Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Hosea 4., however, Judah was addressed as occupying a different position, morally and religiously, from Israel; whereas here the southern kingdom is represented as sharing in Israel's guilt and condemnation. It would appear, therefore, that when the warning of Hosea 4:15 was uttered, Judah's defection was already beginning.
I. THE NATURE OF SIN. It is a "dealing treacherously against Jehovah" (ver. 7), the rightful Spouse of the soul, who expects from his people that faithfulness which a wife owes to her husband. It is also "whoredom" (ver. 3); for infidelity to the marriage covenant leads to the cherishing of many objects of sinful desire. It is also "pride" (ver. 5) - that deeply rooted self-will which is the secret spring of idolatry. Sin in all these forms dishonors God and grossly defiles the soul.
II. THE ROOT OF SIN. Sin is not merely an outward work. It is not confined to acts of the will. The root of it is "the spirit of whoredoms" (ver. 4). This spirit has its seat at the very center of man's being. The Apostle Paul calls it "the law of sin" (Romans 7:23, 25). It is the controlling principle of the unregenerate life, and it often leads the believer captive even in spite of his renewed nature. "The spirit of whoredoms" dominates the soul like a demon, and the sinner serves it as its slave. Satan lays hold upon this spirit as his helper in his constant assaults upon the minds of men. And only the Holy Spirit can impart adequate strength to prevail against it.
III. THE CONTAGIOUSNESS OF SIN. The condition of Israel at the time to which the prophet here refers graphically illustrates this. Hosea saw that the national life was leavened with iniquity. The pyramid of the commonwealth, from apex to base, was honeycombed with idolatry and impurity. The national sin was shared by:
1. The priests. Instead of being the spiritual guardians of the people, they were as snares and nets to entrap them. Ministers of religion become such:
(1) By neglecting teaching, as the priests of the ten tribes had done (Hosea 4:1).
(2) By preaching unsound doctrine. So, in 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' the Flatterer, "a black man clothed in white," led Christian and Hopeful into his net.
(3) By living inconsistent lives. So the wickedness of Eli's sons made many unbelievers.
2. The courts. The princes, too, were men-trappers - "sportsmen rather than watchmen" (Jerome). Jeroboam L had been such. He "drove Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin" (2 Kings 17:21). Ahab had been such, in introducing the worship of Baal and Asbtaroth (1 Kings 16:30-33). Menahem was such, for his reign was steeped in cruelty, and he laid his help upon King Pul of Assyria rather than upon the God of Israel (2 Kings 15:19). Even the princes of Judah were becoming such; they were removing the landmarks between the worship of Jehovah and idolatry (ver. 10). Our rulers in like manner entrap the British nation into sin, when they promote immoral legislation upon pleas of expediency or state policy (e.g. the attempted state regulation of vice in the army, and the patronage of the opium trade between India and China).
3. The entire Hebrew nation. The people of both kingdoms foolishly fell into the snares and nets which were spread for them. They were full of "pride" (ver. 5) and vain confidence. They despised prophetic instruction, and became contumacious and refractory in their sin.
IV. THE HEREDITY OF SIN. Had Israel continued faithful to the national covenant with Jehovah, he would have begotten children to God, instead of "strange children" (ver. 7), who did not belong to the home, and did not spring from the marriage union. But a godless nation is composed of godless parents, who bring up godless children. Infants who have done no evil yet inherit evil, and may bring with them into life terrific predispositions towards it. The iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the children. It is comforting, however, to remember that good traits descend by inheritance as well as bad ones. God's way of regenerating the world is to maintain his Church in it, and to cultivate thereby the heredity of holiness. There is a sense in which grace does run in the blood (Exodus 20:6; Psalm 112:2; 2 Timothy 1:5). The children of Christian parents are not "children of wrath" (1 Corinthians 7:14; Acts 16:31).
V. THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN. Ephraim's "whoredom" was detected (ver. 3). It lay exposed every moment to the eye of God. He penetrated all the fair excuses which the people made to themselves for it. "The pride of Israel doth testify to his face" (ver. 5), i.e. he shall be openly convicted of it, and condemned for it. The punishment is to be:
1. Immediate. (Ver. 7.) "A month shall devour them." Destruction shall overtake them as swiftly, so to speak, as the moon shall wane. Already the sword of vengeance is hanging over their beads by a single hair.
2. Sudden. (Ver. 8.) The invasion of the Assyrian power as the rod of the Divine anger is announced with an injunction to sound horn and trumpet. For the prophet already sees the drawn sword of Jehovah in the conqueror's hand.
3. Certain. (Ver. 9.) The punishment "shall surely be." God is as true to his threatenings as to his promises.
4. Terrible. "Israel and Ephraim shall fall (ver. 5). "A month shall devour them" (ver. 7). "Ephraim shall fall (ver. 5). "A month shall devour them" (ver. 7). "Ephraim shall be desolate (ver. 9). I will pour out my wrath upon them like water" (ver. 10). The whole nation became wasted with misery and was plunged headlong into destruction. The story of the decline and fall of the Hebrew monarchies illustrates very vividly the doom of sin.
VI. HOW THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN MAY BE AVERTED. Even this dark passage is not altogether without some hopeful suggestion.
1. A false expedient. (Ver. 6.) The festivals and worship of the Mosaic Law were still observed at the idol-shrines of Bethel and Dan. So Ephraim, when his doom began to overtake him, endeavored to pacify the Divine anger by bringing costly sacrifices of Socks and herds. But, although the people sought the Lord thus, they did "not find him;" for they came in a spirit of slavish fear, and did not bring the sacrifice of a contrite heart and an obedient will.
2. The eight way. (Ver. 4.) God is waiting to be gracious; but he requires of sinners a willingness to "frame their doings to turn unto their God." We must gladly allow the Holy Spirit to regenerate and purify our souls. The only use of the external sacrifices of the Law was to typify the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Sacrifice for sin; and to symbolize the "living sacrifices" which men offer to God when they yield themselves wholly to his service. - C.J.
i.e. the king and his court, to announce to the leaders of the nation the punishment that will follow their apostasy from God and their idolatry, by which they have plunged the people and kingdom headlong into destruction" (Keil and Delitzsch). These words lead us to consider the depravity of a nation.
I. PRIESTS AND PEOPLE ARE INVOLVED IN IT. "Hear ye this." All orders and degrees of men are here cited to appear before the Almighty on account of the sin of the country. Both priests and rulers, clergy and kings, ought, not only to be unimplicated in the moral corruption of a country, but to be evermore the most zealous and efficient agents in purifying the spirit and elevating the moral character of a nation. In their elevated positions they should not allow a breath of general depravity to touch them, but pour down evermore upon all grades of people sentiments and influences that shall purify and bless. Alas! it has been otherwise; both have, for ages, proved the greatest contaminators and curses of their race. Priests have oftentimes been fiends in sacerdotal robes, and kings beastly voluptuaries in royal garb and stately gait. No man is a real priest of God, and no man a true king, who is not the most distinguished exemplar and promoter of those heavenly virtues which alone can confer peace, stability, and honor upon a country.
II. UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD IS A PROOF OF IT. "For judgment is toward you, because ye have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor." "As hunters spread their net and snares upon the hills Mizpah and Tabor, so ye have snared the people into idolatry, and made them your prey by injustice." As Mizpah and Tabor mean a "watch-tower" and a "lofty place," a fit scene for hunters; playing on the words, the prophet implies, "In the lofty place in which I have set you, whereas ye ought to bare been the watchers of the people, guarding them from evil, ye have been as hunters entrapping them into it." The meaning is "These kings and priests use their elevated positions in turning men away from the true God." "And the revolters are profound to make slaughter, though I have been a rebuker of them all." "Revolters" means apostates, and these apostates were "profound," deeply rooted, sunk into the lowest depths of idolatry. "To make slaughter." Their offerings were not sacrifices, they were mere slaughters, butcheries; there was nothing sacred about them. Here, then, is a proof of the general depravity of a nation. A nation that is unfaithful to its true God is a tree rotten in its roots, a river poisoned in its spring. Philosophically there can be no morality where there is no fidelity to him whose existence is the foundation and whose will is the rule of all virtue.
III. THE JUDGE OF THE WOULD IS COGNIZANT OF IT. "I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me." No covering can conceal it, no argument will disprove it. It lays bare to the eye of Omniscience. "I know Ephraim." Though they were ignorant of him, he knew them and read them through and through. Nations often cover over their depravity By the promotion of benevolent institutions by encouraging the ordinances of public worship, and by a public profession of religion. But there is an eye that penetrates through the thick covering - he sees the devil in the angel; "He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins of the children of men."
CONCLUSION. Suppose not that national depravity is something distinct from the depravity of the individual. It is but the aggregation of individual depravities. Nor suppose that, because priests and kings may be the mightiest agents in promoting national immorality and irreligion, each individual in the nation is less accountable for his sins on that account. No priest or king can compel us to sin. Sin is an act of freedom, and for it each man is held responsible to the Most High. Daniel Webster was once asked, "What is the most important thought you ever entertained?" He replied, after a moment's reflection, "The most important thought I ever had was my individual responsibility to God." - D.T.
I. GOD WILL ENSNARE THE ENSNARERS. (Ver. 1.) The dignitaries-priests, kings, and nobles - had led the people astray. They had put stumbling-blocks in their way. They had become a snare to them. Mizpah and Tabor may be referred to as conspicuous centers of wickedness. The figure is taken from the ensnaring of birds. We may ensnare:
1. Through evil example. The example of a court, of the aristocracy, of ministers of religion, of the wealthy, has a powerful influence on the tone of morals and religion. If evil, it gives an immense impetus to corruption. The multitudes think nothing wrong which they see in their betters (cf. Massillon's sermon on 'Des Exemples des Grands').
2. Through traps set for virtue. The idolatrous festivals patronized by the great were direct temptations put in the way of the people. What shall we say of the countenance given by many in high positions in our own land to the turf, to demoralizing sports, to gambling institutions, to Sunday festivals, etc.? The toleration and licensing of vice by public authorities is the spreading of a "snare." Every effort should rather be made to remove stumbling-blocks from the midst of a community.
3. By direct solicitation to evil The vicious take a wicked delight in seducing others. They gloat in seeing the innocent brought down to their own level. They are active and unremitting in compassing men's destruction. They cannot bear that any should remain to be a rebuke to them. Hence the ensnaring influence of evil companionships. God, however, declares that the ensnarers in Israel shall not escape his judgment. "Judgment is toward you." He will dig a pit for those who are digging pits for their fellows. He will take them in their own net, and destroy them suddenly (Psalm 7:11-16; Psalm 9:15, 16).
II. GOD IS MORE PROFOUND THAN THE PLOTTERS. (Vers. 2, 3.) The revolters in Israel were "profound to make slaughter." They laid their plots deep. They concocted conspiracies (Hosea 7:3-7) and planned deeds of blood (Hosea 6:8, 9). They thought that no one knew of their doings. But God was more profound than they were. "I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hid from me." They would find him "a rebuker" of them all. All their sins were "naked and open" to him - their plottings, their "whoredom," and everything else.
1. The wicked pride themselves on their deep cunning. They imagine that their deeds are wrapped in impenetrable darkness. They are strong in a fancied security. They think no one can find them out.
2. They forget about God. All the while God is watching their doings; he is privy to their most secret counsels; he knows how to counterwork and defeat their plots; he will at last "bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
III. GOD IS NOT REGARDLESS OF THOSE WHO REFUSE TO KNOW HIM. (Vers. 4, 5.)
1. The sinner puts God out of his thoughts. Israel had turned its back on Jehovah. It would not know him. "They will not frame their doings," etc. The cause of this was the evil heart of unbelief in the people, leading them to depart from the living God. "The spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them." The alternative rendering of the clause first suggests that, once the sinner has embarked on evil courses, he finds it difficult again to leave them: "Their doings will not suffer them to turn unto their God." The "spirit of whoredoms" binds the transgressor in love to ways that are not, right. These fix themselves as habits, customs. The latent sense of wrongdoing in the mind will not allow of further debate with conscience. The sinner, in this condition, is apt to think that, because he has succeeded in forgetting God, God has forgotten him as well.
2. God, however, is not forgetful of the sinner. With the latter it may be "out of sight, out of mind; ' but there is neither" out of sight" nor "out of mind" with God. The "pride of Israel" here (ver. 5) and in Hosea 7:10 is best interpreted - after the analogy of the similar expression, "excellency [pride] of Jacob," in Amos 8:7 - of God himself, Israel's glory. Israel had forgotten God, but God remembered Israel, and testified against it "to its face." He testified now
(1) by reproofs; and would testify afterwards
(2) by judgments. "Therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity." What applied to Israel applied also to Judah - "Judah also shall fall with them;" and applies to every sinner. God testifies to the sinner of his sins, of his ingratitude, of his folly, and of his certain punishment. This, through conscience, in the Word, by the Spirit, by the reproofs of his servants.
IV. GOD CAN WITHDRAW HIMSELF WHEN MEN SEEK. (Vers. 6, 7.)
1. The time would come when, convinced of its folly, Israel would begin to seek eagerly after God. "They shall go with their flocks and with their herds," etc.
2. But it would then be too late. "He hath withdrawn himself from them." The reason why God would thus withdraw himself would be that there was no sincerity in their approach. They would come with flocks and herds, but not with the essential sacrifice - the contrite spirit. The character of Israel was not such as held out any hope of genuine repentance. "They have dealt treacherously against the Lord," etc. (ver. 7). The right time to seek the Lord is while he "waits to be gracious." After that it is too late (Proverbs 1:24 34).
3. They would be cut off in a short time, and in the very midst of their sacrifices. "A month shall devour them with their portions" (cf. Zechariah 11:8). - J.O.
I. THE FACT OF DIVINE OMNISCIENCE. It is incredible that there should be any bounds to Divine knowledge; yet it is scarcely to be realized by us that there should be none. See how this thought inspired the psalmist (Psalm 139.). This natural attribute of the Creator is one mode, so to speak, of his infinite perfection.
II. THE BEARING OF THE DIVINE OMNISCIENCE UPON THE STATE OF THE SINNER.
1. No aggravation of the sinner's guilt is hid. If Ephraim sinned against light, this was known to Jehovah; if Israel rejected the counsels of the prophets divinely sent, this was not hid from him.
2. No extenuation of the sinner's guilt is hid. The temptation to which he yields, the weakness which succumbs, the regret and remorse which follow sin, - all are known to Heaven.
3. The judgment which God passes is righteous and unquestionable. There is no escape from the Divine tribunal to our own; for the voice within accords with that from above.
III. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS OF THE DIVINE OMNISCIENCE.
1. It should lead to a full and immediate confession. God knows all, and if we do not acknowledge our sin it will not be hid from him. Whilst "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive."
2. It should lead us to watchfulness and prayer. If his eye is ever upon us, let our eyes ever be up unto him; if hid ear is ever open, let our cry ever ascend unto him.
3. It should lead the accepted soul to constant relieve, ship with God. To the Christian the thought of the Divine omniscience is fraught with holy, filial, rejoicing confidence. It is not only our sins that are not hidden from him; he knows our prayers, our love, our hopes, our all. - T.
Repent or be damned," "Believe or be damned." They seldom go further. But few have any notion that there is a certain way to repent and believe, fewer still indicate the nature of that way. Long have I had the impression, which deepens with years, that there is as truly a way to "repent and believe," as there is a way to cultivate the farm, build the house, or master any art or science. The text implies this, "They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God." What is the way? How are men to frame their doings as to turn unto their God?
I. BY THINKING ON CERTAIN SUBJECTS. We ever act from motives when we act as men. But what are motives? The creation of our own thoughts. The man who centers his thoughts on the advantages of wealth, or fame, or knowledge, turns to their pursuit. His thoughts excite his feelings, and his feelings urge him to a resolution. But what are the subjects which thought must dwell on in order that we may move religiously? If I am to repent I must think of my sins in relation to the character of the holy God and the self-sacrificing Christ. It is only as I muse that the fires of penitence will burn. If I am to believe, I must think upon the object who alone has the attributes to command my highest confidence and unbounded trust. If I am to love supremely, I must meditate on the perfections of him who is supremely good. In fact, if a man is to turn to any new course of conduct, he must have new motives; and if he is to have new motives, he must have new thoughts. "I thought of my ways, I turned my feet unto thy statutes." Thought is the rudder of the soul; as it is turned, the vessel takes the direction.
II. By thinking on certain subjects IN A CERTAIN WAY. There is a way to think. You may think on the most serious subjects in such a way as to produce profanity and mirth. How must you think, then, on these subjects?
1. With concentration. The whole thinking force of the soul must be centered on them. The most solemn of them, taken up lightly and dispatched with a reflection or two, will not produce the result. if you would bring the beams of the sun into a scorching flame, you must draw them to a focus. And if you would make the great truths of religion kindle repentance within you, you must focalize them by a process of intense thinking.
2. With persistency. It is not enough to bend even the whole force of the mind upon them now and then at distant intervals; it must be done consecutively. They must be kept constantly before the mind as objects in its horizon so grand and solemn that all else shall seem trifling and contemptible.
3. With devotion. God must be brought to them. His presence and aid must be invoked.
III. By thinking on certain subjects WITH A PRACTICAL INTENT. TO think upon religious subjects in order to increase our theological knowledge or to make our feelings glow for a time with a religious sentiment would be of little service; but to think in order to translate the thought into action, to embody the idea in the life - this is the way. They must be thought upon in order to answer the question, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
CONCLUSION. "This is the way; walk ye in it." Think. Thoughtlessness is the curse of humanity. Think on right subjects; wrong subjects will do you harm. Think on right subjects in a right way; thinking on right subjects in a wrong way must prove disastrous. Think on right subjects with a practical intent, not for speculation nor sentimentalizing, but for action - real, living, godly action. Thus frame your doings, and "turn unto the Lord." Think, brethren, think; there is nothing like noble thoughts. "It is a grand thing when, in the stillness of the soul, thought bursts into flame, and the intuitive vision comes like inspiration; when breathing thoughts clothe themselves in burning words, winged as it were with lightning; or when a great law of the universe reveals itself to the mind of genius, and, where all was darkness, his single word bids light be, and all is order where chaos and confusion were. Or when the truths of human nature shape themselves forth in the creative fancies of one life, the million-minded poet, and you recognize the rare power of heart which sympathizes with and can reproduce all that is found in man" (F.W. Robertson). - D.T.
I. THE OCCASION OF THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL. The Scriptures often represent the Lord as hiding his face, as turning away his ear, as repenting him of the favor he had shown, as hiding himself. Why such action? Surely this withdrawal is always and only because of human sin. Whilst his subjects are loyal, they always find him gracious and accessible; but from the rebellious and obstinate he withdraws himself in displeasure.
II. THE SIGNS OF THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL. In the case of Israel prayers were unheard, sacrifices were disregarded, enemies were suffered to triumph, and national disasters followed one another thick and fast. God has ways of withdrawing himself from a soul as well as from a nation. He removes the joyful light of his countenance, and suffers afflictions to befall those from whom he hides his face for a moment.
III. THE PURPOSES OF THE DIVINE WITHDRAWAL. It is a purpose of mercy, not of malevolence or vindictiveness. If men will not obey God, he leaves them to taste the fruits of disobedience. When they are wearied of his absence, and turn unto him, it is with great mercies that he gathers them. - T.
I. THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL WORKS. "They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord." "Seek the Lord:" this implies a distance between man and his Maker. The Bible abounds with allusions to this distance. What is it? It is not the distance of being, for both are in close vital contact. "In him we live and move and have our being." It is the distance of character. Between the sympathies, principles, and aim of the two there is a distance vast as infinitude. "His thoughts are not our thoughts," etc. Hence the great work of man is to seek the Lord morally - to seek his character, and thus become a "partaker of the Divine nature."
1. This is a work in which all men should engage. The grand duty of all souls is to be "holy, even as he is holy." Holiness is the condition of fellowship with him in "whose presence there is joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
2. This is a work which all men must attend to sooner or later. The time hastens on when the most wicked and worthless man on earth will wake up to the importance of holiness, and strenuously try for his friendship. Of all works, then, this is the most important. Every ether avocation of life is puerile compared with this. Man's great want is the Lord - the Lord's character, the Lord's fellowship. Without this, whatever else he has, he is lost - lost to happiness, to usefulness, and to the grand ends of his being.
II. The most important of all works UNDERTAKEN TOO LATE. "They shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them." Though they take with them their flocks and their herds, and are prepared to make the greatest sacrifices, their efforts are fruitless - "He hath withdrawn himself from them." This is the language of accommodation. He puts forth no effort to conceal himself, he alters not his position, but he seems to withdraw from them. As the white cliffs of Albion seem to withdraw from the emigrant as his vessel bears him away to distant shores, so God seems to withdraw from the man who seeks him "too late."
CONCLUSION. "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices." D.T.
I. THE PROOFS OF TREACHERY. The main principle of infidelity and traitorousness is the preference of another for God. Whether our own carnal gratification, or the applause of men, or the wealth of this world, be desired rather than the service and favor of God, in every such case treason, spiritual treason, has been committed. This is shown by idolatry, by sensuality, by worldliness, by pride; all of which are evidences of a treasonable intent.
II. THE SIN OF TREACHERY. This appears when we consider:
1. God's claim upon our fidelity. In calling us his and treating us as his, in providing for all our wants, our Divine Lord has established and exhibited his right to our loyal subjection and service.
2. God's grace and indulgence. He has shown His affection by his considerate care for our happiness. To be disloyal to him is base insensibility and ingratitude.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF TREACHERY. God is as a king, who cannot be indifferent to the treason, the rebellion, of his subjects; he is as a husband, who cannot pass over the infidelity of his wife. He will exercise his sovereign power, vindicate his righteous claims, and punish the disloyal and the traitorous. To avoid a doom so awful, "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way." - T.
Joshua 18:28) and Ramah (Joshua 18:25) were two elevated places in the tribe of Benjamin, and were well adapted for signals on account of their lofty elevation. The introduction of these particular towns, which did not belong to the tribe of Israel, but to Judah, is intended to indicate that the enemy had already conquered the ten tribes, and had advanced to that on the border of Judah. The idea of the passage is - Give an earnest warning of the judgment about to break on the people, sound the alarm, and startle the population, The subject suggested is that of an earnest ministry. Notice -
I. THE NATURE OF AN EARNEST MINISTRY. "Cry aloud." Let the whole soul go forth in the work. Let us not mistake the nature of earnestness. It is not noise. Ignorant people imagine that the minister who makes the greatest noise, roars and raves the most in the pulpit, or parades his doings most in journals and reports, is the earnest man. "A celebrated preacher, distinguished for the eloquence of his pulpit preparations, exclaimed on his death-bed, 'Speak not to me of my sermons. Alas! I was fiddling whilst Rome was burning.'" It is not frightening people. Often he who is the most successful by graphic and impassioned descriptions of the judgment day and hell fires, in terrifying men, is considered the most earnest. This is a mistake - a popular and fatal mistake. It is not bustle. He who is always on the "go," whose limbs are always on the stretch, into this house and that house, into this meeting and that, who is never at rest, men are always disposed to regard as an earnest man. Genuine earnestness is foreign to all these things. It has nothing in it of the noise and rattle of the fussy brook; it is like the deep stream rolling its current silently, resistlessly, and without pause. An earnest ministry is living. It is not mere preaching or service, occasional or even systematic; it is the influence of the whole man. It is the "Word" made flesh; so permeating the whole man that every word, act, and expression are as the blasts of a Divine trumpet, rousing sinners to a sense of their moral danger. Such a ministry is a matter of necessity. The Divine thing in the man becomes irrepressible, it breaks out as sunbeams through the clouds: "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." Such a ministry is constant. It is not a professional service; it is as regular as the functions of life; it is a thing that is "in season and out of season" - in shops and in sanctuaries, on hearths as well as in pulpits. Such a ministry is mighty. Men can stand before the most thunderous words and violent attitudinizations, but they cannot stand before such a ministry as this; they are before it as snow before the sun.
"Oh! let all the soul within you II. THE NEED OF AN EARNEST MINISTRY. Why was the "comet" to be now blown in Gibeah, and the" trumpet" in Ramah? Because there was danger. The moral danger to which souls around us are exposed is great. There is the danger of losing, not existence, but all that makes existence worth having - love, hope, power, friendship, etc. "To be carnally minded is death." It is near. It is not the danger of an invading army heard in the distance. The enemy has entered the soul, and the work of devastating has commenced. It is increasing. The condition of the unregenerate soul gets worse and worse every hour. Brothers, let us be earnest in our work, always "abounding in the work of the Lord!" "Time is earnest, passing by;
II. THE NEED OF AN EARNEST MINISTRY. Why was the "comet" to be now blown in Gibeah, and the" trumpet" in Ramah? Because there was danger. The moral danger to which souls around us are exposed is great. There is the danger of losing, not existence, but all that makes existence worth having - love, hope, power, friendship, etc. "To be carnally minded is death." It is near. It is not the danger of an invading army heard in the distance. The enemy has entered the soul, and the work of devastating has commenced. It is increasing. The condition of the unregenerate soul gets worse and worse every hour. Brothers, let us be earnest in our work, always "abounding in the work of the Lord!"
"Time is earnest, passing by;
I. IS THE GRASP OF THE DESTROYER. (Vers. 8, 9.)
1. Ephraim's destruction came upon him suddenly. It was on him before he was aware. Ere almost he could realize the fact, the land was in possession of invaders. It is thus that God's judgments commonly overtake transgressors. While they are saying to themselves, "Peace and safety," "sudden destruction cometh upon them" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). They mocked at the warning and professed to disbelieve it. Now, to their amazement, they find God's word come true. They are caught in the wave of judgment. "The sorrows of death compass them, the pains of hell get hold upon them." It was so at the Flood (Matthew 24:38, 39); at Sodom (Luke 17:28, 29); at the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 17:30, 31); and shall be so at the Lord's second advent (Matthew 24:48-51).
2. When Ephraim's hour came he was powerless to save himself. He might blow his trumpets; he might raise cries of frantic distress; he might warn Benjamin; but he could not deliver his own soul. So, in the day of judgment, the haughtiest of those who now exalt themselves against God will find themselves to be impotent. They will find their foe to be one against whom there is no contending. They may cry for mercy; may shout to the mountains and rocks to fall on them (Revelation 6:16); may plead, like Dives, for their "five brethren" (Luke 17:27, 28); but they will know that for themselves there is no hope in resistance.
3. Ephraim's desolation would be complete. "Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke," etc.
(1) The judgment would fall in successive strokes. The land was frequently overrun by the Assyrians, prior to the final overthrow. There is an evolution in God's judgments. They run on till they are fulfilled. "That which shall surely be."
(2) It would be entire. The land would be reduced to utter desolation.
(3) It would be lasting - "great plagues, and of long continuance" (Deuteronomy 28:59). So the last clause may be rendered, "I have declared what is lasting."
II. THE DANGER TO JUDAH. (Vers. 8, 10.)
1. The ruin of one sinner is a warning to others. Judah was partaker in Israel's sins. The destruction of Ephraim was therefore of very special significance to the sister state. It portended judgment to it also. When the northern kingdom was in the hands of the foe, the cry might well be raised, "After thee, O Benjamin."
(1) The sinner overtaken by judgment gives warning. He is now conscious, if he was not previously, that" it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Transgressors have often died warning those related to them against drinking, sabbath-breaking, bad company, and whatever else brought them to their shameful end.
(2) Conscience gives warning. When judgment is seen descending on another, conscience is quick to interpret the meaning for one's self. "After thee, O Benjamin."
2. The ruin of one sinner foretells judgment on others. It not merely warns of it; it predicts it. It says, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). Judah's punishment was as certain as Ephraim's.
(1) Judah's sins called for punishment. "The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound." They changed God's commandments. They refused to be bound by the Law God had given them. They altered the limits of conduct to suit themselves. They called that good which God called evil. They were thus like boundary-removers. All sin is a boundary-removing. It is the refusal to abide within prescribed limits. It is "transgression," a stepping across. It is "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4).
(2) God had threatened Judah with punishment. That threatening he now ratifies and repeats. Ephraim's overthrow was a pledge of its fulfillment. "I will pour out my wrath upon them like water." The judgment predicted is not of so fatal a kind as that on Ephraim, but it would be still very terrible. It is well to remember that there is wrath in God; that it is roused against sin; and that, in its effects, when poured forth, it is dreadful and overwhelming. Here it is figured as a flood which carries all before it.
III. MORAL CAUSATION. (Vers. 11, 12.) The moral state of Ephraim and Judah, and the judgments which overtook them, stand in the relation of cause and effect. There is nothing arbitrary in the Divine government. God but gives to the sinner what his own doings have earned (Hosea 4:9).
1. Judah's sin and Ephraim's sin were practically the same sin.
(1) Judah's princes removed the bound; but this also was the sin of Ephraim. What was the institution of the calves but a removing of bouncer set by God's commandments? It was the substituting of a human statute for a Divine - the setting aside of a prohibition of the Decalogue.
(2) The people of Ephraim "walked willingly after the commandment," i.e. after the man-made statute; but so also did the people of Judah. They followed the example of their princes. Both kingdoms were antinomian.
2. Judah's punishment and Ephraim's punishment would accordingly be alike. "Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness." The agency at work in their destruction, while supernatural in origin, would work through natural causes and in accordance with natural laws. Destruction is prepared for by a process of internal decay. This decay is gradual, secret, sure, ruinous. It affects all parts of the social fabric. It so eats away its substance that it needs but a touch to make it fall in pieces. This is precisely what happens in a state when moral laws are tampered with. - J.O.
Numbers 36:7). Hence the sacredness of landmarks, as a means of preserving accurately the boundaries of family possessions. One of the curses spoken from Ebal was directed against the man who should remove them (Deuteronomy 27:17). Elijah pronounced doom upon Ahab, not for the murder of Naboth alone, but also for "removing the bound" of his vineyard (1 Kings 21:19). Our text, however, invites us to consider rather the spiritual truth which this offence suggests. "The princes of Judah" were guilty of still deeper sin than the removal of boundary-stones. They had broken down moral and religious harriers. And this form of evil is a crying one in the world still.
I. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" OF THE INSPIRED WORD. The Bible closes with a curse upon such (Revelation 22:18, 19). Yet the Jews committed this sin in relation to the Old Testament Scriptures by venerating the traditional law, as written in the Talmud, more than "the commandment of God" itself (Matthew 15:6). The Church of Rome errs in the same way, by giving the Apocrypha a place alongside of the canonical Books, and by insisting upon apostolical and ecclesiastical tradition as the complement of Scripture - equally inspired with it, and equally authoritative as a rule of faith. And those Protestants also "remove the bound" who deny the plenary inspiration of the Bible, and adopt the theory of partial inspiration in any of its forms.
II. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE. Both of these are Divine institutions - the one spiritual in its nature, and the other secular. The spheres of the two are distinct; and each within its own sphere is independent of the other. But bow hard have men found it to let the landmarks between Church and state remain where God set them! In one country the Church invades the domain of the state, directing and controlling it - a usurpation which, in its fully developed form, is Vaticanism. In another country the state encroaches upon the domain of the Church, and exercises rule in sacred things - which is Erastianism. "Render therefore unto Caesar," etc. (Matthew 22:21).
III. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" AS REGARDS PURITY OF WORSHIP. "The princes of Judah" had shifted the landmarks between the worship of Jehovah and idolatry. And this offence is committed still by all who introduce modes of worship which are not in accordance with the Word of God. An elaborate sensuous ceremonial, and any form of service which assumes that ministers belong to a distinct sacerdotal order, are a removing of the bound. The secularization of the sabbath belongs to the same class of sins. Those who teach that now every day is alike sacred to the Christian are doing their best, although without intending it, to undermine one of the foundations of morality. For the sabbath law is imbedded in the Decalogue. Not only so, but "Christ hath took in this piece of ground" (George Herbert). So it is at our peril if we remove the boundary-stones which separate the Lord's day from the other days of the week.
IV. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION. The conflict between the two is concerned very much about the landmarks of their respective provinces. In old times it was the theologian who was generally the chief offender. It was the Church that forced Galileo to abjure the sublime truths of his scientific creed, and that condemned the three laws of Kepler as heretical. At present, however, the chief "remover of the bound" is the scientist. The student of physical nature, unless he be decidedly a Christian, is prone to lack ability to appreciate moral evidence. Thus some of our most eminent scientific investigators in these times would have us give up our faith in moral freedom, in personal immortality, and in the existence of God himself. But the domain of physical science is one province of truth, while that of religion is another. Scientific questions are to be settled on scientific grounds, and by men who have had a scientific training. The theologian, on the other hand, must keep within his own frontier, and resolutely defend those moral facts and religious truths with which it belongs to him to deal. It is his function to assert the reality of moral freedom, the supremacy of conscience, the intuition of immortality, and those deep experiences of guilt and soul-hunger to which only the gospel of Christ can respond. A curse shall fall upon those who remove these landmarks.
V. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" OF EVANGELICAL DOCTRINE. Orthodoxy has its landmarks which separate the apostolic doctrine from "another gospel." What are the great historical creeds and confessions, but so many bounds which the Church has erected in order to discriminate truth from error? And is not every article in one of these creeds, as it were, a boundary-stone? Experience has shown Christendom that the most effectual way of exposing heresies is to translate the doctrinal teaching of Scripture into the philosophical language of a confession. Yet there have always been "removers of the bound" of "sound doctrine." The Broad Churchman and the rationalist object to the evangelical boundaries; and they have never done so more loudly than at the present day. Even in some orthodox Churches, doctrines contained in the standards are from some of the pulpits unblushingly contravened. We must "hold fast the form of sound words." It is at our peril if we "remove the bound."
VI. SOME "REMOVE THE BOUND" AS REGARDS NONCONFORMITY TO THE WORLD. The evil one labors to obliterate as much as possible all distinct boundary-lines between the Church and the world. He tempts ministers always to preach "smooth things." He tempts the rulers of the Church to neglect the administration of discipline. He tempts the members of our congregations to imbibe the spirit of the world, and to try to serve both God and mammon. The Ten Commandments are so many boundary-stones which mark the track of the narrow way; but we often regard the path as too strait, and would fain remove the stones back a little. We ask concerning certain worldly pleasures, - "What harm is there in them?" instead of inquiring what good there is. The tendency of the Church in these times is by no means towards asceticism or Puritanism. Few Christian people are too strait-laced; the danger is rather that we become spiritually lax, and that we "remove the bound." - C.J.
I. THAT THE SHARING OF SIN INVOLVES MEN IN THE SHARING OF SIN'S PUNISHMENT.
1. The sin of Israel is mentioned in ver. 11. "He was oppressed because he willingly walked after the commandment." The Hebrew (tsar) signifies a human ordinance as opposed to a Divine law, and refers here to the commandment of Jeroboam which inculcated calf-worship, on which the kingdom of Israel, established by his revolt, was founded (see 1 Kings 12:26-33). This idolatry was willingly, willfully chosen by Ephraim, and it destroyed him. How often the thing chosen by the sinner is the means of his destruction! The Jews cried, "We have no king but Caesar," and Caesar destroyed them. A nation chooses prosperity, not righteousness, and the prosperity of fools destroys them. Instances from history.
2. The princes of Judah shared this sin of idolatry. (Ver. 10.) They "were like them that remove the bound." In a literal sense no doubt this was true. Deuteronomy 27:17 was disobeyed. The infringement of another's rights, whether in business or policy, ever brings a curse. Probably Judah would speculate as to the profit that might be made out of Israel's loss - how its own bounds might be extended when the kingdom of the ten tribes was removed; but the reference in the text is not to that. Hosea alludes to the sin of Judah in breaking down that barrier which idolatry had raised between the two kingdoms, which separated between God's people and Baal's people. The act was fatal. It was like the opening of a dyke, which no longer could keep out the floods around; and the tide of invasion swept over Benjamin and Judah. The cornet and trumpet on the beacon-hills of Gibeah and Ramah (ver. 8) proclaimed this woe too late to avert it. "I will pour out my wrath upon them like water." Show how the breaking down of the barriers between the Church and the world, between Christianity and paganism, between the Christian and the godless, in business, society, etc., brings desolation to spiritual life and to the kingdom of Christ.
II. THAT THE WARNING OF GOD IS TO BE SEEN SOMETIMES IN SIGNS OF GRADUAL DECAY. The gradualness of the earlier judgments is pointed out in ver. 12 as distinguished from the overwhelming destruction suggested by ver. 14. The "moth" and the "rottenness" do their work stealthily and slowly. You take out the cloth laid by: it is consumed. You rest your weight on the furniture: it breaks down with a crash. Perhaps a distinction is suggested here. "The moth" destroys the softer cloth more rapidly than "rottenness" the harder wood. An indication that Judah would be more slowly consumed. The main idea, however, is that destruction would not come at first suddenly and without warning. This is true of the method of him to whom judgment is a strange work. Examples:
1. A nation suffers, from its want of integrity, justice, etc., in depressed trade, severance and suspicion between various classes of society, wars costly in treasure and blood. All this comes far short of national destruction; yet each is a call to sobriety, self-rule, integrity, humiliation before God, lest worse things befall it.
2. An invalid finds his health slowly Impaired. Weakness gradually increases. Senses become less keen. All such symptoms are reminders that he should be seeking after a forgotten God.
3. There is a consuming of character which may be illustrated from this verse. A distaste for what is good creeps over the heart; doubts which at first seem trivial bring insecurity to the religious profession; indulged sins honeycomb the spiritual life, etc. As the moth is hidden and makes no sound, yet does its fatal work, so may men lose innocency and truth, till nothing is left of the old fabric of faith and hope. Therefore pray, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
III. THAT THE TEMPTATION TO THE DISTRESSED IS TO FIND HELP IN MAN RATHER THIS IN GOD. (Ver. 13.) The "sickness," or inward disease, refers to moral corruption; the "wound," caused by a blow from without, to national weakness resulting from wars and political disasters. The first recognition of these evils produced this effect - "Then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb." Not two persons, but one referred to here. Jareb (equivalent to "the warrior") is Hosea's epithet for Assyria's king. An account of this incident is given in 2 Chronicles 28:19, 20, where it is expressly stated that Assyria "helped him not." The sin and curse involved are pointed out in Jeremiah 17:5, 6. How ready we are to fellow Ephraim in this I We involve ourselves in difficulties by our folly and self-seeking, and then try to disentangle ourselves by force or fraud. Examples: A nation bound by cords of its own weaving cuts its way to deliverance by the sword. A man in business becomes embarrassed by overtrading, and tries to right himself by further speculation, which ruins himself and others. A Church fails of the outward prosperity it seeks, and resorts to unholy methods to win transient success. This was the temptation our Lord endured and conquered (Matthew 4:8-10): "All these things wilt I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."
APPLICATION. To those in sorrow about sin. Beware of getting rid of your anxiety by plunging into gaiety or companionship, but pray to the Father who seeth in secret. Resist the temptation to trust to outward observances, to self-improvement, etc., instead of falling at the feet of him who says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I wilt give you rest." For none are the words (Hosea 6:1) more intended than for you, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up." - A.R.
I. THE NATURE OF THE JUDGMENTS. We gather from the passage that these are of three orders, each being more severe than the preceding.
1. Slow consumption. (Ver. 12.) The "moth and the worm" ("rottenness" should be, as in the margin, "a worm") suggest silent, stealthy, secret destruction. So the kingdom of the ten tribes is as a garment eaten by a moth, while the kingdom of Judah is as a tree slowly destroyed by a worm. The worm makes way much more slowly than the moth does; and we find, accordingly, that the "moth" ate up Israel in two generations from the time of this prediction, while the "worm" did not accomplish its work in Judah until after the lapse of a century and a half. Now, God's judgments still, both upon nations and individuals, are often like the moth and the worm. Many an ungodly commonwealth has the heart eaten out of it by a process of imperceptible moral deterioration. And frequently a young man of reputable character, who has never gone astray into gross vice, yet degenerates in spiritual tone, and loses the finer fibers of his nature, just because he has not cultivated elevating tastes, and has been content to cherish low ideals.
2. Sudden ruin. (Ver. 14.) If God sometimes punishes slowly, he does so at other times swiftly. The two Hebrew kingdoms resisted his judgments, when, in his long-suffering, he came at first somewhat lightly as the "moth" and the "worm." So he is compelled to adopt measures more dramatic and terrible. Jehovah will be to Ephraim as a strong full-grown "lion" - full-grown because the northern kingdom is very soon to fall; and he will be to Judah "as a young lion," which must become mature before it will do its work of destruction. Both kingdoms, however - each in its turn - are to be overwhelmed with a sudden rush of ruin. "'I, even I,' the Lion of the tribe of Judah, will tear the nation and take it hence. I will no longer be its guardian; I will make it my prey." How many powerful Gentile states also have been suddenly destroyed! And how many ungodly men, who "spread themselves like a green bay tree," have been "cut down like the grass"!
3. Settled desertion. (Ver. 15.) The Divine judgment upon the sinner, in its superlative form, consists in the withdrawal of the Divine favor and protection. When the two captivities took place respectively, the Hebrew nation became, as it were, God-forsaken. The Lord smote Ephraim and Judah, and tore them, and "returned to his place," leaving them bruised, bleeding, and to all appearance dying. To be thus God-deserted is, to a moral and spiritual being, the acme of punishment. When a soul becomes consciously God-forsaken, it begins to taste the pains of hell.
II. THE CAUSE OF THE JUDGMENTS. They fell upon the Hebrew people on account of their idolatry, aggravated by the unbelief which they showed in resorting for aid to the Assyrian power.
1. The worship of false gods. (Ver. 11.) "The commandment" refers to Jeroboam's idolatrous innovation in erecting the two golden calves. This measure was the result of considerations of state policy on the part of a prince who did not himself rely upon the Divine protection. But the people accepted it "willingly," showing thereby that their hearts also were not right in the sight of God. The calf-worship was the root of the entire apostasy of Israel; it prepared the way fur the grosser idolatry of Baalism, with its attendant train of moral disorder, vice, and crime. It was Jeroboam's sin that sowed the seeds of the ruin of the whole Hebrew nation.
2. The calling in of incompetent physicians. (Ver. 13.) Israel was suffering from the "sickness" of anarchy, and bleeding from the" wound" of revolution; yet he would not recognize in these distresses a token of the Divine displeasure. He refused to listen to the messages of warning which God sent him by Hosea, and kept looking to second causes alone, both for the disease and the remedy. Ephraim "sent to King Jareb." The word "Jareb means warrior," "adversary," "avenger;" and it is to be understood probably not as a proper name, but as a poetical epithet applied by the prophet himself to the King of Assyria. Again and again the two Hebrew kingdoms sought to make peace with the Assyrian power, buying him off by tribute, and occupying a position of abject vassalage (2 Kings 15-18). All, however, was in vain. This un-theocratic policy did not even heal the hurt slightly; it made matters worse (2 Chronicles 28:20). But the nations still have their King Jarebs to whom they apply when seeking a cure for their moral maladies. How numerous are the favorite social nostrums! With some, the hope of Great Britain is the further expansion of trade; with others, the spread of education; with others, "local option;" with others, parliamentary reform; with others, religious equality. But such expedients, however desirable in their own place, are at best only plasters and patches. Where the heart is the seat of the disease, the cure must be inward and radical. We must send, not to King Jareb, but to King Jesus. So, also, there are Jarebs to which guilt-stricken and sin-sick souls still apply. One seeks an anodyne in the pursuit of wealth; another fills high the bowl of sensuous pleasure; a third pays court to culture and the fine arts; a fourth labors hard in his own strength to live a clean moral life. But none of these pursuits can salve the wounds of sin. Only the application of the blood of Christ can bring spiritual life and health and blessing.
III. THE DESIGN OF THE JUDGMENTS. (Ver. 15.) The Book of Hosea is full of clouds and darkness; but behind them somewhere the sun is ever shining. And as we gaze upon the storm we see the rainbow of grace springing up in its very bosom. This closing verse of the chapter reminds us that the judgments are inflicted:
1. To produce penitence. For, after all, the Lord has only withdrawn a little way from his apostate people. If they will but have it so, he has only "returned to his place" for a short time (Isaiah 54:7-10). He has not cast them off finally, but only until they shall become convinced that they can have no comfort or salvation apart from himself. The first step in repentance is conviction and acknowledgment of sin. And multitudes of souls have been brought to take this step during a time of "affliction."
2. To bring back to God. To "seek God's face" is to seek his favor, his Son, his Spirit, the ordinances of his grace. To "seek him early" is to do so urgently, after the manner of one who will rise before the morning in very eagerness. If we view this verse as a prediction regarding the future of the Hebrew nation, we may find partial fulfillments of it towards the close of the Babylonish exile (Daniel 9.), and on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.); and we know that it will be fully realized in that national conversion of the Jews which is to precede the second advent of Christ (Zechariah 12.; Romans 11.). But the promise before us has a perennial lesson also to "sinners of the Gentiles." It assures us of the glad welcome which our God will give us - despite whatever guilt may have stained our lives, and the deep corruption which assuredly still dwells within our hearts - if only we turn to him in penitence, and make him our Righteousness and Strength and Hope. - C.J.
Isaiah 1:9; Psalm 39:12), the worm injuring both wood and flesh." The words indicate God's quiet method of destroying. In two or three verses in this chapter he is spoken of as proceeding in his work of destruction as a lion: "I will be unto Ephraim as a lion." Here as a "moth" - working out ruin silently, slowly, and gradually.
I. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN' THE BODIES OF MEN. Oftentimes men die violently and suddenly, but more frequently by some insidious hidden disease which, like a "moth," works away quietly at the vitals, gradually poisoning the blood and undermining the constitution. In truth, the seed of death, like a moth, gnaws away day after day and year after year in every human frame. The moth is often so small and secret in its workings that medical science can seldom find it out, and, when it finds it out, though it may check it for a time, it cannot destroy it: the moth defies all medicine. Truly we are crushed by a moth. At the heart of some of the strongest trees in the forest there are hosts of invisible insects noiselessly at work; the forester knows it not, the tree seems healthy; until one fine morning, before a strong gust of wind, it falls a victim to these silent workers. So with the strongest man amongst us.
II. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN THE ENTERPRISES OF MEN. Often men find it impossible to succeed in their worldly avocations. Mercantile establishments that have been prosperous for generations have the "moth" in them. For years the fabric has been so firm that it has made but little way, the tree has grown and flourished though the worm was at its root; but the time comes when the effects are seen, and the existing proprietors begin to wonder they do not go on as usual, why the fruit is not so juicy and abundant as in their father's time. One of their projects brings poor results, and another fails, at last the establishment collapses; the outsiders wonder, and a panic is created in the market. What is the matter? There has been a "moth" there for years. It has not been conducted by godly men, and that in a right spirit; so God sent a "moth," and the moth has been working away for years silently, secretly, and gradually, until all the vitality has been eaten up.
III. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN THE KINGDOMS OF MEN. For a time a country flourishes; there is a vigor, an elasticity, an enterprise, a love of justice and honor in the spirit of the people, and all things seem to prosper. Its commerce flourishes, its laws are respected, its influence great amongst the nations, but there is a "moth" in its heart. Effeminacy, luxury, ambition, greed, self-indulgence, servility, irreverence, - these are moths, and decay sets in, and it falls, not by the sword of the invader, but by its own "rottenness." We fear there is a "moth "secretly but regularly working out the ruin of England. "I will be unto Ephraim as a moth." it was thus with the nations of antiquity. Where are they? The moth has eaten them.
"When nations go astray from age to age,
IV. HE WORKS DECAY THUS SOMETIMES IN THE CHURCHES OF MEN. What destroyed the Churches of Asia Minor? The "moth" of worldliness and religious errors. Some of our modern Churches are obviously slowly rotting away. A realizing faith in the invisible, brotherly love, practical self-sacrifice, Christliness of spirit, - these, which constitute the moral heart of the true Church, are being eaten up by the moth of secularity, sectarianism, superstition, and religious pretence. Thus, too, individual souls lose their spiritual life and strength. Many a soul, once earnestly alive to the higher things of being, has lost its vigor and fallen into spiritual decay. God deliver us from those errors of heart that like a moth eat away the life! "We read," says Archbishop Trench, "in books about the West Indies of a huge bat, which goes under the ugly name of the vampire bat. It has obtained this name, sucking as it does the blood of sleepers, even as the vampire is fabled to do. So far, indeed, there can be no doubt; but it is further reported, whether truly or not I will not undertake to say, to fan them with its mighty wings, that so they may not wake from their slumbers, but may be hushed into deeper sleep, while it is thus draining away the blood from their veins. Sin has often presented itself to me as such a vampire bat, possessing as it does the same fearful power to lull its victims into an even deeper slumber, to deceive those whom it is also destroying." - D.T.
I. NATIONAL DISEASE AND SUFFERING. The language is, of course, figurative, but it is very expressive. Whoever reads the chronicles of the chosen people must become familiar with the civil troubles, afflictions, and disasters they were called upon to endure. Had they been faithful to God and to one another they would have been spared very much which they brought upon themselves of sorrow and of disaster.
II. THE APPEAL TO POLITICAL PHYSICIANS. It was to Assyria that the Israelites were often so foolish as to appeal. Beset by Babylon on the cast and Egypt on the south, the Hebrews were often at a loss how to steer their course. Their danger was lest they should rely for healing and for safety upon "an arm of flesh." It was not unnatural that they should do so; but it was wrong and foolish policy, as the event always proved.
III. THE POWERLESSNESS OF THE NATIONS TO HEAL THE MALADIES AND WOUNDS OF ISRAEL. The children of the covenant gained nothing by going after other gods or by courting the alliance of heathen kings. These physicians, when called in, could effect no cure and could afford no relief. In this we discern a symbol of the powerlessness of all human friends and helpers to bring deliverance to the captive soul, health to the spiritually sick and suffering, relief to the burdened.
"I have tried, and tried in vain, IV. THE LESSON OF THIS EXPERIENCE. It is an easy one to understand, but a difficult one to practice. We are summoned to cast aside all confidence in human helpers, and to rely simply and only upon the Divine Physician. In him is salvation. "There is balm in Gilead; there is a physician there." Christ is the Healer alike of body and of soul, of individuals and of nations; and his healing is both for time and for eternity. - T.
IV. THE LESSON OF THIS EXPERIENCE. It is an easy one to understand, but a difficult one to practice. We are summoned to cast aside all confidence in human helpers, and to rely simply and only upon the Divine Physician. In him is salvation. "There is balm in Gilead; there is a physician there." Christ is the Healer alike of body and of soul, of individuals and of nations; and his healing is both for time and for eternity. - T.
I. Men are OFTEN MADE CONSCIOUS of their spiritual malady. Depravity is a disease of the heart; it is often represented as such in the Bible, and it is so. As a disease it impairs the energies, mars the enjoyment of the soul, and incapacitates it for the right discharge of the duties of life. Often men remain insensible to this disease, but the time comes when they become deeply conscious of it. As "Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound," they see their moral wretchedness, and cry out, "Who shall deliver us from the bondage of this sin and death?" A great point is gained when the sinner becomes conscious of his sins.
II. Men under a consciousness of their spiritual malady FREQUENTLY RESORT TO WRONG MEANS OF RELIEF. Ephraim now "went to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb." The Assyrians had neither the power nor the disposition to effect their restoration to political health. How often men whose consciences are touched by the events of providence and the truths of the gospel appeal for help to some moral Assyrian! Sometimes they go to scenes of carnal amusement; sometimes to skeptical philosophizings; sometimes to false religion's. These are all "miserable comforters," "broken cisterns."
III. That resorting to wrong methods of relief WILL PROW UTTERLY INEFFECTIVE. "Yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound." What can worldly amusements, skeptical reasonings, and false religions do towards healing a sin-sick soul? Nothing. Like anodyne, they may deaden the pain for a minute only, that the anguish may return with intenser acuteness. There is but one Physician, and that is Christ. Public amusers, skeptical philosophers, entertaining novelists, ceremonial priests, - these have been tried a thousand times, and have failed - signally failed. Christ only can bind up the broken-hearted. "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - D.T.
I. THE FATAL SICKNESS. (Ver. 13.) "When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound," etc. The sickness was a deadly one. Its diagnosis is not difficult. "The real disease," one has said, "was apostasy from the Lord, or idolatry, with its train of moral corruption, injustice, crimes, and vices of every kind, which destroyed the vital energy and vital marrow of the two kingdoms, and generated civil war and anarchy in the kingdom of Israel." It was the disease of sin, which in more or less aggravated forms afflicts us all. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isaiah 1:5).
II. THE PHYSICIAN THAT COULD NOT HELP. (Vers. 13, 14.) "Then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb [the warlike king]," etc.
1. The sinner will apply to any helper rather than to God. Israel had God to come to, but he would not avail himself of this aid. He preferred to send to the Assyrian. The reason was that he did not believe much in God's help. He knew, too, that, did he come to God, he would require to "acknowledge his offence" (ver. 15) and give up his evil ways. For this he was not prepared. In like manner, the sinner's first resort is usually to earthly helpers. He neglects the great Physician. He looks to man for his comfort, counsel, strength, assistance, and happiness. He tries the "broken cisterns" (Jeremiah 2:13). He seeks remedies, not in the gospel, but in science, philosophy, politics, literature, and art. It is in vain. The physician is not to be found there.
2. No helper other than God can heal the sickness. "Yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound." "King Jareb" could not heal Israel, and neither can these earthly physicians we speak of heal the trouble of the sinner. It passes their skill. The Assyrian could not heal Israel; for:
(1) The cause of the trouble lay, not in anything outward, but in the moral state. Social, moral, and political evils need a deeper remedy than any earthly helper knows how to apply. Unless a cure can be discovered for sin, other remedies will fail. The seat of the mischief is in the heart. It is that which needs healing.
(2) God's hand was against Israel. "For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah," etc. So long as God had this "controversy" with the people it was vain to look for healing. God being against them, no human being could make things go well. They might heal, but he would rend again. They might rescue, but he would take away. They might gather, but he would scatter. There is no help so long as God is angry with us.
(3) After all, the Assyrian was not honest in his help. He did not really mean to help Israel. He sought only his own ends. Once he got the nation in his power, he would turn and rend it. Instead of helping, Assyria became the chief instrument in God's hand in inflicting the threatened punishment. Equally vain is the help we seek from earthly physicians. They cannot render it, even supposing they were willing, and they often are not willing. Our own age finds no real balm for its wounds in its theories and systems. It needs Christ. He is the only true Physician.
III. THE PHYSICIAN THAT COULD HELP. (Ver. 15.) This was Jehovah. But him, as yet, Israel would not seek.
1. Only on one condition could his help be bestowed. This was that they should "acknowledge their offence, and seek his face." It was the indisposition to do this which kept Israel back.
2. Till Israel was brought to this point of acknowledgment God would hide himself in chastisements. "I will go and return to my place," etc. It is the sinner that must change. God cannot.
3. There remained the hope that affliction might ultimately lead them to seek him. "In their affliction they will seek me early." - J.O.
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS AFFLICTION IS to be found in unrepented sin. 1. The unwillingness of God to send trouble to his creatures is constantly insisted on in Scripture. "He is very pitiful, and of tender mercy;" "Judgment is his strange work," its object being to show the need we have of the mercy he proffers. Evidences of the loving-kindness of God to his creatures reveal themselves more distinctly as we study their condition and circumstances. Illustrations from insects, birds, and beasts, in their relations to food and habitation. Example in provision for every child of man. The babe is cast in its helplessness upon us. We are to shield it, to foster its life, to foresee and provide for its wants. This is as much for our good as for the child's good. We learn thereby to conquer ourselves, to exercise frugality and diligence, and the rough nature is softened by the touch of tiny tender fingers. In the ways of Christ "a little child shall lead them." Then, as life develops, pleasure is found in the sights and sounds of nature, in the exercise of each faculty, etc. "Lord, when I count thy mercies o'er," etc.
2. There are seeming contradictions, however, to the loving-kindness of God's rule. The helpless racked with pain, the innocent born to a heritage of shame, the noblest and most useful snatched away by death, etc. Hence heathen philosophy believed in two antagonistic deities. Trace the belief in ancient philosophy and in modern idolatry. Holy Scripture declares there is but one God, concerning whom we read, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (Isaiah 45:7). The boldness of that conception stamps it as Divine. We know not the effect on other worlds and beings of the conflict waged here between good and evil. We cannot judge God from what is seen in this tiny fragment of his universe. A sea-anemone in its pool feels the rush of the tide over it and all around it, and its subsequent and certain withdrawal. If it could think, it would argue that the ebb and flow of the tide was God's law for all life. It knows nothing of fair fertile fields and busy cities, where the moaning of the sea is never heard. Our knowledge of God's method and character from what is around us is as slight.
3. The revelation of God in Christ shows that the sorrow is rightly mingled with the sin - just as storms are good for a vitiated atmosphere. We cannot breathe without creating poison. If the air were motionless it would be fatal to us and others. By Divine ordinance the air, because it is vitiated and heated, must move; and then comes the draught which chills the invalid and kills him, and the storm which sweeps over the sea and causes wreck. Yet the law which causes these disasters is for the world's salvation. So evils which would corrupt the earth, as in olden time, are not left unheeded. Sorrow comes till men "acknowledge their offence and seek God's face."
II. THE NATURE OF THIS AFFLICTION. "I will return to my place." God is everywhere; but relatively to us he is sometimes near, sometimes far away. He is to us according to the conditions and desires of our hearts. He is said to withdraw when the sense of his care and favor is gone. This would be no great trouble to some. They have yet to learn that to be apart from God is to be away from light and love and hope forever. It is to be in "the outer darkness." None of us know to the full the sweetness of the Divine presence, and therefore do not completely know the bitterness of its withdrawal. Who of us has prayed till the heavens were opened, and we saw visions of God? Who of us has gazed on Christ till he was transfigured before us, and we cried, "It is good for us to be here?" Who of us knows the deepest meaning of the promise, "If any man open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me"? It is in proportion as we have realized these blessings that we can realize this curse. Imagine yourself stricken down by fatal illness, growing sensibly weaker, no hope of recovery and no God near; going down into the darkness of death, feeling in vain for a hand that does not meet yours - a God-forsaken man! Or read the utterances of men who knew more of God than we. See the agony of the psalmist as he prays, "Be not silent unto me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit" (Psalm 28:1; also Job 13:24; Psalm 44:23, 24, etc.). If the message comes to the nation, to the Church, or to you, "I will go and return to my place," no organization we can frame, no force we can muster, will avail us. It will be time for us (as it was for Israel when Jehovah refused to go up amongst them, and promised only indirect guidance) to put off our ornaments, to bewail our sin, to acknowledge our offence, and seek him early. "Oh, satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."
III. THE RESULTS OF THIS AFFLICTION. "In their affliction they will seek me early."
1. Acknowledgment of sin is the first sign of the change. The reference is not to the unconsidered declaration that we are "miserable sinners," but to the intelligent and prayerful confession which follows on that self-examination which affliction does so much to stimulate. When severe weather keeps us within doors, we discover the faults of our house. When the vessel is under the stress of storm, her weak places reveal themselves. So with character, when thoughts are driven in upon ourselves. In society a man asks himself, "What have I?" in solitude he asks himself, "What am I?" A true answer to that question leads to confession. Acknowledgment of sin is not synonymous with the cry of pain or despair. See how David distinguishes between these in his own experience in Psalm 32. He speaks of himself as "roaring" with his pain, yet that brought no relief; but he adds, "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord: and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." The same distinction is drawn by Hosea himself (Hosea 7:14), "And they have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds." If a man were on the rack the executioner would not stay his hand because of his shrieks, but the first whispered words of a confession would give instant relief.
2. The seeking after God is a further sign of this change. We may condemn ourselves, we may resolve to be holier, we may confess our faults to our fellow-man, without having the true repentance described here. Judas was conscious of sin, and it drove him to despair; but Peter, when contrite, went to the Lord's feet, and was able still to say," Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." "In their affliction they shall seek me early." To bring this about we are sometimes so encircled by troubles that we cannot look over them or see beyond them, but can merely look up to the hills whence true help comes. Apply this to the Christian who has been forgetting God, and to the sinner who has never known him.
APPEAL. Wait not till the sorrows of life make you feel your need of God. We may be thankful that we may go even at the last, but how ignoble to leave it till then! Point out the shame of leaving the gladness of youth unconsecrated to him who gave it; of waiting till the cares of life so press upon the spirit that, weary and heartsick, we return to the Father; of delaying till the evening of life is deepening, and enfeebled by age we say, "Now let us turn to God." Show how destitute of magnanimity, how fraught with peril, such a course must be. Whether in affliction or in joy, "seek him early." - A.R.
I. AFFLICTION IS DIVINELY APPOINTED. The order of things, as a result of which troubles and privations befall men, is constituted by Divine wisdom. In the Hebrew manner of thought this fact is conveyed by the language put into the lips of Jehovah, "I will go and return to my place."
"Lot us be patient; these severe afflictions
II. AFFLICTION IS INTENDED TO DIRECT THE THOUGHTS TO THE SUFFERER'S SINS. It is often idle curiosity to speculate upon the connection between disobedience and particular troubles. But, as a general principle, sin is the root of which suffering is the fruit. And times of affliction call upon the "tried" and harassed to scrutinize their own conduct and their own heart, "till they acknowledge their offense," or "hold themselves guilty." Men go on sinning, from one crime or folly to another, and confirm themselves in their evil courses, until a check comes, until calamity overtakes them, until they are constrained to ask themselves - Have we forgotten that the world is ruled by a righteous God, who is angry with the wicked every day? Thus they are led, by God's grace, to confession and to penitence.
III. AFFLICTION IS INTENDED TO DIRECT THE THOUGHTS TO GOD. It is not enough for the offender to look inwards to himself; he must look upwards to his God. "Till they seek my face;" "They will seek me early." In days of calm, of pleasure, of health, of plenty, God has been forgotten. But "sweet are the uses of adversity;" and there is no use sweeter, more profitable, than this - its tendency to raise the mind to heaven. To seek forgiveness for careless, forgetful days, to seek the favor which has been justly forfeited, to seek the help which has been despised, - such is the attitude of the humbled and the contrite. And such suppliants shall not seek the face of God in vain. - T.