the prophet's enumeration. He instructed the arms, by which is meant that he showed them how and where to get strength. But this was not all; he not only directed to the source, and taught the secret of acquiring strength, he actually supplied strength, thereby giving them power to contend against and conquer their enemies. At a time when "there was not any shut up, nor any left [that is, 'neither bond nor free'] nor helper for Israel … the Lord … saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash." Notwithstanding all this, they
(1) acted the part of apostates and rebels against him: they devised mischief against him by their idolatry which denied him the Godhead glory which was his due, and by their rebellion which aimed at depriving him of his kingly power and dignity. The reference of the last clause,
(2) according to Ewald, is to the treaties which Israel entered into with Assyria and Egypt for safety and defense; and
(3) according to Kimchi, to Israel's false representations of the government and providence of Jehovah: "For they say the good or evil does not come to them from me, but is purely accidental." With respect to יסר, it must be borne in mind that, like ינח, it has two meanings, viz. the chastisement of punishment (κόλασις) and the chastisement of love (παιδεία).
They return, but not to the Most High. This verse is closely connected in sense with the preceding. Their God-defying attitude, as described in Hosea 7:15, is represented in Hosea 7:16 allegorically as a deceitful bow, which fails to scud the arrow to the mark; also their unsuccess is represented as exposing them to the derision of Egypt; while the princes who spake so exceeding proudly, and who instigated their ungodliness and consequent wretchedness, would be slain with the sword. This is the drift of the whole verse; its details, however, demand more particular consideration.
1. The word עַל is by some identified in meaning with
(1) the adjective עֶלְיוֹן, equivalent to "the Most High;" by others
(2) it is taken adverbially, and translated "upwards."
(3) The Septuagint does not express it. translating ἀπεστράφησαν εἰς οὐθέν, "They turned aside to that which is not [literally, 'nothing']."
(4) Jerome translates it as is עֹל, were equivalent to "yoke: They returned that they might be without a yoke." Their return, according to Jerome, would be to their pristine condition before the can of Abram, like the other nations, without yoke or knowledge of law.
2. The return spoken of implies that there were junctures at which they seemed disposed to return to religiousness, but ere long they again relapsed into idolatry. They disappointed the high hopes raised, and missed their own high destiny, and thus they resembled a bow, of which the string, losing its elasticity, could not propel the arrow to the object aimed at. Appearing to return to the worship of Jehovah, they turned aside to an idol. Thus in Psalms 78:57, they "turned back and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow."
Crimes charged on Israel; people and princes.
It was a time of great corruption and of atrocious crimes. Nor were those crimes committed only by persons "of the baser sort;" people and princes alike, rulers and ruled, had their share in them; the country and the capital, Ephraim and Samaria; the chief tribe and the chief city, with the common people as well as elite, in the former, and members of the court in the latter. All classes contributed their portion to the national tins, and sins of almost all classes were freely indulged in.
I. THE CHARACTER OF SIN AS A DISEASE. Sin is represented in Scripture as a disease—an all-pervading disease; it is as universal as the race, for all have sinned; it is an all-embracing disease, for it extends to the faculties and feelings of the soul, and employs as its instruments all the members of the body. It infects whole peoples as well as individual persons. The description which Isaiah gives of its widespread ravages applies to the body politic as well as to the body human: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." It is thus a loathsome disease, a dangerous disease, a deadly disease; and, unless arrested in time, it is a fearfully fatal disease. The Apostle James gives us the genesis and development of this disease: "When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death;" and the symbol of this spiritual malady is leprosy—one of the most frightful scourges of humanity.
II. THE MEANS OF HEALING EMPLOYED. The disease is so desperate that God alone can cure it.
1. If there is balm in Gilead and a physician there, God himself is that Physician, and a Physician who not only supplies the balm but applies it; he has provided the remedy and prescribed the way in which it is made available. Thus the Prophet Jeremiah prays," Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my Praise." To a people as well as a person laden with sin, God promises relief when it is earnestly sought and properly applied for; thus we read in 2 Chronicles 7:13, 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; if my people, which are called by my Name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." If, then, sin-sick souls are not healed, it is not that God is either unwilling or unable to heal them. When Christ would have gathered the people of Palestine, or the inhabitants of its principal city, with all the tenderness and all the carefulness that the parent bird exercises in gathering its brood under its outspread wings, they would not. So is it still; sinners condemnation is self-procured as well as justly deserved, while the salvation of the righteous is only of the Lord.
2. The means which God employs for healing, though various, are yet pretty much the same at all times. One of these means, and that most commonly employed, is the Word of his grace read, preached, or meditated on. In all ages the chief instrumentality for reclaiming men has been his message of mercy. Thus he dealt with his ancient people: "The Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy" (margin, "healing"). Other means used for the same end are afflictions and adverse circumstances of whatever kind; cases of thin sort, such as dearth, or famine, or pestilence, or impoverishment, or sore sickness and of long continuance, were frequent experiences of God's people in the past. But the purpose was benevolent and salutary: "By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin." It is so still; for while "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." Again, God sends intervals of prosperity with like design. This he did with Israel in the reign of Jeroboam II; in the days of Joash, and at other periods in their history, in order to wean them from sin and win them to himself. Another means of healing which God resorted to in the case of his ancient people was the removal of ringleaders in iniquity and notable apostates, as when he made an end of the dynasty of Ahab. Not a few similar instances in subsequent and modern times might be, pointed out.
III. THE EXTENT OF THE HURT DISCOVERED BY THE ATTEMPT AT HEALING. While God was manifesting his intentions of mercy towards Israel, the virulence of their disease became evident. God here, in condescension to our weakness, accommodates himself to the manner of men and adopts their mode of speech. As though he had not known the desperate state of matters before, he speaks of it being now discovered. It is by probing a wound that a surgeon discovers its depth, and whether it reaches some vital part; it is only by careful examination a physician detects the character of his patient's disease, and whether it is curable or likely to prove fatal. So with the good physician on closely examining the state of Israel; he found it even worse than had been supposed—much worse than it appeared to the superficial observer. Much, no doubt, must have appeared on the surface, and much lay hid in secret; it had been, in fact, "half revealed, half concealed." When the iniquity of Ephraim was fully discovered and the wickedness of Samaria clearly seen, it proved incurable, so enormous was their guilt, so hardened were they in their transgressions, above all, so impenitent were they and so unwilling to be helped and healed. Their obduracy barred the door against the entrance of mercy, their refusal to part with their enormities checked the outgoings of the Divine goodness towards them. Nay more; as when a rock rises up in a river-bed, or the stream is narrowed by the encroaching banks, the water rushes with greater violence and is lashed into foam, so the very attempt to repress the sin of Israel rendered it more violent and outrageous. The rulers and those who occupied high places, as the inhabitants of the metropolis Samaria, and the people of the preeminent tribe of Ephraim, proved the most incorrigible of all. Among the vices of the time were falsehood and fraud, and the fraud was both private and public.
IV. THE SINS CHARGED AGAINST ISRAEL ARE COMMON TO THEM, WITH THE UNGODLY, AT ALL TIMES. This assertion is proved by the further enumeration of these sins by Hosea. There was also sinful security and senseless stupidity.
1. They did not confer with their own hearts in reference to their state in the sight of God, nor impress on themselves their responsibility to him. They were strangers to any right searching of heart, or any serious reflection on the issues of their conduct and conversation. It is thus with hundreds of our fellow-men; want of consideration has ruined thousands Both for time and eternity; hence the earnest wish of the great lawgiver, "Oh that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" Hence, too, the solemn command of "the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways."
2. The want of consideration or of communing with their own heart had special reference to the relationship in which they stood to God. They did not reflect that God remembered all their wickedness, consequently they did not recollect their liability to punishment for their wickedness at the hand of God, and therefore they did not feel any remorse on account of their wickedness when committed. Being spared after their wickedness, and not visited with immediate vengeance because of their wickedness, they thought themselves certain of impunity; enjoying a season of prosperity notwithstanding the greatness of their wickedness, they were emboldened in their wicked ways.
3. Atheism, theoretical or practical, or both, was at the root of the matter with them. The first article of belief embraces the existence of God, and the existence of God implies a Being of Divine attributes and infinite perfections; the second article includes a belief in God that he is a Recompenser of men's actions—a Rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and a Punisher of all workers of wickedness. They rejected, at least practically, these rudiments of the faith, these primary articles of belief; "as if God could not see their wickedness, though he is all eye; and did not heed it, though his name is Jealous; or had forgotten it, though he is an eternal mind that can never be unmindful; or would not reckon for it, though he is the Judge of heaven and earth. This is the sinner's atheism; as good say there is no God, as say he is either ignorant or forgetful; none that judgeth in the earth, as say he remembers not the things he is to give judgment upon; it is a high affront they put upon God, it is a damning cheat they put upon themselves, when they say, The Lord shall not see" nor remember.
4. The eyes of such shall be opened one day. They shall wake up out of their daydream, and their delusion shall vanish when their doings shall beset them about and the sad effects thereof shall entangle them as in a net. They shall see their sins in the punishments they bring upon them; they shall feel them in the sorrows and sufferings that attend them; and they shall recognize that God had them before his face all the time, having knowledge of them when committed, taking notice of their demerit, and remembering them for the exercise of his retributive justice. Even men's secret sins God sets in the light (literally "luminary," maor) of his countenance; the fire-flashing eye of the Omniscient penetrates the deep recesses of the human heart, and brings forth its secret workings into the sight of the sun and the broad light of day.
V. OBSEQUIOUSNESS TO RULERS IN THEIR SINFUL COMMANDS OR COURSES IS EXTREMELY PERNICIOUS. It may please ungodly sovereigns or civil rulers to find subjects so pliable as at once to fall in with their wicked works and ways; or to he flattered by them; or to hear the upright who oppose their vileness slandered; or to listen to the lies by which the unscrupulous seek to ingratiate themselves; but such pandering must prove pitiful and profitless work for both the persons who indulge in it and the princes who encourage it. The former have often realized, though not perhaps to the same extent, the hitter experience of the great cardinal when he said-
"Oh, how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes' favors
I There is, betwixt that smile we would aspire to,
That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,
More pangs and fears than wars or women have;
And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again ...
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies."
There is an alternative interpretation of verse 3 which presents the other side, and another aspect of the case, namely, when deceitful men wickedly and mendaciously impose on the credulity of princes by false professions of friendship at the very time they are plotting their downfall and planning their destruction. The ordinary acceptation, however, suits the sense of the passage very well. When people are so wicked as to conform to the idolatrous worship prescribed by godless rulers, or to imitate their impious and immoral practices, or to applaud their worthless favorites, or to calumniate those known to be obnoxious to them, those rulers are more than gratified add gladdened by such lying and baseness, they are encouraged and stimulated in their wrongdoing, while a terrible responsibility rests upon the head of both. Thus Herod, after harassing the Church and slaying games the brother of John, "because he saw it pleased the Jews, proceeded further to take Peter." People, again, when they see that their acts of wickedness please their rulers, or their accounts thereof amuse them, are emboldened to proceed yet further. Thus sovereigns and subjects encouraging each other in sin ultimately work each other's destruction. There is probably a reference to the people's facile complaisance with the idolatry of the calves legalized by Jeroboam, or of Baal by Ahab—a conscienceless acquiescence which in the end was fraught with the most baneful results to princes and people.
VI. THE COURSE OF SIN IS A DOWNWARD SLOPE. After reprehending the profligate pleasure which both princes and people took in sin, the prophet reproves the servile submission of the latter to idolatry, and the debaucheries of the former. The adultery which he proceeds to stigmatize may be understood literally as welt as spiritually, the former being so frequent an accompaniment of the latter. In this case the heart is aptly compared to an oven, its lusts the fire with which it is heated; while Satan supplies by his temptations the fuel to the fire, and at the same time puts the leaven in the dough. Whether the baker, after kindling the fire, ceases from stirring it till morning, by which time the dough is leavened and ready for the oven, which he then raises to a greater heat; or whether he rests comparatively while still stoking during the interval that elapses from kneading the dough till it is leavened and ready for use; in either case there is a respite, not from the fire of lust abating or the fuel of temptation ceasing, but from want of opportunity or courage or ability. Soon, however, as the occasion presents itself or opportunity is afforded, or means of gratification are available, or hope of impunity is cherished, the fire of lust that seemed smoldering flames up with increased intensity; the wicked plot is executed; the covert passion breaks out into the overt act; the half-stifled concupiscence finds vent; the lustful, covetous, or ambitious project is accomplished.
