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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Hosea 10

 

 

Verses 1-7

An Empty Vine

Hosea 10:1-6

This chapter is an admirable piece of human criticism, even if it had no claim to that which we gladly assign it, namely, divine inspiration. Viewed from a merely literary standpoint, it is beautiful; listened to as men listen to music, it is enchanting. This we say, apart altogether from its claim to be considered a distinctly inspired criticism and message. Sometimes expositors of the broader sort are charged with reading things into the Bible. It is impossible to read into the Bible anything that is true, wise, pure, good, beautiful,—because all such things are there already; they are the offspring of eternity. Every man should read his own experience into the Bible, that he may see whether he can get it out again or not, and if he can get it out, then he may conclude with himself that his experience is profoundly true. Say to the sculptor: You have read that statue into the marble; Nature did not put it there; when you got that marble into your hands it was without form or beauty or comeliness; all this chiselling, all this shapely suggestiveness, all this almost life, you have put into it. That would be as just a criticism as to say to the true expositor of the Bible, You have read these things into the Bible, if they be things that are in themselves true, beautiful, musical, useful, beneficent, and moving in the direction of heroic and useful life. Say to the composer: You have read that Oratorio into the seven notes of music; the seven notes were simple enough, why were you not content to sound them in their purity, and let them stand for what they were worth? All this Oratorio, sublimity, inventiveness, apocalyptic charm—all this only shows that you have read yourself into the seven notes. It would be just as wise a criticism as to say to the true Bible reader that he had read himself into the Bible, because he finds in that infinite sky all stars, all planets, Pleiades innumerable, ineffable, and burning centres that men dare not even name. He is a poor Bible reader that does not see everything in the Bible. There are a thousand times ten thousand Bibles in the Bible; yet all the Bibles are one in their spirit of love, in their purpose of redemption, in the glitter of their beneficent all-illuminating light Have no confidence in the critic that finds nothing but grammar in the Bible; have as much confidence in the man who tells you all the literature you need is in the alphabet. He could defend his declaration, but it would be at the expense of his sanity. All literature is in the alphabet; words are useless in their singularity: so oftentimes are men; they are nothing in units. The dictionary is nothing in the way of exposition, education, illumination, stimulus, when it stands there in its mere catalogue of words. Words must be put together; must colour one another; must combine and recombine, and be made to palpitate with soul: then the dictionary may become a poem, and its catalogue may be evolved into a "Paradise Lost." It is even so with God"s book. It is never read: Lord, evermore give us this bread. Let the child read the Bible, and make a child"s book of it; above all, let the woman read the Bible, and get out of it all its music.

"Israel is an empty vine." Yet, literally, it might read, Israel is a luxuriant vine; he bringeth forth fruit unto himself; and yet, literally, he brings forth no fruit at all, only long stem and tendril and leaves innumerable; his fruit is all foliage. The apostle said the grace of God that was in him was not in vain; that is to say, it was not useless, not introspective; not only useful to himself, but it was expressive, outwardly, beneficently, feedingly, so that all men who came in contact with that grace ate bread from Heaven and drank the wine of Paradise. The figure is very Hebraic and very grand. Israel is a vine, and a growing vine, but Israel misses the purpose of the vine by never growing any wine; growing nothing but weed, leaves, and so disappointing men when they come to find fruit thereon and discover none. The Church is an empty vine; theology is an empty vine. All religious controversy that is conducted for its own sake—that is to say, with the single view of winning a victory in words—is an empty vine,—luxuriant enough, but it is the luxuriance of ashes; as who should say, His iron safe is full; open it, and out runs the worthless dust to the ground, without a sparkle of gold, or precious metal of any kind. The safe was full, but full of nothingness; the vine was luxuriant, but only in that which never yet appeased human hunger. "According to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images." They have gone pari passu with the Almighty—he the living Father doing the good, and they the rebellious men doing proportionate evil. When the harvest has been plentiful the idolatry has been large, increasing in urgency and importance; when the vine has brought forth abundantly another image has been put up. That is the teaching of the prophet; yea, that is the impeachment of God. God may be represented as saying, Your wickedness has been in proportion to my goodness; the more I have given you, the less I have received from you; the larger the prosperity with which I have crowned you, the more zealous have you been in your idolatry; the more lovingly I have revealed myself to you, the greater your wantonness, selfishness, and rebellion. That is not only Hebrew, it is English; that is not only ancient history, it is the tragedy, the blasphemy of to-day.

What is the explanation? Where is the point at which we can stand and say, This is the beginning of the mischief? The answer is in the second verse, "Their heart is divided." That has always been the difficulty of God; he has so seldom been able to get a consenting heart. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." That is not a jeremiad; it is a fact. God says, These people want to do two irreconcilable things—they want to serve God and mammon; they want to courteously recognise the existence of Jehovah, and then run to kiss the lips of Baal. Their heart does not all go one way; they cannot wholly throw off the true religion; it has indeed become to them little better than a superstition, but men do not like to gather up all the traditions of the past, and cast them in one bundle into the flowing river in the hope that it may be carried away and lost for ever. So they come to the altar sometimes; now and again they look in at the church door; intermittently they listen to the old psalm and the half-remembered hymn; but in the soul of them they are drunk with idolatry. There are persons very anxious to maintain orthodoxy who are the most notorious thieves in society; there are those who would subscribe to any society to defend Sunday if they might do on Monday just what they liked; they are zealous about the Sabbath, and specially zealous that other people should keep it, but on Monday you would never imagine that there was a Sunday. "Their heart is divided"; they have no sympathy with Arianism—largely because they do not know what it Isaiah , but have a great horror of it; mainly because somebody else has been alarmed by it. They would not have any written creed disturbed in jot or tittle; whatever happens, that creed in its mechanical form must be observed, though it damn three-fourths of the universe without law or reason. This is called orthodoxy; it is miscalled, not truly denominated; orthodoxy is love, hope, the very passion of the Cross of Christ. Whilst we train our young men to maintain certain intellectual positions about which the world cares absolutely nothing, we ought to take pains to train them to meet certain moral and social conditions that are actual, that are crying in their necessity, that are tragic in their pathos. Where one man has heard about Arius, thousands of men have felt the torment of a disappointed life. Let us pay less heed to men who are puzzled by ancient history than we pay to those who this very day are slowly dying. "Now shall they be found faulty;" literally, Now shall they be found guilty. "He shall break down their altars;" literally, he himself; for the pronoun is emphatic, as we have read in our Caesar"s Commentaries as boys at school, ipse, he himself, Cæsar himself. So here we read, He himself, the living God, "shall break down their altars"; literally, shall take their heads off. He comes forth and plays the part of a guillotine; down it flashes, and the head is gone; he comes forth from eternity as an executioner, and he severs the head from the body. He comes forth as a divine iconoclast and shivers the altar, so that the head of it falls into the dust, and the stump of it is utterly without worth. "He shall spoil their images": there is a tone of taunting in this; he shall rub them together, he shall break them in pieces, he shall return them to powder, he shall evolve them the other way, by retrogression and debasement, so that in the morning the idolators will not know their own gods. Why all this decapitation, mockery, and bitterness of taunting? Because the heart of the people is divided. There is no difficulty in dealing with an unbeliever—his whole heart is steeped in disbelief; there is no difficulty in dealing with an honest man—his whole soul is bathed in the righteousness and purity of God, his sincerity is his glory and his defence. The difficult man to deal with is the man who prays on Sunday, and robs his customers on Monday; the man it is impossible to make anything of is the creature that mumbles his psalm in the church, and takes the last penny from the oppressed poor when he collects his rents on the following day.

To what straits this heart-divided people were reduced:—

"Now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the Lord; what then should a king do to us?" ( Hosea 10:3).

The bitterness of that complaint is found in the fact that they had a king, and yet had no king; they had a figure-head, they had a man who was called king, and to whom certain courteous loyalty was reluctantly paid; but as to faculty, true sovereignty, noble influence, he was no king. This is as bad as the divided heart—to be nominally one thing and really another; to have a pulpit, and no gospel; to have a church, but no way out of it to heaven; to have the form of a Prayer of Manasseh , with the heart of a beast: these are the ironies that may be said to perplex and grieve the very Spirit of God. There are those who boast of their consistency; but always be assured that a man has no consistency when he boasts of it. There is a consistency that is worthless; there is a consistency that is consistent with itself, but is inconsistent with the spirit of progress and with the law and necessity of life; the inconsistency that God blames is to be found in a divided heart, and in a nominal sovereignty that is associated with practical subservience. Pity the king who is not royal; pray for the removal of the prince that is not princely; his name will be a burden to him; the very elevation which belongs to his office will become an impeachment upon his manhood. Pity the church that does not save the outcast, feed the hungry, and shelter those who have no home; it is a church, but not a house of God; it may be a Bethaven, but it is not a Beth-el.

Still the impeachment rolls on, growing in fulness and urgency:—"They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant": literally, we should say, Their life is words, words, words,—Hamlet before the time. Israel is an empty vine, a leaf-bearing vine; Israel is a mass of words, incarnate verbiage, so that even when he makes a covenant he makes it only in words, and when he swears an oath he makes no impression beyond his lips; the oath is not red with the blood of his heart. What is the consequence?—"thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field." There is judgment enough, but of what kind? Of the hemlock sort. The meaning Isaiah , that though there be plentifulness of judgment it is of a poisonous nature; there is a great show of righteousness and equity, and a wonderfully tender care of the law-courts, to preserve them from dilapidation, and to save the judges from imperilling their valuable lives: but they are law-courts of iniquity; the judgment is a lie, and the word of equity is as a dose of hemlock. A graphic figure is this of hemlock growing in the furrows of the field. The idea is that iniquity is cultivated; this is no casual iniquity, this is no hap-chance wickedness, as who should say, How surprised we are to have been confronted by this image of wrong. Nay, verily there is no surprise, for the bullocks were taken out and yoked together, and the plough was set in the field, and the furrow was straightly ripped, and the seed was sown with a liberal hand, and in the black harvest-time hemlock sprang up, and darkness was garnered for judgment. This is human history, this is no ancient dream. Inspired or not inspired, it is an awful book for getting hold of realities, and searching the heart, and trying the reins, and disturbing us by a cruel analysis of our most hidden motives. It may be inspired. How impressive and humiliating the figure that men may make a fine art of the cultivation of judgment—a judgment that is iniquity; how disennobling in the midst of all our fine theories to find that the devil has got hold enough of men to make them artists in wrongdoing! So this judgment is no weed that has grown of itself, this kind of judgment is not to be reckoned as a casual growth; it was thought about, arranged for; it had its seedtime, and the harvest has come to be taken home. Harvest home, harvest home,—hemlock home! You cannot escape the consequences of your actions; you cannot have seedtime of one sort, and harvest of another. Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind; sow hemlock, reap hemlock; turn judgment into iniquity, and there is nothing like it for quick execution. The finest wine makes the sourest vinegar.

"The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Bethaven"; literally, the cow-calves, she-calves. Poor Samaria, thou art not left even with a bull-calf in sign of strength and nobleness; fill thy sheds with the cow-calves, and go fall on their necks, and pray to them. "Bethaven," literally, the house of vanity; once that same place was called "Beth-el," that is to say, the house of God; and Beth-el has become Bethaven. Such the deteriorations, the retrogressions, the apostasies of life. How is the fine gold become dim! How is the noble youth that was going to make quite a giant of a hero doubled up, and shuffling his backward way into a nameless grave! "The people thereof shall mourn over it;" but it is a mourning of despair, not a mourning of repentance. Between the one mourning and the other there is an infinite difference. Many men are sorry for the consequences of their acts who are never sorry for the acts themselves. Repentance does not take place in any man who is sorry simply because his action has brought him to ruin. A criminal said, "Have pity upon me, for think of my beautiful house—my beautiful home being broken up!" Not a word about his character being shattered. There are men who prize their furniture more than their reputation; there are those who are sorry in the morning after the night"s debauch because the head aches, and the blood is in a fever, and the eyes are bleared and unsteady. That is not repentance. He repents who sees the sin in the crime, and who, without hiding the crime, cries before God that he should have offended the spirit of righteousness.

"It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb": they shall not only take away the people, but they shall take away their God. Who can be so mocking as the Holy One? Who can laugh like Jehovah? Their god shall be taken away, and made a present of to any man who will take it. "I will laugh at their calamity and mock when their fear cometh." Lord of heaven, God of the Cross, spare us that laughter!

Prayer

Almighty God, if thou hast a controversy with us surely thou dost oftentimes lay it aside that thou mayest comfort us, enrich us, and make us assured of thy presence and thy care. Thou hast set us in wondrous relations: on the one side all is darkness, fear, tumult, uproar; on the other all is quietness, light, beauty, music, hope, the very beginning and pledge of heaven; and between these points how we move, now here, now there; sometimes torn with great pain, and sometimes almost with the angels. The meaning of this is that thou wilt train us for thyself; thou wilt by the agency of thy Holy Spirit cleanse us, purify and ennoble us, and make us meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light. When we are overborne by the process, may we recover ourselves by thinking of the end. Jesus for us endured the Cross, despising the shame, because he saw beyond, and all the meaning of redemption gladdened his vision. We bless thee that Jesus Christ is our example; being our Saviour and Lord, he is also our exemplar, that we may know what to do and how to do it. He taught us how to bear the Cross, how to die upon the Cross, and how to turn its shame into infinite glory. May we do nothing of ourselves; may we never take counsel with our own foolish wisdom; may we always come to the wise and to the strong and the pure for all we need and want; then shall our life prove that our prayer has been answered. Thou knowest our whole estate—how many men each man is thou knowest, what devils tear him, what angels sing to him; how low in wickedness, how grand in piety; thou canst hear the sob underneath all the music of the world. Surely all this is of the Lord"s doing and shaping, and there is meaning in it all; nothing of the agony is lost; every drop of the driving storm is brought into the great bow that spans the heavens in token of reconciliation and peace. Help us to think of the purpose, the end, the meaning of it all; then shall the Cross be no burden, and the way to Calvary shall be only dolorous for a moment, its dolor forgotten in the ineffable rapture and joy of heaven. Help us to continue steadfast unto the end; may our ship not founder within sight of land; may we be brought to our desired haven, and leaving the little earth-ship, may we pass into the glory and the blessedness of heaven. For all who have landed we thank thee. Sometimes they thought they would never land, but would by some evil spirit be overborne and plunged into the sea; and lo! they have set foot on shore, and already their song mingles with the anthems of the angels. Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, for they shall rest: theirs shall be peace, without ruffle or disturbance; theirs shall be the tranquillity of God. Help us to consider those who have gone before, and to know that we are ourselves expected above; may we not cause the expectation to fail; may we turn no blessed one to the misery of heartache and disappointment; may our best ambition, purified of all dross, be to meet those who have gone before, and to see him who has brought us all together in pure and eternal brotherhood. Hear us for all classes and conditions of men; may those who are representing foreign lands feel themselves at home in the sanctuary of God; forgetting all mere circumstances, may they enter into the spirit of fellowship and be lifted up by sacred music, by noble Psalm , and profitable meditation into the highest relations, in which all others are not lost, but are sanctified. Be with those who are heart-weary, and filled with wonder that is quickly becoming pain; save them from the perplexity that would disturb their spiritual quietness, and lead them into the liberty of truest joy. Go into our sick-chambers, and make them chief rooms in the house, the rooms of banqueting and feasting, in which the noiseless angels feed the hunger of the heart. Be with all who are in trouble on the sea; thine is the fulness of the earth, and the fulness of the sea is thine; give thy beloved sleep, and rest, and release from burdensome and darkening fear, and teach them that the sea is in thy keeping as solid as the land. As for those who are away beyond all boundaries, violators, trespassers, wicked souls, that have hated father and mother and house and holy companionship, may they yet be found by a pleading prayer; may the supplication of love throw its golden band around them, so that even they may yet come back with tears in their eyes, such tears as precede joy in the heart. We leave them in thine hands; we know that all the houses in history that have known thee have said with one accord, His mercy endureth for ever. May all lonely ones lose their solitariness in Christ; may all sick ones be recovered by the touch of his gentle fingers, and may all bad men be foiled; may all envious men have the devil of jealousy cast out of their hearts, and may all praying men be able to pray in bolder supplication and in larger claim, because they cover all their prayers with the infinite name of God the Son. Amen.


Verses 1-15

Cords and Bands

Hosea 10 , Hosea 11

"In a morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off" ( Hosea 10:15).

There are various interpretations of this vivid passage. The one which is to be, in my judgment, preferred is that which regards the king of Israel in the light of one who has risen upon the troubles of his nation as the dawn rises upon the darkness. Hoshea was the last king of Israel. When the people hailed him on his accession they said in their hearts, This is he who shall bring liberty and joy and fame to Israel. They regarded him as a morning after a long weary night. They said, This same shall comfort us; he is a strong man and wise, and his heart is bound up with the fortunes of Israel, and he shall be the deliverer of the people. They were doomed to disappointment; the bright dawn perished, the light of hope went out—the sky that was to have been filled with glory carried with it a sullen cloud. The king of Israel was cut off, he disappointed the people; whatever talents he had were not spent in the interests of his nation; whether incapable or false, he let fall the fortunes and destinies of his people. How many men there are who have disappointed their families! If we said, There are many men who have disappointed the world, the sentiment might be received with general applause—it is one of those heroic deliverances which leave every person unharmed—but we say, How many people there are who have disappointed their families! Then we come closely home to men; then we set up a process of self-examination, ending in a process of self-conviction and self-reprobation. See, however, if this be not true. The parents have said concerning the child, "This same shall comfort us," and he has failed to shed one beam of light on the kind old hearts. The parents have said, "This same shall be wise, honest, honourable, chivalrous, heroic; men shall know that he lives and shall bless the day of his birth," and suddenly the light has set, the promise has sunk in disappointment, and they who prophesied gracious things of the child are broken in heart. If what is called, atheistically, fate has anything to do with the disappointments which we inflict upon our kindred and our country, we must in some degree submit. We need not, however, be parties to the disappointment; we can be good if we cannot be great; we can be faithful if we cannot be brilliant; we can help a child if we cannot teach a king. The only thing we have to aim at in life is to win the recognition, "Well done, good and faithful servant,"—not Brilliant soldier, Splendid genius, Unprecedented statesman, but Good and faithful servant, making the best of everything, watching every opportunity, rising early to catch the light and to prevent the singing lark, to go before as if to seek out occasions of beautiful, unselfish, yea, self-sacrificing service. Blessed is he whose early promise comes to noble fruition, and blessed are they who own him as their child. Do not let us be discouraged because we cannot do great things. All good things are great; the moral is the eternal.

The Lord continues his lament over his chosen one, and puts his plaint into the tenderest form of expression:—

"When Israel was a child, then I loved him" ( Hosea 11:1).

The meaning is not, necessarily, when Israel was an infant, a child in mere years, but when Israel was a child in spirit, docile, simple of mind, sincere of purpose, true in worship. When Israel lifted his eyes heavenward and sought for me, then I stooped over him as a man might stoop over his child to lift him into his arms and press him closely to his heart. There is a unit of the individual; let us take care lest we rest there, and so miss the ever-enlarging revelation of the divine purpose in human history. There is not only a unit of the individual, there is a unit of the nation. Israel is here spoken of as if he were one Prayer of Manasseh , a little child; though a million strong in population, yet there was in the million a unit. This is one aspect of divine providence. We must not regard nations as if they ceased to have status and responsibility, name and destiny before God. A nation is one; a world is one; the universe is one. What does God know of our little divisions and distributions into pluralities and relationships? The earth is the Lord"s, and the fulness thereof, and the sea is one, and all his creation is dear to him as an only child. So the nation may have a character. The Church is one, and has a reputation and an influence. So we come upon the divine handling of great occasions. The Lord is not fretted by details. All the details of his providence come out of and return to one great principle of redeeming Fatherhood. The locks are innumerable; the key is one, and it is in the Father"s hand: let him hold it. Father in heaven, never cease to hold the key thyself with thine own right hand!

Sometimes the Lord condescends to tell what he has done for the world. When men forget him he must remind them of what they have seen and what has been done for them. Ingratitude has a short memory:—

"I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them" ( Hosea 11:3).

The picture is one that befits the life of the nursery. We have seen how a child is taught to walk; we have watched, partly with amusement, and partly with apprehension, early efforts at locomotion—how unsteady the eye, how uncertain the action of the little limbs. Still the lesson was to be taught; it was the beginning of a career. It is easy to measure the first walk, but who can lay a line upon all we do which that first walk begins? Devious is the way of life; a thousand paths break away from the central road, and some adventurous spirits go down by-paths to get their first sight of the devil. God"s complaint is that "they knew not that I healed them." We have given up in many instances the divine personality, the living, loving, redeeming Fatherhood of God; and with what are we now satisfied? With fine words, with pompous syllables, with the continuity of law. Many a man will accept the theory of the continuity of law as if he were accepting the simplest proposition. The continuity of law is as great a mystery as the continuity of God. Yet we are deceived by names. Law is abstract, law is impersonal, and is something to be talked about, but never to be seen; but personality means criticism, companionship, benediction, reproach, malediction, heaven, hell. Men do not like to be pressed upon so forcibly. Think of any man in full possession of his senses supposing that continuity of law is a simpler expression than the Fatherhood of God. We never saw God; we never saw law; we never saw anything. We might see more if we looked more closely; we might see further if we cleansed the lense through which we look, that lense the heart; and blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. They are sensitive, they are responsive; every ray of light tells upon them; every whispered word, though it has been millions of ages in coming from world to world, falls on them like a gospel, and they answer it with praise. We now put away the personality of God, and accept the law of development. The mystery Isaiah , that so many persons should imagine they have given up the complex for the simple, whereas they have simply stepped out of dawn into midnight, out of sunlight into nolight; they have needlessly created mysteries, and needlessly forgone the tenderest charms, companionships, and benedictions of life. "They knew not": there is moral obstinacy, denseness, stupidness; they did not know the divine touch. Had it been a rude touch, a violent seizure, they would have exclaimed and inquired about it; but who has soul enough to know a touch, a whispered word, a sign meant for the deepest recesses of the spirit? Who does not outbody God, outflesh him? What soul there is is so deeply buried in the flesh that men do not know God in the light of the morning, in the glory of the noonday, in the harvest that ripples like a golden sea in the autumn; they do not know God in the morning meal, in the nightly rest, in the wind that seems to be a spirit of pity when it blows around the shorn lamb.

"They did not know." Is there any word we dislike more in the family than the word "I forgot"? Can the heart forget?—forget to open the window, to assist the child, to take a message, to speak kindly to the sick and the ailing and the feeble. Forgot! O blank heart, foolish, foolish mind! Yet we who are so justly irritated by human and social forgetfulness are charged in many a chapter of divine history with not knowing that the Lord has filled both our hands, and caused to flow before our dwelling-place a river of blessing; nay, more, we have been curious in our mental action, for we have suggested a thousand conjectures to get rid of God. This desire to thrust out the Lord is one of the clearest proofs of the real moral condition of mankind that we could have. The charge against Ephraim is the charge made against ourselves.

"I drew them with cords of a Prayer of Manasseh , with bands of love" ( Hosea 11:4).

The figure is that of subjugating the heifer. Beasts were drawn with cords, it may have been with iron or chains; they were forced into servility; they were beaten and chastised into humiliation; they were made to obey the human will. The Lord represents himself as drawing his people with cords of a Prayer of Manasseh , with bands of love; he will persuade them, he will lure them, he will reason with them, he will sit down and comfort them, he will gently lead his people into truth and righteousness and security. None can chastise like God; our God is a consuming fire; a whip of scorpions is nothing to the thong with which he could flagellate the human race if he pleased; but he will love Prayer of Manasseh , come down to Prayer of Manasseh , make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant that he may save man. Call this poetry—it is poetry that touches the heart, that inflames the imagination, that satisfies the soul when the soul realises most truly its own personality, necessity, and destiny. The whole gospel scheme is a scheme of persuasion. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us"; herein is the mystery of love that man should die for his enemies. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Song of Solomon , that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be." Everywhere there are the cords of a Prayer of Manasseh , the bands of love, the elements of persuasion, a wrestling, entreating, persuasive God. Regard it in what light we may, there is nothing to compare with it for ineffable tenderness, for the sacred unction that touches the heart when the heart most needs a friend.

"And the sword shall abide on his cities, and shall consume his branches, and devour them, because of their own counsels" ( Hosea 11:6).

The Lord takes the wise in their own craftiness; he allows men to work up their programmes, and bring them to a fine point; he permits builders to go so far up with their tower; he allows men to whet their swords, and to lift those weapons of war as if in defiance, but he will only allow them to take down the sword in such a way as to bring the gleaming point of it into their own heart The meaning of this passage is that the very opposite shall occur to that which the counsellors proposed. Men shall dig pits for others, and fall into them themselves; men shall build a gallows on which to hang their enemies, and they shall swing from the gallows-tree themselves, and none shall pity them as they perish in the air; the bad man shall plan his plot, and lo, when he would go home to watch the outcome of it, he cannot lift his feet: he made the snare, let him break it if he can. Here is the action of a mysterious power in life, that men are always made, when they oppose God, to do the very things they did not want to do; they will build a place in which they will be secure from the Lord God Almighty, and lo, they are obliged to see that very tower that was to have excluded the Eternal turned into a sanctuary for his adoration.

Another complaint is very graphically and tenderly expressed:—

"And my people are bent to backsliding from me" ( Hosea 11:7).

The figure is that of a man who seizes a crossbeam; holding to that beam with his hands, he swings from it; there is an oscillatory motion, but there is no progress; the hands clutch the crossbeam. So the Lord says, "My people are bent to backsliding from me"; they seem to be making progress, but are making none; the centre is always the same, the movement is pendular; it passes from point to point, but the points are always the same; the centre never changes: they are bent on iniquity, they are attached to lies. Who has not seen this very figure personalised in his own case? We have wanted to do two different things at the same time, and that miracle has lain beyond the possibility of our power; we have wanted to keep the Sabbath day, and do what we like on the day succeeding, and the days would not thus be yoked together by our evil hands; we have wanted to be nominal Christians and real downright atheists, and the Lord would not permit this infamous irony. My people are bent upon backsliding from me; they keep hold, and the body moves as if progress were being made; but I judge not by the oscillation, but by the clutching fingers, and these fingers are still laid upon things that are forbidden. What then will the Lord do? He will suddenly destroy these men; he will burn them with unquenchable fire; he will treat them as chaff is treated—they shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace, and go up as smoke. Nay, hear the Lord, and say if that prophecy be true:—

"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" ( Hosea 11:8).

This is the voice of a pleader. Ephraim had done wrong, but the Lord said, He may still do right, and I will not give him up utterly. How shall I deliver thee, Israel, when I have set my love upon thee, and fixed mine expectation upon all thy progress? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? (two cities of the plain, salted with fire, devoured and poisoned with brimstone.) How shall I burn Ephraim? There are some things we do not want to burn; we hold them long over the fire before throwing them into the hungry flame; we say, Let us try once more, let us begin again? How shall I burn Ephraim? How shall I reduce Israel to ashes? How can I set fire to my only son—to the prodigal that wounded me, to the life that disappointed me? Even yet the prodigal may come home. I have burned Sodom and Gomorrah; I have burned Admah and Zeboim; I have choked the plain with brimstone, but I cannot give up these hearts, though they grieve me every day. How shall I, how shall I, how can I? That is the voice of eternal love. God never willingly destroys. He is a God of salvation; he wants the worst to be saved; he wants none to be burned. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. The Son of man came not to destroy men"s lives, but to save them. Nothing would be easier for God than to burn up the universe; but to save it—what does that require?


Verses 8-12

An Overthrown Altar

Hosea 10:8-12

The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed." We have seen that "Beth-el" means The house of God, and that by iniquity, manifold and black, Beth-el was turned into Bethaven, and that Bethaven means The house of vanity. This is an instance of deterioration, and more than mere deterioration; it is an instance of transformation from good to bad, from the heights of heaven to the depths of the world of fire. Such miracles can be accomplished in the individual character, and such miracles have been found possible in ecclesiastical relationship. Nature will not let things alone at any given point; nature is a destroyer; its very growths, if not checked and regulated, may come to express judgment, destruction, ruin. But the case is worse We now read of "the high places also of Aven"; the "Beth" is left out: once it was Bethaven, the house of vanity; now nothing is left but the vanity itself. As a house it was significant of definition, limitation: it was so much and no more for the time being; but the walls of definition have fallen down, the hedges and the boundaries are taken away, and there is nothing left but the smoke of vanity. That is the process of unchecked, untaught, unsanctified nature. We say of a Prayer of Manasseh , He has still one or two redeeming qualities: he is sober, he is punctual, he is not wholly without feeling in the presence of sorrow or weakness. Gladly we point out two or three features that are supposed to be of a redeeming kind, and we gladly infer that so long as these exist the man may be saved, restored, set up again with rights and privileges in the household of God; but the time comes when every redeeming feature is lost, every fair line is blotted out, every sweet little thing that seemed to be as a prophecy in the life, foretelling summer, deliverance, and blessed immortality, is driven out; then men say of the abandoned one, Aven, vanity, all vanity and vexation of spirit, nothing of strength or beauty left; the whole man has gone away, and the brightest angel despairs of bringing him back again. The sin of Israel was the building of houses of vanity, the erection of altars on high places. Israel was theologically inventive; as soon as one pantheon was burned down Israel put up another. What is the issue according to prophetic instinct?—"The thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars." The words "come up" are very significant as originally used. Men always go "up" to the metropolis; no man goes "down" to London, Paris, St. Petersburg; to the capital, come from what place soever men may, they go up. It is even so with the house of God: no man goes down to church; the tribes go up; be the church ever so humble, and geographically or typographically be it in ever so little a place, no man goes down to it. To pray is to go up; to attend the humblest meeting-house is to ascend.

The mocking prophecy is full of bitter irony and taunt. The thorn and the thistle shall go up, come up, ascend to the altar; living men shall no longer be found there, disappointed souls shall have vanished from such mean altars; but now the worshippers shall be thorn and thistle, and weed of every name and quality. This the infinite mockery of God pronounced upon all merely natural religion. If men want nature they shall have it. God will remonstrate and expostulate, yea, he will solicitously importune them not to play such folly; but if they insist upon it they shall have nature in an abundance of growth, they shall be choked with its very luxuriance. Picture the altar with the thorn and the thistle growing all over it. Is there aught so mournful as an abandoned king? The very greatness of his former estate throws into humiliating contrast his present condition. A little cottage lying in a ruin is pathetic enough in its suggestions, for who can tell what births were there, and weddings, and little festivals, dances of glee and songs of innocent wildness? Who knows what honeysuckle grew there, or what roses jewelled the humble door? Who can tell how long and merrily the cradle was rocked there, and what little simple tragedies were wrought out under the unnamed and unknown roof? Every house has its sacred histories. But to see a great palace, a solemn, massive, magnificent architectural pile unroofed, the owl and the satyr hooting in it, and nature weaving her green robe as if to hide some mortal wound,—what a sight is that! Compared with all such sights there is no vision so terrible, so humiliating, so instructive, as an overthrown altar—a place once made sacred by prayer laughed at by nature, tormented as it were by a spirit of vengeance; dismantled, overthrown, mocked, leaped upon as if by invisible beasts of prey. There is but a step between thee and death. O man of genius, thou dost live next door to insanity; praying Prayer of Manasseh , seraphic soul, one little step, and thou art with Lucifer. The altar will not save us, it must represent the altar of the heart; the outward sanctuary is no defence, it must represent by holy tender symbol the fortress of omnipotence, the very arms of Jehovah. "And they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us." So much for nature-worship. A mountain should be satisfied with admiration, and we ourselves should be satisfied in according admiration to a mountain; or say for admiration wonder, with some touch of almost reverence in it: the pile is so vast that where other little hills catch only green patches, it goes high enough to catch the snow. But there must be no worship of nature; men must not even worship the sun. The sun is only an infinitised sparklet; it is nothing in itself. There never flew a comet through the sky that could not be put into a thimble. We must use nature, seek out the purpose of God in nature; use the mountains as stairways leading to something beyond themselves, and we may be most grateful to nature, responding to every tone of music, answering every appeal of abundance; but worship we must keep for God. If we will persist in worshipping the material, the natural, the outward, at last it will come to desiring the very thing we have worshipped to fall on us. We exhaust nature; we spend the stars, and are paupers after the revel. It is only God that is everlasting; it is only Christ who has unsearchable riches; it is only the Holy Ghost that can train man into perfectness, and therefore into rest and peace and the very quiet of the calm of God. There is no picture in all the gallery of Holy Writ so terrible as that which represents men as seeking death, and not finding it; desiring to die, and death fleeing from them. So men shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and it will be as if the mountains rooted themselves more firmly to the rocks on which they rest: men shall say to the hills, Fall on us; and the hills will fail to answer. For "mountains," for "hills," put any other terms that suggest false worship, false trust, profane loyalty—put money, health, influence, greatness of any kind, all things that are not in God and of the quality of God; and according to the will and purpose of God, they come to this, that they disappoint their devotees, and turn their worshippers into victims. Such has been the consistent story of human experience.

"It is in my desire that I should chastise them" ( Hosea 10:10).

That is a graphic expression; the whole meaning of it does not appear in the English tongue. God does not willingly afflict the children of men; it is not the delight of Almightiness to crush. It is the vanity of considerable strength to tyrannise, but in proportion as strength becomes complete it pities, it spares the helpless, for it knows that by one uplifting of its arm, and the down-bringing of the same, it could crush every opponent. Imperfect strength is a despot: Almightiness is mercy. But now there is a stirring in the divine emotions. God says, It will be better for these people to be afflicted; they have left nothing for themselves now but depletion, and they must be brought to the very point of extermination. "It will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies"; "Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted." These are not the first words that God utters. Their meaning is in their postponement. Our eloquence has to be forced out of us. The Lord is very pitiful and kind, and his eyes are full of tears, and judgment is his strange work; but there have been times in the history of Providence which could only be consistently and rationally construed by granting that even the divine Father must be stirred to the desire to chastise and humble wicked men. "And the people shall be gathered against them, when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows." Change the grammar if you would see the deeper meaning. Not, They shall bind themselves; but, They shall be bound as well. There shall be a voluntary Acts , but above that there shall be a confirmation of that Acts , that shall turn the change of it into an impossibility. Men bind themselves with a yoke, and God takes care to lock that yoke upon them. It is a human Acts , and it is also a divine act. Men will enclose themselves in their concealed chambers that they may perpetrate what iniquity they please, and when they have fastened themselves within, God fastens them without, the door closes on both sides; so when the revellers have ceased their carnival, and seek to return, lo! the door is locked on the other side. When will men see the two sides of everything, the corresponding aspects of every action? Life is not, as we have often seen, a series of dissociated accidents; it is one and the same, a continuity, an ongoing process, every part of which belongs to every other part. "They shall bind themselves in their two furrows"; that is to say, they shall be unanimous in sin; they never could draw equal furrows before them. In everything that expressed discipline, wise training, right education, submission to divine law, the furrow was crooked, the furrows when two were drawn together were dissimilar; the ox and the ass could not plough equally; the furrows betokened reluctance on the part of the plough, or restiveness, or ill-behaviour; but now men can be unanimous in sin. who never could get into accord in prayer, in benevolence, in noblest thinking. There are fellowships of darkness; there are men who unhappily can agree in spoiling the helpless, in wrecking the poor, in doing mischief. Ask them to agree in theological opinion, and they instantly fly away from the suggestion involving, as they suppose, an impossibility. Propose to them to act in accord upon any really noble question, and you will find their minds most inventive in the originating of excuses, difficulties, and hindrances of every name and degree; suggest to them that they should drink out of the same goblet, and they will seize the goblet with avidity; suggest that they should co-operate in evil, and the devil never had servants who more eagerly engaged in his service. How many are the compacts in life that are based on a determination to do that which is wrong! Pilate and Herod were made friends one day. They who were dissimilar in thought and feeling were united under circumstances of the most tragical interest. There must be binding; yoke upon yoke must be added to the neck. The question Isaiah , whether we will submit to a yoke that is imposed upon us for the outworking of our ruin, or whether we will listen to the voice that says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest: take my yoke upon you; my yoke is easy, my burden is light." A yoke you must have, says every voice wise in history: it is for man to say whether he will be yoked as a beast, or whether he will be disciplined as a child of God.

"And Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn" ( Hosea 10:11).

Poor Ephraim! History has no good word to say about Ephraim. Ephraim, though carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle; Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, whose appetites are excited and trained and directed along certain lines, and Ephraim loveth to tread out the corn. Is not that a compliment to Ephraim? Have we not in Jewish history seen the patient oxen going round and round the mill, and causing the stones to revolve so that the corn might be ground? Is not that a very excellent thing to do? No, not for Ephraim, because Ephraim gets advantage from this. "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn." Ephraim wanted plenty to eat; put Ephraim in a pasture, and he was most buoyantly, though selfishly, obedient and religious; put Ephraim to treading out the corn where he could fill himself from morning till night, and he walked as if an obedient child. There are too many men who are wonderfully obedient and pious when they are making gain by it. History is not wanting in instances in which men have apparently been going about their business in the most faithful, obedient, scrupulous manner, when in reality they were only going about it in order that they might eat the feast. Hence the meaning of the words that follow: "But I passed over upon her fair neck": I handled the yoke daintily, I did not force it upon the face of Ephraim, as if to break his teeth in the act of putting the yoke over the neck; but I acted daintily; I studied the occasion, I watched when Ephraim lifted the head, and presently the yoke was put over the fair neck, and that which lifted itself in pride found itself to be bent down in humiliation. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." We never know what God is doing. In the very midst of our rioting and feasting he slips a yoke over our fair neck, and we who sat down as guests remain as prisoners. "I will make Ephraim to ride." The grammar must be changed in order to get at the meaning: I will send a rider upon Ephraim, who shall so handle the bridle and dig the spurs into his quaking sides as to make him feel that he is no longer master. "Judah shall plow, and Jacob shall break his clods": they shall begin at the other end of the work; they shall not have all the corn-grinding and corn-eating to do, but they shall plough, do the hard work. "And Jacob shall break his clods": clods that he cannot eat; if he attempt to eat them, they shall break his teeth as with gravel-stones. Judah and Jacob shall be taught to work, to do what is useful, and by-and-by they may have plentifulness of bread. Until this is done nothing is done solidly in life. If you have not learned how to make your money"s worth your money is of no use to you; if you are operating by trickery or by falsity, the end is simply disappointment and possible ruin. He who cannot plough and break his clods has no right to the loaf. We have only a right to the bread we have worked for. When men understand this, boys will be brought up to be independent. No boy is independent who cannot work. There is only one independent man in the world, and that is the working man. He is independent in poverty; nature lives for him, nature waits for him, nature says to him, I am your humble servant. A man who has only money can lose it; a man who has skill has treasure in a bank that will not fail. This is the difficulty of all education—to bring parents to understand that their children must be taught to plough and to break up the clods. No, it is better that the boy should be clothed in broadcloth, and should have white hands, and should not be put to any inconvenience; the boy must not go out at five in the morning, and yoke horses and get the plough into the furrow and attend to the drudgery of husbandry,—the boy must be a "gentleman farmer"! This is called kindness. The boy will live to curse the cruelty of such benevolence.

"Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy." Rather, Sow righteousness in the proportion of mercy: as God has been merciful to you, so be ye righteous to him; keep pace for pace with the divine mercy: be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect; be ye holy as your Father in heaven is holy. This is the ideal; God would have human righteousness in proportion to divine mercy. The standard is not arbitrary, it is gracious and tender and condescending; but who can attain unto it? It is not in man that liveth to keep pace with God. "Break up your fallow ground": this is not the order of husbandry. The Scripture cares nothing for your orders and chronologies. This Book in particular is a book that is urgent, energetic, tumultuous in its style. There are those who will only go with the clock, and have the clock strike two after it has struck one; this Book will strike twelve after one, and ten after seven. It is God"s indicator; it will excite attention; it cares nothing for your mechanical orders; it rushes, roars, exclaims as with a trumpet voice, whispers as it delivering the message of burdened life. "Break up your fallow ground." Stir your souls, put on your strength, excite yourselves to the highest, noblest animation; no longer live the life of indifference, but live the life of enthusiasm and passion: make the best of yourselves; cultivate every out-of-the-way corner of your lives: break up, break up, break up; prepare for the harvest. "For it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you." It is always time to seek the Lord; let us say here, It is high time, it is more than time; the hour is almost past—up! It is the appeal of one who would stir the sluggard from his sloth, and break in upon the glamour of his destructive dreams. "Till he come and rain righteousness upon you." That is an unfamiliar figure; that, indeed, is not the figure which the prophet represented. To rain righteousness means, in the Scriptures, to teach righteousness. Here some of the ripest and holiest commentators have found what they believe to be a prophecy of the coming of the Holy Ghost It is the business of the Spirit to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come; it is the function of the Spirit to reveal the righteousness of God. We are therefore to seek the Lord till he come, in some form or personality of ministry, to represent righteousness, to teach righteousness, to make the world forget all its mistakes, and begin anew, to do the right thing and the beautiful thing. No prophet could anticipate the coming of the Holy Ghost who did not first accept in his deepest consciousness the coming of the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, from whom, as from the Father, proceedeth the eternal Spirit Whilst we are anxious not to import meanings into the Bible, we should be equally anxious not to impoverish the Bible of its richest suggestiveness.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Hosea 10:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/hosea-10.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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