Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A VAIN AND FALSE STANDARD AND AIM. Compare the wind with wholesome food, and you feel at once the absurdity of regarding the one as though it were equivalent to the other. The objects upon which the ungodly and the worldly set their heart are as unsubstantial as the" viewless air." Such persons call evil good, and commit the sin of forsaking the fountain of living waters, and hewing out to themselves broken cisterns which can hold no water.
II. A FOOLISH PURSUIT. As are a man's conceptions of excellence, such we may expect will be his life. It is natural that we should seek that which we deem good. Seekers of satisfaction in the pleasures of sin, if they could but understand their real life, would see themselves to be chasing the east wind. All earthly aims, when substituted for God's glory - the one true end of our existence - are unworthy of our nature, and undeserving of our devotion.
III. AN UNSATISFYING REWARD. To swallow the wind is a poor substitute for eating suitable and sustaining food. And sooner or later every person who has given himself to the quest of worldly and selfish aims must discover their utter vanity, their inability to afford a true and lasting satisfaction. When the illusions of earth and time have vanished, and men stand face to face with eternal realities, how empty and unworthy will appear what has so often inflamed their desire and excited their strenuous effort! Anticipating so clear a judgment, let the hearers of God's Word be wise in time. - T.
I. SENSUAL INDULGENCES are worthless soul-food. Men seek happiness in the gratification of their senses, in the free indulgence of their appetites: but all this is nothing but "wind;" it leaves the soul more hungry than ever. Souls die with hunger in the pampered body of the gourmand and voluptuary. "Man cannot live by bread alone," etc.
II. WORLDLY DISTINCTIONS are worthless soul-food. Thousands seek food for their souls in worldly titles, honor, and fame. But these are "wind." The souls of our grandees are perishing with hunger. Walk Rotten Row in the height of the season, and in the countenances of hundreds of those rolling in the stream of dazzling chariots you see moral hunger depicted. What are they doing? They are grazing wind.
III. RELIGIOUS FORMALITIES are worthless soul-food. Millions go through religious formalities in search of spirit-food. They crowd temples, synagogues, cathedrals, churches, chapels, rigorously attend to the mere ceremonies of religion, and return from their devotions with hungry and unfed souls. At the altars they have been grazing wind. "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." - D.T.
Hosea 12:3 (last clause)thou to thy God," etc.
I. THE PREPARATION FOR WRESTLING WITH GOD, as exemplified in the experience of Jacob. Most men are so surrounded by what is material that they want the help of circumstances to enforce upon their thoughts the deeper necessities of their nature and the nearness of their God. Refer to Jacob's circumstances, and show how they constituted such a crisis in his life. Examine his mental condition, and see in it:
1. Remembrance of sin. Twenty years had gone by since that crime was committed which deceived his father, destroyed the peace of the home, and made Jacob an exile. Yet changes of scene, cares of business, the vexations caused by an exacting employer, etc., had not prevented the rising again of that dreadful memory. Bury sin as you may beneath cares and pleasures, it will reappear before you. Men have left the scene of guilt, formed new associations, hushed conscience to silence successfully for years, and then a chance word, or an unexpected event, has raised the specter of the past sin. Such a one, like Jacob, would give anything to begin life again; but all in vain. We walk on through life like one upon a path in the cliffs which crumbles away behind him, so that he cannot go back to gather the flowers he neglected, or to take the turn that would have given pleasure instead of peril. What else can we do, when the remembrance of sin is overwhelming, but "weep and make supplication unto God"?
2. Realization of peril. Jacob cared not so much for himself; but he could not bear to think that these innocent, dear ones around him might suffer death or captivity because of his wrongdoing. When he committed the sin he had neither wife nor child, and little thought how far-reaching and disastrous its results would be. So the sins of youth full often are the seed whence springs a harvest of sorrow to others as well as to ourselves. Darwin would teach as plainly as David that the sins of the father are visited upon the children; as Jacob's children were in peril because of a sin their father committed before they were born. No wonder Jacob turned to God with tears and supplications, and "there God spake with us," saying, "Turn thou to thy God."
3. Consciousness of solitude. Jacob was left alone. Most of the crises of life must be faced in solitude. Hence our Lord said, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet," etc He himself went up into a mountain alone, and when every man departed to his own house, he went to the Mount of Olives. Moses was alone on Sinai, John in Patmos, etc. It is well for us sometimes to shut the world out, to think over the past and to prepare for the future by waiting upon God. "Therefore turn thou to thy God," etc.
II. THE MEANING OF WRESTLING WITH GOD. In his spiritual struggle Jacob had:
1. An apprehension of a personal God. The expressions "man" and "angel" are used to show that God was as real to him as a man would have been; that Jacob found him to be One with whom he could plead, who could speak, who noticed his tears, and was able to bless him there. Those who know something of the intensity of prayer are not satisfied with vague ideas of God. To them he is not an abstract notion of the mind, projected upon nothingness; nor is he the sum of natural forces. He is the living and true God, who has a personal interest in them, and listens to the cry of their hearts, nothing less than that satisfies the soul. Idolatry is but a blind attempt to create some objective personality, nothing less than which men can worship. But what we want is given to us in Christ, who was "the image of the invisible God." Men may be satisfied with less than him in their lower life, but when the want of the soul is really pressing, when the hunger of the heart is fairly roused, prayer becomes an agony, in which they can say, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God!"
2. Consciousness of spiritual struggle. "Struggle" does not correctly describe all fellowship with God, as we may see from Jacob's own experience. When he first left home he saw the heavenly ladder at Bethel, and had a sweet assurance of God's love and protection; but now twenty years have elapsed he goes through this scene of darkness and struggle and weeping. This is not what many would have expected. They demand that religious experience should always begin with agony over sin. But it does not. Children may know nothing of the agony of soul, yet they may know the reality of prayer. By the foolish expectations of some Christians, they are tempted to persuade themselves that they have known what they never did know, or else to regard the devotion of their childhood as sentimental and unreal. Why should they not heed the angels of Bethel first, and have the agony of Jabbok twenty years after, as Jacob did? But, sooner or later, most devout men know something of struggle, when the darker problems of life and its more terrible issues face them; yet, although in their later years they have to fight with doubts which did not trouble them once, they have no reason on that account to suspect the reality of their earlier religious life. It was not Bethel's pleasant dream, but Jabbok's dreadful struggle, that transformed Jacob into a prince.
3. Victory through the Divine goodness. Observe the change in the attitude of Jacob. At first the angels "met him" as if coming out of Seir, to remind and rebuke him of sin. He began with struggle, but ended in supplication. The end of all wrestling with God is not to conquer him, but to conquer self; e.g. one assailed by intellectual doubts finds rest, not in the solution of the difficulty, but in trust in him whose "greatness is unsearchable;" another troubled by the conviction of sin wins peace by confessing sin, not by disproving the charges of conscience. The consciousness and acknowledgment of weakness is our power, "weeping" is our eloquence; and they who come with the supplication, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me," by their strength have power with God.
III. THE ISSUES OF WRESTLING WITH GOD. See what Jacob won. 1. Knowledge of God. He knew him as "the Lord of hosts," with power to rule Esau and others, and as "Jehovah," who would fulfill his covenant promise. He was nearer to God now than ever. Before this he had been at Beth-el, "the house of God ;" but now he was at Peniel he saw "the face of God."
2. Change in character. No longer Jacob (supplanter), but Israel (prince). Before this he sought Divine ends by human means, but never after. In the presence of things eternal, things temporal faded away; and in the light of God's countenance he became sincere and transparent. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image," etc.
3. Delight in prayer. When an old man he blessed his sons, having faith to foresee their future, and power in prayer to win their blessings. The priesthood of Christians on earth has yet to be realized in the fullness of its power. If only the Church had the spirit of supplication which Jacob had when he cried, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me," there would come a wave of spiritual influence over the world which would cover the bare rocks of skepticism, and sing a paean of victory over the dreary wastes of sin. "By his strength" may the Church have "power with God"! - A.R.
I. WHENCE POWER WITH GOD PROCEEDS.
1. From a sense of need and dependence on the part of the suppliant. He who needs much and sorely will plead powerfully.
2. From a conviction of Divine bounty and kindness. He who approaches an unwilling or niggardly person, with the view of asking from him a boon, loses half his energy by the consciousness of the illiberal character to which he appeals. But he who comes to God comes to a King of boundless resources, a Father of infinite compassion; and the knowledge of this should prompt to regent entreaty.
II. HOW POWER WITH GOD MANIFESTS ITSELF. At Peniel and at Bethel Jacob proved himself a true suppliant; witness his "wrestling" at the one place and his "vow" at the other. We have no power to command God, but we have power to entreat him. We may feel our feebleness, but if our prayer be sincere, ardent, and persevering, it will have power with the Eternal.
"Yield to me, Lord, for I am weak, III. WHAT IT IS WINCH POWER WITH GOD SECURES. 1. Personal forgiveness and acceptance. Above all things the suppliant sinner craves for this. To be in the light of the Divine favor is, of all things, the most urgently desirable. 2. The supply of every real need. 3. The relative blessings sought in intercessory prayer. APPLICATION. Let not the thought of God's greatness cripple the energies or daunt the heart of the lowly applicant for mercy. Great as he is, he delights to be conquered by the urgent entreaties of his children. "And when my all of strength shall fail,
III. WHAT IT IS WINCH POWER WITH GOD SECURES.
1. Personal forgiveness and acceptance. Above all things the suppliant sinner craves for this. To be in the light of the Divine favor is, of all things, the most urgently desirable.
2. The supply of every real need.
3. The relative blessings sought in intercessory prayer.
APPLICATION. Let not the thought of God's greatness cripple the energies or daunt the heart of the lowly applicant for mercy. Great as he is, he delights to be conquered by the urgent entreaties of his children.
"And when my all of strength shall fail,
I. GOD'S ELECTION DOES NOT SUPERSEDE MAN'S EFFORT. Before Jacob was born God had said, "The elder shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23). Yet the blessing had to be striven for, and won from God by wrestling and supplication.
1. Jacob had from the first an impulse to realize his destiny. (Ver. 3.) Even as an unconscious babe he gave token of this. He struggled in the womb (Genesis 25:22). His hand took hold of the heel of his elder brother Esau as he was born (Genesis 25:22). As he grew older we see the same impulse manifesting itself, not always in right ways. The catching of his brother's heel was a type of the attempts he afterwards made to take the blessing from Esau by force and guile. He got Esau to sell the birthright for a mess of pottage (Genesis 25:29-34). He obtained the blessing from his father by fraud (Genesis 27.). The acts were indefensible, but they testify at least to his appreciation of the blessing, and to his desire to obtain it.
2. His efforts were purified as years advanced. (Ver. 4.) The blessing was at length won, but by far other means than Jacob had at first employed. It was won from God by earnest, agonizing supplication. The narrative is given in Genesis 32:24-32. There Jacob, as a prince, had power with God, and prevailed (Genesis 32:28).
II. GOD PUTS HIMSELF IN MAN'S POWER, THAT MAN MAY OBTAIN BLESSING FROM HIM.
1. He draws near to man. God drew near to Jacob at Peniel. He seemed to be a" man," but Jacob recognized in his mysterious Visitant an angel - that Angel of the covenant in whom God's Name was. He accordingly laid hold of him, wrestled with and entreated him, and would not let him go till he had blessed him. So there are awful moments in our experience when, "left alone," the infinite Presence draws near to us, overshadows us, touches us, invites us to wrestle with it for the supreme good of existence.
2. He gives man power. If Jacob wrestled prevailingly with God, it was because God gave him power to do so. It is in God's own strength that we wrestle with God. God puts himself in our power, not crushing us by his majesty, but meeting us as on a human footing, and permitting us to prevail over him.
3. He invites man's requests. Jacob "wept, and made supplication." Prayer is a real wrestling. God wills man thus to wrestle with him. He gives us the promise of blessing if we ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7, 8). Jacob's prayer was
Jesus prayed "with strong crying and tears," and "was heard in that he feared" (Hebrews 5:7)
III. IN TYPICAL CASTS LIKE JACOB'S, GOD PLEDGES HIS GRACE TO THE GENERATIONS THAT COME AFTER. Jacob was:
1. Israel's patriarch head. "He found him in Bethel; there he spake with us" (ver. 4). The promises given at Bethel had reference to the descendants (Genesis 35:9-12). The blessing was to be theirs also, if they chose to claim it as Jacob had done.
2. An example. He who spake with Jacob was "the Lord God of hosts: the Lord is his Name" (ver. 5). The unchangeability of God is our guarantee that, if we act as Jacob did, we shall meet with like reward.
3. The consequent duty. "Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually." There is here indicated the need:
(1) Of earnest desire. "Turn thou to God." Israel must turn from other aims, and set their heart upon the blessing as Jacob set his.
(2) Of obedience. "Keep, mercy and judgment." For it is only in the way of obedience that God will meet us.
(3) Of perseverance in seeking. "Wait thou," etc. It was thus that Jacob waited; wrestling even till daybreak. - J.O.
repentance. There has been no generation of men, nay, there has been no individual man, to whom it might not justly be said, Repent!
I. HUMAN CHARACTER AND LIFE ARE SUCH AS TO RENDER NECESSARY THIS TURNING TO GOD. One who is on the right road already has no need to turn; but he who is traveling in the wrong direction must first of all reverse his steps, his course. As sin and error have been universal, no limit can be placed to the appropriateness of the summons of the text.
II. MAN MAY FIND IN HIMSELF MANY AND SUFFICIENT REASONS FOR REPENTANCE. His interests demand, his conscience enjoins, his best feelings urge, that he should turn unto God. His present happiness and his future prospects are imperiled by his remaining estranged from his God.
III. IN GOD HIMSELF, AND IN HIS REVELATION, ARE MANY GROUNDS FOR REPENTANCE.
1. First of all there is the fact that he is our God. "Turn thou to thy God." How just and proper, then, that, instead of looking away from him, men should look towards him!
2. It must be considered that all our happiness is bound up with his favor and fellowship. To turn to him is to turn to the light of the sun, to the source of life.
3. The Divine directions and promises furnish the most persuasive motive add the most authoritative justification for turning unto God. - T.
I. IT IS HONORING TO GOD THAT HIS PEOPLE SHOULD WAIT UPON HIM. It is not for man to dictate to his Maker, to seek to prescribe when, how, and where God should intervene upon behalf of a suppliant. His wisdom is not to be questioned; his goodness is not to be impugned.
II. IT IS PROFITABLE TO GOD'S PEOPLE TO WAIT UPON HIM. Thus faith and patience are cultivated - virtues which are most serviceable to Christians, and which are a true ornament to the godly character.
III. IT IS WELL TO WAIT UPON GOD CONTINUALLY. Remissness in so doing is to be condemned; weariness in waiting is dangerous. Just at the moment when the Helper draws nigh the needy soul may be in slumber or may be otherwise engaged. Waiting means watching.
IV. GOD'S PEOPLE CANNOT WAIT FOR HIM IN VAIN. They may wait long, but their waiting shall be rewarded. Then shall they sing aloud for joy, "This is our God; we have waited for him." Wait for the harvest, and you shall reap. Wait for the morning, and the sun shall rise upon your expectant soul. - T.
I. SPIRITUAL CONVERSION. "Turn thou to thy God." An expression implying that their moral mind was in a different direction, away from God. It was so with Ephraim; it was after idols. It is so with all unregenerate souls; they are alienated from God. Terrible fact this. God's intelligent creatures turned from him and against him. Turning to him includes at least two things.
1. Accepting him as the supreme Monarch to obey. It means the making of his will the law of all their laws, the test of all their conduct, the guide of all their activities.
2. Accepting him as the supreme Object to love. Man is so formed that he must have some one to love supremely. His crime, degradation, and curses are, that the objects which he has chosen on which to center his paramount love are imperfect creatures and vanities. He is the only Object worthy of the soul's supreme love, and this he demands. He who renders him this will have his heart enlarged, and run with joyous alacrity in all the ways of his commandments. Here, then, is the first step in genuine human goodness - conversion. "Repent, and be converted." This is the grand call of the gospel. God calls men everywhere to repent - that is, to change their hearts, turn from themselves to him their Creator.
II. SOCIAL MORALITY. "Keep mercy and judgment." Notice the latter first.
1. "Judgment," that is, justice. Justice means rendering to every man his due; it is compendiously expressed in the words of Christ, "Whatsoever ye would have men do unto you, do ye even so to them." It goes dead against all frauds, dishonesties, and cruelties.
2. "Mercy." Mercy is a modification of love; it is love in compassion, patience, forbearance, etc. Paul makes a distinction between a good man and a just man. There are men conventionally just, who are not good, nor generous, nor merciful. They would pay every man his due, but, like Shylock, they will extort the last grain. It is not, therefore, enough for a man to "keep judgment" - do justice - to his fellowman; he must have mercy too. "Love is the fulfilling of the Law."
III. LIFE-WORSHIP. "Wait continually on thy God." God must be the All in all; tile grand Figure in all the sceneries, and the ruling chord in all the melodies of life. Man is made to worship; but worship is not a ceremony, not a passing sentiment, not an occasional service; it is a life revealing itself everywhere - in marts of business, hails of study, fields of recreation, as well as in conventional temples. It is not a something that appears on this mountain or on that mountain, on this day or that day, in this act or that, but something that is every where and when. The grand pulse of being.
"True religion, sprung from God alone,
i.e. his sin is not to be pardoned. The "reproach" or dishonor which he has done to God by his idolatry, and iniquity God will repay him. But the denunciation is mixed with mercy. "I will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles" (ver. 9) seems to include, not only a threatening of banishment from "the Lord's land," but a new redemption from the coming Egypt-like bondage, which shall bring with it rest and freedom and prosperity. Beyond his captivity, Ephraim shall keep the joyous Feast of Tabernacles again, as a memorial of Messianic mercies in connection with his restoration. As Ewald, however, remarks, the main feature of these verses consists in "three compressed comparisons."
I. "ISRAEL" HAS BECOME "CANAAN." (Vers. 7, 8.) The "prince with God" has degenerated into a cheating huckster; the descendants of the godly Jacob have become like paltry Phoenician peddlers. Instead of "keeping mercy and judgment" (ver. 6) in their commercial dealings, they love to practice deception and oppression. Ephraim, accordingly, does not deserve to be called by the honorable name of "Israel;" he exhibits rather the innate characteristics of the Canaanite tribes, and may well be spoken of as "Canaan." But, worse even than that, the people are spiritually self-complacent, all the while that they deal so dishonestly. They deceive themselves with the notion that their habits of social injustice involve no sin against God. They ignore the teaching of their law about "just balances, and just weights" (Leviticus 19:36; Deal 25:13-16). Enough for them if they become rich through their ill-gotten gains. They even argue that their continued success in acquiring riches by means of "the balances of deceit" is an evidence that the Lord cannot be angry with them (ver. 8). Lessons.
1. It is a spurious piety which does not take to do with "weights and measures."
2. The dangers of covetousness, a besetting sin of many Church members.
3. Long-continued temporal prosperity is not necessarily a token of God's favor.
4. Ungodly men pervert the Divine goodness and forbearance into an encouragement to persist in their sinful courses.
II. EPHRAIM HAS FORSAKEN THE PROPHETS FOR HEATHEN ALTARS. (Vers. 10, 11.) Jehovah, who had been his God "from the land of Egypt," had shown his love for the nation in raising up a succession of men as their teachers, upon whom he caused his Spirit to rest. The prophets instructed the people in spiritual truth and moral duty. They rebuked idolatry. They denounced all injustice and oppression. They warned of coming judgments. They testified beforehand of the coming of the Messiah, and of the ultimate salvation of the world through him. The larger number of the great prophets were sent to the kingdom of Judah, and yet some of the most distinguished of them labored in the northern kingdom, as e.g. Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea himself. The Lord gave his Word to the prophets in a variety of ways. Sometimes by an audible voice, as to Samuel; more frequently, by writing the message in burning thoughts upon the prophet's soul; and often, as Hosea here reminds the people, by "multiplying visions." The "vision was a frequent vehicle of Divine revelation during the whole course of the national life of Israel. Jehovah multiplied visions to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Daniel, etc. And the prophets, in delivering the Lord's message, were directed to employ material signs as a means of adding emphasis to spiritual truth. The Lord, who knows our frame, and who has made the earth but the shadow of heaven" (Milton), took care to "give similitudes by the prophets." Tile Hebrew seers used the metaphor, the allegory, the parable, the dramatic action. They found spiritual analogies everywhere in nature, and in the circumstances of human life. And all this was a manifestation of God's solicitude for his people's good. He sent the "prophets," and gave the "visions," and suggested the "similitudes" in tender love for his erring children. Yet all was in vain. The people continued to live as if God had given them no revelation. Their idolatry extended all over the region beyond Jordan, here represented by "Gilead;" and all over the west of Jordan, represented by "Gilgal." They turned a deaf ear to the warning voices of the prophets. Ephraim forsook the one altar which God recognized as his, and increased the number of idol shrines until they covered the land, like the heaps of stones cleared by the farmer out of a ploughed field. The idolatry and wickedness of Israel were committed against the clearest light of prophecy, and against the yearning love of Jehovah, which had led him "daily to rise up early" and send the prophets. Lessons.
1. The privilege of being within reach of an earnest gospel ministry.
2. The advantage of the judicious use of illustrations in religious teaching.
3. How sad it is when localities which were once the scene of special manifestations of God become polluted with scandalous wickedness!
4. How aggravated the guilt of those who" sin willfully after they have received the knowledge of the truth" (Hebrews 10:26)!
III. EPHRAIM HAS FAILED TO LEARN THE LESSONS OF HIS OWN EARLY HISTORY. (Vers. 12-14.) Had he reflected aright upon the course of Divine providence towards himself, his thoughts about God would have been thoughts especially of humility and gratitude.
1. Humility. (Ver. 12.) When the Jew offered his basket of" firstfruits" annually to the Lord, he was to say, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father" (Deuteronomy 26:5). Jacob, the stem-father of the tribes, went to Mesopotamia as a fugitive, and remained there for twenty years as a servant. He had no dowry to offer for Rachel; he could only serve for her as a shepherd. Israel, accordingly, had not much to boast of as regards his national origin; the beginnings of the nation could scarcely have been more humble. And yet how different was Jacob's life, spiritually, from that of his children to whom Hosea spoke this prophecy!
2. Gratitude. (Ver. I3.) The reference now is to Moses. If Jacob's condition of servitude in Padan-aram taught a lesson of humility, the thought of the slavery of his immediate posterity in Egypt was fitted to inspire sentiments of gratitude. What a great emancipation was that of the Exodus! And the agent by whom that deliverance had been accomplished was a prophet, and one who, like Jacob, had been a shepherd. Degenerate Israel despised the teacher whom God sent, forgetting while he did so that the emancipation from the bondage of Egypt had taken place under the leadership of one single prophet. The Prophet Moses had conducted the tribes through the Red Sea; and had acted as their guardian, and their mediator with God, during all the forty years which they spent in the Arabian desert Under him the people had passed from a state of servitude into a position of sonship. Yet, alas! the nation cherished now neither humility nor gratitude. The Lord had preserved, enriched, and blessed them; but in return they only "provoked him to auger" by their grievous sins, until it became impossible that they could escape the punishment of their impiety. Lessons:
1. The profitableness of the study of Scripture biography and history.
2. God's people must expect to be subjected to discipline as a condition of their spiritual advancement.
3. The Lord uses apparently humble instruments to accomplish great results.
4. The duty of cherishing gratitude for past mercies in our national history. - C.J.
I. FORTUNES BADLY USED. "And Ephraim said, I am become rich, I have found me out substance." Here is a fortune held and no doubt employed in the spirit of haughty egotism. It is all I. "I have become rich, I have found me out substance."
1. Here there is no recognition of human co-operation. No man comes in possession of wealth without the efforts of some men either living or dead. Wealth, whoever holds it, is the result - in most, perhaps in all cases - of the efforts of a large number of human workers. But the possessor oftentimes takes no note of this. He thinks only of himself. He does not think of the toil, the sweat, the exhaustion of those who have helped to put it into his hand.
2. Here there is no recognition of Divine agency. All fortunes roam of God - out of his materials, out of his seasons, out of the activity of his creatures. But there is no recognition of him here. "I have become rich, I have found me out substance." How many fortunes are thus held and employed in England this day - held and employed in a haughty egotism!
II. FORTUNES BADLY MADE.
1. Here is fraud. "He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand." The hand of fraud has ever been, and still is, alas! the most active of all agencies in the erection of fortunes. There is deceit everywhere. In all fabrics, groceries, trade commodities. Deceit in making, deceit both in the buying and the selling. Were all the fortunes in England that have been built up by deceit to be destroyed this day, the whole human world would be startled with the terrible crash. The event would be as the hurling of the Himalaya into the sea, causing the billows to roar on every shore.
2. Here is oppression. "He loveth to oppress." Indeed, fraud is oppression in some form or other. What unrighteous exactions there are in the building of many fortunes! Go to the pits of mine-owners, to the factories of manufacturers, to the warehouses of merchants, to the vessels of ship-owners, and everywhere you will meet men and women groaning under the oppression of those for whom they are building up fortunes.
3. Here is cunning. "In all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin." Ephraim - this typical fortune-maker - took such care to conceal all that was unfair and nefarious in his operations that he was certain no wrong could be found in his doings. Wrong there was, he knew, but he was careful that none should discover it. By plausible and well-guarded statements, by legal formulae, by "board" resolutions, he tools that he can say, "In all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me." Who has not seen many men of this type? - many who have made a fortune by a swindle, but have so guarded the transaction that they have clapped their hands and said, "None will ever find it oat."
III. FORTUNES BADLY ENDED. "And I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast." The meaning of this is - Rich as thou art, I will strip thee of thy wealth, drive thee from thy home, send thee back again to the wilderness a vagrant, to howl for bread and water. Ay, ay, to all such fortune-holders and fortune-makers retribution must come sooner or later. "I tell thee," says Thomas Carlyle, "there is nothing else but justice: one strong thing I find here below - the just thing, the true thing. My friend, if thou hadst all the artillery of Woolwich marching at thy back in support of an unjust thing, and infinite bonfires visibly waiting ahead of thee to blaze centuries to come for thy victory on behalf of it, I would advise thee to call 'Halt!' to fling down thy baton, and say, 'In God's Name, no!' What will the success amount to? If the thing be unjust, thou hast not succeeded, though bonfires blazed from north to south. and bells rang, and editors wrote leading articles, and the just thing be trampled out of sight to all mortal eyes, an abolished and an annihilated thing." - D.T.
I. EPHRAIM'S SAY IN THE MATTER. (Ver. 8.)
1. He was puffed up with the thought of being rich. "Ephraim said, I am rich, I have found me out substance." This was the main thing - he was rich. It did not matter how the riches had been got, when they were there. The existence of the riches covered a multitude of sins. This is too much the way in which wealth is looked at in the world. The possessor of it can count on being honored, courted, applauded for success, with few questions asked as to the means by which his wealth has been acquired. The love of the honor and position which wealth gives lead men to seek after it by fair means and foul. "Balances of deceit" are not unknown among ourselves. "Tricks innumerable," says Mr. Spencer, "lies acted or uttered, elaborately devised frauds, are prevalent - many of them established as ' customs of the trade; ' nay, not only established, but defended." Yet this is thought of little moment, if only men can say in the end, "I am rich."
2. He took the glory of his riches to himself. "I have found me out substance." It was himself that did it. To him the credit and glory of it belonged. He said in his heart, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth," forgetting that it is God alone that had given him power to get wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17, 18).
3. He justified himself in his ways. "In all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin." As Spencer says above of rogueries in trade, "not only established, but defended." The dishonest trader is yet to be found who is not disposed to justify himself. He gets to look on his dishonesties as trifles - bagatelles. He defies proof of them. He justifies himself by the practice of others. That cannot be wrong which everybody does. If, like Ephraim, he is assiduous in the practice of the outward duties of religion (ver. 11), he may regard this as amply outweighing the deceits and oppressions of his business life.
II. GOD'S SAY IN THE MATTER. (Vers. 8, 9.) God:
1. Exposes the sin and folly o/ Ephraim's boasting, "And I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt." If Ephraim was rich, it was God who made him rich. If he had substance, it was God who gave him substance, not Ephraim who had found it out for himself: Ephraim's boasting was, therefore, entirely out of place. It was as foolish as it was wicked and ungrateful.
2. Shows the inexcusableness of Ephraim's conduct. "I have also spoken by the prophets," etc. Ephraim had been well taught and warned. Moses, in the plains of Moab, had already foreshown the dangers to which Israel would be exposed when they came into possession of the goodliness of Canaan, and had forewarned them against pride and undue self-elation (Deuteronomy 8:7-18). Other prophets had been sent as occasion required. God had "multiplied visions" to the people, and had "used similitudes" to make matters plainer, and to draw attention. In spite of all, Ephraim continued sinning. If such were his privileges, what are ours, to whom God, "who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past to the fathers by the prophets hath in these last days spoken by his Son (Hebrews 1:1, 2)?
3. Declares Ephraim's punishment. "I will make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast?' Ephraim, having forfeited his blessings by his sin, would be turned back again into the wilderness, there to renew the experience of the old wanderings, of which the Feast of Tabernacles was a memorial (Leviticus 23:42, 43). The words are a threatening, yet imply mercy. The wilderness wanderings were a punishment, but also a discipline. During these wanderings, Israel enjoyed God's protection and sheltering care. The end of the wandering was Canaan. So Israel's present banishment is with a view to ultimate recovery.
III. THE DELUSION PRICKED. (Ver. 11.) Ephraim, like the Laodicean Church, said, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," and knew not that he was "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). He had failed to take God's counsel (by the prophets), to buy of him "gold tried in the fire" that he might be rich, and "white raiment that he might be clothed, and to anoint his eyes with eye-salve that he might see (Revelation 3:18). He still pursued vanity and deceit, and multiplied transgressions. This state of delusion in which he lived was now to be rudely broken in upon. Gilead, for its iniquity, would become (or, perhaps, had already become) vanity, nothingness. Gilgal, where bulls were offered in such numbers in sacrifice, would witness (or had already witnessed) its altars made as heaps of stones in the furrows of the field. - J.O.
I. TRUE HAPPINESS CONSISTS IN THE REMEMBRANCE AND CELEBRATION OF GOD'S MERCIES. The feast of Tabernacles observed by the Jews was a festival in which the nation commemorated the goodness of Jehovah, both in supplying their wants by means of the harvest, and in delivering them as a nation from the power of Egypt. Now we as Christians have even greater mercies to acknowledge; God has given us the Bread of life, and he has rescued us from the power of sin and Satan. It behooves us, therefore, to cherish gratitude to God the Savior for all the great works he has wrought for us, and for all the loving-kindness with which he has treated us.
II. THE PROSPECT OF SUCH HAPPINESS IS FITTED TO CHEER THE HEART IN TIMES OF SORROW AND TROUBLE. If this be the wilderness through which we pass, we are journeying to the land of possession and repose. If this be the darksome night whose shadows gather round us, we hope soon to see the streaks of the coming day. Let the discouraged and harassed Christian learn to say with the psalmist, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him."
III. THE FAITHFUL PROMISES OF THE ETERNAL ASSURE A HAPPY FUTURE TO THOSE WHO TRUST AND LOVE HIM. The religion of Christ places the golden age in the future. The Christian has always something blessed and glorious to which to look forward. His dwelling-place is above. And he has ever before him the happy and inspiring prospect of sharing in "the marriage supper of the Lamb." - T.
1. The name given to the class of inspired teachers and guides of the nation is significant, and is harmonious with this passage. They were seers.
2. By an illumined faculty these Hebrew prophets saw Divine realities. Intuition, insight, inspiration, - such are the terms by which spiritual vision is designated. "The vision and the faculty Divine" has been attributed to genius; but the order of men in question were distinguished by their perception of spiritual truth.
3. These visions of Divine realities the prophets, by language or otherwise, conveyed to the people.
II. SIMILITUDES. There is a natural and ordained correspondence between things natural and things spiritual, which accounts for the prevalence and the efficiency of pictorial, metaphorical, and allegorical methods of instruction and admonition.
1. Sometimes the prophets were directed to make use of parabolic action. We have several instances of this kind recorded in the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc.
2. Similitude often took the form of parabolic language: e.g. Isaiah's comparison of Israel to an unfruitful vine; Ezekiel's comparison of the return from captivity to the revival of the dry bones, etc.
3. In both these prophetic methods there is a sacred purpose. Condescension to the ignorance and unspirituality of many of the people was one reason.
4. Our Lord Jesus himself "used similitudes," and sanctioned this interesting and impressive method in his parables and allegories.
APPLICATION. When God has deigned to communicate with us by visions and similitudes, how great is the responsibility of listening to the inspired prophetic Word! - T.
I. BY VISIONS. He gives to those men inner revelations, unfolds to them spiritual realities, opens their spiritual eyes, and bids them look. What wonderful visions Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Paul, and the Apostle John had! They saw wonderful things; but what they saw was not with the outward eye, but with the eye of the soul. These visions serve to show three things.
1. The distinguishing glory of the human mind. What is that? It is a power to see the sensuously invisible, the universe that lies beyond the ken of mortal sight. What a universe came to the eye of the sightless bard of England! In some this visual organ is keener and more active than in others. He who has it in the highest extent is the poet, the prophet, emphatically the seer.
2. The accessibility of the human mind to God. Man can only address the mind through the senses; the Almighty can do it when all the senses are closed up, in the "visions of the night." He can take into it at his pleasure a whole universe, and bid it gaze on its objects and listen to its sounds.
3. The reality of spiritual things. The bodily eye does not see realities, but nacre forms and shadows. The soul alone can see the real, hence God brings the real into it. By visions I think the Almighty has ever taught the great thinkers of mankind, not only in ancient but in modern times. All the true discoveries of men of science, all the creations of sacred bards, all the flashes of the true evangel, are but visions from God. "In visions of the night."
II. BY SIMILITUDE. "And used similitudes." By this is meant, he showed them the invisible by the visible, the spiritual by the sensuous. He gave them parables. "Without a parable spake he not unto them." Hence the prophets spoke in parables; and the great Prophet of the world, who was like unto Moses. There are good reasons for this mode of teaching spiritual truth. Two may be mentioned.
1. It makes the spiritual more attractive. All men, whether they will or not, from their very bodily constitutions are vitally interested in material objects. They live in them and by them; and without direct impressions from God, we can scarcely conceive of spiritual truth being made clear to them but by their means.
2. It makes the material appear more Divine. Flowers, trees, streams, and stars, when they have become emblems to the soul of spiritual truth, become invested with a mystic charm. The picture that has hung in your room for years, and on which your eyes have rested a thousand times, becomes invested with a strange fascination after you have made the acquaintance and come to love the person whom it represents. Thank God for his parabolic method of teaching. - D.T.
Deuteronomy 26:5-10 shows that the point in this passage is the contrast between Israel's original low estate in Syria and Egypt - the nation in the former case being represented in its ancestor - and the state of honor to which God raised it, when he brought it out of Egypt by Moses, and settled it in Canaan. The intention is to show the full enormity of Ephraim's ingratitude.
I. ISRAEL IS SYRIA. (Ver. 12.) This is viewed as the beginning of Israel's servitude. There was little in Jacob's condition in Padan-Aram to indicate the honor that was afterwards to be put on his descendants. His state was one of:
1. Peril. "Jacob fled into the country of Syria." Or, as in Deuteronomy, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father" (Hosea 26:5).
2. Servitude. He was a serving-man with Laban. He bound himself for terms of years, and wrought for wages.
3. Poverty. When he wished a wife, the only thing he could do was to serve for her. We do well to remember the forlorn, helpless, wretched, and bound state in which we were when grace found us.
II. ISRAEL BROUGHT OUT OF EGYPT. (Ver. 13.) Egypt was a continuation of the state in which Israel found himself at Padan-Aram (cf. Deuteronomy 26:5). From this state God delivered him by a prophet.
1. It was God who delivered and preserved him. Moses, though a prophet, was but God's agent. God is the only Savior.
2. A prophet was the instrument of deliverance. This put honor on the prophetic order. It may be cited as a reproof to Ephraim for slighting the prophets now sent to him (ver. 10). The Mediator of our salvation is Christ, the "Prophet like unto Moses ' (Acts 3:22).
3. He was effectually delivered. The Lord:
(1) "Brought him forth" - gave him liberty, national existence, laws, privileges, a rich inheritance.
(2) Preserved him. Guarded and kept him in the desert, and safely planted him in Canaan.
III. ISRAEL'S RECOMPENSE OF GOD'S KINDNESS. (Ver. 14.)
1. Ephraim, instead of showing gratitude, provoked God to most bitter anger by his transgressions. He had persisted in this wrongdoing, notwithstanding warning and entreaty.
2. He had brought reproach on God. "His reproach," i.e. the reproach he brought on God by his wanton behavior (cf. Deuteronomy 32:5, 6).
3. He would accordingly be punished. God would leave him to expiate his blood-guiltiness by suffering. - J.O.
I. THE SELECTION OF S PROPHET AS THE INSTRUMENT FOR A GREAT WORK WAS HONORING TO GOD HIMSELF. If a warrior, a hero, had been employed for this purpose, the minds of the people might naturally have attributed their deliverance to his warlike prowess, his strategic genius. But when Moses, the meekest of men, the wisest of human teachers, was appointed, it was clear to all that, though the hand was that of Moses, the power was that of God.
II. THE GREAT WORK WHICH WAS DONE BY THE AGENCY OF THE PROPHET AUTHENTICATED AND ENFORCED HIS RELIGIOUS TEACHING. It could not be otherwise than that the children of Israel should regard with reverence and confidence a man who had led them out from the bondage of Egypt, notwithstanding the opposition of the mighty monarch whom he had defied. His revelations of the Divine character, his declarations of the Divine will, came home to the people with tenfold power because he had been the means of making the presence of God known and felt among them in a way which the whole nation could appreciate. The same principle explains why it was ordained that signs and wonders should so usually accompany the ministry of inspired men.
III. THE COMBINED MANIFESTATION OF DIVINE WISDOM AND DIVINE POWER RENDERS UNBELIEF AND IRRELIGION THE MORE CULPABLE. It was a reproach to Israel that, after experiencing manifestations of the Divine presence so unquestionable, they should have cherished an evil heart of unbelief. Considering that the Christian dispensation has been marked by an even more striking display of divinity than the Mosaic, it may well be asked, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" - T.