VII. DRUNKENNESS IS A PREPARATION FOR OTHER WICKEDNESS. The reference to it in verse 5 is interjected between the mention of adultery and other enormities, as if it were an incentive thereto,
1. The occasion on which the intemperance took place was a celebration day, whether the king's birthday, or the day of his accession to the throne, or his coronation day. As it was, it is; days of celebration, while not improper in themselves, may be turned into days of sinful carousal. Days of high festival that ought to be days of thanksgiving to God, of grateful praise and holy joy, are too often taken advantage of for purposes of intemperance, gluttony, or dissipation. Days that should be consecrated to religious exercises or real national rejoicing are too frequently desecrated by irreligious sensuality and anti-religious debauch.
2. According to the common rendering, the health of the king suffered; according to another rendering, which some prefer, the day was begun so that his honor was tarnished. According to either, his high dignity was leveled in the dust. It is bad enough and sad enough to see any man indulge in the sin of intemperance—a sin which deranges and disorders the body, damages the soul and its eternal interests, dishonors God, and degrades man below the beast that perisheth. But for a king who is appointed to govern others to lose the government of himself through such scandalous excess, is the extreme of vileness; hence the faithful admonition, "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine."
3. While the duty of a king was neglected, the dignity of a king was sacrificed. Kimchi has the following judicious remark in reference to this matter: "The prophet says, What was the business of the princes with the king? There was no conversation about the might and conquest of the enemies and about the establishment of justice, as it becomes the king of a free nation, but their business consisted in eating and drinking until they made the king sick from the excessive drinking of wine." Even worse, if possible, was the fact of his debasing himself by companionship with profane scoffers. Rashi aptly observes, "The king withdraws his hand from the good and worthy in order to join in fellowship with scorners. The men that put the bottle to his mouth with professed friendliness were, as the event proved, plotting his ruin and preparing for his assassination."
VIII. THE SEEMING RESPITE FROM, AND REACTIONARY NATURE OF, SIN. The respite was not a real rest from sin; it was only the interval while the mischief was being premeditated, and the opportunity for putting it in practice waited for.
1. In the morning, at the first and earliest opportunity, soon as the plot was matured and the favorable moment for its execution arrived, the fire of passion or lust that had been burning slowly all the time broke out afresh and with greatly increased vigor. They made ready, applied, or, as Pusey says," literally brought near their heart. Their heart was ever brought near to sin, even while the occasion was removed at a distance from it." While the leaven is commingling with the dough and the fuel combining with the fire, the baker may sleep, or seem to do so; so, while temptation, like fuel, is acting on the fire of lust within, and the evil suggestion of Satan is pervading the powers of the soul in which it has found lodgment, the tempter may appear to slumber. The work is going on internally, and once the occasion offers it shall be carried out externally in full force and certain effect.
2. A man throws a stone in the air and it comes back on his own head; men sin themselves or tempt others to sin, and the consequences recoil on themselves. The Israelitish kings, from the period of the disruption in the days of Jeroboam, corrupted the worship of God or acquiesced in that corruption, and induced the people to conform to that corruption and other sinful courts that followed in its wake; and all for their own political advantage and private selfish ends—to prevent, if possible, the return of power to the Davidic line, and the reunion of the ten tribes with the two. But the time of reaction arrived, and the retributive Nemesis began to work; the people who had been corrupted by their rulers now turned against their corrupters; disloyalty to God brought in its train disloyalty to man; kings and subordinate rulers perished in quick succession. And notwithstanding the times of anarchy, insecurity for life and property, and general upheaval of social order—amid all those scenes of terrible confusion, there was none among them to realize the fact that "for the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof." Consequently there was none among them to call upon God in supplication for relief and preservation.
The silly sinful pride and obduracy of Israel, in spite of many manifest tokens of decay, or their disastrous foreign policy.
The prophet had described the corruption; he now turns to the state of the country. From the iniquity of the princes he descends to the sin of the people. The figure of baking is still present to the prophet, as is evident from the metaphor of a cake.
I. THE INCONSISTENCY AND WORTHLESSNESS OF DIVIDED ALLEGIANCE. God had intended to separate Israel from the rest of the nations, and by prohibiting intermarriages to keep them distinct.
1. The great purpose of this separation was to prevent their associating with their heathen neighbors, and conforming to their idolatries and immoralities. Thus they were to conserve the doctrines of the Divine unity, the knowledge of the true God, and the purity of his worship. But by intercourse with their neighbors, and forming alliances now with one then with another, in order to secure their help—the help of one against another—they got mixed up with them, and became like a cake in which two ingredients at least, Judaism and Gentilism, were kneaded together. The consequence of such admixture, as the word (בלל) implies, was confusion.
2. But, in addition to baking the cake of such heterogeneous elements, there was the defective evening, or rather imperfect hardening of the cake by fire, so that one side was burnt and blackened, the other doughy and damp—neither roast nor raw, and consequently useless. Thus Israel was often, as in the days of Ahab, halting between God and Baal; now zealous for the latter and indifferent to the former, or the converse; more commonly cold towards Jehovah and warm for Baal; frequently neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. They blended Gentile idolatry with the worship of the true God; they joined in the calf-worship at Dan and Bethel, while they swore by the Name of Jehovah. It is thus also with many professing Christians: they have a name to live, but are dead; they have a form of godliness, but want the power; they are hypocritical professors, but are devoid of real godliness. Whatever outward services they perform, it is for parade or to be seen of men, while they are strangers to the practice of piety and exercise of charity. The Targum explains this of punishment rather than of position. "The house of Ephraim is like to a cake baked on coals, which before it is turned is eaten;" that is, they are suddenly destroyed by their enemies, who are like hungry men that, without waiting for the turning and proper baking of a cake, snatch it up, though only half baked, and speedily devour it.
II. TOKENS OF DIVINE DISPLEASURE. When God is displeased with a person or a people, one way in which he manifests such displeasure is by desertion. He leaves them in the hands of their enemies. On the contrary, when a man's ways please the Lord, he makes his enemies to be at peace with him. When Israel, in consequence of sin, was thus deserted, strangers devoured his strength, that is to say, his substance; they robbed him of his wealth, they wasted the fruits of his field, they dismantled his fortresses, they destroyed the flower of the population, and they imposed oppressive tribute. The strangers referred to included several nationalities. The Syrians had so weakened and distressed Israel in the reign of Jehoahaz that they had made them "like the dust by threshing." Then came the Assyrians under Pul in the days of Menahem King of Israel, and exacted a tribute of a thousand talents of silver, thus draining their resources and devouring their strength. Subsequently, Tiglath-pileser, monarch of Assyria, captured many of the Israelitish fortresses, and carried the inhabitants into captivity. By such exactions and devastations strangers exhausted the strength of Israel
III. MARKS OF NATIONAL AND SPIRITUAL DECAY. Grey hairs, if plentiful, are a sign that old age has already arrived; grey hairs, when sprinkled here and there, are symptoms of its approach, and of life's decline.
1. Grey hairs had at this time appeared here and there in Israel, and thus proved the kingdom to be in a weak and declining state; they were not only symptomatic of the present, but prognostic of the future. The afforded proof plain and palpable of national declension at present existing through the depredations and exactions of the enemy; they also foreboded the melancholy fact that utter decay was near at hand.
2. But there is also spiritual decay, and the life of the soul is subject to it. How many professing Christians—members of the visible Church—are in this sad condition of spiritual declension, and hardly conscious of it! Grey hairs are here and there upon them, and they know it not. The dwelling-place of God is not so lovely, nor the tabernacles of iris grace so amiable, as they once were; there is not the same relish for the Word of God as there once was; prayer is not so fervent or so frequent as formerly; prairies are not so hearty nor so heavenly as when the Christian life began;—all such circumstances give evidence that grey hairs are here and there upon persons in the condition indicated, whether they perceive them or not. But we cannot stay to dwell on the nature of spiritual decay and the marks thereof; we may, however, briefly sum them up. They are such as the following: diminished appreciation of the Divine Word, without self-application of it or growth in the knowledge of it; restraining prayer before God, without supplication for one's self on special occasions and under particular circumstances, and without earnest intercession for others; less love to Christ and less leaning on him; less hatred of sin and less esteem for the righteous.
3. It is of prime importance to ascertain the causes of decay. What caused the national decay of Israel? There was the prevalence of lust: "They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker;" this was one of the causes of Israel's decline. Another cause was their intercourse with the ungodly: "Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people." These may be taken as specimens of the causes which brought about the national decline of Israel. When lust prevailed, or when they associated freely among the nations instead of dwelling alone, grey hairs appeared here and there upon them. So is it with spiritual decay in the case of Christians. When sensual lust, or last for gold, or for pleasure, or for praise, overmasters a follower of Christ, decay has set in, grey hairs show themselves here and there upon him. Again, when worldly society is eagerly sought and keenly relished by Christians, forgetful that, like Israel of old, they are a peculiar people, as our Lord has said, "Ye are not of the world, as I am not of the world," then spiritual affections are decaying, grey hairs are here and there upon them.
4. The most surprising circumstance of all is the ignorance of those who are sufferers by this process of decay. Israel did not know because he did not wish to know, as if by ignoring it he could conceal it from himself or others. "He knoweth not," says Pusey, "the tokens of decay in himself, but hides them from himself; he knoweth not God, who is the Author of them; he knoweth net the cause of them, his sins; he knoweth not the end and object of them, his conversion; he knoweth not what, since he knoweth not any of these things, will be the issue of them, his destruction." Somehow thus it is with spiritual decay. Most persons dislike the idea of growing old, or even of being thought old. They care not to notice themselves, and they conceal from others as much as possible, the marks of age and the progress of decay. All the while grey hairs multiply, and old age creeps on apace, almost imperceptibly and without being observed, so that in a certain sense many persons become old without fully realizing the fact. Likewise in the decay of life in a Christian's soul, it goes on secretly, and little, if at all, noticed, like the silent advance of age with its gradually increasing decrepitude and decay; grey hairs are here and there upon him, and he knows it not. Let us beware of the insidious approach of spiritual decay, and be on ore' guard against it.
IV. PRIOR RAISES A GREAT BARRIER BETWEEN THE SOUL AND GOD, Notwithstanding Israel's decline, pride attended them still; it remained unsubdued; it prevented their return to God; it stood in the way of their seeking him. Or, if the other translation be preferred, and if it be granted that Israel's pride was humbled by the calamities that had come upon them, those calamities had not been sanctified, and so they returned not to nor sought the Lord. For all this, and in spite of all God's merciful dealings with them, they persisted in their impenitence and stood out against the Most High. God had shown them his loving-kindness, and again he had visited them with severe corrections; he had almost exhausted the resources of his grace; and yet they were in no way bettered, but rather grew worse. So is it with many. God's gracious dealings fail to draw them to God; his afflictive dispensations too often drive them away from God. And yet, when he sends affliction, it is a loud call on men, not only to seek relief from God, but also to seek God himself, his face and favor-free as well as that help which he alone can give; whereas obstinate impenitence frustrates the dispensations of Providence, and afflictions unsanctified in no way better men or improve their
V. FOLLY THE CAUSE OF MEN NEGLECTING THE RIGHT, AND RESORTING TO WRONG SOURCES OF SUCCOR AND RELIEF.
1. Simplicity with godly sincerity, in accepting the Word of God and in obeying the will of God, is estimable and highly commendable; simplicity without a heart to love God, following his guidance, and delighting in his governance, is both wrong-headed and reprehensible. With regard to the former there is the promise, "The Lord preserveth the simple;" in relation to the latter the solemn question is asked, "How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?" The union of simplicity or ingenuousness of purpose with understanding of heart is commended by the exhortation of our Lord, "Be ye wise as serpents, harmless [or, 'simple '] as doves."
2. The silliness of Israel was simplicity in its bad sense, as we learn from the specimen of their conduct which the prophet subjoins. The calamities which befell them were so many calls to them to return to God and seek his merciful interposition; but, instead of applying to God, they exhibited unspeakable folly in having recourse to one or other of the two great rival powers, Egypt and Assyria, of which the former was as unreliable as a broken reed, piercing the hand that leans on it, and the latter crushing and cruel as the king of foreign beasts in devouring his prey. "Egypt," it has been well said, "was a delusive promiser, not failing only, but piercing those who leant on it; Assyria was a powerful oppressor."
3. The miseries which Israel brought upon himself, and in which men frequently involve themselves by taking a similarly silly and simple course, were
(1) inescapable, and such as they could by no possibility extricate themselves from, for the net of God would ensnare and envelop them.
(2) They are unquestionably certain; for however high hopes men may entertain of their carnal confidences, to whatever height of temporary prosperity they may be elevated, God is sure to bring them down, and their fall will be disgraceful in proportion to the elevation they fancied themselves to have attained.
(3) They will consist of sore chastisements, and all the sorer from being so well deserved.
4. The folly of such conduct in the face of warnings so great and manifold is as inexcusable as undeserving of pity. Israel sent southward to Egypt or traveled northward to Assyria in search of human helps, all the time turning their back on God; while to all the exhortations and remonstrances addressed to the congregation of Israel they refused to lend an ear. Line upon line they had been favored with in the book of the Law—in the blessings on obedience and the curses on disobedience which Ebal and Gerizim respectively re-echoed—in the teachings of other prophets, in the appeals of Hosea himself; their heedlessness to all these disentitled them to sympathy from man or succor from God.
HOMILIES BY C. JERDAN
Sins of court and country.
The reproofs contained in this chapter lay special emphasis upon the sins of the upper classes. But the prophet brands the whole nation also for its irreligion and immorality, and (in the second part of the chapter) for its political corruption.
I. THE EXPOSURE OF ISRAEL'S SIN. The wickedness of the people is portrayed, both as regards principles and individual acts. It may be described as:
1. Gold-blooded in its principles. (Hosea 7:1-28.7.3) These showed themselves in habits of:
(1) "Falsehood." (Hosea 7:1) There was "no truth in the land" (Hosea 4:1). The life of the nation had become a lie. Towards God there was chronic hypocrisy, and towards man habits of theft and robbery (Hosea 6:6-28.6.10).
(2) Sympathy with sin and crime. (Hosea 7:3) The ruling classes had become morally so corrupt that not only was their example always evil, but it also gave them positive satisfaction to take note of the immoralities of their subjects. Such satisfaction is itself the climax of human wickedness (Romans 1:32).
(3) Spiritual inconsiderateness. (Hosea 7:2, Hosea 7:7) The root of all the evil was Israel's forgetfulness of God. They failed to remember his holiness, his justice, his omniscience. And, in ignoring these truths, they neglected also their own highest interests; for, from the lack of timely repentance, their sins "beset them about." This inconsiderateness is the cardinal error of all ungodly men. Multitudes, like Ephraim, have had their attention loudly called to spiritual things by the voice of temporal blessings, of gospel promises, and of providential chastisements; but they will not hear! But, again, Israel's sin was:
2. Hot-blooded in its acts. (Hosea 7:4-28.7.7) Here the people are com- pared three several times to a baker's "oven," the meaning being that in doing their deeds of guilt they were enthusiastic and passionate, They sinned hotly in the direction of:
(1) Idolatry. (Hosea 7:4) "They are all adulterers;" i.e. king, princes, and people alike were guilty of apostasy from Jehovah, and shared in the dissoluteness which was associated with the worship of the Phoenician deities. "They had violated their faith pledged to God, they gave themselves up to filthy superstitions, and they had wholly corrupted themselves; for faith and sincerity of heart constitute spiritual chastity before God" (Calvin). Their souls were inflamed with their idolatrous lusts like a burning oven.
(2) Debauchery. (Hosea 7:5) Both the king and the nobles followed habits of intemperance. At the banquet held on the royal birthday he and they "erred through strong drink," and scoffed together at the majesty of Jehovah. In our own country, too, how many there are who spend Christmas as if they were celebrating the birth of the devil rather than that of the Redeemer!
(3) Anarchy. (Hosea 7:6, Hosea 7:7) The fiery passions of the people caused the land to be long torn by disorder and revolution. Their rulers became fuel for the fire of their anger. "All their kings are fallen;"—Zechariah was murdered by Shallum, Shallum by Menahem, Pekahiah by Pekah, etc. Indeed, very few of the monarchs of the northern kingdom died in peace. During its entire course, the heat of political violence devoured like a furnace; and in the deepest national calamities none sought the aid of the Divine King.
II. WHAT LED TO THIS EXPOSURE.
1. The encircling presence of their sins. (Verse 2) The people sinned so deeply and so boldly that their enormities grew up around them like a rampart. Wherever they went their wickedness attended them, and became a swift witness against them. A man's iniquity wraps him round like a poisoned tunic. He is "holden with the cords of his sins" (Proverbs 5:22); and it is his own hands, alas! that have forged and riveted his chains. Evil doings "beset" a man through the accusations of conscience, through the power of habit, through the action of natural law, and through the providence of God, which makes sure that his "sin will find him out."
2. God's remembrance of their sins. (Verse 2) The Lord must take notice of sin, for he must punish it. Although the sinful nation has forgotten this, the fact remains. "They are before my face;" i.e. ever present to me; I cannot avoid seeing them. "These words ["before me"] in the first commandment teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god" (Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism).
3. God's efforts to cure them of their sins. (Verse 1) As the depth and seriousness of a wound are often not known until the surgeon probes it, and as the nature of a disease may not be fully understood for some time after the physician has begun to grapple with the case, so the depravity of Israel was adequately exposed only when God adopted strong measures in connection with it, by the chastisements of his providence, and the warning voices of his prophets. For the people refused to obey each summons to repentance; and, instead of placing confidence in Jehovah, "they called to Egypt, and went to Assyria" (verse 11). So the very means of grace which God used in order to save Israel, became the occasion of showing how far the nation had already wandered from him, and even of inducing them to wander still further. And thus is it still, when God deals with men by his Word and Spirit. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). The primary work of the Holy Ghost is to "convince the world of sin" (John 16:8). By his common grace he gives, even to the unconverted, a partial view of their own unworthiness. And, in the case of all who enter upon the Christian life, he uses the disclosure of sin to lead the penitent to renounce all self-righteousness, and to fall at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy.—C.J.
A cake not turned.
There are many striking sayings in Hosea. This one, in particular, has a quiet touch of humor in it, as well as a severe reproof. There is nothing conventional in the style of the Bible writers. When they have anything practical to say, they do not wrap it up in verbiage. The Book of Hosea contains strains of poetry of surpassing splendor; yet here is an illustration from the cottager's kitchen. Let us look at this cake. It is burnt to a cinder on one side, and remains lamp and doughy on the other. It is partly underdone, partly overdone; and thus, being neither dough nor bread, it is quite spoiled, and fit only to be thrown away. The metaphor reminds us of the English legend of good King Alfred, when a wanderer in the forest of Selwood: the royal fugitive kept mending his bow and arrows, and forgot to turn the cakes which the neat-herd's wife had committed to his care. The first part of the verse helps us to understand the metaphor in its application to the kingdom of the ten tribes. Ephraim had "mixed himself among the people," i.e. entered into political alliances with the heathen round about, and conformed to their idolatrous usages. Yet he did not wish to break with Jehovah altogether; the Israelites continued to observe the sabbaths and the feast-days (Hosea 2:11). But the simile before us may be used with a still wider application. It describes—
I. THE NATURAL STATE OF MANKIND. Human nature since the Fall has been spoiled and worthless. There clings to it a radical defect Godward. Man is like a cake which has its warm side to the earth, and its cold side towards heaven. Some unrenewed men are very kindly in feeling and unselfish in action towards their fellow-men, but all the while their hearts remain cold and ungrateful towards God. We remember the young man who came to Christ, of whom it is said that "Jesus, beholding him, loved not turned."
"Low, but majestic, though most strangely formed
Of contradictions and antitheses,
With head of gold and feet of miry clay,
One half of dust, one half of deity;
Touching the angel here, and there the brute.
Here, 'thoughts that wander through eternity;'
There, passions sounding all the sties of time;
His rooted selfishness and lofty love,
His little life, his princely intellect,
His pure desires, his hateful selfishness,
Deeds of darkness, and his thoughts of light."
II. THE CHARACTER OF MANY WHO MAKE A PROFESSION OF RELIGION.
1. In this connection various ideas are suggested.
1. Hypocrisy. Ephraim boasted that he was a nation sacred to Jehovah all the while that he addicted himself to the idolatry of Baal and Ashtaroth. So, still, the man who shags at meeting and swears at market is a hypocrite. It is in vain to call out "Lord, Lord," if we do not the things which Christ says. Obedience in the letter is valueless, when divorced from obedience in the spirit. The bottles of profession are of no use if we do not pour into them the wine of principle.
2. Inconsistency. The people of the northern kingdom betrayed this in "mixing themselves" spiritually with the uncircumcised and unclean Gentiles. And, in our own day, how many there are whose fixed resolve seems to be to wear the Christian name, and at the same time take care not to part from the world! Their business habits assume the form of an ingeniously adjusted compromise between the service of God and that of mammon. And in social and domestic life they try to retain some relish for the pleasures of religion, even amidst the pursuit of amusements that are distinctively worldly. But it is a wretched thing to be "neither fish nor flesh" as regards character. It is impossible to "run both with the hare and the hounds." Spiritually, each of us is really either one thing or the other, and we should seem to be what we are. The Lord's command is," Be not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2); "Come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17).
3. Half-heartedness. There are many who name Christ's Name by partaking of the Lord's Supper, whose religion, as reflected in their daily lives, seems little more than nominal. You cannot say that they are wicked sinners, but neither dare you call them saints. They are too good to ban, and too bad to bless; too good for hell, but not nearly good enough for heaven. Their character is one of insipid negative respectability. Then there are those also who make only a half-and-half profession—who confess Christ's Name so far as to attend public worship, but stop short at the threshold of the guest-chamber, where the Lord's Supper is spread. Perhaps they think that only conscientious scruples keep them back; but God, who knows the heart, may judge that it is rather half-heartedness. For, if Christianity be true, it is a tremendous verity. And if it be right to hear Christ's gospel preached, it is dutiful also to obey his other precepts; as, e.g; to "do this in remembrance of him," and, "whatsoever we do, to do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus."
III. THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF MANY TRUE CHRISTIANS. Indeed, we might almost say, of all. For where is the believer whose spiritual condition satisfies his own enlightened convictions as to what he ought to be? Our personal deficiencies abound; and these are due either to our moral ignorance or to our moral supineness.
1. Our Christian character lacks thoroughness. The process of sanctification is designed to renew us "in the whole man," and yet we know that in fact a holy character is never perfected in this life. Every believer has within him a mixture of good and evil, and the purer he becomes he is the more ready to acknowledge the imperfection of his nature. Many true Christians, however, do not co-operate with God's Spirit so earnestly as they might, in striving to rid themselves of indwelling sin. They carry with them that Laodicean lukewarmness which the Lord abhors (Revelation 3:16); their Christian character, in wanting thoroughness, is like "a cake not turned."
2. It also lacks all-sidedness. A man may be a true believer for a lifetime, and yet neglect entirely to bring some important departments of conduct into contact with the fire of Divine grace. He may try to regulate his domestic affairs by the law of Christ, and forget all the while to subject his business concerns to the same law. Some good men trust God absolutely about their souls, but only partially about their temporal affairs. Some are zealous workers in the cause of Christ, but would rather avoid putting money into his treasury; while others seldom refuse to give a subscription, but give it on the understanding that they are not to be expected to take any personal trouble. Now, if we distinguish in this way between one duty and another, both of which are equally binding, what are we but "a cake not turned"? To avoid such defects, we must enlighten conscience and strengthen its authority; and expose our whole nature, in spirit and soul and body, to the fire of gospel truth and grace.—C.J.
In Scripture these are sometimes associated with sentiments of honor and reverence, for they suggest the thought of ripe wisdom and venerable piety (Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 16:31). Here, however, they are viewed simply as premonitions of old age, and of an old age, besides, that was premature. There is a lesson in our text, taking it even in its most literal sense. The believer's first grey hairs should remind him that the grace of God will enable him to "grow old gracefully." Bat the "grey hairs" spoken of in this verse are, of course, figurative. We may consider the text in connection with—
I. THE DECLINE OF NATIONS. Its primary reference is to "Ephraim," and to the symptoms which Ephraim showed of approaching national ruin. But the whole Bible, and especially the Old Testament, is full of teaching about the decadence of nations. The Hebrew prophets point to "the giant forms of empires on their way to ruin." Hence the priceless value of their writings to the Christian patriot, and to the devout student of history. What are some of the "grey hairs" which forebode national decay?
1. Idolatry. The northern kingdom had departed from God, first in worshipping Jeroboam's calves, and afterwards in serving the idol-deities of Phoenicia. And now, in his time of political need, Ephraim was looking for help to Egypt and Assyria (Hosea 7:8-28.7.11), instead of returning to Jehovah as his Portion. This "grey hair" led quickly to the degradation and ruin of the kingdom. So, still, those nations that will not serve the Lord our God shall perish, and be utterly wasted.
2. Immorality. A people may increase greatly in civilization and intellectual culture, and yet be sprinkled all over with this "grey hair." Ancient Greece, when it was the land of art and poetry and philosophy, was morally all the while a mass of corruption. Rome, during the first century of the Christian era, was even worse. Juvenal calls it "a filthy sewer," and Seneca "a cesspool of iniquity." When immorality is rampant, it marks the commonwealth as moribund, and forebodes its "decline and fall."
3. Vicious luxury. It was a sign of decay when Ephraim began to" live deliciously," like ancient Tyre and Babylon (Amos 6:3, et seq). In the palmy days of the Roman commonwealth the Romans were brave, hardy, and victorious; but under the Empire the inner life of the people was gradually eaten away by the canker of luxury. Our own nation, and all the great Anglo-Saxon communities at the present time, need to guard against this "grey hair."
4. Oppression of the poor. If a nation is to continue safe against dissolution, it must be governed by justice and humanity. The French revolution of 1789 was the result of the sinful waste of the Bourbon kings, and the misery of the French peasantry. But every nation is in danger which takes no care to "judge the poor of the people." This text reminds us, accordingly, of our duty as citizens. We must take order that our political representatives shall act in all public matters with justice and honor. Every Christian elector should use his ballot-paper under a sense of his responsibility to the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of nations; and he ought to do what he can otherwise to strengthen public opinion in the direction of wise political principles, and of a healthy condition of the national conscience.
II. THE DECLINE OF CHURCHES. For, alas! the marks of decay are often found there also. It was so with the seven Churches of proconsular Asia in the first century. In most of the epistles which the Lord addressed to them (Revelation 2:1-66.2.29; Revelation 3:1-66.3.22) he points out the "grey hairs." How gradually, too, premonitions of spiritual decline appeared in the Church of Rome! The student of Church history sees at first only one or two "grey hairs" upon its head. We may indicate some of the signs of spiritual decay in Churches.
1. Prevalence of unsound doctrine. A Church, to be spiritually healthy, must be thoroughly evangelical. Its ministers must not regard themselves merely as the educators of some native goodness in man; and they must not preach as if the cross were only a myth, or the Holy Ghost a metaphor. The Church's best times are those in which it teaches most clearly and emphatically the three evangelical "R's," viz. ruin by the fall, redemption by the Lord Jesus, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
2. Lack of missionary zeal. This detect frequently accompanies unwholesome doctrine. The continued vigor of a Church depends upon its aggressiveness as a crusading institute in opposition to the sin and misery of the world. It is not enough that it provide carefully for its own edification, and know that its members are benefited by its services. It will decline in spiritual life if it forgets those around who perish "for lack of knowledge."
3. Decadence of family religion. In the Bible the true ecclesiastical unit is not the individual, but the family. Holy Scripture magnifies "the Church in the house." And experience shows that a congregation, to be strong and healthy, must be composed of well-trained, intelligent, and devout families. What both the Church and the nation greatly need today is godly households. The lack of family religion is a precursor of spiritual ruin.
4. The spirit of worldliness. The Lord Jesus detected this "grey hair" in the Church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:4) and in the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:15). And those of our own day are not untainted with the same spirit. It is a mark of decay when a denomination or congregation plumes itself upon its social importance; or when it makes an idol of decorum and good taste; or when it becomes formal in spirit, and discourages religious enthusiasm; or when it relaxes in faithfulness of discipline.
III. THE DECLINE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE IN THE SOUL. The figure appropriately describes the backslidings of true and professed believers. We shall mention one or two symptoms which even those who themselves manifest them are prone to fail to recognize.
1. Habits of sin. It may be that seeds of evil which we sowed long ago in our hearts are growing up now, and occasioning us spiritual failure and confusion. Little sins are like these" grey hairs;" e.g. the spirit of over-carefulness, the spirit of caviling, the spirit of ostentation in religious duties, the unforgiving spirit, undue love of human praise, uncharitable judging, etc.
2. Neglect of ordinances. Christ has given us his Word, and has invited us to come to the throne of grace, and has spread for us the communion-table. But how gradually may we lose our relish for these means of grace, and how easily may the habit of neglecting them steal in upon our souls!
3. Covetousness. Some one has described the love of money as "the Church member's sin." Thomas Binney has said of it that it is "about the only great damning vice which can be indulged and clung to in connection with a recognized modern religious profession." There is no sin more insidious; it may occupy the heart and one "not know" it.
4. Conformity to the world. The daily circumstances of our lot constantly appeal to sense and self, and continually tempt us to give up trying to lead a spiritual, pure, and consecrated life. Even a true believer, before he knows it, may be "following afar off," and slowly abating his testimony as a nonconformist to the ungodly customs of the world.
CONCLUSION. We require frequently to "examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith." We ought constantly to hold up before our eyes the clear mirror of Holy Scripture, that we may detect the "grey hairs." We must also see reflected in it the glorious form of the Lord Jesus, the one Image of perfect manhood. There are no "grey hairs" upon him; "his locks are bushy, and black as a raven" (So Romans 5:11). We must seek grace to give ourselves constantly to the imitation of Christ.—C.J.
Ephraim's folly and falseness.
In this passage the Lord threatens the northern kingdom for its unnatural and untheocratic policy of seeking support from the neighboring heathen powers. These verses, therefore, deal primarily with the sins of the court and the government. The nation is to be punished for—
I. POLITICAL INFATUATION. (Hosea 7:11, Hosea 7:12) The true resting-place of the commonwealth was in God; but Ephraim had wandered from him, and was fluttering about inconsiderately "like a silly senseless dove," now seeking help from Egypt and now from Assyria (2 Kings 17:3, 2 Kings 17:4). How prone are governments to lay stress upon statecraft and diplomacy, when they should be simply trusting in God and following righteousness! Dr. Pusey aptly refers in this connection to "the balance of power" which for so long a period controlled the policy of European statesmen. But this theory has of late years largely lost its influence, and given place to a policy of non-intervention, accompanied with an enormous increase of military armaments. The true balance of power will be established only when the nations everywhere acknowledge the kingship of Christ, and deal with one another on the principles of justice and amity which his Law enjoins. As Ephraim was caught in the "net" of his own foreign entanglements—these becoming his ruin—so will all those nations be that forget God, and make flesh their arm. In the case of Israel, "their congregation had heard" the threat of such chastisement from Moses and the prophets; while modern states "hear" it from the Word of God, and witness its execution in the retributions of history.
II. MORAL INGRATITUDE. (Hosea 7:13-28.7.15) During the whole career of the Hebrew people God had lavished upon them his tender love and compassion; but they had requited him with the basest ingratitude. They had been unthankful and evil, although he was:
1. Their Redeemer. (Hosea 7:13) Jehovah had delivered them from Egypt; he had protected them in the desert; he had raised up the judges to repel their foreign oppressors; he had "saved" the northern kingdom "by the hand of Jeroboam II; the son of Joash ' (2 Kings 14:27). The Lord had constantly redeemed them; and he was prepared to do so again, if they would but turn to him in penitence and faith. But, alas! Ephraim persisted in his apostasy, and by his idol-worship and insincerity "made God a liar," and his own national life also a lie.
2. The Giver of their harvests. (Hosea 7:14) In the time of prosperity Israel ignored Jehovah as the Author of fruitful seasons (Hosea 2:8). In the time of famine, however, the people in their distress wildly" howled" for bread; but if they cried to Jehovah at all, they did not do so "with their heart."
3. Their Physician. (Hosea 7:15) Jehovah had acted towards Israel like a wise and skilful surgeon. He had seen their power enfeebled, like a relaxed or dislocated arm; and he had bound the arm, to make it once more strong and sinewy. Yet the first use to which Israel put the healed arm was to raise it to strike the Healer. What a warning have we here against the sin of unthankfulness! The Lord's reproach reminds us that apart from the grateful heart there can be no true piety. Gratitude is inseparable from faith in God. And the reflex influence of gratitude upon the soul is to inspire and ennoble it. "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness!"
III. SPIRITUAL INSTABILITY. (Hosea 7:16) The princes of Israel were constantly changing their policy; but they never, amidst all their changes, really turned towards God. The nation often professed to seek him, but their evil heart constantly drew them aside to idols. "They are like a deceitful bow," which has either been faultily constructed at the first, or the string of which has lost its elasticity, and which, therefore, disappoints the archer by sending forth the arrow wide of the mark. So Ephraim had given a wrong direction to his whole spiritual life. The nation had failed to accomplish the end for which God had chosen it. Its profession and its practice were at variance. Its arrows were not directed towards the Divine glory, and therefore it must presently "fall by the sword," and suffer the "derision" of Egypt, in whom it had foolishly trusted. But does not this graphic metaphor, "a deceitful bow," describe the character of every unbeliever; and of every Christian, in so far as he trusts in his own strength? "In like way doth every sinner act, using against God, in the service of Satan, God's gifts of nature or of outward means, talents, or wealth, or strength, or beauty, or power of speech. God gave all for his own glory; and man turns all aside to do honor and service to Satan" (Pusey). We must be daily strengthened with the grace that is in Christ Jesus, if our bow is to "turn not hack," but to "abide in strength."—C.J.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
An unconsidered truth.
Two facts are suggested here.
I. THAT GOD REMEMBERS THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN. "Wickedness" may exist in thought or intention (Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24), in word (Matthew 12:36), in act (Psalms 51:4).
1. This fact is proclaimed in God's Word.
(1) Statements. Jeremiah 14:10 proves God's watchfulness, Jeremiah 17:1 his recollection, Isaiah 44:22 his record, etc.
(2) Examples seen in the sin of Adam, the antediluvians, Joseph's brethren, Abraham in Egypt, David, etc.
2. This fact is necessitated by the Divine nature. God's omnipresence, omniscience, and immutability imply it. His absolute perfection makes impossible either defect of knowledge or decay of faculty.
3. This fact is exemplified in the life of the Lord Jesus. "He knew what was in man;" "He knew their thoughts," etc. Show how completely he detected the plots of his foes, knew the doubts of his disciples (John 20:27), overheard the discussions of distant followers (Mark 9:34), perceived the unexpressed longings of the unpardoned (Matthew 9:2-40.9.7), and read the secrets of a sinful life (Luke 7:37-42.7.50).
4. This fact is a requisite to a just judgment. See references to the coming judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 32:18, etc). No fair decision could be given except by One who knew all our sins and struggles, and had forgotten none of their circumstances.
II. THAT MAN FORGETS THE SUPERVISION OF GOD. "They consider not," etc. It is not said man has no knowledge of the fact, but that he does not reflect upon it. To "consider in the heart" is to think over the truth seriously, closely, with sincere application to ourselves. If the charge were not true, we should no longer continue in sin; we should not attempt to extenuate it; we should mourn over it as an offence against God rather than as a cause of dishonor or loss to ourselves. Show the sinfulness of this.
1. It is disobedience to the exhortation of God. "Now therefore consider your ways;" "Oh that they were wise, that they would consider," etc.!
2. It is rebellion against the rule of conscience. Show what conscience is to the child at his first offence, and what it becomes through continued heedlessness.
3. It is encouragement to secret s/n. "They say, Doth God know?" etc. Many sins are disguised from the world, unsuspected by our friends, from which, therefore, no regard for reputation will save us. The secret sin undermines the character. Open sin follows. Even if it does not, the judgment of God is against those that do such things.
4. It is a hindrance to true repentance. Men do not come to Christ until they feel their need of him, who "saves his people from their sins."—A.R.
The sin of half-heartedness.
When the discipline which God sends to arouse men to thought fails of its purpose, it cannot but harm the nation or the individual receiving it. There is a light from heaven which ushers in the new day, and wakes the world to life and joy; but there is also a light from heaven, seen in the lightning-flash, which serves only to make the darkness visible; and this, not that, was the emblem of the light shed upon Israel by exhortation and discipline in Hosea's times. They were scorched, not blessed, because they refused to turn to the Lord. Subject—The sin of half-heartedness is set before us in the graphic imagery of our text.
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS SIN. Doubtless it varies according to the circumstances and the character of each one who is guilty of it. Sometimes the sin results from weakness of character and vacillation of purpose, and sometimes from want of earnest consideration. But the cause mentioned in our text is by no means infrequent. "Ephraim hath mixed himself among the people," i.e. the heathen. Israel was ordained to be a separated people (Exodus 34:12, Exodus 34:13; Le Exodus 20:24). Balaam was shrewd enough to see that their strength lay in their separateness (Numbers 23:9). He knew that the curse Balak sought against them would fall, if only they could be blended with the idolatrous people around. Partakers in guilt, they would be partakers in punishment. To us the restrictions placed on their marriage and their commerce appear illiberal; but he who imposed them understood the weakness of this people, and estimated rightly the universality and intensity of idolatry. Results justified God's ordinance. Jeroboam's residence in Egypt brought calf-worship into Israeli Ahab's marriage with Jezebel introduced the rites of Baal and Ashtaroth. In Hosea's time the people were leavened by idolatry, and the allusion here is to this fact, and not to the political alliances formed with heathen empires, or to the conquest of parts of Israel's territory by idolatrous kings. To him loss of character was more ominous than loss of territory. Israel was no longer worth preserving. The object of their existence, to witness to the one living and true God, could no longer be attained. The salt had lost its savor, and was henceforth good for nothing. With their remembrance of Mosaic Law and their practice of idolatrous rites, they were like "a cake not turned"—irremediably spoilt. Show from this the importance of right companionship, especially to those whose characters are in the formative stage. Jealously as parents watch against the intrusion of one who is suffering from infectious disease, how much less watchful and firm are they against the introduction to their homes of those whose presence cannot fail to be a source of moral infection! When the result of such association is not seen in outward depravity, it is often seen in a wasted and frivolous life. The effect is gradually produced. The Rhine and the Arno flow side by side in the same channel without mingling their waters; but though the swifter stream keeps clear for a while, at last it is defiled; and it is the turbid stream that conquers. "Gather not my soul with sinners;" "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."
II. THE NATURE OF THIS SIN. The cake (uggah) was a thin circular pancake, exposed to the scorching heat of red-hot stones, and of necessity must be quickly turned, or it would be burnt on one side and moist dough on the other: spoilt, because not penetrated. A good figure to represent this people, who knew God's Law, remembered his worship, but were in practice idolaters. They refused to turn to God the other half, the practical part of their being. Give examples of those who have served God by halves; belonging neither to the world nor to the Church. In Elijah's days the people were impressed by the power of Jehovah, yet loved the pleasures of idolatry; hence the question of the prophet, "How long halt ye between two opinions?" Christ Jesus had around him those who admired his teaching; but they would not risk being put out of the synagogue, nor associate with illiterate peasants, nor follow One who would lead them to the cross; so to them he said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." See also the condition of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-66.3.18). Such a character is discoverable still, in those who join in worship, though in heart they neither pray nor praise; in those conscious of sin, yet not justified by faith; in those using the words of prayer, without any speaking to the Father who seeth in secret, etc. God seeks not for such. We are to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; whole-hearted in all we offer to him—not as Ephraim, the cake not turned.
III. THE EFFECTS OF THIS SIN. We are responsible for our unconscious influence over others. Our Lord condemned the scribes and Pharisees; "for," said he, "ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." Better far would it have been had they been openly irreligious. Picture a man standing near the door of the ark—a wise and prominent man in antediluvian society, hesitating whether to believe Noah or the skeptics; while others wait to see his decision. How deep and loud their curses afterwards if he decided not to enter, or if he hesitated so long that it was too late for him and them! Apply this to modern life. A father has children whose characters are rapidly forming; and he is not in the kingdom, though not far from it. They naturally say, "We are waiting for father; he is a hearer of the truth; he knows more than we; he is an upright man; if it be right to be wholly on Christ's side he will be, so let us wait for his decision." For the sake of others let procrastination come to an end, and be it yours to say with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
IV. THE PERILS OF THIS SIN.
1. You strengthen temptations against yourself. You say in effect to influences for evil," Don't give me up yet, for I am not decided." A candidate, who in canvassing finds one voter who has not made up his mind, will call again with others who have more influence than himself, and the waverer is won ever. In the counsels of the wicked concerning one who is half-hearted it is said, "We will ask him again; his answer was not decided; he is not an avowedly Christian man; by a little pressure we can bring him over." How can such a man pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"?
2. You weaken powers for good, and lessen hope of the future. There is a blossoming time for every tree, a flowering time for every corn-field, and then the future is decided, for fruit or for barrenness. Our Lord comes down to listen at every heart for prayer, to see the effect of all he has done for each. He looks and feels for fruit amidst the leaves of the fig tree, and finding none he finally utters the word, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever."—A.R.
The unperceived signs of moral decay.
This chapter is occupied with a denunciation of the sins of the princes and chief men in Israel, who are designated (in Hosea 7:1) by "Ephraim," the principal tribe, and "Samaria," the principal city. Such men are ever most condemned in Scripture, because they have
(1) more opportunity of knowing God's will, and
(2) more influence over others (see Matthew 11:20-40.11.24).
A godless lad who has been brought up under Christian influence, and has seen the Christian life represented in his home, is more deserving of condemnation than the waif thrown up by the sea of irreligious life, who has been unblessed by teaching and prayer. The man successful in business or scholarship, the attractive and popular visitor, the gifted writer, the eldest in a family, the leader in policy, etc; have heavier responsibilities than others because they have nobler powers. The sins condemned here were
(1) drunkenness, which specially prevailed on the king's birthday (Hosea 7:5) and at similar festivities;
(2) passion for idolatry and its licentious rites, the heart of the people being like the oven heated hot, and needing only the stirring of opportunity to burst into flame (Hosea 7:4, Hosea 7:6, Hosea 7:7);
(3) refusal to believe in God's presence and watchfulness (Hosea 7:2). These and other sins were the signs of moral decay, which were reflected in national disasters. Yet none of these were perceived by the infatuated people. (See Keil and Delitzsch in justification of the rendering "He knoweth it not" in both clauses) Subject—Unnoticed signs of moral decay.
I. THAT MORAL DECAY HAS ASCERTAINABLE CAUSES. Exemplify from the sources of Israel's decadence.
1. Want of consideration. (Hosea 7:2; Isaiah 1:3; Haggai 1:5) Every faculty fails after disuse; e.g. the eyeless fishes of lakes in dark caverns. Muscular and mental development or decay, by exercise or inertness. He who will not think of God, at last cannot think of him.
2. Association with evil. (Hosea 7:8) Show the effects of unconscious influence in the formation of character. They must be jealously watchful over themselves who are necessarily associated with the godless. The companionship of books equally important. Sensuous or skeptical literature may emasculate character.
3. Forgetfulness of God. All are prone to this. Material life becomes increasingly aggressive in thought. The hurry of business, the whirl of society, lessen the frequency and intensity of prayer.
4. Self-indulgence. Israel gave way to drunkenness and the licorice of idolatry. It was the opportunity for gratifying the worst passions that made the worship of the groves so popular. Many begin by staining the imagination who end by defiling the life. Depict the ruin of the drunkard, who once perhaps was a leader in Christian and benevolent enterprise.
II. THAT MORAL DECAY HAS OBSERVABLE SYMPTOMS. "Strangers have devoured his strength." Egypt and Assyria had despoiled Israel, sometimes by exacting tribute, sometimes by violent attack (2 Kings 13:7; 2 Kings 16:9). Compare the condition of the Roman empire just before its ruin by the Goths. With Israel the losses were the direct result of leagues made, contrary to God's will, with idolatrous nations around; for they became thereby involved in their disputes and disasters. Still this was not perceived. These and other signs of wasting and decay were visible to the prophet, and seemed to him like grey hairs sprinkled here and there—the effects of declining age, the tokens of decay. Point out symptoms of spiritual decline in the soul.
1. Want of appetite for what is good. The house of God neglected, the old service forsaken, the infrequency and unreality of prayer, etc.
2. Want of sensibility to what is evil. Contentment with a lower standard for Christian life, flippancy in dealing with infidelity, indifference to acts and words which at one time would have raised a flush of shame, etc.
III. THAT MORAL DECAY HAS IRREVERSIBLE ISSUES. These grey hairs were the precursors of death. Israel would never be restored. The life was lived, was nearly over, and without hope of resurrection. Christ Jesus speaks of a time of probation given now which will not be given hereafter. He will do all that can be done even for a fruitless fig tree, but at last must say, "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"
IV. THAT MORAL DECAY MAKES IMPERCEPTIBLE ADVANCE. At first grey hairs are sprinkled here and there. How fast they multiply, though no one notices the change in each hair! When first noticed, an endeavor may be made by nostrums to disguise the fact; but the decay goes on. The march of old age, as he sprinkles his snows, is not really checked. If a man could persuade himself as well as others that he was still young, that would not prolong his life. But it is far easier to disguise from ourselves the signs of moral decay, and this has been done with fatal frequency. The old world, though often warned," knew not till the flood came and swept them all away." Samson betrayed the source of his strength and lost it; but when he rose against his foes as aforetime, "he wist not that the Lord was departed from him." King Saul was robbed of his means of defense and refreshment, but he still slept on (1 Samuel 26:1-9.26.25). So Israel shut its eyes to the loss of strength and hope. Beware lest character be like the cliff, secretly honeycombed by the sea, until in an unexpected moment it falls in irreparable ruin.
CONCLUSION. Address the aged. There is a natural decay, which may be the precursor of destruction or the promise of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-46.15.58).
1. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." Eleazar said, "I will not do that which seems to be evil, lest I should spot my white head."
2. The hoary head is a call to repentance, if it be found in the way of wickedness. "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye."—A.R.
Two instances in Scripture of true repentance at the point of death. Manasseh in the Old Testament, the dying thief in the New Testament. These save from despair, yet are too few to allow any to presume on them, Four characteristics of the useless prayer mentioned in the text,
I. IT IS A DEFERRED PRAYER. "On their beds." In health and strength the idols had been worshipped. Now death seemed near, the Name of Jehovah was on the trembling lip. Mercifully, delay is not of itself sufficient to make a cry to God useless. David lingered in sin till Nathan rebuked him. The prodigal dwelt in the far country till all was gone, etc. Still it is perilous to defer any known duty, most of all that of coming to God.
II. IT IS AN INSINCERE PRAYER. "They have not cried unto me with their heart." This fact would make any prayer useless. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit, and in truth." Compare the prayers of the Pharisees' m the temple or the street with those of publicans and sinners (Matthew 6:7; Matthew 15:1-40.15.39, etc).
III. IT IS A DESPERATE PRAYER, "They howled upon their beds." The agony of paint or the dread of meeting God, not the consciousness of sin, caused this. Repentance is not the dread of sin's punishment, but the turning from sin because of its sinfulness. Contrast the cry of the condemned criminal with the prayer of the dying Christian. Depict, for example, the death of Stephen, and the utterance of Paul about his departure (2Ti 6:6).
IV. IT IS UNAVAILING. The unreality of the prayer was seen in the subsequent conduct of those who offered it. This is described in the next clause. No sooner were they restored to health than "they assembled for corn and wine," i.e. went back to the old revelries and forgetfulness. How many have dealt thus with God I Brought back from the gates of death, the spared life is no more sober, devout, and holy than the past. Let us beware lest we harden ourselves through the deceitfulness of sin. If, of those restored, so small a proportion prove that the prayers and vows in illness were genuine and availing, how can we indulge much hope of those whose future is not in time but in eternity?
In view of this solemn subject:
1. Urge Christians to speak faithfully to sinners in the day of health.
2. Urge sinners to come humbly to the Savior in the day of hope.—A.R.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
God's memory of man's wickedness.
There is something to all unreconciled and unpardoned sinners very terrible in this assertion, "I remember all their wickedness."
I. GOD REMEMBERS MAN'S WICKEDNESS IN THE EXERCISE OF HIS OMNISCIENCE. "All" here comprehends every kind of wickedness, in thought, word, and deed; every instance of wickedness, whether noted or not by fellow-men; the aggravations of wickedness which has been more serious because of the light and privileges notwithstanding which the sinner has transgressed.
II. GOD REMEMBERS MAN'S WICKEDNESS IN HIS CHARACTER OF A PERFECTLY HOLY BEING. It is not simply a matter of knowledge; the evil he knows God hates. Every such recollection is accompanied with displeasure. "He is angry with the wicked every day;" and whilst men, through familiarity with human sins, often become either indifferent or cynical, the Most Holy retains his disapproval and his loathing undiminished.
III. GOD REMEMBERS MAN'S WICKEDNESS IN HIS CHARACTER OF A RIGHTEOUS JUDGE. The upright and pure man may view the prevalence of wickedness with revulsion and distress; but "vengeance belongeth unto God." As the sovereign Ruler of the universe, bound by his own nature to maintain his authority, and to do righteously as the Judge, the Lord exercises his judicial attributes and functions. And what he remembers he will one day bring forward, for the confusion of the impenitent.
IV. GOD HAS PROMISED THAT, IF THE SINNER WILL REPENT, HE WILL REMEMBER HIS SINS NO MORE. We need not trouble ourselves with the attempt to reconcile what may seem to us conflicting statements, which, however, are both necessary to set forth all the truth. Let the impenitent bear in mind the fact that the righteous God remembers all their iniquities; and let the penitent and believing hearers of the gospel rest assured that a merciful God will cast their sins behind his back, and sink them in the depths of the unfathomable sea of oblivion.—T.
None calleth unto God.
The calamities and miseries which befell Israel were in themselves awful, but perhaps the most terrible circumstance connected with them was this: they failed to lead the people to a better mind, to true repentance, to sincere supplication unto God.
I. THE HAND THAT AFFLICTS ALONE CAN HEAL. Chastisement is necessary in the economy of Divine government; yet our heavenly Father chastens, not for his pleasure, but for our profit. He is more ready to cherish and to comfort than to smite. And when he has afflicted, it is vain to look elsewhere than to him for solace.
II. THE CALLOUSNESS OF SINNERS MAY PREVENT THEM FROM SEEKING DIVINE MERCY AND CONSOLATION. Surely the first thing for those to do who are smarting beneath the rod is to humble themselves beneath the mighty hand of God, to repent of sin, to entreat clemency, favor, forgiveness. But so hardening is the effect of sin, that there are many cases in which this is the last thing that occurs to the mind. It is an addition to the heinousness of sin, when the sinner refrains from bringing his transgression with penitence before the throne of him whom he has offended.
III. YET THERE IS NO RELIEF EXCEPT UPON THE CONDITION OF APPLICATION TO THE ALL-MERCIFUL. TO call upon man is vain. To sink into apathy is to despair. Hope is in one direction only. Let the sinner call upon God, and God will hear, answer, and save.—T.
They return not unto the Lord.
The life of man is a journey, and the sinner has taken the wrong road—the road which leads to destruction.
I. THE IMPORTANCE AND NECESSITY OF RETURNING UNTO THE LORD. The further the sinner proceeds the nearer he approaches final ruin, and the harder it is for him to reverse his steps.
II. THE METHOD OF RETURNING UNTO THE LORD. The sinner must change his view of God and his view of himself. He must repent of sin and believe the gospel
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO RETURN UNTO THE LORD. There are the express directions, and the faithful promises of Heaven.
IV. THE RESULTS OF RETURNING UNTO THE LORD, To return to God is to return to holiness and happiness, to peace and hope. Truly to return to him is to remain forever in his favor and his fellowship.—T.
Hosea 7:11, Hosea 7:12
The silly dove.
The folly of sin is a frequent topic with the inspired writers, and is urged upon the attention of some who may be more fearful of lacking wisdom than of grieving God. In this passage the prophet makes use of a homely and striking similitude with a view to impress upon the rebellious the vanity and simple credulity of their sinful conduct.
I. THE DOVE'S PERPLEXITY. Alarmed by a bird of prey hovering over her and ready to seize her, the simple dove is ready to rush into any danger. An emblem of Israel of old. placed between Assyria and Egypt, and, when alarmed by the threats of one power, ready to court the alliance of the other. And an emblem of foolish sinners, of all nations and of all times, whose only safety and whose only guidance is in God, but who are ever prone to look hither and thither, to human counselors and to human helpers.
II. THE DOVE'S FLIGHT. As the simple dove, in her danger and perplexity, makes straight for the fowler's net, so Israel, seeking security by her fancied policy, which in reality was short-sighted and vain, again and again brought herself into national disaster and misery. "They said, We will ride upon horses." "Therefore," was the responsive prediction, "shall ye flee." Where is the foolish rebel against God who has not by his own unwise precipitation brought himself into ruin and calamity?
III. THE DOVE'S CAPTURE IN THE NET. The dove fails to escape, falls into the snare of the fowler, and perishes. Israel, however she might forget and forsake God, could not evade the penalties of disobedience; for she could not get beyond the range of the Divine government and judicial sway. "I," said Jehovah, "will chastise them, according to the announcement to their congregation." "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." Let none imagine that there is a possibility of eluding Divine justice.
APPLICATION The way of wisdom is the way of safety; and "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom." It is better to flee to the Lord as to a Tower of refuge, than to fall into the net of retribution.—T.
Failure to cry unto the Lord.
As a child in trouble calls aloud upon his father for help, as a soldier in danger calls upon a comrade for succor, so sinful, feeble, helpless man calls upon his God for deliverance and consolation, and does not call in vain. The guilt and folly of Israel was great in sinning, but far greater in neglecting to call upon the Lord with the heart. It appears when it is considered that this duty was neglected—
I. ALTHOUGH CIRCUMSTANCES MIGHT HAVE IMPELLED TO SUCH AN INVOCATION, Many a time had Israel been afflicted, and her afflictions were intended in mercy to drive her to the God she had forsaken. No one of us has been without occasion, urgent and distressing occasion, to seek God. Providence has not left us without the inducement, furnished by great straits and sore needs, to seek the God of salvation.
II. ALTHOUGH NO OTHER REFUGE OR HELPER COULD BE FOUND. Israel was ever seeking safety by heathen alliances, by the policy of diplomacy, or by the might of arms. Yet events constantly taught the unwisdom of such recourse to human aid. It is well when the soul is led to exclaim, "Beside thee there is none else;" "To whom shall I go, but unto thee?"
III. ALTHOUGH ENCOURAGED BY THE CHARACTER AND THE PROMISES OF THE DIVINE HELPER. AS in the history of Israel, so through all time, the great Ruler has revealed himself as the great Deliverer. To us as Christians this revelation is especially plain and effective; for in Jesus we see the salvation of the Eternal." If it be hard to cry upon a God who is known to us only as a just and almighty Judge, surely it is not hard to call upon a God who has come to us in the person of his Son, full of "grace and truth."
IV. ALTHOUGH THE VANITY IS APPARENT OF CALLING UPON THE LORD ONLY WITH THE LIPS. We have only to consider our own spiritual nature, and to remember that God is a Spirit, in order to feel the absurdity and uselessness of offering to Heaven the homage of the lips, and withholding the reverence, the faith, the aspirations of the heart, Ye shall find the Lord, if with all your heart ye truly seek him.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Hosea 7:2, Hosea 7:3
God's remembrance of sin.
"And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face. They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies." These words contain three facts.
I. That God REMEMBERS men's sins. "I remember all their wickedness." This is a wonderful fact. When we think of the infinite greatness of him to whom the universe is as nothing, we are struck at first with amazement that God remembers the sins of a creature so frail, so insignificant as man. Still, as we reflect, we soon get the conviction that there is nothing absurd, nothing unreasonable, in the fact. To the Infinite there is nothing great or small; to the Omniscient there is nothing unobserved; to the Holy there is nothing so distressing, so oppressive, as sin. Sin is no trifle in the eye of him whose glory is his holiness. This is not only a wonderful, but a solemn fact. God not only observes and knows my sins, but he remembers them—does not lose sight of one. They are in his memory. What a book is the memory of God! The whole history of the universe is there! Every sin that has ever been committed by any moral intelligence in the creation, however insignificant, has record there. "Thou art acquainted with all my ways; for there is not a word in my tongue, but thou, Lord, art acquainted with it altogether." "Doth not he see all my ways, and count all my steps?" "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." "Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering."" How much more then the hearts of the children of men!" How useless the attempt to dissemble our sins from him! How awful the revelations of the last day!
II. MEN DISREGARD God's remembrance of their sins. "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness." "They say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it." Sinners, the world over, are indifferent to this fact. So far from considering that all their sins are in the memory of the holy and just One, they practically ignore his very existence. In their plans, engagements, and avocations they take no account of him. Why do they not consider? Is it because the thought strikes them as so manifestly improbable as not worthy of their attention? Assuredly not. They have only to reflect on this subject to see that it must be so. Why, then?
1. Because other thoughts engross their minds—thoughts of worldly wealth and power, thoughts of selfish gains and sensual pleasures. They are too full of vain and worldly thoughts to admit an idea so grand and solemn as this.
2. Because this thought, if it occurs to them for a moment, is too painful to be entertained. The corrupt nature revolts from it, expels it the moment it gains admission, and bolts every door against it, environs itself with associations that keep it far away in the distance. "It desires not a knowledge of it."
III. That men's disregard of God's remembrance of their sins LEADS THEM TO REVEL IN INIQUITY. "Now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face." Here we have their sins:
1. In general. They are abundant and daring. Their sins encompass them on all sides, and they perpetrate them without shame under the very face of God himself; they give full play to all their passions, an unbridled license to all their sinful impulses and lusts.
2. In particular. Some of their sins are specified here. "They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies." "It pleases them," says an old writer, "to see the people conform to their wicked laws and examples in their worship of their idols, and other instances of impiety and immorality, and to hear them flatter and applaud them in their wicked ways. When Herod saw that his wickedness pleased the people he proceeded further in it. Much more will the people do so when they see that it pleases the prince" (Acts 13:3). Particularly, they made them glad with their lies, with the lying praises with which they crowned the favorites of the prince, and the lying calumnies and censures with which they blackened those whom they knew the princes had a dislike to. Those who show themselves pleased with slanders and ill-natured stories shall never want those about them who fill their ears with stories. Proverbs 29:12, "If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked," and will make him glad with their lies.—D.T.
Hosea 7:8, Hosea 7:9
Sad aspects of character.
"Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not." The primary application of these words to Ephraim is obvious from the context, anti from the history of Israel at the time. We shall use them as indicating certain bad aspects of human character.
I. WRONG COMPANIONSHIP. "Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people." The reference is here not to the punishment or dispersion of the Israelites among the nations, but to the state in which Israel was at the time. Heaven's plan was that the Hebrew people should separate from the nations, and be holy to him (Leviticus 20:24-3.20.26); to be as Balaam predicted, "a people dwelling alone" (Numbers 23:9). But in opposition to this the ten tribes had mingled with the heathen, learned their works and served their idols. Now, what is a wrong mixing with the people? Not intermixture in marriages. It appears to us that the mingling of the different tribes of mankind in matrimonial alliances is, according to the plan of the Creator, highly promotive of the good of the entire race. Not intercourse in business. Such is the state of human society that good men are bound in worldly affairs to have dealings with the irreligious and depraved. Not associating with them for spiritual usefulness. Those who think that the saints of God should shut themselves up from the world, dwell in monasteries, and live as hermits, make a great mistake. The more Divine love and truth a man has in him, the more bound is he to be out in the world, and to let the light of his doctrines and his character flash widely and strongly upon the heart of his compeers. The man who has "mixed himself with others" does as did the ten tribes now; for worldly advantage and unholy gratifications make bad people companions. It is said that Pythagoras, before he admitted any one into his school, inquired who were his intimates, justly concluding that they who could choose immoral companions would not be much profited by his instructions.
II. MORAL WORTHLESSNESS. "Ephraim is a cake not turned." The Easterns hake their bread on the ground, covering it with embers, and turn it every ten minutes to bake it thoroughly without burning it (1 Kings 19:6). Without the turning it would be charcoal on one side and dough on the other, and the bread would be worthless. Worthlessness is the idea. Ephraim or Israel—for the words seem to be used convertibly—had become utterly useless in a spiritual sense. It no longer fulfilled its Divine mission maintaining and promoting the worship of the one true and living God. As the unturned cake would be thrown away as utterly unfit for human food, Israel was to be thrown away by God as utterly unfit to fulfill its mission. What a sad thing to be utterly worthless in a moral sense!—salt that has lost its savor, only fit to be trodden underfoot; trees that have lost their fruit, only fit for the fire! Usefulness is the grand purpose of our being. The man who does not make the world better than he found it, must be accursed.
III. SOCIAL DESPOILMENT. "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not." The reference probably here is to the fact that Shalmaneser King of Assyria finally carried away Israel captive because of the defection of Hoshea King of Israel to So King of Egypt (see 2 Kings 13:7; 2Ki 15:19, 2 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 17:3, 2 Kings 17:6). In consequence of their unholy mingling with idolatrous people and their dependence upon foreign nations, they got rifled of their property, their power, and their influence. Thus strangers devoured their strength. How many souls in all ages lose their "strength" under the influence in which they mingle! Their intellectual power, social sympathies, moral sensibilities, get used up, and they become the mere creatures of others and of circumstances. The man of society "has his strength devoured;" he loses freedom and force and manhood.
IV. UNCONSCIOUS DECAY. "Yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not." Moral strength goes so slowly from men that they are often not conscious of its loss until they are reduced to the utmost prostration. Thus with Samson, "He wist not that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him." Nations have their grey hairs, and they don't know it; Churches have their grey hairs, and are unconscious of them. So also with individuals; decay is so gradual that the subject is unconscious that death is working its ruin.
CONCLUSION. Let us look at these aspects of character and learn practical wisdom. Form no friendship with sinners; come out from amongst theme "the companion of fools shall be destroyed." Avoid a worthless life. Be not like the unturned cake; render some service to the universe. Allow not the social influences of your sphere to steal away your strength, to eat up your manhood; conclude not that decay is not working within you because you are unconscious of it. Wake up to the great realities of your spiritual being, and be strong in the Lord.—D.T.
The silliness of sin.
"Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart." "There is much force and beauty in this comparison of Ephraim to a 'silly dove without heart,' or rather without understanding, which when pursued by a bird of prey trusts to the rapidity of its flight; that is, relics upon its own powers for the means of escape, instead of at once throwing itself into the nearest recess, where the interference of man or the narrowness of the place might render it secure from molestation. Israel, instead of taking shelter under the wing of the Almighty, who is a God near at hand, and not afar off, rested his hope of defense upon the celerity of his movements—stretching his wing towards Assyria or Egypt; but in the length of the flight is overtaken, secured, and dies in the cruel talons of his unrelenting pursuer" ('Pictorial Bible'). The passage may be used to illustrate the silliness of sin. Men under the influences of sin are as silly as the dove. What do naturalists say about the dove?
I. IT IS TOO SILLY TO DEFEND ITS OWN. Most creatures will stand by their young and fight for them to the last, but the dove, it seems, cares but little for them, and allows them to be captured without resistance. Ephraim had sunk into this state; his most distinguished blessings were going from him, and he struggled not to retain them. The sinner will not battle with the devil to defend his own—his force of thought, his sensibility of conscience, his freedom of will, his purity of love; he allows these precious things to be taken from him without a struggle.
II. IT IS TOO SILLY TO FEEL ITS LOSS. It is said that the dove will lose its nest and not feel it. The tree seems as attractive to it without its nest as with it. Men under the influence of sin do not feel their loss. Though sin has broken up their nest, they still strive to make the world a resting-place. Whatever is taken from them, they still cling to earthly things.
III. IT IS TOO SILLY TO ESCAPE DANGER. More dull than other fowls, it discovers not its perils; it "hasteneth to the snare, and knoweth not it is for her life" (Proverbs 7:23). Thus it was with the ten tribes politically, and thus it is with all souls morally in their fallen state. They will not flee to the right place of safety—too silly to be calm under trial. It is said of the dove that it has not courage to stay in the dove-house when frightened, where it is safe under the careful protection of its owner, but flutters and hovers, seeking rest first in one place and then in another, and thus exposes itself to new and greater dangers. Thus with Ephraim: instead of settling down under the protection of God, he hurried forth in quest of foreign help, and was the more exposed to calamities and ruin. Thus, too, with souls under the influence of sin.
CONCLUSION. Sin is folly. The fool and the sinner are, in God's vocabulary, convertible terms. Oh, how sad it is to see human souls hovering and fluttering about like silly doves, with no sense of their loss, no resting-place, no security, no peace!
"A soul immortal spending all her fires,
Wasting her strength in strenuous idleness,
Thrown into tumult, raptured, or alarmed,
At aught this scene can threaten or indulge,
Resembles ocean into tempest wrought,
To waft a feather or to drown a fly."
The fowler of retribution,
"When they shall go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven." Tills should be translated, "As they go I spread my net over them; I bring them down as fowls of the heavens" (Keil and Delitzsch). "As they go." Whither? "The preceding verse answers the question: to Egypt and Asshur seeking help in their difficulties rather than to Jehovah. Israel, here spoken of as Ephraim, being sorely pressed by Asshur, at one time seeks help from Egypt against Asshur; whilst at another they try to secure the friendship of the latter. For what threatened Israel was the burden of 'the king of princes.' And that they tried to avert, partly by their coquettish arts (Hosea 8:9), and partly by appealing to the help of Egypt; and while so doing, they did not observe that they had fallen into the net of destruction by the power of Assyria. In this net will the Lord entangle them as a punishment. As they go thither God will spread his net over them like a bird-catcher, and bring them down to the earth like flying birds; i.e. bring them from the open air, that is to say, from freedom—unto the net of captivity or exile." Here the work of retribution is spoken of as the work of the fowler, and it includes two things—entrapment and abasement.
I. ENTRAPMENT. The spreading of the net refers to the taking of the birds that lay on the ground. The literal reference here is to 2 Kings 17:4. Here the retributive providence of God employed the Assyrians as a net, but so ensnared the Israelites that they could not escape. Eliphaz observed this ensnaring work of Providence: "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." So did David, who says, "He made a pit and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate." How often in the history of the world is this retributive entrapment witnessed I The cases of Joseph's brethren and the crucifixion of Christ are striking examples in sacred history. Popery confined Luther in the Wartburg Castle, but there he translated that Bible which shattered the whole system. Anglican bigots confined Bunyan in Bedford Jail; there he produced a book that has given him immortal fame. The net that entangled sinners is not manufactured in heaven; it is made on earth, made by themselves. Righteous Providence allows them to be so ensnared by it as to render that enthrallment painful and lasting. Take care of the net.
II. ABASEMENT. "I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven." However high up they may tower in their ambitious work, retribution has missiles to bring them down. "Thine eyes are upon the haughty, that thou mayest bring them down." There are men on earth who in their worldly prosperity, pride, and ambition soar like the eagles high up in heaven above all the rest. It is said that an ancient philosopher, when once asked what Jupiter did in the highest heaven, replied, "He pulls down the haughty, and exalts the humble." Hear these words: "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord."
CONCLUSION. Ponder well thy condition, sinner. Not only is the eye of retributive justice upon thee wherever thou art and whatever thou dost, but it has all the machinery for thy ruin. Art thou down groveling in the earth, working out thy sordid soul? it has nets that will ensnare thee there! Or art thou high up in the heavens of worldly prosperity and haughty ambition, proudly exulting in thy superiority? it has shots that will reach thee and bring thee down to the dust. Thy only safety is the cross.—D.T.
Divine dispensations abused.
"Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me.' This text has received different translations. "And I have instructed them and strengthened their arms, and yet they think evil against me" (Delitzsch). "Whether I chastised or strengthened their arms, yet they thought evil against me" (Elzas). I accept the latter translation; then the idea is, that God's treatment of man, whatever its character, afflictive or otherwise, is abused. Observe—
I. THAT GOD'S DISPENSATIONS WITH MEN ARE CHARACTERIZED BY VARIETY. "I have bound and strengthened," or, "I have chastised and strengthened." The events of human life are of a mixed and conflicting character. There is affliction and health, prosperity and adversity, friendship and bereavement, sorrow and joy, wounding and healing. All these conflicting events are under the direction of the great Father, whose aim in all is to make his children "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." As the soil to be fruitful requires the frosts of winter as well as the sunbeams of spring and summer, man requires trials as well as joys to make his spirit fruitful in good works. As the loving father has the good of his child at heart whether he chastens him with a rod or presses him to his bosom, so has the Almighty Father in all his dispensations with men, whether the painful or the pleasant. "All these things worketh God oftentimes in man, that he may bring him back from the pit and enlighten him with the light of the living."
II. THAT WHATEVER THE CHARACTER OF THE DIVINE DISPENSATIONS, THEY ARE OFTEN PERVERTED. "They imagine mischief against me." It matters not what the treatment, they continue to rebel. They are like the sterile ground to which all seasons, all weathers, are alike. Observe:
1. The force of the human will. It can oppose the influences of God, and turn what he designs for good to in. Man is no passive being. He is not to be acted upon as a machine, not to be coerced either by anathemas or benedictions. He is a voluntary agent. This links him to moral government, makes him responsible for his actions, and invests his existence with a momentous solemnity.
2. The depravity of the human heart. This force of will explains, not man's rebellion, for regenerate souls and holy angels have it, and they run in the way of the Divine commandments. The reason of the rebellion is the depravity of the human heart, which is desperately wicked.
CONCLUSION. Open your hearts to the various dispensations of Heaven. Be thankful for their variety. One is designed to touch a chord within thee that another cannot reach. The one may strike conviction of sin, another may tune thy heart to gratitude and hope.
"God, full as kind as he is wise,
So tempereth all the favors he will do us,
That we his bounties may the better prize,
And make his chastisement less bitter to us.
One while a scorching indignation burns
The flowers and blossoms of our hope away,
Which into scarcity our plenty turns,
And changeth new-mown grass to parched hay;
Anon his fruitful showers and pleasing dews,
Commixed with cheerful rays, he sendeth down,
And then the barren earth her crops renews,
Which with rich harvests hills and valleys crown.
For, as to relish joys he sorrow sends,
So comfort or temptation still attends."
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Hosea 7:1, Hosea 7:2
Jehovah was Israel's Healer (Exodus 15:26). His constantly cherished desire was to do them good. He had labored for this end by his prophets, by chastisements, and 1,y exhibitions of kindness. All had been in vain. The people would not permit the Lord to be their Healer. If sin was checked for a little, it was only to break out again in worse forms than before. The more he sought to heal them, only the more clearly was their iniquity discovered. We note here concerning Ephraim's wickedness—
I. ITS INVETERATE MALIGNANCY. "When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria" (Hosea 7:1). The evil of sin is revealed in the very attempt to cure it.
1. The cure of sin makes necessary the laying bare of its evil. The wound must be probed before remedial measures can be adopted. It is when he begins to probe it that the physician discovers its dangerous character. So, when God would heal us, he begins by discovering to us the truth about our spiritual state. He calls sin by its right name. He tells us of our depravity, our corruption, and brings into light the transgressions we had covered up. This was the work of the prophets of Israel. It is the work of the Law, and of God's Word generally. Till we are thoroughly convinced of sin, recovery is hopeless. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
2. The evil of sin is discovered in its resistance to cure. An ordinary disease yields to remedies. Where these are employed and no improvement is manifest, we pronounce the case a serious one. Its resistance to treatment evinces its malignity. It is thus that Ephraim's sin was discovered by God's attempts to heal him. Every means of remedy had been tried, but without success (Hosea 6:4). Wickedness seemed at a greater height than ever. Sin is no skin-deep disorder. The difficulty of its cure is sufficient proof of the inveteracy of its hold. So depraved is the heart, that nothing will remedy it but complete renewal. We have evidence every day of the determined resistance which sin is capable of offering to God. We see it in others, and we know it in experience.
3. The attempt to cure sin often results in aggravated manifestations of it. The. sinful heart is roused to antagonism. Its latent enmity to God comes more fully out. It rages in its opposition to his servants. When the commandment comes, sin revives (Romans 7:9). Temporary amendment is followed by greater outbursts of wickedness (Hosea 6:8-28.6.10; Luke 11:24-42.11.26).
II. ITS BALEFUL MANIFESTATIONS. "For they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without" (Hosea 7:1). We have here:
1. Falsehood. Israel was guilty of falsehood
(1) towards God, in breaking his covenant, in proving faithless to their vows of amendment, and in "speaking lies" concerning him (Hosea 7:13);
(2) towards their allies, in disregarding treaty engagements; and
(3) towards one another. Deceit had become part of their nature. When falsehood becomes a habit, moral recovery is scarcely possible. The ingrained liar is an almost hopeless subject for conversion.
2. Robbery. Justice is itself a species of truth, and with the loss of the sense of truth there is undergone a corresponding loss of the sense of justice. Each regards his neighbor as his lawful prey. He robs him if he can. Thefts, heartless frauds, organized robberies, are of frequent occurrence.
3. Violence. From robbery to violence the transition is not great. When men cease to live by honest labor, they do not stick at trifles. If a slack state of the law permits, crimes will abound. Where, as was the case in Israel, the throne is built on murder, it need not surprise us that lawlessness spreads in the community.
III. ITS PITIFUL DELUSION. (Hosea 7:2) "They consider not in their hearts," etc. The point here is the obliviousness of the wicked to God's knowledge of their doings. They extrude God from their thoughts. "They say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?" (Psalms 73:11). On this notice:
1. The wicked have, in secret, more knowledge of God than they pretend. Israel, with a prophet like Hosea in its midst, could not be entirely ignorant of God. It showed that it had some knowledge of him, by its cries to him in trouble, and by brief periods of amendment. This extrusion of him from the thoughts was, therefore, voluntary. It was Israel's will not to know God. Thus there lurks in the sinner's consciousness a spark of knowledge which renders him inexcusable for his habitual forgetfulness, He may banish God from his thoughts, and try to persuade himself that God does not remember his wickedness. But if he does so, it is because he prefers to live in a delusion which at bottom he knows to be such.
2. The wicked, as a rule, do succeed in expelling God from their thoughts. They get their own way. They soon perfect themselves in the art of forgetting their Creator. Like the ostrich, which is fabled to hide its head in the sand as a protection from the hunters, they think that when they have succeeded in putting God out of their remembrance they have somehow got rid of him.
3. The delusion in which the wicked encourage themselves does not in the least alter the real state of the case. Sinners may shut out the thought of God's knowledge of their doings, but none the less is God cognizant of everything they are about. "Their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face." This is the folly of sin; it cannot by its forgetfulness and denials alter the actual state of the facts. The sinner's deeds are his own. He remains answerable for every one of them. With all his doings about him, he stands daily, hourly, constantly, in fall view of the eye of God (Psalms 139:1-19.139.24). He will be called to an account.—J.O.
The oven and the baker.
High and low united in the wickedness which has been described, and is to be described. The example of the king and court gave the key-note to the subjects, and they in turn pleased the king and his princes by a hearty imitation of their vices. "They made the king glad with their wickedness"—themselves living lives of debauchery and ungodliness; "and the princes with their lies"—offering them flattery, and siding with them in ridicule of the prophet's teachings A new image is here employed to set forth the enormity of the wickedness which prevailed—that, viz; of the heated oven and the baker. The elements of the figure may be thus analyzed. The oven is the heart; the fire, unholy lust, appetite, or passion; the dough, the evil intent or plan. This is prepared beforehand, while the fire smolders beneath; when it is matured for execution, the fire—lust or passion—is stirred up to a flame, and the act of wickedness is consummated. The general thought is the systematic character of the sin, its deliberateness in being previously conceived, planned, prepared for—the soul, thereafter, being held as it were in readiness for its execution. Three illustrations, though the figure applies strictly only to the first and last.
I. THE HEAT OF LUST. (Hosea 7:4) "They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker," etc. Their debaucheries, i.e; were not the fruit of mere impulse. They were gone into as the result of forethought and preparation. Libidinous thoughts were encouraged. New gratifications were planned; the matter was reflected on and matured; the act of indulgence was anticipated in imagination. Time was thus given for the lustful desire to permeate the whole nature, when, like dough fully leavened, the evil intent was ready to be converted into deed. Lust, to use the figure of James, conceives, and brings forth sin (James 1:15). Learn:
1. The importance of guarding against the inception of lust. It is in its beginnings that lust is most dangerous. The wrong thought, the lustful look, the dallying with desire,—it is there the evil lurks. From this there is but a step to evil intent. The fire burns, the dough is prepared; it will be a wonder if actual sin is not some day the outcome.
2. The importance of regulating thought as a means to the control of the passions. Thought can be so directed as to feed and inflame passion; it can also be so ruled as to check and control it. The wicked use this power of thought for a bad purpose; nor less earnestly should we attempt to use it for a holy one. It is only through care of the thoughts, and through strict control exercised over them, that inward and outward purity can be preserved.
II. THE HEAT OF WINE. (Verse 5) "In the day of our king the princes have made him sick [or, 'are sick '] with heat of wine," etc. Royal feast days were days of recognized and premeditated debauch. Wine maddens and inflames the nature.
1. Drunkenness stands in close relation to lust, with which it is here brought into connection. It is lust's most powerful auxiliary. "Whoredom and wine" (Hosea 4:11). Sensuality, in turn, predisposes to excess in drinking. It loosens restraint. It destroys self-control. It inclines to animal indulgence generally.
2. Drunkenness is degrading in its own effects.
(1) Degrading to the body—"made sick." It sickens and bestializes. It injures health. It bloats and disfigures the countenance. A more degrading spectacle can hardly be conceived than a helplessly intoxicated man.
(2) Degrading to the soul. It takes from it its self-respect. It begets a heartless, scoffing, irreverent disposition, and leads to association with those who are of this character. The King of Israel is here represented as striking up fellowship with "scorners "—mockers at Divine things.
3. Drunkenness prepares the way for strife and plotting. The drunkenness is the nexus between the adulteries and the conspiracies. Pot-companions are rarely stable friends. They do not really trust each other. Carousals lead to quarrelling. The strong and unscrupulous see with contempt the weaknesses of the rulers, and plot against them.
III. THE HEAT OF ANGER, (Verses 6, 7) "They have made ready their heart like an oven, while they lie in wait," etc. We have here the result of the carousals and the scorning in plots and conspiracies. These are:
1. Secretly prepared; like the oven got ready beforehand, the dough also being kneaded and leavened.
2. Silently waited upon. It takes time for a plot to mature, as it takes time for the leaven to permeate the dough. A good example is furnished in the case of Absalom, who first, by fair speeches and complaisances, stole the hearts of the people of Israel; then, after the leaven had had time to work, got leave of absence, and, with two hundred men accompanying, had himself proclaimed king (2 Samuel 15:1-10.15.14).
3. Hotly executed. There is no mercy in the fierceness which at length breaks out in bloody deeds. The pent-up heat burns like an oven. The anger of the wicked is ruthless, cruel, unsparing. It had proved to be so in Israel's history. Dynasty after dynasty had been swept away by assassination. Pekah, probably the then reigning king, was himself afterwards murdered by Hoshea. Yet Israel refused to take the lesson. "There is none of them that calleth upon me" (verse 7).—J.O.
Mixing with the ungodly.
"Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people "—had adopted heathenish ways, had sot at naught the command of God requiring separation from the ungodly, had intimately associated himself with the idolatrous nations around. The mixing, as Keil well points out, was an inward one before it became an outward one. There is first a mixing in the heart with the spirit of the world, then comes outward worldly conformity. It is this which Christians have constantly to guard against (Romans 12:2). Their calling is to be separate (2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.18). They need to remember that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4) and that "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). Mixing with the world—the sin of the Church today, as it was the sin of Israel of old—has its effects.
I. SPIRITUAL INCONSISTENCY. "Ephraim is a cake not turned"—overdone on the one side, underdone on the other; not of a piece throughout; one side "scorched and black, the other steamed, damp, and lukewarm; the whole worthless, spoiled irremediably, but only to be cast away" (Pusey). The unturned cake is an emblem:
1. Of partial conversion. We have this where the Divine life has not penetrated the nature, but affects only parts and sides of it. The conscience is sensitive on some points, but not on others. Favorite duties are attended to, while others not less important are neglected. The conduct in some things shows the power of religion, in others it appears untouched by its influence. There is a want of pervasion, of through-and-throughness in the character. An illustration is afforded in what Stanley says of Saul: "He became ' another man,' yet not entirely. He was, as is so often the case, half converted, half roused. His mind moved unequally and disproportionately in its new sphere. Backwards and forwards in the names of his children we see alternately the signs of the old heathenish superstition, and of the new purified religion of Jehovah.… His religion was never blended with his moral nature. It broke out in wild ungovernable acts of zeal and superstition, and then left him more a prey than ever to his own savage disposition."
2. Of zeal for the forms of religion combined with denial of its power. Pharisaism was an instance of this. We have other examples in Judah and Israel. The people of the two kingdoms seem never to have failed in their zeal for the outward services of religion. They kept up sacrifices and offerings (Hosea 6:6); observed the feast days (Hosea 2:11; Isaiah 1:11-23.1.14; Amos 5:21, Amos 5:22); were unusually attentive to these forms when trouble seemed impending. With all this they were iniquitous in heart and life. They neglected the weightier matters of the Law—judgment, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). With excess of zeal for the forms, there was no zeal at all for the reality. For this, God likens them to an unturned cake.
3. Generally, of religious profession, with inconsistency of conduct. Religion is intended to pervade the life. It should be as manifest on week-days as on Sundays; in the ordinary business of life as in the devotions of the sanctuary. Yet how many fail in thus carrying out the life of the gospel! What grievous inconsistencies are seen in their conduct I They maintain their profession, yet "mix with the people," and fall in freely with the world's ungodly ways. Surely this is to be "a cake not turned."
II. SPIRITUAL DECAY. "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, grey hairs," etc. Ephraim had already suffered much from the people among whom he had chosen to mix himself. But even he was not aware of the amount of harm they had done him. He did not perceive how this intercourse with the heathen had sapped the moral strength of the nation; had deteriorated its politics; had beguiled it into a false dependence on foreign helpers; had given a mighty impetus to every disintegrating force already at work in the kingdom. The grey hairs—significant of decay—were thickly strewn upon him, but he perceived it not. Deterioration inevitably results from the mixing of Christians with the world.
1. Worldly conformity leads to a decay of inward religious earnestness. The diversion of thought and affection from spiritual things to the objects about which alone the world cares necessarily brings about this result. The temperature of the spiritual life fails in conformity with its environment. Interest in religion gives place to interest in the things which are the constant subjects of thought, talk, and concern in the circles in which we move. It is, besides, soon found that participation in the world's pleasures and follies is incompatible with serious attention to the things of the soul, and the latter, accordingly, is soon abandoned.
2. Inward spiritual decay reveals itself by various outward tokens. As grey hairs upon the head reveal the gradual approach of age. Among the indications of decay of piety we may notice neglect of prayer, and of the reading of God's Word; aversion to religious conversation; the preference of the society of the worldly to the society of God's people; neglect of the sanctuary; a light, depreciating way in speaking of religious earnestness, etc.
3. The progress of spiritual decay is often not noticed by the sinner himself. It comes on gradually. There is an unwillingness to look closely into the spiritual state. The power of spiritual perception gets lost.
III. SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS. Ephraim did not know, and would not be warned. Darkness had blinded his eyes. "The pride of Israel" testified to his face, but Ephraim understood neither
(1) the plain speaking of the prophets;
(2) the signs of internal decay;
(3) the voice of external judgments.
"For all this" he would not return to God. Sin is blindness, fatuity, folly. The worldly conformist speedily becomes blinded. The god of this world blinds him, and he is willing to be blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4). He "cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (2 Peter 1:9). "He knoweth nothing," says Pusey.
(1) "He knoweth not the tokens of decay in himself, but hides them from himself;
(2) he knoweth not God, who is the Author of them;
(3) he knoweth not the cause of them, his sins;
(4) he knoweth not the end and object of them, his conversion;
(5) he knoweth not what, since he knoweth not any of these things, will be the issue of them, his destruction."—J.O.
Ephraim's flight from God.
Every sinner may read a warning in the words here addressed to Ephraim.
I. FLEEING FROM GOD. (Hosea 7:11, Hosea 7:12) The wicked "say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways" (Job 21:14). They themselves try, though vainly, to escape from God. They would fain put a great distance between him and them (Jonah; the prodigal).
1. Fleeing from God is sin. It is an attempt on the part of the creature to establish an independence which the Creator does not allow. Even the attempt at such flight God must check and punish.
2. Fleeing from God is folly. It is foolish
(1) because it is an attempt at the impossible; and
(2) because, if the wicked could succeed in the attempt, it would still be to their own hurt. Abandoning God, the soul is doomed to the pursuit of vanity. It cannot rest in itself, for it is not self-centered; but neither can it rest in the creature, for the creature is constantly proving itself a false support. Besides, life without God has no longer a proper aim. The soul is thus smitten with restlessness; its movements become vague, methodless, erratic. "They call to Egypt; they go to Assyria." It flits from one object to another, and finds repose in none. Existence is a succession of new trials, and a series of new disappointments.
3. Fleeing from God is destruction. God declares that when the sinner flees, he will pursue (Hosea 7:12). No matter how lofty their soarings, he will spread his net for them, and bring them down. He has forewarned them of this, and they will find it true, Jonah found, when he tried to escape, that God's net was spread for him. Every sinner will find the same. The net which God spreads for the haughty, would-be independent ones is that of his punitive justice. Their pride will end, as all evil ends, in destruction.
II. FALSE DEALING WITH GOD. (Verses 13-16) A main part of the charge against Ephraim is falsehood (verses 1, 3). The falsehood is primarily falsehood towards God. We have here three phases of it.
1. Insincerity in repentance. "They have not cried with their heart, when they howled upon their beds, etc. (verse 14). The insincerity of their repentance was evinced:
(1) By the very noise they made about it "they howled," etc.
(2) By their unabridged indulgence in sin: "They assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me." They insulted God by lying protestations of a desire to return to him, while openly dishonoring him by their wickedness. It is not loud outcries, but changed actions, which show the reality of repentance (Matthew 3:8).
2. Speaking lies against God.
(1) God had attested his willingness to redeem, but they alleged that he would not do so. "I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me" (verse 13). It was easier to profess doubt of God's Word than to fulfill the moral conditions necessary for the securing of the blessing.
(2) God had shown himself their true Helper—" I instructed and strengthened their arms"—yet they plotted alliances with heathen powers, disowning his past goodness. "They imagine mischief against me" (verse 15). Thus, doubly, they made God a liar. But their whole life and worship was a denial of his Word. They gainsaid the Word sent them by the prophets, denied his anger at their sins, changed his truth into a lie in the worship of the calves, etc.
3. Faithlessness in promises. Even when, for a brief moment, they seemed wishful of amendment, their goodness did not last (Hosea 6:4). Their promises were broken. They did not keep faith with God. They were as "a deceitful bow" (verse 16). The deceitful bow:
(1) Holds out a promise. The person who shoots thinks he can depend upon it. It seems a bow that will serve his ends.
(2) Suggests an aim. The use of a bow is to drive the arrow to the point aimed at. God had an aim in the calling of Israel. It was his desire to reach that aim through the obedience of the nation. He has an aim in our own creation, calling, and moral discipline.
(3) Proves treacherous on trial. It either does not shoot at all, or sends the arrow but a little way, or turns it off in a different direction from that which the shooter intended. In any case, it proves not to be depended on. Confidence cannot be placed in it. It deceives and disappoints. Israel had thus repeatedly disappointed the expectations raised by repentances and vows.
III. A LAUGHING-STOCK TO MEN. (Verse 16) "This shall be their derision in the, land of Egypt." Their princes had used boastful language—"the rage of their tongue." Once their pretensions were exposed, they would become a mockery to those for the sake of whose friendship and help they had deserted God.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hosea 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent