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The rest of the prophecy consists of the indignant appeals of the Holy Spirit to conscience because of the increasing evils of Israel not so much the judgment of God on a grand scale, and His grace at the end, but His people caused to see themselves over and over again, and in every class, in presence of His patient but righteous ways with them. I do not mean that we shall not find here, especially at the end, what Jehovah will do in His goodness, but it consists much more of presentation sketches of Israel in a moral point of view. His dealings and denunciations compare the actual state then with the past, but the Spirit of prophecy launches into the future also. This, in fact, will be found in the rest of the prophecy, which closes with not a call only to repentance, but Jehovah's final assurance to Israel of His mercy, love, and rich blessing. Thus the two divisions end alike with Israel blessed inwardly and outwardly on earth to the praise of Jehovah their God, wound up with a moral appeal and a warning at the conclusion of all (Hosea 14:9).
In this second or remaining part the opening chapter (Hosea 4:1-19) begins to set out the ground of complaint against the sons of Israel. They are called to hear Jehovah; for He "hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land." It is well to note this. In the hypocrite or the theorist there may be a certain knowledge without good fruit; but, in those who are simple and real, knowledge of God cannot be separated from holy and righteous ways, as practical evil goes with ignorance of God. As the first verse puts their state negatively, in the second we have the positive wickedness charged home with amazing energy: "Swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, burst out, and blood [lit. bloods] toucheth on blood." There was to the prophet nothing else. Profanity against God, corruption and violence among men, filled the scene; and this in the land where Jehovah's eyes rested continually, whence He had destroyed the former inhabitants because of their iniquities. "Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away." God marked His sense of all by desolation in the lower creation, down to those which might seem farthest from the control or influence of man. Such was the havoc and misery under God's hand through Israel's sin. "Yet let not man strive, and let not man reprove; for thy people [are] as they that strive with the priest." It was vain for man to speak now: God must take in hand a people who were like such as rejected him who spoke and judged in His name. Therefore was their destruction imminent, and would it be unceasing, "thou" and "the prophet" and "thy mother" all, root and branch. "Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother."
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I also will reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: because thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I too will forget thy children" (ver. 6). The true meaning seems to be Israel's loss of their relative nearness to God as His people (Exodus 19:1-25), not to such sons of Aaron as might pander to irregularities in worship or connive at sin. Not individuals but "my people" are in question; as those who bring priests into the verse seem to see in the following clause. We shall hear of priests presently. Here it is the people. "As they increased, so they sinned against me: I will change their glory into shame. They eat up the-sin [perhaps sin-offering] of my people, and long after [lift up their soul to] their iniquity. Therefore it shall be, like people, like priest; I will visit upon him his ways, and make his doings to return to him." Here imperceptibly we come from the people to the priest, who are singularly identified, as in wickedness so in punishment, in the latter clauses of verse 9 not "them" but "him." They were alike evil. No class was exempt from pollution: people and priests were indiscriminately corrupt. From their position the priests might be more guilty than the people; but they were all morally at one. But God would not fail in judgment.
"For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit lewdness, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to Jehovah. My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of lewdness hath caused them to err, and they have gone lewdly from under their God." Thus moral laxity and indulgence play into the hands of idolatry, as Satan takes advantage of the passions to hold men in his religious toils. Hence we see how well the expression for uncleanness morally suits the heart's going after false gods. "They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains, and offer incense on the hills, under the oak and the poplar and the terebinth, because their shade is good: therefore your daughters commit lewdness, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they commit lewdness, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery; for they themselves go aside with harlots, and sacrifice with prostitutes" (literally, consecrated to this demoralising false worship, which made their debasement a religious duty and a gain): "therefore the people not understanding shall be cast headlong."
Whatever their faults and ways against each other, deepest of all was their sin against Jehovah their God. And this furnishes the opportunity and necessity for the warning that they must lose their priestly character as a nation; that is, their distinctive nearness in relation to God. Further, let their ruin be a call to Judah to beware. This brings us face to face into the actual state of Israel when Hosea was on the earth. "Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-aven." The allusion is to the notorious idolatry of Israel and its chief seats, where God had once given the nation to judge their own evil, or near the spot where their father, prince with God, received promises of grace from Himself. It was now, however, not Bethel (house of God) but the neighbouring pollution, Beth-aven (house of vanity). "Nor swear, Jehovah liveth," thus adding insult against Jehovah to the injury done towards His truth; for idolatry is in no way mitigated, but the less excusable in him who even outwardly owns His name. This very recognition, and the attempt to mingle Jehovah with what was contrary to Jehovah, form the gravamen of their guilt, and its exact measure and worst aggravation at that epoch in the sight of God. The same principle applies now. To accredit with faith an offender is no ground whatever to count his sin less but rather more heinous. For there cannot be a more immoral or destructive principle than to allege the fact or hope of one's Christianity as a reason for slurring over his sin: on the contrary moral judgment and separation would be but due to the name of God, not to say in love to his soul whose deliverance and restoration we desire For we have to do with God's will and ways; according to which a man's faith and confession of the Lord's name should be the ground of discipline, never of tolerating his sin. But latitudinarian laxity characterises these days, and is, under the show of grace, real evil in God's sight.
