Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Hosea 1-3. The body of the book is occupied with discourses, which are full of mingled reproaches, threatenings, and promises. Hosea 4. evidently reflects the condition of the nation during the interregnum which followed the death of Jeroboam II. The key-word of the first strophe (vers. 1-5) is the word "controversy" (ver. 1), used in the sense of a legal action - a suit at law. Jehovah represents himself as prosecuting Israel for breach of contract.
I. THE SUMMONS. (Ver. 1.) A solemn covenant had been concluded at Sinai between God and the chosen nation. It had the Decalogue for its basis, and it had been ratified by sacrifice (Exodus 20-24.). But the people of the ten tribes had infringed the covenant, and exposed themselves (taking the figure of the passage) to legal proceedings for breach of contract. The summons, however, was not served without extreme provocation. For the Lord is not litigious. He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). We shall see from the indictment that almost every obligation of the sacred compact had been violated.
II. THE INDICTMENT. (Vers. 1, 2.) It is a tremendous one. There are two weighty counts in it, and together they show that by this time the very bonds of society in Israel had been dissolved.
1. Religion was dead. (Ver. 1.) "No truth." "Truth" may here be taken to cover the entire masculine side of the religious character, and to include all such strong virtues as veracity, faithfulness, integrity, righteousness, immutability. To love truth is one of the first duties of religion. "Igor mercy." This word represents the feminine side of piety, and includes such graces as pity, clemency, kindness, sympathy. These fatal defects were due to the lack of" knowledge of God in the land." Mercy and truth are glorious perfections of the Divine nature, and their existence as virtues of social ethics depends upon right conceptions regarding him. But Israel had lost the knowledge of Jehovah. The calf-shrines had been her ruin. The image-worship had destroyed the spiritual service of God. And the failure of the heart knowledge led to the failure of head-knowledge also, and that in turn to the loss of all virtue. How sad that there should be "no knowledge of God in the land." For was it not the land of Immanuel, and were not its citizens "a people near unto him"? How dreadful such an indictment against the nation of whom the psalmist exultingly sings, "In Judah is God known: his Name is great in Israel" (Psalm 76:1)!
2. Immorality was rampant. (Ver. 2.) The sin of Jeroboam I., in setting up the golden calves and encouraging the systematic violation of the second commandment, had become the fruitful source of disobedience to the whole moral Law. It had paved the way for the deeper apostasy of Baalism (1 Kings 16:31); and, the first two commandments being overturned, little respect was any longer paid to the others. Ver. 2 presents a picture of the eleven years which followed the death of Jeroboam II., when the forces of revolution and anarchy were struggling for the upper hand. Then the land was full of perjury and violence. All kinds of evil broke forth like a flood. The third commandment, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, were alike disregarded. One deed of blood trod upon the heels of another; assassination following assassination, and slaughter avenging slaughter. The character of the people, and of their prophets and priests, was hopelessly bad. Reproof would be in vain (ver. 4). The men of Israel were as contumacious as those who refused to obey the priest when he gave judgment in Jehovah's Name (Deuteronomy 17:12). Indeed, the sin of the whole kingdom, which began with the renunciation of the Aaronical priesthood, may be symbolically described as that of" striving with the priest." And now, at last, even the very mercy of God had to be withdrawn from the nation.
III. THE JUDGMENT. (Vers. 3-5.) The Lord does not cite and plead in vain. He is "justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges." The punishment of Israel's sin is to be universal and very terrible. The judgment is to fall upon:
1. The soil. (Ver. 3.) The threatening here is that of a universal drought. The very ground is to be cursed because of the people's guilt. The famine is to be one of fearful severity. In a sense, the soil of Palestine may be said to be lying under that visitation yet. Canaan is naturally "a fruitful land; ' but God has turned it "into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein."
2. The lower creatures. Animal life is to decline by reason of the drought. The brute creation shall be reduced to an extremity of hunger on account of the people's sin.
3. The people themselves. They are to be punished with:
(1) Loss of health. "Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish "-the physical frame losing strength and tone, and "joy being withered away from the sons of men" (Joel 1:12).
(2) Loss of food, due to the breaking of the two staffs of life - the failure of the harvests and the destruction of the animals.
(3) Loss of grace (ver. 4). Expostulation with the people would be useless. They hated reproof. God's Spirit had ceased to strive with Ephraim; he was "joined to idols" (ver. 17). The men of Israel were so desperately wicked that it was "impossible to renew them again unto repentance."
(4) Loss of life (ver. 5). "Evil shall slay the wicked." The people of the ten tribes, with their false prophets, are to perish in their sins. The slaughter is to be continuous, neither day nor night being free from it. It is also to be indiscriminate, and at last universal. And the loss of temporal life is only the shadow of deeper spiritual loss, beyond in eternity.
4. The nation as such. (Ver. 5.) "I will destroy thy mother." The Israelitish state was the "mother" of the people; and already, by reason of the family wickedness, she is driving fast along the highway to destruction. These closing words, indeed, are her funeral knell.
CONCLUSION. Two lessons of this passage are specially prominent, viz.
(1) the essential connection between religion and morality;
(2) the inevitable connection between national sin and national suffering. Wherever the right knowledge of God is wanting, there sin and Satan are sure to triumph. Ancient Greece gave to Europe the glorious beginnings both of political and intellectual life and was herself resplendent with the choicest triumphs of literature and art; yet some of her wisest philosophers countenanced the practice of unmentionable vices. The sun never shone upon a more brilliant company of scholars, poets, philosophers, orators, jurists, and litterateurs, than that which adorned the court of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome; yet during the Augustan age the Roman people were plunging into depths of moral degradation which ultimately led to the ruin of the empire. On the other hand, when the general overthrow of the continental monarchs took place in 1848, and the throne of Great Britain remained as stable as ever, M. Guizot said one day to Lord Shaftesbury, "I will tell you what saved your empire. It was not your constable; it was not your army; it was not your statesmen. It was the deep, solemn, religious atmosphere that still is breathed over the whole people of England." For nations, knowledge of God and acceptance of his salvation are necessary, in order to the prevalence of that righteousness which is the source of national stability. And for each citizen in like manner, "This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent." - C.J.
I. THAT GOD HAS SPOKEN TO MAN.
1. This is opposed to the atheistic doctrine, that there is no God to speak; and to the Epicurean doctrine, that the gods care not to concern themselves in the affairs of mortals. It is also opposed to the modern and pseudo-scientific doctrine, that the universe is so bound in the chains of physical law that there is no opportunity for the mind, if such there be, that shapes and controls all things to communicate with the spiritual nature of man.
2. Yet this belief harmonizes with the highest conception we can form of the Eternal. We refuse to believe that he, who is present throughout his material creation, is cut off from the very nature which is most akin to his own.
3. As a matter of fact, revelation is a word of God to man. The prophets, evangelists, and apostles were taken possession of by a supernatural power, that spake to them, in them, and by them, to their fellow-men.
4. Christ himself, the Word of God, sums up in his person, ministry, and sacrifice all that God has of especial interest and value to impart to the minds of men.
II. THAT MAN IS UNDER AN OBLIGATION TO LISTEN TO THE WORD OF GOD.
1. The finite and fallible nature of man stands in need of Divine instruction, guidance, encouragement, and admonition.
2. There is in man a conscience which attests the divinity of the word to which he listens when God speaks.
3. Humility and reverence are becoming to such as thus come into contact with the utterances of Eternal Wisdom.
4. To hear aright involves a prompt and cheerful obedience. For the Word of God conveys not only speculative truth, but the most valuable practical counsels as to conduct, He received aright the word of God who exclaimed, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth!" - T.
I. THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTROVERSY. On the one side is a rightful Ruler; on the other, rebellious subjects. The Ruler is possessed of infinite power; the rebels are feeble, and their resistance is vain. The Ruler has established, by his grace and forbearance, the strongest claims upon his subjects' gratitude and loyal affection; the rebels have shown amazing insensibility and obduracy. This is indeed a just picture of the righteous and merciful God, and of the disobedient and rebellious children of men. The inhabitants of the land, i.e. of Israel, are in this matter representative in their attitude and conduct of an ungodly race.
II. THE GROUND OF THE CONTROVERSY. The prophet, speaking in the name of Jehovah, charges Israel with evil-doing of two kinds.
1. Immorality. The two great classes of human duty are simply described by the two terms, truth and mercy. If men are just and benevolent in their dealing with one another, they fulfill moral obligations; for these virtues comprehend all excellences which may be displayed in human life and intercourse. But where faith is broken and pity is withheld, the bonds of society are loosened, and its dissolution has begun.
2. Impiety. "The knowledge of God in the land" is essential to the well-being of a nation. Where God is unknown, where men live" without God in the world," where his knowledge is suffered to lapse, and the rising generation are trained with no fear of God before their eyes - there vice and crime will be rampant and unchecked, and there will be no guarantee for social order and peace.
III. THE ISSUE OF THIS CONTROVERSY.
1. It cannot be in the victory of the rebellions.
2. It must be in the maintenance of Divine authority and honor.
3. It should be in the repentance and submission of the disloyal, and in a reconciliation between the penitent offenders and the righteously offended God.
4. The gospel is especially intended to bring this controversy to a close, in a way honoring to God and advantageous to sinful man. "We beseech you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." - T.
there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood. In the previous chapters the prophet's language had been highly and somewhat perplexingly symbolical. It is so much so in the short chapter preceding this, that we pass it by. Here he begins to speak more plainly, and in sententious utterances. From the first to the nineteenth verses of this chapter, he reproves both the people and the priest for their sins during the eleven years' interregnum that followed Jeroboam's death. He makes no mention, therefore, either of the king or his family. The subject of these two verses is - A corrupt people and an expostulating God.
I. A CORRUPT PEOPLE. The people are "the children of Israel," or the ten tribes who were living during the terrible period of anarchy which followed on the death of Jeroboam II. Their depravity is here represented both in a negative and a positive form.
1. Negatively. "Because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land." These are the great fontal virtues in the universe; and where they are not, there is a moral abjectness of the most terrible description. "No truth!" A people without reality, not only living in fictions, but their very life a lie. "Nor mercy!' No acts of beneficence performed, and the very spirit of kindliness extinct. All tenderness and genial feeling burnt out. "Nor knowledge of God!" The greatest, the holiest, and the most beneficent Being in the universe utterly ignored.
2. Positively. The absence of these great virtues gives rise to tremendous crimes.
(1) There is profanity. "By swearing." Where God is ignored, all reverence is gone; the sentiments of sacredness can never exist in a heart "without God."
(2) There is falsehood. "And lying." God is the foundation of all realities; and estrangement from him is a universe of lies.
(3) There is cruelty. "Killing." What is life to a man who has no truth, or mercy, or knowledge of God? It is a cheap and worthless thing; and the work of the assassin and the warrior becomes natural to him.
(4) There is dishonesty. "And stealing." Rapine and plunder become rife: he who respects not the claims of God will have but little respect for the claims of man.
(5) There is incontinence. "Committing adultery." Domestic sanctities invaded and the Divine institution of marriage outraged.
(6) There is murder. "Blood toucheth blood." An expression that means a profusion of slaughter, as in the case of massacres, insurrections, and national wars. "Blood toucheth blood;" the streams of crimson gore run from the slain and mingle together. "It was about this time that there was so much blood shed in grasping at the crown: Shallum stew Zechariah, and Menahem slew Shallum; Pekah slew Pekahiah, and Hoshea slew Pekah; and the like bloody work it is likely there was among other contenders, so that the land was polluted with blood (Psalm 106:38); it was filled with blood from one end to the other (2 Kings 15:16)." Such are the corrupt people here portrayed. Alas, that there should be so much in modern England like unto this ghastly and revolting picture!
II. AN EXPOSTULATING GOD. "Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land." Of all controversies this is the most awful. A controversy between men and men, between individuals, Churches, nations, is sometimes very awful, but nothing approaching to this.
1. It is a just controversy. Many of men's controversies are most unrighteous, but this is just. Has not the great Ruler of the universe a right to contend against profanity, falsehood, cruelty, etc.? They are repugnant to his nature; they are detrimental to the interests of his creation.
2. It is a continuous controversy. It began with the first sin, has continued through all preceding ages, and is on now as strong as ever.
3. It is an unequal controversy. What are all human intellects to his? Sparks to the sun. The sinner has no argument to put before him. He cannot deny his sins; they are too palpable and patent. He cannot plead accidents, for sin has been the law of his life. He cannot plead compulsion, for he is free. He cannot plead some merit as a set-off, for he has none. No, in this controversy he must be crushed. "Julian strove a great while against the Lord, but at length he was forced to acknowledge, with his blood cast up in the air, 'Vicisti Galilaee, vicisti! Thou hast conquered, O Galilean, thou hast conquered!"
CONCLUSION. IS this controversy going on with you? It is held in the court of conscience, and you must know of its existence and character. - D.T.
him. "There is no knowledge of God in the land." Hence -
I. A FEARFUL OVERFLOWING OF IMMORALITY.
1. With the knowledge of God there had departed also "truth and mercy" (ver. 1). "Truth" and "mercy," or "kindness," are root-principles of morals. The subversion of them is the subversion of morality in its foundations. These foundation-virtues, however, had been subverted in Israel. Morality has never proved able to sustain itself in divorce from religion. The bond which binds man to God is also the bond which binds him to the practice of the moral virtues. To cut this bond is to set him adrift. He who ignores the primal obligation - that to his Maker - is not likely to have much regard for any other.
2. The result was a fearful overspreading of corruption. "By swearing, and lying, and killing," etc. (ver. 2). Ungodliness ran its course unchecked. It brought forth its natural fruits of rapine, dishonesty, licentiousness, profanity, riotousness, and murder. Society seamed dissolving. Irreligion is the foe, not only of private morality, but of social order. It tends to division, to anarchy, to general disregard of law and rights.
II. SEVERE JUDGMENTS ON THE LAND. "Therefore shall the land mourn," etc. (ver. 3). Man's sin, in its effects, is not confined to himself or to his kind. It overflows on the animate and the inanimate creation.
1. The ground was cursed at first for man's sake (Genesis 3:17).
2. It is degraded in being compelled to sustain the sinner, and to serve as the instrument of his vices.
3. It is visited on his account with plagues, droughts, and famines (Amos 4:6-12).
4. It is despoiled and down-trodden, and suffers from his neglect, his misuse, and his ruthless devastations.
5. The animal creation shares in these calamities, besides suffering much directly from man's cruel treatment. Thus in many ways the creature is made subject to vanity (Romans 8:19-22). The consideration should heighten our sense of sin's enormity.
III. APPROACHING RUIN TO THE NATION. (Vers. 4, 5.) A nation in the moral state above described cannot long escape punishment. It "is nigh unto cursing" (Hebrews 6:8). Its doom hastens on apace. "Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together" (Matthew 24:28). The judgment which would fall on Israel would be:
1. Sure. "Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another," etc. (ver. 4). The thing for the people to do was, not to strive with one another, but to cease to strive with God. But this was a remedy not likely to be adopted. A headstrong, presumptuous, contumacious spirit had got possession of them; they were "as they that strive with the priest" - a proverbial expression for the highest contumacy (cf. Deuteronomy 17:12). It is useless for the wicked to reprove, rebuke, or reproach one another for the miseries which are overtaking them while repentance toward God stands postponed. That is the first and great necessity.
2. Sudden. "Therefore shalt thou fall in the day," etc. (ver. 5). People and prophet would fall continuously, night and day, till all were destroyed. But there seems allusion also to the swiftness with which the calamity would descend. The "day" of their prosperity (Hosea 2:11) would suddenly terminate; a "night" of terrible blackness would succeed. This night would be a specially dark one for the "prophet" - he who had claimed to be a "seer." His predictions discredited, his repute gone, his charlatanry exposed, his visions extinguished in blood, he and his dupes would perish miserably together. "The blind lead the blind," and both at last "fall into the ditch" (Matthew 15:14).
3. Complete. The whole nation would be destroyed. "Thy mother" (ver. 5). - J.O.
I. It is a deprivation both of MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL GOOD.
1. Of material good.
(1) A deprivation of health. "Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish." The physical frame loses its wonted elasticity and vigor, and succumbs to decay and depression. "Languish" like a dying man on his couch. Sin is inimical to the bodily health and vigor of men and nations; it insidiously saps the constitution.
(2) A deprivation of the means of subsistence. "The beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away." Literally, this refers to one of those droughts that occasionally occur in the East, and is ever one of the greatest calamities. What a dependent creature man is! The beasts of the field, the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the sea can do better without him, but he cannot do without them. How soon the Eternal can destroy these means of his subsistence! One hot blast of pestilential air could do the whole.
2. Of spiritual good. "Let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest." The meaning seems to be that their presumptuous guilt was as great as that of one who refused to obey the priest when giving judgment in the Name of Jehovah, and who, according to law, for that cause was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:12). One of the greatest spiritual blessings of mankind is the strife and reproof of godly men. The expostulations and admonitions of Christly friends, parents, teachers. What on earth is more valuable; is so essential as these? Yet these are to be taken away. "Let no man strive, nor reprove another." The time comes with the sinner when God says, "My Spirit shall no more strive with thee; Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." Men have become so dog-like in nature that holy things are not to be presented to them; so swinish that you are to cast before them no more pearls (Matthew 7:6).
II. It is a deprivation LEADING TO A TERRIBLE DOOM.
1. The destruction of priests and people. "Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night." The meaning is, that no time, night or day, shall be free from the slaughter, both of the people and the priests. This was literally true of the ten tribes at this time. And it is true in a more general and universal sense. God's law is, that "evil shall slay the wicked;" and it is always slaying them, whether they be priests or people - the laity or the clergy. If they are not true to God, day and night, they are being slain.
2. The destruction of the social state. "And I will destroy thy mother," Who was the mother? The Israelitish state. And it was destroyed. England is our mother, and our mother will be destroyed unless we banish sin from our midst." - D.T.
I. THE SIN OF THE PRIESTS.
1. They rejected the knowledge of God (ver. 6). They did not engage in the study of the Divine Law, and their lives were a violation of its precepts.
2. They consequently failed to teach the Law to the people (ver. 6).
3. They connived at the national idolatry, on account of the material profit which they obtained from it (ver. 8). The calf-worship brought them many sacrificial fees; so the priests, instead of rebuking the iniquity, "set their heart" upon its continuance.
II. THE SIN OF THE PEOPLE.
1. They willfully forgot the Law of God (ver. 6).
2. The more prosperous they became externally, the more grievously they sinned (ver. 7).
3. They addicted themselves to idolatrous divination, using sometimes teraphim, and sometimes divining rods (ver. 12). In worshipping wooden gods, they showed themselves to be at once wooden-headed and wooden-hearted (Psalm 115:8).
4. They practiced the sensual rites of nature-worship with the temple prostitutes of Ashtaroth, and even were so shameless as sometimes to appear with them at the altar (vers. 13, 14). Impurity in one's religion is often joined with uncleanness of body.
III. THE DOOM THREATENED UPON BOTH. (Ver. 9.)
1. The priests and their sons would be deprived of their office, and the people would lose their high prerogative of being a priestly nation (ver. 6).
2. The glory of the kingdom would be turned into shame by reason of the loss of the numbers, wealth, and power in which they gloried (ver. 7).
3. Their sin would also become its own punishment (vers. 10, 11). The Lord would cause them to "eat of the fruit of their own way." The result would be surfeit, not satisfaction. Their sin would be their torment.
4. God would "give them up to vile affections;" he weald cease to correct them for their idolatry and licentiousness, and thus visit them with reprobation (ver. 14).
CONCLUSION. Ver. 11 contains the solemn statement of a great moral truth respecting all sin, and which is specially applicable to sins of sensuality. Who can place confidence in the moral judgments of an adulterer or a fornicator? How sad when such men occupy positions of influence in Church or state!
"Beware of lust; it doth pollute and foul
I. TRUE RELIGION IS BASED UPON KNOWLEDGE. Idolatry and superstition are compatible with ignorance, and are favored by ignorance. But the religion which is alone proper to man and acceptable to God is spiritual, and therefore intelligent. If this was the case with the Mosaic economy, how much more so with the Christian! In the Old Testament, the" fear of the Lord" and "wisdom" were the same; in the New Testament we are taught that life eternal consists in the knowledge of the true God through his Son. A religion of formal assent or observance, a religion of mere feeling and excitement, is vain. Knowledge alone is insufficient, but knowledge is nevertheless indispensable to true Christianity.
II. THOSE SPECIALLY QUALIFIED AND APPOINTED AS MINISTERS OF RELIGION ARE BOUND TO DIFFUSE KNOWLEDGE. In Israel the priests and the prophets seem to have been both, if not equally, to blame for the irreligion and defection of the people. The priests taught religious knowledge by symbol, the prophets by word of mouth. Both orders were chargeable with negligence of these sacred and honorable duties. In the new and spiritual kingdom of Christ, there are no officers exactly corresponding to either the priests or the prophets of the Hebrews. But those whose ministry it is especially to teach, and all who by reason of their own gifts and position have the opportunity of imparting spiritual knowledge, are bound to communicate the Word of life.
III. THE REJECTION OF KNOWLEDGE ON THE PART OF ANY INVOLVES THEIR OWN REJECTION BY GOD. Lack of knowledge is itself destruction. It is the starving of the soul through defect of spiritual nourishment. "They die without wisdom," is the mournful lamentation of the spectator of moral delinquency am] consequent destruction. Israel was rejected, and punished, was sent into a long captivity, because of religious defection and hardened impenitence. And it [is a law of the Divine government that willful ignorance should entail moral deterioration. The plant cannot be taken into the darkness without suffering; its vitality is at once enfeebled, and gradually diminishes until it dies. It is so with the soul; it is so with the nation. This is a solemn warning to those who love moral darkness rather than light. It is an admonition to those who have the light that they walk therein.
IV. THE HEAVIEST PENALTY FALLS UPON THOSE THROUGH WHOSE NEGLECT THE PEOPLE ARE LEFT IN SIN. Although a prophet himself, Hosea upbraided those called to the prophetic office who left the people in ignorance, and those priests who encouraged and led the people in sacrifices to the gods of' the heathen. Such were threatened with the Divine displeasure, and assured that they should no more sustain sacred offices, but should be deprived of all that made them honorable. It is ever the case that abuse of trust is worse than neglect of privileges, and that those who not only wander themselves, but lead others astray, as their guilt is greater, shall experience a sorer condemnation. - T.
I. IT IS DESTRUCTIVE. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Ignorance is not the mother of devotion, it is the mother of destruction.
1. What does it destroy? The growth of the soul in power, beauty, and fruitfulness.
2. How does it destroy? How can the lack of a thing destroy? How can nothing do mischief? The lack of heat and moisture will kill the vegetable kingdom; the lack of air will cause the extinction of all animal life. The soul without knowledge of God is like a plant without heat and moisture; an animal without the salubrious breeze.
II. IT IS WILLFUL. "Because thou hast rejected knowledge." There is no culpability in a man being ignorant of some things. He may not have the means, the time, or the faculty for the particular attainment. Not so with the knowledge of God; it comes to him whether he will or not. It comes to him in the objects of nature; it comes to him in the necessary deductions of his reason; it comes to him in the intuitions of his moral nature. Besides, in some cases, as with the Israelites, it comes to man by special revelation. He rejects it. Ignorance of God is ever more a criminal ignorance. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse."
III. IT IS GOD-OFFENDING. "I will also reject thee." It is not unnatural or unphilosophic to suppose that the condition of the man ignoring his existence must be to the last degree offensive to him. Hence he deals out retribution.
1. To themselves. "I will also reject thee," etc.
2. To their children. "I will also forget thy children." It is a Divine law springing from the constitution of society, that the iniquities of the fathers shall be visited on their children. Parents cannot do wrong without injuring their offspring. - D.T.
I. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ALIKE IN THE REJECTION OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. (Ver. 6.)
1. The tack of the knowledge of God. Israel possessed this knowledge of God once. It did not possess it now. There was little right knowledge of God's character, of God's Law, and of God's past gracious dealings. Jehovah was regarded practically as one of the Baals. Destitute of right ideas of his spirituality, holiness, and moral demands, the people in their sinning did not feel how far they were going astray. Right ideas on these subjects could hardly penetrate into minds besotted with wine, whoredom, and the unholy rites of Baal and Astarte worship. In our own land of Bibles and churches, what dense ignorance of God and of Divine things might be found to prevail, if the matter were inquired into!
2. Causes of this lack of knowledge. The knowledge of God was lost, not through any fault on God's part in not giving the means of knowledge, or in not sufficiently inculcating on the people the importance of using the means. God had given the people a Law (Hosea 8:12); he had laid upon the Levites the duty of teaching and of promoting the knowledge of its requirements (Deuteronomy 33:10; Malachi 3:5-7); he had laid the same duty on parents (Deuteronomy 6:6-9); he had warned all of the dangers of inattention and forgetfulness. How, then, came the knowledge to be lost?
(1) The priests failed in teaching (cf. Malachi 2:8). A grave responsibility rests on the teachers of a nation. If they are faithful in duty, the knowledge of God can never be absolutely lost. If they do not teach, it is certain that a large number will always remain uninstructed. Their example has an influence on others.
(2) The people tailed in remembering. The priests had rejected (or despised) knowledge; the people had forgotten the Law of their God. The unfaithfulness of the professed teachers did not wholly exonerate those who were neglected. They had other means of knowledge. Had they been diligent in preserving the knowledge they had, and in handing it down by careful parental instruction (Psalm 78:4), this, aided by the study of the Law itself, would have kept alive true knowledge, and have saved the nation. We are responsible for the use we make even of scant opportunities.
(3) The cause of failure in both cases was a moral one. Neither priests nor people cared to retain God in their knowledge. This was how they allowed the knowledge of him to be lost (cf. Romans 1:21, 28). The departure of the heart from God comes first. There is then the indisposition to hear about him or learn about him. Thus the knowledge of him is lost. Such ignorance is culpable.
3. The fatal effects of this lack of knowledge.
(1) The people were destroyed. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." They had destroyed themselves. How many are thus destroyed who, had they been rightly taught in youth, might now have been foremost in God's service! Parents, teachers, ministers, cannot too seriously reflect on the measure of their responsibility (cf. Ezekiel 3:17-21; Ezekiel 33.). We must teach men the way of salvation, if we expect them to find it or to walk in it (Acts 10:6, 33; Acts 16:17, 31).
(2) God rejected those who had rejected him. "I will reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to be." Place, office, honor, opportunities of usefulness, will be taken from us if we misuse them (Proverbs 2:5, 16).
(3) The children were lost through the unfaithfulness of the parents. "I will forget thy children."
II. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ALIKE IN SIN. (Vers. 7, 8.) The sins alluded to are pride and covetousness.
1. Pride was the sin of the people. "As they were increased, so they sinned against me." This is the danger of prosperity. "Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked" (Deuteronomy 32:15). The heart grows haughty, and rebels at the restraints of the Divine Law. Moses foretold the danger, and warned against it (Deuteronomy 8:10-20). Retribution would correspond in character to the sin. "I will turn their glory into shame."
2. Covetousness was peculiarly the sin of the priests. "They eat up the sin of my people," etc. The reference is to the flesh of the sin offerings, or, more generally, to revenues derived from transgressions (atonement money, etc.). The priests prostituted their sacred office for gain. They were glad at the iniquity of the people, if it brought them more income (cf. the Romish sale of pardons, etc.). It is shameful, under any circumstances, to seek gain by conniving at sin.
III. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ALIKE IN THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN. (Vers. 9-11.) "Like people, like priest." It is difficult to say which has the greater influence on the other, priest or people. The people are readily corrupted by their leaders. The leaders, on the other hand, are too apt to take their tone from the community. They act and react, and tend to a moral level. Alike in sin, priests and people are made alike in punishment. "I will punish them," etc. The punishment would be:
1. Congruous with the nature of the sin. "They shall eat, and not have enough," etc. For plenty there would be substituted scarcity; greed would find its recompense in not having enough to satisfy; the nation that boasted of its increase would be made few in number. This is the general character of God's punishments.
2. In part wrought out by the sins themselves. Sin strikes round to be its own avenger. Luxury and waste lead to poverty. The greed of the priest overreaches itself, and leads to the altar being deserted, and the office held in contempt (Judges 17:9, 10; 1 Samuel 2:36). Pampered appetite becomes a tyrant and tormentor. Licentiousness diminishes population.
3. Prepared for by infatuation. "Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart." "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first madden." Infatuation precedes doom. - J. O.
I. SECULAR PROSPERITY ATTAINED BY THE WICKED. They were an idolatrous and rebellious people, yet they had grown rich. Their lands brought forth plentifully, and their merchandise was prosperous.
1. This is a common fact. Wicked men, in all ages from the beginning, have not only been successful in the accumulation of wealth, but as a rule have been more prosperous than their contemporaries. Two things may account for this fact.
(1) Their secular earnestness. Material good is the one thing that fills and fires an unregenerate soul, and for this he labors with might and main. The more earnest a man is in any pursuit (his aptitudes being equal), the more successful. The mere worldly man is "fervent" in business.
(2) Their moral unscrupulousness. They have no high sense of honor, no inviolable rules of right, no swaying sense of moral responsibilities. Hence they will not reject the fraudulent and the false if they will serve them in their course. Fraud and falsehood are perhaps the chief factors in fortune-making. No wonder, then, that the wicked become rich.
2. This is a trying fact. Men of incorruptible truth, honesty, and high devotion have in all ages been baffled and distressed by this fact. "Wherefore do the wicked prosper?" This has been their puzzle.
II. SECULAR PROSPERITY ABUSED BY THE WICKED. "As they were increased, so they sinned against me." Wealth has a wonderful power either for good or ill. With it the truly generous and holy can widen the empire of spiritual intelligence and advance the cause of human happiness; and by it the wicked can increase the corruption and swell the tide of human depravity. In the hands of the wicked wealth can:
1. Promote injustice. Wealth gives a man power to baffle the cause of justice, trample on human rights, and oppress the poor and the innocent. Wealth fattens the despotic in human nature.
2. Promote sensuality. It provides means to inflame the low passions of human nature, and to pamper the brutal appetites. It tends to bury the soul in the warm and sparkling stream of animal passions.
3. Promote practical atheism. The man who has an abundance of the things of this life, and who has not the fear of God in his heart, is sure to sink into an utter forgetfulness of the Author of all good. Thus, then, "as they were increased, so they sinned against me." A terrible fact this.
III. SECULAR PROSPERITY RUINOUS TO THE WICKED. "Therefore will I change their glory into shame." I will strip them of all they now glory in, all their worldly prosperity, and give them shame instead. I will quench all the lights which they have kindled, and which glare around them, and there shall be darkness. I will bring them into wretchedness and contempt. "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee." "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found."
"Today he puts forth
Leviticus 6:26), and the more they had of this the more they were pleased. But this increased with the increase of the sins of the people: the more the people sinned, the more sin offerings; and the more sin offerings, the more priestly banquets. So they "set their heart on their iniquity." That is, they longed for its increase; they had an interest in the growth of sin in the country, so that in truth, with(rot figure, they feed upon the sin of the people. "The more sins," says an old expositor, "the more sacrifice, and therefore they cared not how much sin people were guilty of. Instead of warning the people against sin from the consideration of the sacrifices, which showed them what an offence sin was to God, since it added such an expiation, they emboldened and encouraged the people to sin, since an atonement might be made at so small an expense. Thus they glutted themselves upon the sins of the people, and helped to keep up that which they should have beaten down." Are there no men now that feed and least on the sins of the people? We think such men can be found.
I. THERE ARE SUCH MEN IN THE ECCLESIASTICAL WORLD. There is a class of ecclesiastics who live in palaces, fare sumptuously every day, and roll in chariots of opulence, who profess to be the chief ministers of him who made himself of no reputation, took upon himself the form of a servant, and who, when on earth, had nowhere to lay his head. What is it that sustains these men, keeps up the huge imposture? Simply the "sin of the people." Their credulity, their ignorance, their servility, their superstition. Let these sins die out, and these gorgeous and plethoric hierarchs will have to doff their splendor, live on humble fare, and work as honest men or starve. A story is related of a prelate in Charles V.'s time, who invited his friends to his house, and prepared a hospitable banquet of which they would not partake. "What!" said he, "will you not eat of dainties that are bought at so dear a rate? The meat that I have prepared for you is like to cost me the pains of hell." The prelate felt that he was a priestly impostor, misrepresenting the Man of sorrows, and shamefully neglecting his duty.
II. THERE ARE SUCH MEN IN THE COMMERCIAL WORLD. There are men who have vested interest in the sin of intemperance - brewers, distillers, and traffickers in alcoholic drinks. They live on the sin of intemperance, and raise themselves in hot antagonism against any effort to weaken its power or to limit its influence. There are men who have vested interest in the sin of war. The sin of war! The phrase is infinitely too weak. War comprises all sins. It is the totality of all abominations. Yet the manufacturers of armories and war-ships, and traders in the implements and equipages of fighting men, live on this sin. They hail every intimation of war. The first groan of the infernal lion falls as music on their greedy ears.
III. THERE ARE SUCH MEN IN THE PROFESSIONAL WORLD. What would the lawyer do without chicaneries, breaches of contract, thefts, violences, seductions, and all kinds of social immoralities and crimes? What would popular journalists do were there no scandals, no tragedies, no crime, no fraudulent advertisements? What would become of the sensational novelist if there was no sinful love in the people for the horrible and the prurient?
CONCLUSION. Alas! that men are sinners, but alas! a thousand times more, that men should feed on sin! Herein is the great obstruction to moral reformations. Destroy a popular sin, and you destroy the livelihood of hundreds, and the pomp and splendor of many. How shall sin be put away flora the world? Who shall destroy this work of the devil? Thank God, we have the answer! - D.T.
benefit of clergy." The four words of the text sound like a proverb (Isaiah 24:2). We may justly view them as an apothegm respecting the mutual relation of pastor and people. We read the word "priest" here "writ large" as "presbyter." We use it in its widest sense as denoting a minister of religion - one who officiates in the sacred service of the Church.
I. THERE IS A LIKENESS IN THE NATURE OF THINGS. In their relations to God and to their fellow-men, it is "like people, like priest."
1. The principle applies to matters of personal life. The priest is "taken from among men" (Hebrews 5:1-3). He is by nature guilty, sinful, polluted, helpless, like every other member of the congregation. If he be a true believer, he has been washed in the blood of Christ, and justified by the grace of God, and made a partaker of the Spirit, like other believers. He is exposed to temptations, and prone to backslidings, as they are. He must "fight the good fight of faith," just like others.
2. The principle applies to social relations. A minister does not cease to be a man when he becomes a minister. He is to be "one that ruleth well his own house" (l Timothy 3:4). Like other citizens, he ought to interest himself in politics. The cause of liberty and righteousness, the redress of wrongs, and the elevation of the masses, should be specially dear to him. He must not allow himself to seem an emasculated man, who either has no opinions on public questions, or is afraid to avow them.
3. The principle applies to business habits. The priest is to eat his bread "in the sweat of his face," like other men. Observation of his habits ought not to produce the impression that he is without any engrossing occupation. No man in the congregation should be busier. No other work makes so constant a demand upon all the best energies of human nature as the work of the Christian pastor.
4. The principle applies to the matter of his work itself. According to the spirit of New Testament teaching, no hard-and-fast line is to be drawn between the Christian ministry and other useful occupations. The pastor ministers to a higher part of man's nature than the merchant does; that is all. "Whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17); that is the Christian law of work for all godly men alike. The life of the priesthood has no halo around it which does not belong to the life of the people.
5. The principle applies to spiritual privileges. The pastor enjoys the blessings of grace in common with the people - all of them, and no more. He has the same access to God which other Christian men and women have; no other access, and no nearer. He does not belong to a sacerdotal caste. He is in no respect a mediator. The special application of the term "priest," as denoting one who offers sacrifice, is not for the Christian pastor. In that sense the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Priest of the Church. The one respect in which the pastor is a "priest to God" is that in which, as Archbishop Leighton has put it, "all Christians are God's clergy."
6. The principle applies to the final account. It shall be "like people, like priest," at the day of judgment. His reward, like theirs, shall be in proportion to his diligence, efficiency, and success. And, contrariwise, the punishments inflicted for indolence shall be equally impartial. This is the very point of the text: "I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings." This general principle is so obvious, and so constantly enforced in the teaching of the New Testament, that it seems strange that it should ever have been contravened. Yet the subversion of it has been one of the most cherished errors of the Christian Church. Is not the denial of this principle the cornerstone of the Papacy? The Romish Church exalts one man, and one class of men, to absolute control over the consciences of their fellows. And does not the ritualism of our time at home involve the same error? Ritualism might be harmless if it meant only an ornate and beautiful service; but, meaning as it does a return to sacerdotalism, and the fettering of the spiritual liberty of the Christian people, it is full of deadly poison. Many communions, also, which are free from the temptations to clericalism in its grosser forms, are often in danger of separating those responsibilities, on the part of minister and people, which God has joined together. E.g. do not some minds harbor the notion that a higher standard of piety is appropriate for the pulpit than what is necessary for the pew? And are there not some popular amusements which it is thought quite lawful for other members of the Church to indulge in, but which a minister is expected to abstain from, under peril of being judged an unspiritual man? There is, however, no mention in the Bible of a broader and a narrower gauge of righteousness There, it is" like people, like priest."
II. THERE IS A LIKENESS PRODUCED BY RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE. The relationship between pastor and people is a very sacred one. It is a union in which the one party does not absorb the other; rather, they tend to become filled with the same common life, and to be mutually assimilated in views, sentiments, and spiritual tone. We need not stay to speak of, the influence which the priest has upon the people. For the one direct end of the ministry is to move men to live for God and Christ. ]t is designed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to influence the hearts and habits of the people, not only upon the Lord's day, but during every hour of their lives. In what remains we shall rather consider the influence; which the people exercise upon the priest, to mould his character as a man, and to affect his efficiency as a pastor. The text does not read, "Like priest, like people," although it is frequently misquoted so. It reads, "Like people, like priest;" and thus it invites us to view more especially the influence which the pew has upon the pulpit - an influence which is everywhere present, and which is very subtle and powerful. The priest springs from the people. He enters the ministry with his mind already largely molded by the intellectual and religious influences which obtain amongst them. He may be expected to reflect in his own character the prevalent spirit in relation to Divine things amidst which he has been brought up. A long barren period of spiritual indifference will inevitably give to the Church a race of sapless anti-evangelical ministers; but when, on the other hand, there is a general revival of religion, many earnest young men from among the new converts will be found devoting their lives to the work of spreading the knowledge of salvation. Again, this influence is greatly promoted in connection with the more democratic systems of Church government. The writer of this homily, as a Presbyterian, may be allowed to point out that in every free Presbyterian communion the sap of the Church's influence rises from the people through sessions and presbyteries to the supreme court; and so, peculiarly under this system, it is, "like people, like priest."
1. Sometimes ibis influence is for evil. Take, e.g., the sin of priestcraft itself. It is the corruption of the people, in the first instance, that makes this sin possible. Look at the case of the golden ox at Horeb (Exodus 32:1). Or take that of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. Jeroboam was trading with the spiritual degradation of the ten tribes when he instituted his false gods and his false priests. The malign influence continued down to the time of Hosea, and by-and-by involved the northern kingdom in destruction. Meanwhile, too, the evil leaven was spreading into the yet surviving monarchy of Judah (Jeremiah 5:31). And thus is it still. Whenever the blood of religion runs cold, and opposition to the doctrines of grace prevails, the Church will seek out teachers after her own degenerate heart (2 Timothy 4:3). At such times the congregation desires to have a tacit understanding with the prophet that he is not to "use great plainness of speech" (Isaiah 30:10). Every true minister has sometimes to contend against the temptation to suppress unpalatable truth. It is little more than a generation since thousands of pulpits in the United States submitted to be muzzled regarding the wickedness of slavery; and since hundreds of ministers in the Southern States were laboring to prove that slavery was proper. In our own country, on the other hand, the warning voice of the pulpit in relation to the evil of the drinking customs is still a somewhat muffled one compared with what it has long been in New England. Finally, here, the priest's personal relations to his people are so intimate that their attitude towards him goes largely to affect even the moral tone and fiber of his character. If he submit to be continually petted, the danger is that all manliness will gradually ooze out of him, and that he will come to expect on all occasions different treatment from other men. But surely the Christian ministry ought to be the manliest of callings. The pastor should be one of the hardiest of the trees of grace, and not a mere greenhouse plant. He should desire no allowances to be made for him which are not made for men of other callings. The whole Church should take care that it is not her fault if he is not every inch a man.
2. But often the influence of the people upon the priest is good and honorable. A congregation whose conception of the ministry is formed as the result of the devout study of the New Testament, will look and pray for men in the pulpit who possess the tongue of fire, i.e. the power of the Holy Ghost; not the power to compose eloquent paragraphs and perorations, but power to arouse, convert, edify - power under which hearts will melt, and lives will begin anew. When conversions occur, the pastor preaches with an enlarged heart and prays with redoubled fervor, and his path seems bathed in sunshine. After all, too, it is the people, quite as much as the priests, who guard the orthodoxy, purity, liberties, and spiritual life of the Church. For it is they who constitute the body of Christ; the pastors are only the servants of the Church for Jesus' sake.
1. It is doubtless sometimes the fact that the priest and the people never become assimilated to each other at all. It was so, e.g., in the case of Hosea; in that of Jeremiah; in that of the Lord Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry. But what the text expresses is simply an ordinary tendency in connection with this sacred relationship.
2. Let our closing thought be this, that the obligation involved in the pastoral tie is a mutual one. If his Church responsibilities should weigh heavily upon the minister's heart, they should also press upon the conscience of each member. Both are responsible for the results of the tie. It is, "like people, like priest." - C.J.
I. THERE IS ACTION AND REACTION BETWEEN THE PEOPLE AND THEIR RELIGIOUS LEADERS. A spiritual and vigorous ministry tells lamentably upon the moral and religious habits of the community, and a formal and selfish ministry is a check to moral improvement and a hindrance to national purification. The importance is manifest of securing for every community clergy and teachers who shall raise the moral tone of society. Yet it is only here and there that a minister of religion will be found truly alive to God in the midst of a corrupt and worldly society. For good and for evil, teachers and taught, leaders and led, rise and fall together. "Like people, like priest."
II. THE PEOPLE AND THEIR RELIGIOUS LEADERS ARE ALIKE AMENABLE TO THE RIGHTEOUS RULE OF GOD. If the watchman be faithful amidst general corruption and defection, if he give the people warning, he shall deliver his soul. But if he neglect to do this, and the people perish, shall the slothful or unfaithful watchman escape, in the day of inquisition and of judgment? No! when the people are punished for their ways and rewarded for their doings, the pastors who have encouraged the sheep in their wanderings, and left them to perish in the wilderness, shall be overtaken by the penalties attaching to sinful neglect and abuse of trust. Their official position, even the formal fulfillment of their official duties, shall not exempt them from the fate of the faithless, "Like people, like priest."
1. Let people value a faithful ministry, and give heed to wise and righteous warnings, ere it be too late.
2. Let ministers of religion beware lest they fall into negligent habits, and perform their services in a perfunctory and unspiritual manner, and thus encourage the people in impiety. - T.
I. THERE IS SOMETIMES A DISGRACEFUL RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE.
1. It is a disgrace to a true priest to become like the people. A true priest - that is, a God-made priest - is a man above the average in brain, heart, being, culture, intelligence, and virtue. He who is not above the average is no priest; he is out of his place. A priest is a man to mould, not to be molded; to control, not to cringe; to lead, not to be led. His thoughts should away the thoughts of the people, and his character should command their reverence. Sometimes, nay, too frequently, you see priests become like the people - mean, sordid, groveling. There are men who call themselves priests that are the mere creatures of the people. The true priest is the prince of the people; his ministry is a "royal priesthood."
2. It is a disgrace to a people to become like a bad priest. There are priests whose natures are lean, whose capacities are feeble, whose religion is sensuous, whose sympathies are exclusive, whose opinions are stereotyped, whose spirit is intolerant. Shame on the people that allow themselves to become like such a priest! And yet the transformation is pretty general. How often one meets in a social circle with those who represent the miserable spirit of their little priest!
II. THERE IS SOMETIMES AN HONORABLE RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE.
1. It is honorable when people become like a true priest. When they catch his broad spirit, cherish his soul-quickening thought, and grasp his lofty aims, when they feel one with him in spiritual interests and Christly pursuits.
2. It is honorable to the true priest when he has succeeded in making the people like him. He may welt feel a devout exultation as he moves amongst them that their moral hearts beat in unison with his, that their lives are set to the same key-note, that they are of one mind and one heart in relation to the grand purpose of life.
"I venerate the man whose heart is warm,
I. SENSUALITY AFFECTS THE MIND THROUGH THE BODY. Whoredom and intoxication have ever been, and are to-day, the two great "sins of the flesh." Man's bodily nature is so constituted that these practices derange the nervous system, and render the sinner mentally incapable of many of the serious duties of life. The lunatic asylums are peopled with those who have lost their mental powers through addictedness to wine and to women. And where the evil has not gone to lengths so great, it is nevertheless sufficient to affect the powers of application, the memory, and the judgment.
II. SENSUALITY INJURES THE MIND BY CONSTANTLY DIRECTING IT TO MEANS OF CARNAL GRATIFICATION. The man who is besotted with the hove of pleasure, and is constantly planning new means of animal gratification and excitement, has little energy to spare for loftier flights. Even his intellectual efforts are tainted with the poison. if he be a man of genius, the trail of the serpent is over his works.
III. SENSUALITY CURSES THE MIND WITH SELFISHNESS. Whatever makes a man selfish takes away his heart. The sensual become machines bent upon the vain task of satisfying the bodily appetites. Those addicted to vice have no room in their souls for generous impulses, and have no disposition to engage in works of philanthropy and public good.
IV. SENSUALITY INDISPOSES THE MIND TO RECEIVE THE ENLIGHTENING AND QUICKENING INFLUENCES OF RELIGION. Christianity is a rebuke to the lover of pleasure; for it summons man to a spiritual life, imposes spiritual service, and proffers spiritual joys. He that liveth in pleasure is dead while he liveth. Christ calls us to mortify the deeds of the body. His religion is, indeed, not ascetic; at the marriage-feast at Cana he sanctioned wedded love and the proper use of wine. But he cannot tolerate a sensual life, and has declared plainly that the debauched and the drunken can have no place in his kingdom. For such have permitted Satan to take away their heart, and they have none left to give to Christ.
APPLICATION. Let the young be warned against the insidious and seductive snares which the world lays for their downfall, and into which their weak and sinful nature is too apt to lead them; there is safety only by the cross, and by the Spirit of the Holy Savior. - T.
I. THEY WEST AFTER SENSELESS FOLLIES. "My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them" (ver. 12). The spirit of sin is a spirit of "error." It robs men of their better judgment. No limit can be put to the wanderings of the mind under its influence. The worship of a "stock" is absurd enough, even when the devotee knows no better. But that Israel, who had "been once enlightened," and had known the true God, should go back to "stocks" and "staffs," was a singular instance of fatuity. When the soul has abandoned God, there is no anticipating what crazes it will adopt, what "will-o'-the-wisps" it will follow after (the follies of society, the credulity of skepticism, etc.).
II. THEY FELL VICTIMS TO SUPERSTITION. "They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains,' etc. (ver. 13). They attached a superstitious importance to mountains, hills, trees, groves, etc., in connection with their worship. The mountains lifted them nearer to heaven (Numbers 22:41; Numbers 23:14, 28); the shade of the trees filled them with awe, True religion delivers from superstition, irreligion leaves men a prey to it. Feelings of a superstitious nature become with many a substitute for religion. They seek, in the materialistic accompaniments of worship, a satisfaction which the worship itself would not afford them (altars, ritual, architectural gloom, vestments, etc.).
III. THEY WERE BEGUILED INTO GROSS IMMORALITY. "Therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses [daughters-in-law] shall commit adultery" (ver. 13). The seductions of the place, the character of the worship, and the exciting behavior indulged in at the altar, paved the way for lewd practices. These were incorporated as a part of most heathen worship. The heart which has cast off the fear of God is only too eagerly prepared for licentious conduct. Lust is one of the commonest forms of sin.
IV. THEY SET AS EVIL EXAMPLE TO THEIR JUNIORS. "I will not punish your daughters," etc. (ver. 14). The unblushing conduct of the parents in going to the public altars with immoral women made it impossible to blame too severely the younger generation, who simply followed the example set them by their elders. Thus corruption was propagated, and the most shameless deeds were flaunted in the light of open day.
V. THEY BROUGHT DOWN ON THEMSELVES THE VENGEANCE OF GOD. "Therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall" (ver. 14). The origin of all was the not understanding. They are destroyed for lack of knowledge (ver. 6). - J.O.
Hosea 1:7, the kingdom of Judah is presented in contrast with that of Israel. Here, for the first time in Hosea, we meet with the name "Ephraim." As the United Kingdom over which Queen Victoria reigns is often called simply "England," so the kingdom of the tea tribes sometimes receives the name of" Ephraim," that tribe being the most powerful of the ten, and having within its bounds the seat of government.
I. EPHRAIM'S SIN. It consisted in the subversion of the entire moral Law.
1. General ungodliness. He had broken:
(1) The first commandment, by turning from Jehovah to serve the Baalim.
(2) The second commandment, by leaving the one rightful altar, and bowing down to Jeroboam's graven images. Gilgal had once been a holy place to Jehovah, but it was now noted for the idolatries which were practiced there; and Beth-el, "the house of God," where Jacob had seen the stairway and the vision of the Almighty, is now for the same reason nicknamed Beth-avon, "house of iniquity" (ver. 15).
(3) The third commandment, in swearing by Jehovah while worshipping the calves (ver. 15).
2. General licentiousness. The worship of Baal and Ashtaroth became as impure and revolting as it is possible to imagine. The groves were the scenes of the foulest debaucheries. Every bond of truth and justice was broken. The judges loved to say, "Give ye;" i.e. they gaped for bribes, and sometimes sold their judicial decisions to the highest bidder. Morally, Ephraim was utterly degenerate; he had become just like "turned" or "sour" milk (ver. 18). He was constant in his sin: "They have committed whoredom continually' (ver. 18). He was refractory: in moral conduct he resembled a stubborn cow (ver. 16). And he was obdurate: a fearful and unholy union subsisted between Ephraim and the dead idols which he served (ver. 17).
II. EPHRAIM'S DOOM. It will fall upon him swiftly. It will come in the form of:
1. Banishment. Israel had felt the Lord's fold to be too tight, and the life within it too slow. So the ten tribes are to be driven into exile. They are to be exposed to danger like a timid" lamb" (ver. 16) in the wide wilderness of the world. A tempest of judgment shall suddenly seize them, lift them up, and carry them away like chaff (ver. 19).
2. Shame. (Ver. 19.) As long as the northern kingdom seemed strong and prosperous, its citizens gloried in "their sacrifices" to idols. But now, in these days of conspiracy and revolution, Ephraim will be disappointed in his expectation of help from the Baalim, and will be covered with shame on account of his infamous idolatries. We know that one chief result of the Assyrian and Babylonish captivities was to thoroughly wean the Hebrew nation from its polytheism.
3. Abandonment. (Ver. 17.) Judah is directed to "let Ephraim alone." God's people within the southern kingdom are to send no missionary to reprove him, or to attempt to convert him. They are to leave him to "eat of the fruit of his own way." This word spoken to Judah is often understood as if it referred to the desertion of incorrigible sinners by the Lord the Spirit. Such, however, is at best only a secondary and inferential meaning. It is evident that in this verse God himself pronounces no decree of final abandonment, for we find him saying afterwards (Hosea 11:8), "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" The abandonment here denotes the loss of the "kindness" and "excellent oil" which belong to the reproof of "the righteous."
III. AN ADMONITION TO JUDAH. (Vers. 15, 17.) The southern kingdom is cautioned to shun the contagion of Ephraim's wicked example. For:
1. Judah's condition was meanwhile better. Up to the time to which Hosea 4., refers, Judah was comparatively uncorrupted. There had always been a difference morally and spiritually between Ephraim and Judah. The southern kingdom possessed Jerusalem, and the temple, and the Aaronical priesthood, and the royal dynasty of' David. Many of its monarchs had been godly men, who "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord." And God's restraining grace towards Judah had been so great, that if he had any saints just now in the world, these were in Judah. But:
2. Judah was in danger of contamination. The people of Judah were near neighbors to the ten thousands of Ephraim. They were brethren - two segments of the same nationality. They possessed the same great history, and inherited the same traditions. Israel, moreover, was the larger state, and the more prosperous. Jehovah, therefore, in his anxiety about Judah, warns him to keep away flora such polluting places as Gilgal and Bethel (ver. 15). The Divine counsel to him is, "Let Ephraim alone;" i.e. have no intercourse with him, lest he pollute thee. Stand off from him, for "evil communications corrupt good manners." No effort on your part will avail to cure him of his idolatry; and perchance you may yourself become a partaker of it.
3. The effect of this admonition. Judah did remember it for a time; at least, a great theocratic revival and religious reformation took place during the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. Afterwards, however, a deep spiritual decline set in; and Judah, too, fell into the fatal grasp of Babylon only three or four generations after the fall of Ephraim.
1. We must refuse to partake of other men's sins, if we would not share their punishment. One cannot touch pitch without being defiled.
2. We must beware of the "large place" outside of the Lord's fold. The broad way leadeth to destruction. Men of firm Christian principle are sometimes called "narrow;" but we must dare to be as narrow as the straight line of God's righteousness, and at no time depart from the leading of the good Shepherd.
3. We must cherish shame now for our own spiritual idolatries, and break with every idol, however dear, if we would have confidence before Christ at his coming. - C. J.
Hosea 5:10). She is included with Israel in the threatenings that follow (Hosea 5:5, 10, 14; Hosea 6:4, 11). "The people did yet corruptly," is the testimony of the history (2 Chronicles 27:2). Still her case was not so hopeless but that judgment might be averted by timely repentance. There was still "some good thing" in Judah to work upon; something to appeal to. The prophet bids her take warning from the sister kingdom, "Come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Beth-avon [Bethel]," etc. (ver. 15). Judah should be warned -
I. BY ISRAEL'S INTRACTABLENESS. (Ver. 16.) "Israel is intractable as an intractable heifer." The nation, that is, had proved unruly, obstinate, refractory, backsliding, unteachable. Nothing that God could do would induce it to walk quietly in his ways. This is a picture of the natural, unrenewed temper. "It is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be' (Romans 8:7). In Judah, also, this temper was beginning to show itself. Let it be warned. Israel would soon have liberty enough, and more than it cared for. "Now the Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place." Intractableness springs from a false desire of freedom. It counts the yoke of God a bondage. The punishment would correspond. God would relieve the people of his yoke, but would relieve them at the same time of the care and protection they had enjoyed as his nation. Left, in a condition of dispersion, to realize their helplessness, they would learn to long for the yoke they had once despised.
II. BY ISRAEL'S OBDURACY. (Ver. 17.) Obduracy is defined as that state which implies "a total disregard of Divine calls and warnings, and an insensibility to their importance" (Miller). This is the state to which intractableness tends. In Israel it had been already reached. "Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone."
1. The soul has its idols - its earthly objects, which it puts in the place of God.
2. There comes in time to be such a welding of the soul to the objects of its sinful pursuit, that further remonstrance is useless.
3. When this stage is reached, God "lets it alone." He ceases remonstrating. He abandons it to its sinful courses. Conscience is silent. The Spirit ceases to strive. These awful words, "Let it alone," are the soul's death-knell. Alter this there is no recovery. How solemn the warning to Judah - and to us!
III. BY ISRAEL'S MORAL DEGENERACY. (Ver. 18.) Everything in the kingdom had become spoiled, degenerate, corrupt - like wine turned sour. The Hebrew word means literally, "to turn aside." Life, when turned aside from its right ends, speedily degenerates. So do gifts and blessings. The land is badly tilled; its fruits are wasted in gluttony and debauchery; health degenerates through the waste of the powers of life in profligacy; feasting sinks to mere animalism, etc. This was the state into which Israel had come. "Her rulers [shields] have loved, have loved, shame." They loved shame, and the print of shame was on them. The spectacle should deter Judah from following in their steps.
IV. BY ISRAEL'S EXPERIENCE OF THE FUTILITY OF TRUST IN IDOLS. (Ver. 19.) Destruction was about to descend on the nation. The tempest would carry them away on its wings. A fate
Then it would be manifest how helpless their idols were to aid them. They would be ashamed of the sacrifices they had offered to them. The wicked will one day be driven out of their false confidences. - J. O.
1. We offend when we frequent places notorious for wickedness. This was the character of Gilgal and Bethel.
2. We offend when we lend countenance to impieties practiced in the name of religion. One of Jeroboam's calves was at Bethel. Its presence changed Beth-el, the "house of God," into "Beth-aven," "house of vanity."
3. We offend when we are partners to any profanation of the Name of God. "Nor swear, The Lord liveth." An oath is so solemn a thing that it ought not to be taken except on the most solemn occasions. The light use of God's Name in any connection - especially in connection with circumstances otherwise dishonoring to him - is a heinous transgression. - J.O.
Jeremiah 6:30, compared with Matthew 5:13. At times God seems to reply to man's wish by an echo (compare Job 21:14 with Matthew 25:41). The solemnity of the fact that insensibility follows impenitence.
I. THE WICKEDNESS OF IDOLATRY. "Joined to idols implies vital association with them. Ephraim would not part with idols, and could not be parted from them without death. Three forms o/idolatry prevailed. Each appealed to a distinct section of the people, and all alike drew their hearts from God. The calves introduced by Jeroboam from Egypt were deification of nature," and became at Gilgal and Bethel centers for political and national gatherings. Baal, the sun-god, was a deification of "power," and was worshipped in mountains and high places. Ashtaroth, the Astarte of the Greeks, the Venus of the Romans, was worshipped in the groves, under the shadow of which hideously licentious rites completed the degradation of the people. Each had its own cultus and its own worshippers. We all recognize that an idol may exist in our thought as well as in our sight. The essence of idolatry is the preference of anything to God, so as to allow it to take the place he should fill in our thoughts and affections. The same object does not tempt us all, nor will the same allure us in all the stages of our life. In youth you may worship Astarte; in manhood, Baal; and in old age, the golden calves. Speak of forms of idolatry prevalent in England.
1. The idolatry of wealth. We do not allude to the gaining of money, which is possible to a man who wins it by his shrewdness and skill, by his industry and probity in business. The Lord has given him power to get wealth, which he uses as a steward for God. Describe one who makes money-getting the object of life. lie chooses a business, without any care about its evil associations. He steels his heart to misery and to the claims of his own kin. He ignores the standard of integrity which an enlightened conscience sets up. If advantage is to be gained by bribe or trick, he is not the man to lose it from scrupulousness. He has no time for home duties, for Church work, etc., which claim his efforts. In brief, he dismisses, and feels that he must dismiss, God from his plans; and as the habit grows he becomes "joined to idols," and in his avaricious hardness God lets him alone.
2. The idolatry of pleasure is not extinct. Picture a young girl introduced to society, in whose gaieties she henceforth finds herself entangled. Simple of heart as she is fair of face, she is insidiously injured by the unwholesome excitement, the late hours, the inane and profitless chit-chat of such an existence. Too tired to pray, too flattered to conquer self, she forgets those solemn realities to which the present life is only a vestibule, until in the scales of Eternal Justice she is "weighed in the balances and found wanting." Slowly but surely her early sensibility decreases; and she whose heart was once easily touched, whose conscience was keenly sensitive, becomes the hardened, scheming woman of the world. She is joined to idols: let her alone.
3. The idolatry of sensuousness. The halls of entertainment in which the lusts of the flesh and of the eye are pandered to are thronged nightly by lads whose incipient manliness becomes deteriorated. There, and elsewhere, drink exercises a fatal influence. Short of intoxication, the will is weakened, the memory obscured, the imagination so excited as to find pleasure where otherwise there would be none; and so the first step to ruin is often taken half consciously. Little by little the power of drink asserts itself, till self-control is gone, and its victim cannot live without it; and so joined to idols is he that God says, "Let him alone." In these as in similar temptations many resent holy influence till they cannot feel it; they are "twice dead," "given over to a reprobate mind."
II. THE WOEFULNESS OF INSENSIBILITY.
1. Its nature. "Let him alone," is God's command to all who have been speaking in his name, the prophet being their representative. A minister preaches, and many under the influence of the truth are moved to thought and penitence. One hears as others do, but, unlike them, is hard and callous. Often has he said to himself, "I wish I could go to a place of worship without feeling uneasy;" and at last God says," You shall. Ministers, let him alone!" Friends spoke faithfully to another, urging him to prayer, pleading with him, even with tears, to turn from sin. Sometimes he laughed at their anxiety, sometimes he was angry, at their interference, heartily wishing that they would interfere with him no more. Now they do not. One friend has removed to a distance, the voice of another is stilled by death, and another has given up further effort in utter despair of success. God has said, "Let him alone." Solemn events once stirred to thought, but now their influence is gone. The voice within which warned and entreated is sensibly weaker and less frequently heard. To conscience God has said," Let him alone," and now it is sleeping.
2. The dreadfulness of this condition is seen in the fact that the noblest art of man is gone. Suppose your hand was injured so that you were in pain night and day. Driven to desperation, you take a red-hot iron and sear the flesh, destroying nerves and tissue ruthlessly. The sore heals, the pain is gone. Ay, but the band is useless, and nothing can restore it. So may you deal with conscience. Refusing to go to the good Physician when conscious of your peril, you sin deliberately against God, and thus conscience may be "seared as with a hot iron." Note, also, the ominousness of being left alone. We see all the trees in an orchard pruned with an unsparing yet skilful hand, and are told that they will be the more vigorous and fruitful in the autumn, One tree, however, has been left untouched by the knife. Why? Is it because it is a favorite? You see the answer in the red cross on its trunk, which shows that it is marked for cutting down as a cumberer of the ground. Take another illustration. Two prisoners are convicted of offences against the law. The one, on the ground of his youth and possible reformation, is sent home for his father to chastise, and he goes weeping. The other, a hardened criminal, is to receive no stripes, but may have anything his appetite craves. Yet all look on him with horror. The fact that he is to receive no chastisement is ominous; for he is under condemnation of death. That you are so little troubled by serious thought is no sign of safety; it may be the indication that soon, "being past feeling," you will be "given over to a reprobate mind." "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
1. Address those who fear they are left alone. If the faint desire to return to God yet lingers, if the fear of being forsaken of God makes you tremble, the curse has not yet fallen. The Lord, who is very pitiful and of tender mercy, still says, "Come now, and let us reason together," etc.
2. Address those in danger of being abandoned. Illustrate their position by the story of two brothers crossing a pass, overtaken by a snow-storm. One longs to sleep. He is dragged on for a time by physical force, is pleaded with earnestly, but at last is of necessity left. He sinks to rest; the snow-flakes fall silently and swiftly, and in the depths he finds his grave, and sleeps the sleep of death. You may say to all good influences, "Let me alone," until God puts his seal on your choice, and says to all that might save you, "Let him alone." - A.R.
I. THE CASE DESCRIBED IS ONE OF RESOLUTE APOSTASY AND IDOLATRY. Ephraim is represented, as not only idolatrous, but confirmed in idolatry. Having forsaken the Lord, Israel has gone after strange gods, and is joined unto them as in an adulterous connection. There are those who not only fall into sin, but wallow in sin; who are not only tempted, but delight in yielding to temptation.
II. THE HUMAN ABANDONMENT HERE COUNSELED. "Let him alone." This presumes that many efforts to reform the sinful have been made. It would not, indeed, be lawful for man to give such a direction as this; but God gives it. Why? Doubtless that the sinner may be left to his own devices, to reap the consequence of his sinful ways. Expostulations, entreaties, threats, have all failed; and man can do no more. It is time for God to work; and he teaches by allowing the disobedient to eat the fruit of their conduct. "The way of transgressors is hard;" and they must walk therein in order to learn that this is so.
III. THOSE ABANDONED BY MEN ARE NOT ABANDONED BY GOD. Mercy dictates the treatment here counseled. Ephraim is "let alone," in order that, learning by bitter experience the evil of sin, Ephraim may turn unto the Lord, and so seek and find pardon and acceptance. The eye of God is upon the abandoned sinner, and the hand of God is ready, at the right moment, to be stretched forth to deliver and to save. For such the mercy of the Sovereign, the grace of the Savior, may yet avail. - T.
I. AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE. "Ephraim is joined to idols," is welded to them; his heart is rooted in them. What is an idol? Carved wood, stone, or molded metal, living creatures, flowing streams, or heavenly orbs? No. These are mere representations of idols. The idol of a man is the object supremely loved, whatever that object may be. Gold, fame, beauty, power, pleasure, - whatever the heart is set on, that is the idol. Here in our England we condemn polytheism, but we abound with polytheists. Men have as many idols here as they have objects of supreme love, and they are many. Thousands of Englishmen are joined to their idols; they are chained to them by the ties of their strongest loves and habits.
II. A RIGHTEOUS ABANDONMENT. "Let him alone." It is a hopeless case. Waste no more time in argument and moral appliances. The times comes with every sinner when he is abandoned, his character is stereotyped, and his doom is settled. God says to providence, "Let him alone" - do not disturb him; to conscience, "Let him alone;" to the Spirit," Let him alone." When God abandons the soul, all is over; when the fountain refuses to pour forth its waters, the stream dries up; when the sun refuses to travel up the horizon, all nature will die. - D.T.
I. ITS EMBLEM. It is here compared to the "wind." Why is it like "wind?"
1. In its agitatior. Wind is a disturbance or an agitation of the atmosphere. The average condition of the air is silence and serenity. The normal condition of Divine government is quiet, it has no tempest where there is not wickedness. The growing heat of sin so disturbs it that it often breaks into an all-devastating fury, it is like "wind."
2. In its violent. There is often a mighty power in the wind. It sometimes "rends the mountains and breaks in pieces the rocks." It has overturned the "mountains by the roots;" it has "broken the cedars, even the cedars of Lebanon, and shaken the wilderness." Cambyses being once in the wilderness with the soldiers, a strong and violent wind broke and buried thousands of them in the sand. Who can stand before retributive justice when it comes forth in its power? "The wind hath bound her up in her wings." Avenging justice binds its victim up, and carries it away - whether it be an individual, a nation, or a world - as tempests carry off the chaff.
II. ITS EFFECT. "And they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices." Shame - moral shame, the primary element in the soul's hell - ever comes to the victim of retributive justice.
1. There is the shame of disappointment. All plans broken, all purposes thwarted, all hopes destroyed. "Let me not be ashamed of my hope," said David.
2. There is the shame of exposure. The wicked always live in masquerade; they always appear to be what they are not; they are necessarily hypocrites. Retributive justice takes off the mask and lays bare their hearts in all their revolting foulness.
3. There is the shame of remorse. This is the most burning shame of all. It sends its fires down into the very center of man's being, and sets all the moral nerves aflame.
CONCLUSION. Take warning, ye wicked sons of men; let not the present stillness of your atmosphere deceive you; your sins are generating a heat that must sooner or later so disturb the elements about you, as to bring on you ruin and fill you with "shame and confusion of face."
"A year has ended. Let the good man pause,