Take notice of another solemn principle in verse 17 after warning Judah from the sad ruin of Israel: a desolate land of exile was before them. "Ephraim is joined to idols [lit. toils]: let him alone." God chastises as long as there is the smallest feeling; but when He ceases to deal with the guilty, all is over morally speaking. When to Ephraim or any other He gives such rest as this, it is because hope is abandoned, and the evil is allowed to run its course unchecked. "Their drink is turned; her rulers greatly love infamy:" that is, they give themselves to nothing else than that which is and brings inevitable shame. "The wind hath bound her up in its wings, and they shall be ashamed of their sacrifice." They refused to learn of God in peace and righteousness, and must be given up to the winds, dispersed afar off by their enemies, and there be humbled seeing they refused it in their own land.
There is a triple summons inHosea 5:1; Hosea 5:1. We begin with a distinct address to the priests, then a call to the people, and lastly to the house of the king. The last chapter was occupied with the people, and only by gradual transition came to the priests. But now the leaders are appealed to, religious and civil.
There is a notion that Hosea is disorderly, some going so far as to say that there is no regular method in the book. One can understand men owning that they have failed to comprehend a prophet so concise and so rapid in his changes. But it is grievous to add that a bishop who was considered to possess learning ventured to pronounce it merely the leaves of the Sibyl; as if any inspired words could with reverence be compared to mythic oracles of no heavenly birth, written on leaves and dispersed by the wind. When will men learn modesty as to themselves as well as reverence when they have to do with the word of God? If they cannot explain a passage or a book, why not confess their ignorance or hold their peace? For a man professing to be a chief shepherd of Christ to dare thus to speak of writings beyond his own measure evinces certainly anything but the lowly faithfulness which becomes a steward of God. Such, however, is the spirit of man increasingly in this age. To my conviction, though with abundant ground for feeling my own shortcomings, the prophecy is beyond doubt knit together so as to indicate a systematic chain, profoundly dealing with the whole people, and pointing the moral for Judah from apostate and callous Ephraim.
Idolatrous evil, with every other in its train, had perverted all grades and men in Israel up to the priests and the king's household the one controlling religious matters, the other acting as the fountain of authority here below. Where now was the saint of Jehovah, or the witness of the true David that was coming? Reckless impiety and self-indulgence reigned. There was wickedness everywhere. The judgment was now towards those who should have judged righteously. Alas! they were a snare on Mizpah and a net spread on Tabor. East or west of the Jordan made no difference; and the scenes of former mercies which ought never to have been forgotten were remembered but to give effect to actual enticements of idolatry. And the revolters made the slaughter deep, though Jehovah had been a rebuke to them all. Little as the guilty people thought it in their headlong self-willed madness, He well knew Ephraim, and Israel was not hidden from Him: defiling corruption wrought everywhere. Their doings would not permit them to return to their God; for the spirit of lewdness was in their bosom, and they had not known Jehovah. Therefore should the pride of Israel be humbled before His face; and Israel and Ephraim should stumble in their iniquity, Judah too falling with them (verses 1-5).
"They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek Jehovah; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them. They have dealt treacherously against Jehovah: for they have begotten strange children: now shall a month devour them with their portions." No offerings in such a state would avail: God stood aloof. Their treachery against Him was extreme; and the evil was perpetuated: but now, says the prophet in warning of speedy and sweeping judgments, shall one month devour them together with their portions [possessions]. Hence, says the prophet (verses 8, 9): "Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud at Beth-aven after thee, O Benjamin. Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke: among the tribes of Israel have I made known that which shall surely be."
Alas! Judah, instead of repenting, sought their own profit; and divine wrath must be poured on them. Ephraim, disobedient to God, was subservient enough to him who made Israel sin against God, who thereon is like a moth to him, and to Judah like rottenness. Chastening did not lead them to God, but to the Assyrian: could he heal or cure? It was bad enough to be treacherous to God; but it was worse that they must expose their impiety and unbelief by having recourse to the stranger. It is a distress when the children of God behave ill among themselves, but it is an awful thing when there is no shame in seeking the resources of the world that hates them. With Israel this was the case. They exposed themselves; they exposed God, so to speak, in His own people, the only link, we may say, with God on the earth. "When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to king Jareb:* yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound." In fact it was God who was inflicting it: no wonder it was incurable. "For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah." Thus, we see, they are both now joined, as in sin so in punishment, first slow decay, and then fierce violence. Judah would take no warning from the sin of Ephraim or from his judgment now at hand. Hence says Jehovah, "I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early."
*There seems no good reason to regard ja'-reb as a proper name, but rather as an ordinary appellation, meaning the king "that should contend," "plead," or "avenge" the hostile king: so many ancients and moderns. It was the Assyrian.
This draws out a remarkable appeal from the agonized prophet (Hosea 6:1): "Come, and let us return unto Jehovah; for he hath torn, and he will heal us." Is there any disorder here? What more proper? We have had the proof of the guilt of them all; not only the solemn warning of the Lord, but the distinct statement that He was going away from them to leave them to themselves not absolutely as if He had done with them, though they had done with Him for the time; for He says, "In their affliction they will seek me early." There He gives them up. But this draws out the prophet. If such was the divine character, if God felt so keenly their adultery and spiritual treachery towards Himself, it nevertheless showed that His heart was towards them. "Come, and let us return." Why wait? Why go to the end of wickedness? "Come, and let us return unto Jehovah: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up," and with how much delight! It was God's hand that had brought them low, but He was able to heal. "After two days" a sufficient witness, it would seem "After two days he will revive us: in the third day" the witness was now complete; for "in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established" "in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight." He first gives enough proof of what we are; then He will prove what He is in raising His people up nationally as from the dead.
Can it be doubted that the passage does in an indirect and hidden but real way refer to the resurrection of Christ? He became the true Israel. Consequently, just as He went down in grace and perfectness into the depths where they had fallen justly for their sins, under the persecuting power of the Gentiles, and was called out of Egypt, as they had been of old (a scripture which is given later in Hosea and applied by the Spirit of God in Matthew 2:1-23), so I do not doubt here similarly we have the resurrection of the Lord in mysterious view. Nevertheless its plain and immediate bearing is rather on Israel than on the Messiah. To Him it only refers, inasmuch as the Holy Ghost cannot but bring Him everywhere in the Bible. No matter what He may treat of if it be only loops or taches, badgers' or rams' skins, pillars, curtains, or anything else, revelation must always turn on Christ. His name lies at the bottom and is the top-stone of all. So it is here. Whatever the Spirit may hold out to Israel, Christ is the One fixed and guiding star to which we are directed by the Spirit of God. The chosen people may wax, wane, or disappear; but He abides, occasionally behind clouds the Sun that never sets. The Spirit is come to glorify Christ; He is now sent down, takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us. Even in the Old Testament, when coverings and a vail hung over all that was within, His words might be given, as remarked, in a kindred style: still Christ was ever underneath the veil.
Next we have from verse 4 Jehovah's grief, to which Hosea gives expression: "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and their judgments are as the light that goeth forth. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant; there have they dealt treacherously against me." It is the language of Jehovah, as the earlier verses were the prophet's exhortation. Thence he slides so to speak, into the language of Him who gave him his office. A prophet was really the voice of Jehovah, and therefore beginning as a prophet he rises up to that which becomes Jehovah Himself. The hewing of the people by the prophets expresses vividly the moral dealings of God which gave the wicked no quarter. "I have slain them by the words of my mouth," he adds, to make still plainer what kind of slaying it was. "And thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth."
But of mercy He speaks. "For I desired mercy:" this is what He loves, and to this end, that He may be morally vindicated in displaying it. "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like" not ''men'' but Adam is right. "Men" hardly gives the full force; in fact it is a force contrary to the truth, because men as such were not under the law nor under His covenant, and Adam did not hold such a place. As the head of the race, his position was well defined and peculiar. Adam had a relationship with God; but the fall broke up the state of innocence, and God "drove out the man," instead of keeping him in the earthly garden of His delights. The position of man since is that of an outcast from paradise. But Israel were called externally to a place of favour, separate to Jehovah from all the rest of mankind. There was a new trial of man, though of man fallen. Indeed this forms the proper scene of man's probation: either when in Eden, and there Adam comes before us; or out of Eden, and in due time the Jew manifests his course and issue. The interval between Adam and Israel, though not without divine testimonies and dealings in grace of the deepest interest individually, not to speak of the judgment of the world by the flood, was not one of recognised relationship with man as such, because, being driven out from the presence of God, he had as yet no formal position with God, save the responsibility of avenging His injured image. (Genesis 9:5-6.)
Consequently, although in the intervening time there were most instructive lessons, and of the greatest importance for us to heed, nevertheless Israel have a peculiar place, as under probation, that was found in no way between the two. Hence there need not be the slightest doubt that, although the word is capable of meaning "men" as well as "Adam," the context proves the true meaning to be what is given in the margin, not in the text: "But they [that is Israel], like Adam, have transgressed the covenant." Scripture never so speaks of man in general. Man is called a sinner. The Gentiles as such are not, I think, called transgressors. We hear of "sinners," never "transgressors, of the Gentiles." Men generally were not in a position to transgress; but they certainly were sinners and did nothing but sin. Transgression, dreadful as it is, supposes that those guilty of it have had a known revelation of God's revealed mind and will, and hence stand on a definite ground of relationship, the limits of which they have overpassed. Hence it is that "transgression" suits the state of man not when outcast, but when they break through the bounds that God has been pleased to set them. Certainly Adam was under a law, which he broke; he thus became a transgressor. Israel were under the law, which they broke likewise, and thus became transgressors. But the people between Adam and Moses, although they were sinners just as much as either, were not transgressors as both were.
This appears to be the ground taken here. Therefore the passage does not, I am persuaded, mean men, but Adam. "But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant." The relation of Adam with God may be regarded as a covenant with God, though not the covenant. There was certainly a law given to Adam, but not the law. Israel had the law and the first or old covenant, in contrast with that new one of which Jeremiah speaks under the Messiah's reign of peace and glory. But Israel rebelled, or, as it is said here, "transgressed the covenant." "There have they dealt treacherously against me."
The region of Gilead, which was across the Jordan, is next specified. No city of the name is known: if none, the name is given by a bold figure to their corporate union in corruption and violence. "Gilead is a city of them that work iniquity, and is polluted with blood." Nor is this the worst: for the priests banded privily to waylay and destroy "And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of priests murder in the way by consent." Those that ought to have been a city of refuge and active intercessors for the needy were themselves the ringleaders in evil, and on every ground the most guilty of all. They "murder in the way of consent (or "toward Shechem"): for they commit deliberate crime." This was the heart-breaking sorrow. Had it been among the heathen, it were not so surprising. But "I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the whoredom of Ephraim, Israel is defiled." The chapter closes with the assurance of sovereign mercy on His part who must judge iniquity according to the holiness of His nature. "Also, O Judah, he hath set an harvest for thee, when I returned [or rather return] the captivity of my people." It is impossible fairly to apply this to the return from the captivity in Babylon; for it is striking to observe that the post-captivity prophets never speak of the Jews who returned as "my people," save in predictions of future blessedness under their Messiah reigning in glory and power over the earth. The return of the Jews by the decree of Cyrus was an unparalleled event, contrary to the policy of the East, and only to be accounted for by, the power which wrought in the conscience of Babylon's conqueror through the divine word, and (it may be) the personal weight of Daniel. Put those who returned were never called "my people." It awaits another and very different day when the Jews shall look on Him whom they pierced. Compare chapters 1, 2, 3. For that day awaits the real fulfilment ofPsalms 126:1; Psalms 126:1; Psalms 126:5, when the harvest of joy shall come after many and long sorrows.
Hosea 7:1-16, in a most solemn description, follows up the same proof and reproof of sin against them all; and shows that, spite of the patient mercy and touching appeals of God, they would only get worse and worse. The day of deliverance was as yet far off. God's intervention in goodness only manifested the people's sin "When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the evils of Samaria; for they practise falsehood (cf. John 3:1-36; John 3:1-36); and the thief cometh in, a troop of robbers plundereth without. And they say not to their hearts, I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings encompass them; they are before my face. They have made the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies."
What can be more graphic, though somewhat obscure from the singular compression of the style and rapid changes in figure, than the description which follows in verses 4-7, where the heart burns with the fire of passion, and indulgence and flattery furnish fuel? "They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened. In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine; he stretched out his hand with scorners. 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. They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me." Ephraim is shown to have been mixed up among the nations to the dishonour of Jehovah. There might have been some hope, if he had judged such a self-willed slight and confusion and had repented; but he is become "a cake not turned" (verse 8). Therefore, it is only a question of getting so burnt as to be good for nothing. "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, grey hairs are sprinkled about on him, and he knoweth it not" (verse 9). It was plain enough their heathen idols were proving their ruin. "And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face; but they turn not to Jehovah their God, nor seek him for all this." This is confirmed in verse 11 by the proof of their folly. The grey hairs beginning to show themselves here and there held out no promise of a crown of honour for his head far from it. They were but the sign of death working decrepitude, and of distance from God. Hence it is said: "Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria." That is, they look anywhere and everywhere rather than to God. Jehovah had dealt with them, no doubt, punishing them in His retributive righteousness.
Hence it is said, "As they go, I will spread my net upon them; I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven; I will chastise them, as their congregation hath heard. Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me. And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me. Though I have bound and strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against me. They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful bow: their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt." Egypt, to which they called in vain, not only fails them, as against Assyria, but mocks at their captivity and ruin. Such is the world against God's guilty people. Whatever favours God gave them, they turned against Him; whatever judgments He sent against them, they never cried to Him. How dreadful was their condition when justly given up to their folly and its punishment! "They have not cried unto me," He says, "from their heart." They cried out when punished, but they never cried to God with their heart when they howled from their beds. Judgment had no more moral effect upon them than mercy.
In Hosea 8:1-14 accordingly, Jehovah warns aloud of unsparing judgment. "Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of Jehovah." They are the same figures used by our Lord in Matthew 24:1-51, where the disciples are told of the loud sound of the trumpet and of the eagles gathering together at the end of this age. The trumpet is clearly the announcement of the purpose of God in any given case. Here it is the sound of imminent judgment, as in the Lord's later prophecies it assures of the time come to gather the scattered Jews, or rather Israel. The eagles are a figure of the instruments of divine vengeance surely and rapidly coming to their prey. I only refer to both now to illustrate the surprising unity of scripture, and show how the employment of figures from beginning to end is governed by the perfect wisdom of God. This is no inconsiderable help to interpretation; because if the prophets had only employed each his own peculiar phrases, it would have been incomparably more difficult to understand scripture. As it is, there is a definite language of symbol used right through the Bible; and when you have seized it in one place, it remains for use in another, and thus become a means of helping us through what would otherwise prove more difficult. But it is well to remember that in point of depth the New Testament exceeds the Old; and although many complain of difficulties in Hebrew, they are not of the same nature but are mainly owing to a difference of relationship.
"To me will they then cry, My God, we [Israel] know thee." It was but lip-confession. "Israel hath cast off good; the enemy shall pursue him. They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols that they may be cast off. Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them: how long will it be ere they attain to purity? For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces. For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up. Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure."
The prophet in spirit sees the people already captives, yet not extinguished, among the Gentiles, yet never coalescing as others, utterly despised as none ever were, yet surviving all cruelty and shame to this day. "For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers. Yea, because they hire among the nations, now will I gather them, and in a little they shall sorrow for the burden of the king of princes." This was one great offence with God, whom they forsook and forget: else surely He had appeared for their deliverance as He did for Judah. They sought the shelter of Assyria, and there should they be carried in shame. "Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin, many altars shall be unto him to sin." This was their other great transgression, the parent of fruitful evil and sorrow. "I have written to him the great things of my law: they were counted as a strange thing. They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of mine offerings, and eat it: Jehovah accepteth them not; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins: they shall return to Egypt. For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities; but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof." There might be thus a difference in degree of departure. Israel had abandoned the true God, Judah trusted her fortified cities; but judgment would prove that God is not indifferent in either case to His own dishonour. The denunciation here is too plain to call for explanation.
Hosea 9:1-17 sets out the joyless doom of Israel for their lewd departure from their God; for they had taken their corn as a harlot's hire from their false gods: all such outward mercies should fail, and they should not dwell in the land of Jehovah, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and in Assyria they should eat of unclean things some fleeing voluntarily to the former, the mass captives in the latter. They should not pour out wine to Jehovah, nor should they be pleasing to Him their sacrifices unto them as the bread of mourners; all that eat thereof should be unclean; for their bread should be for themselves none should come into the house of Jehovah (verses 1-4). "What will ye do on the day of assembly on the day of Jehovah's feast?" They should be not only incapable of keeping holiday after the manner prescribed, but alas! without the heart and conscience exercised, seeing man's power, not their own sin nor God's judgment. "For, lo, they are gone because of destruction." To avoid the Assyrian they escaped to the south; but "Egypt shall gather them, Memphis shall bury them [not the land of their fathers]; as for their desired silver, nettles shall inherit it thorns in their tents." Impatience had long stupefied them. They should awake to suffering if not repentance. "The days of visitation are come, the days of retribution are come; Israel shall know it [not yet themselves, nor Jehovah]. The prophet is foolish, the man of the spirit frantic, for the greatness of thy punishment and the great hatred." Such had been Israel's taunt against the true prophet; and such was meted again to the false. Of these deceivers it was true. "Ephraim [was a] watchman with my God; the prophet is a fowler's snare on all his ways hatred in the house of his God. They have gone deep, they are corrupted, as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins" (ver. 5-9).
As the Spirit compares their state as a whole to that frightful epoch when one tribe all but perished for its obstinate espousal of an evil most offensive to Israel, so now He dwells on Jehovah's love for the people and their sad return. "I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first-ripe in the fig-tree at her first time: but they went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved. As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away as a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left; yea, woe also to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer. Give them, O Jehovah: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. All their wickedness is in Gilgal: for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters. Ephraim is smitten' their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations."
Thus not only should a blight fall on their national prosperity, and their glory in their children perish, but woe to themselves forsaken of Jehovah! Murder and barrenness should befall Ephraim, who dared to make Gilgal itself the sink of their wickedness: for their wicked audacious doings Jehovah would drive them out of His house, and love them no more; but they should not wander only, but be wanderers among the nations. How truly accomplished to the letter! and the more strikingly because they do not form a separate community, but mix with the Gentiles within and without Christendom, chiefly abandoned to the lust of gain.
In Hosea 10:1-15 we have Israel judged as an empty* vine in accordance with all that precedes. For it is clear that this answers to the outward state in the days of the prophet. There was ample religious show, such as it was profession, but nothing for God's acceptance the plain contrast of Christ, who alone was the true vine. This is another instance of the way in which Christ takes up in His own person the history of Israel, and renews it for good in obedience to God's glory; as all the fruit Israel brought forth was to lusts, multiplying altars as his fruit multiplied, and making goodly statues or images as his land was made good. It is always thus where prosperity accompanies an unrenewed mind. "Their heart is divided; now shall they be guilty. He will cut off their altars; he will spoil their statues [or images]. For now will they say, We have no king, because we fear not Jehovah and the king: what can he do for us? They have spoken [mere] words, swearing falsely, making a covenant, and judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field." It was poison they planted, cultivated, and would reap. "For the calves of Beth-aven the inhabitants of Samaria fear; yea, the people thereof mourn over them, and the priests thereof [that] rejoiced over them for its glory, because it is departed from it. This also shall be carried to Assyria a present to the contentious king [or king Jareb]: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel be ashamed of his own counsel." Their idol, far from helping, was taken captive with the besotted people who gave up Jehovah for the likeness of a calf which eats hay. "As for Samaria, her king is cut off as foam [or a chip] on the face of the water. The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us."
*Dr. Henderson and others render baqaq "luxuriant," and argue that the idea of emptying, which the verb also has (derived) from that of pouring out entirely or abundantly the contents of a vessel, does not suit the present connection. But there is no need for the smallest violence. For inasmuch as the sense is clearly a vine that is luxuriant in everything but fruit, pouring out, as it literally means, its wood and leaves, the authorized version is justified, not those who overlook the connection, and take it in the sense of fruitfulness. The Targum of Jonathan is decidedly in favour of this; the old versions are divided, like the moderns.
Verses 9-11 are a most animated appeal, putting Israel now in as bad or a worse light than guilty Benjamin when all the other tribes punished his iniquity. "O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood." They were fallen now; and that battle or worse must now overtake them. The nations will be used of Jehovah to chastise Israel, only harmonious and earnest in toiling at sin. Whatever might have been the gentle training of God before, He would place a rider on Ephraim [not make Ephraim to ride], but Judah, yea, all the seed of Jacob, should be broken down under the hand of the enemy. Under kindred figures an exhortation follows in verse 12, and a reproof in 13; but internal tumult would surely come, and ruin from without ensue, on Shalman (=Shalmaneser's) in the day of battle; and all this destructive devastation Bethel should procure them for "the wickedness of their wickedness:" "in a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off."
Hosea 11:1-12 exemplifies a remark made repeatedly; for here again the Spirit intermingles Christ and Israel very strikingly. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." The allusion is clear to the past history of Israel, when they were the object of Jehovah's love and delivering power and special government. There seems an intimation of what He may do for His people by and by; for great things are in store for that people preserved providentially now for the work of grace at the end of this age. Meanwhile the Lord Jesus comes in between the two, enacting as it were the history over again in His own person, and becoming the basis for the future restoration of Israel. It is here that the principle applies so admirably. He resumes in grace their leading points, and thus comforts faith in Israel by the testimony of God's care for His people. "[He] then called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images. I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, and I laid meat unto them." Thus, spite of all His goodness in every suited form, He was in their eyes as those that put the yoke on the Jews, feed them as He might.
At the same time Egypt is not, strictly speaking, the place where the great bulk of them lie hidden, though those who maybe there will surely be called out. Thus was Christ when His parents fled of old from Herod. But as a whole the tribes were carried into Assyria; and Hosea says here, "He shall not return into the land of Egypt: but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return." The meaning implied is that in rebellion against God some would have liked Egypt as a refuge from the Assyrian spoiler. We know that in the time of Jeremiah there was such a resource in order to avoid submission to Babylon. God commanded the king and people to submit to the head of gold; but they would not, keeping by Egypt, which was tolerably near for escape. In vain! they perished; and Egypt was humbled under His hand. It was not that Israel had reason to love the iron furnace whence they had come out, their house of bondage till God delivered them by Moses; but man is ever perverse; and even Egypt, when displeasing to God and about to be judged after Israel, seems to their blind unbelief a desirable shield from the sword of the Assyrian when it comes, as it surely will. What we fly from in opposition to God's will becomes our severest scourge. "He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return. And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels. And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him." The prophet's language is picturesque, though compressed. The supposed Sibylline irregularity is nowhere in Hosea. There is often difficulty, because we are ignorant, and it may be added, because we do not read with the feeling and on the ground of Jews; for this prophet is intensely Jewish. The time is not yet come when Israel will be awakened to appreciate his rapid transitions, his solemn reproaches, his mingled recalls of divine favour. When that time comes, all difficulties of this kind will disappear. The Israelite will delight in and sympathize with these impassioned changes. Gentiles are but little capable of entering into such experience, and more particularly too when they confound, as they generally do, what belongs to Israel with the Christian's portion.
Here then, just as before, the announcement of these sweeping judgments of Jehovah, as well as of their humiliating causes, is pressed on the conscience and heart of Israel; at one time they are inflicted morally by the prophet, at another they are from their foes. Of course moral judgment comes first. Now we have it in a more external form. Their punishment is threatened to the last extremity out of the land, slaves of the heathen, which they assumed never could be; for so superstition dreams, as once in Israel, no less in what calls itself the church. But it is most just and retributive punishment. Nevertheless we have a new burst of sorrow on God's part, who grieved though compelled to strike, and would not utterly destroy the people He had chosen. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. They shall walk after Jehovah: he shall roar like a lion: when he shall roar, then the children shall tremble from the west. They shall tremble as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove out of the land of Assyria: and I will place them in their houses, saith Jehovah. Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints."
Were they not really as bad as the devoted cities of the plain? Yet would He spare in sovereign mercy, not like man returning to complete the work, nor entering into the city that He might do it thoroughly; for He is God and not man, the Holy One in the midst of Ephraim. Here He assures not only of His intervention, but of their submission and answer to His summons, from the west, south, and north-east; for the Assyrians represent the north as decidedly as the east. The last verse however judges the present moral state of the two houses of Israel. How far from what grace will yet work though Judah stood?
Accordingly Hosea 12:1-14 pursues the reproof of Ephraim, and charges Judah also with offences in His sight. Thus Jacob is brought in not only as guilty in his sons, but personally as an object of divine dealing in order to counsel the people now. And a most interesting appeal it is, where Jehovah now pleads with His people, not so much appealing to conscience, nor letting them know His own pain in smiting them, but urging on them the reminiscences of past mercy to their father Jacob as a present lesson to his sons. How many a soul has been brought back to God by reminding it if joys once tasted, though long, long forgotten! And Jehovah will use any and every right measure to win His people back to Himself. So here He reminds them of Jacob. "Ephraim feedeth on wind" what folly! "And followeth after the east wind," of all winds the most fierce and scorching. "He daily increaseth lies and desolation," deceitful evil and its recompence even now, as well as by and by. "And they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt." They might like to curry favour again with the mighty; but their false heart, breaking the covenant, and seeking to win Egypt also by presenting what they could expect abundantly, only made the Assyrian their enemies; and so end all efforts at setting one power against another to one's own advantage. It is unworthy even of a man, how much more of the people of God!
"Jehovah hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him." It was not Ephraim only but Judah too which was in question, though not yet so far gone as the rest. This gives the link reminding them of the ancient history of their common father. "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God." From the first Jacob did that which indicated the supplanting of his brother on the one hand, before it could be set down to developed character, but on the other God recalls what grace did when it gave him strength beyond his own in his weakness. When he was shrunk up in the sinew of his thigh he was strengthened of God to prevail with the angel, and acquired the name which pledges the blessing of grace and all overcoming to the seed of Abraham. "Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him." What! The man who cowered and wept for fear of Esau? The self-same man on that very same occasion, when full of plans though not without prayer at the alarming approach of Esau, learns the sufficiency of grace, and has this strength made perfect in his weakness. "He found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us [identifying strikingly and touchingly the children with their forefathers] even Jehovah the God of hosts; Jehovah is his memorial. Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually." What a withering rebuke in verses 7, 8! "A merchant [Canaan], the balance of deceit in his hand, he loveth to overreach! And Ephraim said, I am simply become rich; I have found me out substances: it is all my labours. They will find no iniquity in me that is sin." How often prosperity blinds to evil, and God's judgment those who should know both.
In verse 9 Jehovah binds together His deliverance of Israel from Egypt with that mercy which will yet make good what the feast of tabernacles pledged; in verse 10 He reminds them of this extraordinary testimony when they ruined themselves by breaking this law and forsaking Himself; in verse 11 He sets before them the lamentable and ruinous witness of their idolatry. Then in verse 12 their father Jacob is once more held up to rebuke them, who fled in weakness, but served faithfully sad contrast of his sons; and yet, though brought by God's word and power out of Egypt, most bitterly did Ephraim provoke to anger now therefore should his Lord leave his blood-guiltiness on him and requite his reproach to him.
In Hosea 13:1-16 we see that when Ephraim spake, there was trembling, so exalted was he in Israel: "When he offended in Baal, he died. And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen; they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves." Hence was so great a change, and the downfall of his power; their prosperity was as evanescent as the lightest things men speak of in proverbs. Yet again Jehovah reminds them of His relation to them from the beginning. Himself the only true God and Saviour. His very mercy was too much for them. He should now show Himself an avenger (verses 7, 8). Truly, as it is so earnestly put, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help."* The sovereign grace of God is the only hope and help for His sinful people. Of this Israel will reap the benefit, as we are doing.
*The words probably mean, literally, "Thy destruction, Israel, [is] that [thou art] against me, against thyself."
Where was now their king to save? where their judges? Alas! the words recall another early history of sin and rebellion and of God's displeasure. Yet Ephraim clung only to his sin (ver. 12), hid instead of confessing it.. The very patience of God only makes the blow the more sudden and felt when it falls. What folly not to come forth when safety depends on promptness? But man's extremity is God's opportunity, who will deliver when all hope is gone. How unlike the king whom He gave once in wrath, who brought them into such a state of degradation that they could not even sharpen the mattock in the land of Israel, but were obliged to their bitterest enemies for the barest means of subsistence! Jehovah assuredly will take the matter in hand, and then not merely their enemies, but death and the grave would be put down. Let them summon plagues and array pestilence as they may, Jehovah will conquer on behalf of His people.
To apply this to any thing past in Israel's history is extravagantly poor. But it is a mistake to think that they will not be accomplished magnificently in Israel's future deliverance. Gentile "conceit," as the apostle warns in Romans 11:1-36, easily falls into such oversight, in its eagerness to take all the blessings to itself, leaving all the curses, and only these, to Israel. The New Testament gives a still richer turn, and reads a deeper truth in the words; but this in no way warrants our alienating the ancient people of God in the latter day from their predicted blessing through Jehovah's grace, when our Lord reigns, the all-conquering King of Israel, Jesus the Christ. Deliverance will come when the last Assyrian, the king of the north of Daniel, strikes his last blow not as of old carrying off the people, but himself falling far more miserably than Samaria then met her punishment at his hands.
Then most beautifully winding up the prophecy, we have in Hosea 14:1-9 no scattered leaf of the Sibyl, but what ought to be here and nowhere else the final operation and effect of divine grace on the long-guilty, long-hardened people of God. The appeals, the reminiscences, the warnings, and the mercy are no longer in vain; but at length by the Spirit poured into the heart of Israel (who bow at last to that gracious Jehovah whose long-suffering had waited upon them many days ages of His own dishonour through them waiting for these latter days) the blessed time of Israel's restoration to their God in their own land. Fitly therefore at the end, and assuredly not in vain, comes the call: "O Israel, return unto Jehovah thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity." How true and wholesome is the word of God I "Take with you words, and turn to Jehovah: say unto him, Take away all iniquity." He would not leave them without a suited word to Him, for He loves to provide all; He would put no words less than these into their lips: "Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously." Would they have ventured to ask so much? Lord, teach us to ask from Thee we need this as well as to act for Thee. "So will we render the calves of our lips."
All is judged now aright; because self is judged before the God who brings them near Him. Their repentance is genuine and the fruit of grace. "Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses." All their vain resources are now and for ever abandoned. "Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." Idolatry had been the inlet of all mischief at home, as well as the outlet to pride in the world. Then comes Jehovah's answer from verse 4: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon." What mercy in the face of wayward inconstancy and hearts only firm in rebellion! What tender love as well as mercy! Love free and full whose motive is in God Himself, who once smote His people in anger, but now will be as the dew to them so long without one drop of moisture to refresh them! How will not Israel then flourish! As the lily for form and graceful elegance; as Lebanon for stability; as the unfading olive for beauty (no longer under the morning cloud), and with the fragrance of Lebanon. "They that dwell under his shade shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; the scent as the vine of Lebanon." What will the receiving back of Israel be to all the world but life from the dead?
True and faithful is the sovereign grace of God. It is not salvation in the meagre sense that the Jews will be screened from deserved destruction. If Jehovah saves, He will do it evermore for earth or heaven in a way that is worthy of Himself. "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir-tree. From me is thy fruit found." It appears to be a conversation between Ephraim and Jehovah. "Ephraim [shall say], "What have I to do any more with idols?" To this Jehovah answers, "I myself have heard and observed him." Thereon Ephraim replies, "I am like a green fir tree;" to which Jehovah rejoins, "From me is thy fruit found." What a blessed change for Ephraim! and what communion with their God!
The whole of this terse prophecy ends with the searching question of the closing verse "Who is wise, that he may understand these things? intelligent, that he may know them? for the ways of Jehovah are right, and the transgressors shall stumble thereon." May this wisdom be given to us, that we too may understand Himself and His ways! "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever;" and this being the desire, he "shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." "None of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand."
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Hosea 6". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany