Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE EXPOSURE OF ISRAEL'S SIN. The wickedness of the people is portrayed, both as regards principles and individual acts. It may be described as:
1. Gold-blooded in its principles. (Vers. 1-3.) These showed themselves in habits of:
(1) "Falsehood." (Ver. 1.) There was "no truth in the land" (Hosea 4:1). The life of the nation had become a lie. Towards God there was chronic hypocrisy, and towards man habits of theft and robbery (Hosea 6:6-10).
(2) Sympathy with sin and crime. (Ver. 3.) The ruling classes had become morally so corrupt that not only was their example always evil, but it also gave them positive satisfaction to take note of the immoralities of their subjects. Such satisfaction is itself the climax of human wickedness (Romans 1:32).
(3) Spiritual inconsiderateness. (Vers. 2, 7.) The root of all the evil was Israel's forgetfulness of God. They failed to remember his holiness, his justice, his omniscience. And, in ignoring these truths, they neglected also their own highest interests; for, from the lack of timely repentance, their sins "beset them about." This inconsiderateness is the cardinal error of all ungodly men. Multitudes, like Ephraim, have had their attention loudly called to spiritual things by the voice of temporal blessings, of gospel promises, and of providential chastisements; but they will not hear! But, again, Israel's sin was:
2. Hot-blooded in its acts. (Vers. 4-7.) Here the people are com- pared three several times to a baker's "oven," the meaning being that in doing their deeds of guilt they were enthusiastic and passionate, They sinned hotly in the direction of:
(1) Idolatry. (Ver. 4.) "They are all adulterers;" i.e. king, princes, and people alike were guilty of apostasy from Jehovah, and shared in the dissoluteness which was associated with the worship of the Phoenician deities. "They had violated their faith pledged to God, they gave themselves up to filthy superstitions, and they had wholly corrupted themselves; for faith and sincerity of heart constitute spiritual chastity before God" (Calvin). Their souls were inflamed with their idolatrous lusts like a burning oven.
(2) Debauchery. (Ver. 5.) Both the king and the nobles followed habits of intemperance. At the banquet held on the royal birthday he and they "erred through strong drink," and scoffed together at the majesty of Jehovah. In our own country, too, how many there are who spend Christmas as if they were celebrating the birth of the devil rather than that of the Redeemer!
(3) Anarchy. (Vers. 6, 7.) The fiery passions of the people caused the land to be long torn by disorder and revolution. Their rulers became fuel for the fire of their anger. "All their kings are fallen;" - Zechariah was murdered by Shallum, Shallum by Menahem, Pekahiah by Pekah, etc. Indeed, very few of the monarchs of the northern kingdom died in peace. During its entire course, the heat of political violence devoured like a furnace; and in the deepest national calamities none sought the aid of the Divine King.
II. WHAT LED TO THIS EXPOSURE.
1. The encircling presence of their sins. (Ver. 2.) The people sinned so deeply and so boldly that their enormities grew up around them like a rampart. Wherever they went their wickedness attended them, and became a swift witness against them. A man's iniquity wraps him round like a poisoned tunic. He is "holden with the cords of his sins" (Proverbs 5:22); and it is his own hands, alas! that have forged and riveted his chains. Evil doings "beset" a man through the accusations of conscience, through the power of habit, through the action of natural law, and through the providence of God, which makes sure that his "sin will find him out."
2. God's remembrance of their sins. (Ver. 2.) The Lord must take notice of sin, for he must punish it. Although the sinful nation has forgotten this, the fact remains. "They are before my face;" i.e. ever present to me; I cannot avoid seeing them. "These words ["before me"] in the first commandment teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god" (Westminster Assembly's Shorter Catechism).
3. God's efforts to cure them of their sins. (Ver. 1.) As the depth and seriousness of a wound are often not known until the surgeon probes it, and as the nature of a disease may not be fully understood for some time after the physician has begun to grapple with the case, so the depravity of Israel was adequately exposed only when God adopted strong measures in connection with it, by the chastisements of his providence, and the warning voices of his prophets. For the people refused to obey each summons to repentance; and, instead of placing confidence in Jehovah, "they called to Egypt, and went to Assyria" (ver. 11). So the very means of grace which God used in order to save Israel, became the occasion of showing how far the nation had already wandered from him, and even of inducing them to wander still further. And thus is it still, when God deals with men by his Word and Spirit. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). The primary work of the Holy Ghost is to "convince the world of sin" (John 16:8). By his common grace he gives, even to the unconverted, a partial view of their own unworthiness. And, in the case of all who enter upon the Christian life, he uses the disclosure of sin to lead the penitent to renounce all self-righteousness, and to fall at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy. - C.J.
Exodus 15:26). His constantly cherished desire was to do them good. He had labored for this end by his prophets, by chastisements, and 1,y exhibitions of kindness. All had been in vain. The people would not permit the Lord to be their Healer. If sin was checked for a little, it was only to break out again in worse forms than before. The more he sought to heal them, only the more clearly was their iniquity discovered. We note here concerning Ephraim's wickedness -
I. ITS INVETERATE MALIGNANCY. "When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria" (ver. 1). The evil of sin is revealed in the very attempt to cure it.
1. The cure of sin makes necessary the laying bare of its evil. The wound must be probed before remedial measures can be adopted. It is when he begins to probe it that the physician discovers its dangerous character. So, when God would heal us, he begins by discovering to us the truth about our spiritual state. He calls sin by its right name. He tells us of our depravity, our corruption, and brings into light the transgressions we had covered up. This was the work of the prophets of Israel. It is the work of the Law, and of God's Word generally. Till we are thoroughly convinced of sin, recovery is hopeless. "By the Law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
2. The evil of sin is discovered in its resistance to cure. An ordinary disease yields to remedies. Where these are employed and no improvement is manifest, we pronounce the case a serious one. Its resistance to treatment evinces its malignity. It is thus that Ephraim's sin was discovered by God's attempts to heal him. Every means of remedy had been tried, but without success (Hosea 6:4). Wickedness seemed at a greater height than ever. Sin is no skin-deep disorder. The difficulty of its cure is sufficient proof of the inveteracy of its hold. So depraved is the heart, that nothing will remedy it but complete renewal. We have evidence every day of the determined resistance which sin is capable of offering to God. We see it in others, and we know it in experience.
3. The attempt to cure sin often results in aggravated manifestations of it. The. sinful heart is roused to antagonism. Its latent enmity to God comes more fully out. It rages in its opposition to his servants. When the commandment comes, sin revives (Romans 7:9). Temporary amendment is followed by greater outbursts of wickedness (Hosea 6:8-10; Luke 11:24-26).
II. ITS BALEFUL MANIFESTATIONS. "For they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without" (ver 1). We have here:
1. Falsehood. Israel was guilty of falsehood
(1) towards God, in breaking his covenant, in proving faithless to their vows of amendment, and in "speaking lies" concerning him (ver. 13);
(2) towards their allies, in disregarding treaty engagements; and
(3) towards one another. Deceit had become part of their nature. When falsehood becomes a habit, moral recovery is scarcely possible. The ingrained liar is an almost hopeless subject for conversion.
2. Robbery. Justice is itself a species of truth, and with the loss of the sense of truth there is undergone a corresponding loss of the sense of justice. Each regards his neighbor as his lawful prey. He robs him if he can. Thefts, heartless frauds, organized robberies, are of frequent occurrence.
3. Violence. From robbery to violence the transition is not great. When men cease to live by honest labor, they do not stick at trifles. If a slack state of the law permits, crimes will abound. Where, as was the case in Israel, the throne is built on murder, it need not surprise us that lawlessness spreads in the community.
III. ITS PITIFUL DELUSION. (Ver. 2.) "They consider not in their hearts," etc. The point here is the obliviousness of the wicked to God's knowledge of their doings. They extrude God from their thoughts. "They say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?" (Psalm 73:11). On this notice:
1. The wicked have, in secret, more knowledge of God than they pretend. Israel, with a prophet like Hosea in its midst, could not be entirely ignorant of God. It showed that it had some knowledge of him, by its cries to him in trouble, and by brief periods of amendment. This extrusion of him from the thoughts was, therefore, voluntary. It was Israel's will not to know God. Thus there lurks in the sinner's consciousness a spark of knowledge which renders him inexcusable for his habitual forgetfulness, He may banish God from his thoughts, and try to persuade himself that God does not remember his wickedness. But if he does so, it is because he prefers to live in a delusion which at bottom he knows to be such.
2. The wicked, as a rule, do succeed in expelling God from their thoughts. They get their own way. They soon perfect themselves in the art of forgetting their Creator. Like the ostrich, which is fabled to hide its head in the sand as a protection from the hunters, they think that when they have succeeded in putting God out of their remembrance they have somehow got rid of him.
3. The delusion in which the wicked encourage themselves does not in the least alter the real state of the case. Sinners may shut out the thought of God's knowledge of their doings, but none the less is God cognizant of everything they are about. "Their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face." This is the folly of sin; it cannot by its forgetfulness and denials alter the actual state of the facts. The sinner's deeds are his own. He remains answerable for every one of them. With all his doings about him, he stands daily, hourly, constantly, in fall view of the eye of God (Psalm 139.). He will be called to an account. - J.O.
1. This fact is proclaimed in God's Word.
(2) Examples seen in the sin of Adam, the antediluvians, Joseph's brethren, Abraham in Egypt, David, etc.
2. This fact is necessitated by the Divine nature. God's omnipresence, omniscience, and immutability imply it. His absolute perfection makes impossible either defect of knowledge or decay of faculty.
3. This fact is exemplified in the life of the Lord Jesus. "He knew what was in man;" "He knew their thoughts," etc. Show how completely he detected the plots of his foes, knew the doubts of his disciples (John 20:27), overheard the discussions of distant followers (Mark 9:34), perceived the unexpressed longings of the unpardoned (Matthew 9:2-7), and read the secrets of a sinful life (Luke 7:37-50).
4. This fact is a requisite to a just judgment. See references to the coming judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 32:18, etc.). No fair decision could be given except by One who knew all our sins and struggles, and had forgotten none of their circumstances.
II. THAT MAN FORGETS THE SUPERVISION OF GOD. "They consider not," etc. It is not said man has no knowledge of the fact, but that he does not reflect upon it. To "consider in the heart" is to think over the truth seriously, closely, with sincere application to ourselves. If the charge were not true, we should no longer continue in sin; we should not attempt to extenuate it; we should mourn over it as an offence against God rather than as a cause of dishonor or loss to ourselves. Show the sinfulness of this.
1. It is disobedience to the exhortation of God. "Now therefore consider your ways;" "Oh that they were wise, that they would consider," etc.!
2. It is rebellion against the rule of conscience. Show what conscience is to the child at his first offence, and what it becomes through continued heedlessness.
3. It is encouragement to secret s/n. "They say, Doth God know?" etc. Many sins are disguised from the world, unsuspected by our friends, from which, therefore, no regard for reputation will save us. The secret sin undermines the character. Open sin follows. Even if it does not, the judgment of God is against those that do such things.
4. It is a hindrance to true repentance. Men do not come to Christ until they feel their need of him, who "saves his people from their sins." - A.R.
I remember all their wickedness."
I. GOD REMEMBERS MAN'S WICKEDNESS IN THE EXERCISE OF HIS OMNISCIENCE. "All" here comprehends every kind of wickedness, in thought, word, and deed; every instance of wickedness, whether noted or not by fellow-men; the aggravations of wickedness which has been more serious because of the light and privileges notwithstanding which the sinner has transgressed.
II. GOD REMEMBERS MAN'S WICKEDNESS IN HIS CHARACTER OF A PERFECTLY HOLY BEING. It is not simply a matter of knowledge; the evil he knows God hates. Every such recollection is accompanied with displeasure. "He is angry with the wicked every day;" and whilst men, through familiarity with human sins, often become either indifferent or cynical, the Most Holy retains his disapproval and his loathing undiminished.
III. GOD REMEMBERS MAN'S WICKEDNESS IN HIS CHARACTER OF A RIGHTEOUS JUDGE. The upright and pure man may view the prevalence of wickedness with revulsion and distress; but "vengeance belongeth unto God." As the sovereign Ruler of the universe, bound by his own nature to maintain his authority, and to do righteously as the Judge, the Lord exercises his judicial attributes and functions. And what he remembers he will one day bring forward, for the confusion of the impenitent.
IV. GOD HAS PROMISED THAT, IF THE SINNER WILL REPENT, HE WILL REMEMBER HIS SINS NO MORE. We need not trouble ourselves with the attempt to reconcile what may seem to us conflicting statements, which, however, are both necessary to set forth all the truth. Let the impenitent bear in mind the fact that the righteous God remembers all their iniquities; and let the penitent and believing hearers of the gospel rest assured that a merciful God will cast their sins behind his back, and sink them in the depths of the unfathomable sea of oblivion. - T.
I. That God REMEMBERS men's sins. "I remember all their wickedness." This is a wonderful fact. When we think of the infinite greatness of him to whom the universe is as nothing, we are struck at first with amazement that God remembers the sins of a creature so frail, so insignificant as man. Still, as we reflect, we soon get the conviction that there is nothing absurd, nothing unreasonable, in the fact. To the Infinite there is nothing great or small; to the Omniscient there is nothing unobserved; to the Holy there is nothing so distressing, so oppressive, as sin. Sin is no trifle in the eye of him whose glory is his holiness. This is not only a wonderful, but a solemn fact. God not only observes and knows my sins, but he remembers them - does not lose sight of one. They are in his memory. What a book is the memory of God! The whole history of the universe is there! Every sin that has ever been committed by any moral intelligence in the creation, however insignificant, has record there. "Thou art acquainted with all my ways; for there is not a word in my tongue, but thou, Lord, art acquainted with it altogether." "Doth not he see all my ways, and count all my steps?" "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." "Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering." How much more then the hearts of the children of men!" How useless the attempt to dissemble our sins from him! How awful the revelations of the last day!
II. MEN DISREGARD God's remembrance of their sins. "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness." "They say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it." Sinners, the world over, are indifferent to this fact. So far from considering that all their sins are in the memory of the holy and just One, they practically ignore his very existence. In their plans, engagements, and avocations they take no account of him. Why do they not consider? Is it because the thought strikes them as so manifestly improbable as not worthy of their attention? Assuredly not. They have only to reflect on this subject to see that it must be so. Why, then?
1. Because other thoughts engross their minds - thoughts of worldly wealth and power, thoughts of selfish gains and sensual pleasures. They are too full of vain and worldly thoughts to admit an idea so grand and solemn as this.
2. Because this thought, if it occurs to them for a moment, is too painful to be entertained. The corrupt nature revolts from it, expels it the moment it gains admission, and bolts every door against it, environs itself with associations that keep it far away in the distance. "It desires not a knowledge of it."
III. That men's disregard of God's remembrance of their sins LEADS THEM TO REVEL IN INIQUITY. "Now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face." Here we have their sins:
1. In general. They are abundant and daring. Their sins encompass them on all sides, and they perpetrate them without shame under the very face of God himself; they give full play to all their passions, an unbridled license to all their sinful impulses and lusts.
2. In particular. Some of their sins are specified here. "They make the king glad with their wickedness, and the princes with their lies." "It pleases them," says an old writer, "to see the people conform to their wicked laws and examples in their worship of their idols, and other instances of impiety and immorality, and to hear them flatter and applaud them in their wicked ways. When Herod saw that his wickedness pleased the people he proceeded further in it. Much more will the people do so when they see that it pleases the prince" (Acts 13:3). Particularly, they made them glad with their lies, with the lying praises with which they crowned the favorites of the prince, and the lying calumnies and censures with which they blackened those whom they knew the princes had a dislike to. Those who show themselves pleased with slanders and ill-natured stories shall never want those about them who fill their ears with stories. Proverbs 29:12, "If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked," and will make him glad with their lies. - D.T.
I. THE HEAT OF LUST. (Ver. 4.) "They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker," etc. Their debaucheries, i.e., were not the fruit of mere impulse. They were gone into as the result of forethought and preparation. Libidinous thoughts were encouraged. New gratifications were planned; the matter was reflected on and matured; the act of indulgence was anticipated in imagination. Time was thus given for the lustful desire to permeate the whole nature, when, like dough fully leavened, the evil intent was ready to be converted into deed. Lust, to use the figure of James, conceives, and brings forth sin (James 1:15). Learn:
1. The importance of guarding against the inception of lust. It is in its beginnings that lust is most dangerous. The wrong thought, the lustful look, the dallying with desire, - it is there the evil lurks. From this there is but a step to evil intent. The fire burns, the dough is prepared; it will be a wonder if actual sin is not some day the outcome.
2. The importance of regulating thought as a means to the control of the passions. Thought can be so directed as to feed and inflame passion; it can also be so ruled as to check and control it. The wicked use this power of thought for a bad purpose; nor less earnestly should we attempt to use it for a holy one. It is only through care of the thoughts, and through strict control exercised over them, that inward and outward purity can be preserved.
II. THE HEAT OF WINE. (Ver. 5.) "In the day of our king the princes have made him sick [or, 'are sick '] with heat of wine," etc. Royal feast days were days of recognized and premeditated debauch. Wine maddens and inflames the nature.
1. Drunkenness stands in close relation to lust, with which it is here brought into connection. It is lust's most powerful auxiliary. "Whoredom and wine" (Hosea 4:11). Sensuality, in turn, predisposes to excess in drinking. It loosens restraint. It destroys self-control. It inclines to animal indulgence generally.
2. Drunkenness is degrading in its own effects.
(1) Degrading to the body - "made sick." It sickens and bestializes. It injures health. It bloats and disfigures the countenance. A more degrading spectacle can hardly be conceived than a helplessly intoxicated man.
(2) Degrading to the soul. It takes from it its self-respect. It begets a heartless, scoffing, irreverent disposition, and leads to association with those who are of this character. The King of Israel is here represented as striking up fellowship with "scorners " - mockers at Divine things.
3. Drunkenness prepares the way for strife and plotting. The drunkenness is the nexus between the adulteries and the conspiracies. Pot-companions are rarely stable friends. They do not really trust each other. Carousals lead to quarrelling. The strong and unscrupulous see with contempt the weaknesses of the rulers, and plot against them.
III. THE HEAT OF ANGER, (Vers. 6, 7.) "They have made ready their heart like an oven, while they lie in wait," etc. We have here the result of the carousals and the scorning in plots and conspiracies. These are:
1. Secretly prepared; like the oven got ready beforehand, the dough also being kneaded and leavened.
2. Silently waited upon. It takes time for a plot to mature, as it takes time for the leaven to permeate the dough. A good example is furnished in the case of Absalom, who first, by fair speeches and complaisances, stole the hearts of the people of Israel; then, after the leaven had had time to work, got leave of absence, and, with two hundred men accompanying, had himself proclaimed king (2 Samuel 15:1-14).
3. Hotly executed. There is no mercy in the fierceness which at length breaks out in bloody deeds. The pent-up heat burns like an oven. The anger of the wicked is ruthless, cruel, unsparing. It had proved to be so in Israel's history. Dynasty after dynasty had been swept away by assassination. Pekah, probably the then reigning king, was himself afterwards murdered by Hoshea. Yet Israel refused to take the lesson. "There is none of them that calleth upon me" (ver. 7). - J.O.
I. THE HAND THAT AFFLICTS ALONE CAN HEAL. Chastisement is necessary in the economy of Divine government; yet our heavenly Father chastens, not for his pleasure, but for our profit. He is more ready to cherish and to comfort than to smite. And when he has afflicted, it is vain to look elsewhere than to him for solace.
II. THE CALLOUSNESS OF SINNERS MAY PREVENT THEM FROM SEEKING DIVINE MERCY AND CONSOLATION. Surely the first thing for those to do who are smarting beneath the rod is to humble themselves beneath the mighty hand of God, to repent of sin, to entreat clemency, favor, forgiveness. But so hardening is the effect of sin, that there are many cases in which this is the last thing that occurs to the mind. It is an addition to the heinousness of sin, when the sinner refrains from bringing his transgression with penitence before the throne of him whom he has offended.
III. YET THERE IS NO RELIEF EXCEPT UPON THE CONDITION OF APPLICATION TO THE ALL-MERCIFUL. TO call upon man is vain. To sink into apathy is to despair. Hope is in one direction only. Let the sinner call upon God, and God will hear, answer, and save. - T.
i.e. entered into political alliances with the heathen round about, and conformed to their idolatrous usages. Yet he did not wish to break with Jehovah altogether; the Israelites continued to observe the sabbaths and the feast-days (Hosea 2:11). But the simile before us may be used with a still wider application. It describes -
I. THE NATURAL STATE OF MANKIND. Human nature since the Fall has been spoiled and worthless. There clings to it a radical defect Godward. Man is like a cake which has its warm side to the earth, and its cold side towards heaven. Some unrenewed men are very kindly in feeling and unselfish in action towards their fellow-men, but all the while their hearts remain cold and ungrateful towards God. We remember the young man who came to Christ, of whom it is said that "Jesus, beholding him, loved not turned."
"Low, but majestic, though most strangely formed
II. THE CHARACTER OF MANY WHO MAKE A PROFESSION OF RELIGION.
1. In this connection various ideas are suggested.
1. Hypocrisy. Ephraim boasted that he was a nation sacred to Jehovah all the while that he addicted himself to the idolatry of Baal and Ashtaroth. So, still, the man who shags at meeting and swears at market is a hypocrite. It is in vain to call out "Lord, Lord," if we do not the things which Christ says. Obedience in the letter is valueless, when divorced from obedience in the spirit. The bottles of profession are of no use if we do not pour into them the wine of principle.
2. Inconsistency. The people of the northern kingdom betrayed this in "mixing themselves" spiritually with the uncircumcised and unclean Gentiles. And, in our own day, how many there are whose fixed resolve seems to be to wear the Christian name, and at the same time take care not to part from the world l Their business habits assume the form of an ingeniously adjusted compromise between the service of God and that of mammon. And in social and domestic life they try to retain some relish for the pleasures of religion, even amidst the pursuit of amusements that are distinctively worldly. But it is a wretched thing to be "neither fish nor flesh" as regards character. It is impossible to "run both with the hare and the hounds." Spiritually, each of us is really either one thing or the other, and we should seem to be what we are. The Lord's command is," Be not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2); "Come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17).
3. Half-heartedness. There are many who name Christ's Name by partaking of the Lord's Supper, whose religion, as reflected in their daily lives, seems little more than nominal. You cannot say that they are wicked sinners, but neither dare you call them saints. They are too good to ban, and too bad to bless; too good for hell, but not nearly good enough for heaven. Their character is one of insipid negative respectability. Then there are those also who make only a half-and-half profession - who confess Christ's Name so far as to attend public worship, but stop short at the threshold of the guest-chamber, where the Lord's Supper is spread. Perhaps they think that only conscientious scruples keep them back; but God, who knows the heart, may judge that it is rather half-heartedness. For, if Christianity be true, it is a tremendous verity. And if it be right to hear Christ's gospel preached, it is dutiful also to obey his other precepts; as, e.g., to "do this in remembrance of him," and, "whatsoever we do, to do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus."
III. THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF MANY TRUE CHRISTIANS. Indeed, we might almost say, of all. For where is the believer whose spiritual condition satisfies his own enlightened convictions as to what he ought to be? Our personal deficiencies abound; and these are due either to our moral ignorance or to our moral supineness.
1. Our Christian character lacks thoroughness. The process of sanctification is designed to renew us "in the whole man," and yet we know that in fact a holy character is never perfected in this life. Every believer has within him a mixture of good and evil, and the purer he becomes he is the more ready to acknowledge the imperfection of his nature. Many true Christians, however, do not co-operate with God's Spirit so earnestly as they might, in striving to rid themselves of indwelling sin. They carry with them that Laodicean lukewarmness which the Lord abhors (Revelation 3:16); their Christian character, in wanting thoroughness, is like "a cake not turned."
2. It also lacks all-sidedness. A man may be a true believer for a lifetime, and yet neglect entirely to bring some important departments of conduct into contact with the fire of Divine grace. He may try to regulate his domestic affairs by the law of Christ, and forget all the while to subject his business concerns to the same law. Some good men trust God absolutely about their souls, but only partially about their temporal affairs. Some are zealous workers in the cause of Christ, but would rather avoid putting money into his treasury; while others seldom refuse to give a subscription, but give it on the understanding that they are not to be expected to take any personal trouble. Now, if we distinguish in this way between one duty and another, both of which are equally binding, what are we but "a cake not turned"? To avoid such defects, we must enlighten conscience and strengthen its authority; and expose our whole nature, in spirit and soul and body, to the fire of gospel truth and grace. - C.J.
sin of half-heartedness is set before us in the graphic imagery of our text.
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS SIN. Doubtless it varies according to the circumstances and the character of each one who is guilty of it. Sometimes the sin results from weakness of character and vacillation of purpose, and sometimes from want of earnest consideration. But the cause mentioned in our text is by no means infrequent. "Ephraim hath mixed himself among the people," i.e. the heathen. Israel was ordained to be a separated people (Exodus 34:12, 13; Leviticus 20:24). Balaam was shrewd enough to see that their strength lay in their separateness (Numbers 23:9). He knew that the curse Balak sought against them would fall, if only they could be blended with the idolatrous people around. Partakers in guilt, they would be partakers in punishment. To us the restrictions placed on their marriage and their commerce appear illiberal; but he who imposed them understood the weakness of this people, and estimated rightly the universality and intensity of idolatry. Results justified God's ordinance. Jeroboam's residence in Egypt brought calf-worship into Israeli Ahab's marriage with Jezebel introduced the rites of Baal and Ashtaroth. In Hosea's time the people were leavened by idolatry, and the allusion here is to this fact, and not to the political alliances formed with heathen empires, or to the conquest of parts of Israel's territory by idolatrous kings. To him loss of character was more ominous than loss of territory. Israel was no longer worth preserving. The object of their existence, to witness to the one living and true God, could no longer be attained. The salt had lost its savor, and was henceforth good for nothing. With their remembrance of Mosaic Law and their practice of idolatrous rites, they were like "a cake not turned" - irremediably spoilt. Show from this the importance of right companionship, especially to those whose characters are in the formative stage. Jealously as parents watch against the intrusion of one who is suffering from infectious disease, how much less watchful and firm are they against the introduction to their homes of those whose presence cannot fail to be a source of moral infection! When the result of such association is not seen in outward depravity, it is often seen in a wasted and frivolous life. The effect is gradually produced. The Rhine and the Arno flow side by side in the same channel without mingling their waters; but though the swifter stream keeps clear for a while, at last it is defiled; and it is the turbid stream that conquers. "Gather not my soul with sinners;" "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."
II. THE NATURE OF THIS SIN. The cake (uggah) was a thin circular pancake, exposed to the scorching heat of red-hot stones, and of necessity must be quickly turned, or it would be burnt on one side and moist dough on the other: spoilt, because not penetrated. A good figure to represent this people, who knew God's Law, remembered his worship, but were in practice idolaters. They refused to turn to God the other half, the practical part of their being. Give examples of those who have served God by halves; belonging neither to the world nor to the Church. In Elijah's days the people were impressed by the power of Jehovah, yet loved the pleasures of idolatry; hence the question of the prophet, "How long halt ye between two opinions?" Christ Jesus had around him those who admired his teaching; but they would not risk being put out of the synagogue, nor associate with illiterate peasants, nor follow One who would lead them to the cross; so to them he said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." See also the condition of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-18). Such a character is discoverable still, in those who join in worship, though in heart they neither pray nor praise; in those conscious of sin, yet not justified by faith; in those using the words of prayer, without any speaking to the Father who seeth in secret, etc. God seeks not for such. We are to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; whole-hearted in all we offer to him - not as Ephraim, the cake not turned.
III. THE EFFECTS OF THIS SIN. We are responsible for our unconscious influence over others. Our Lord condemned the scribes and Pharisees; "for," said he, "ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." Better far would it have been had they been openly irreligious. Picture a man standing near the door of the ark - a wise and prominent man in antediluvian society, hesitating whether to believe Noah or the skeptics; while others wait to see his decision. How deep and loud their curses afterwards if he decided not to enter, or if he hesitated so long that it was too late for him and them! Apply this to modern life. A father has children whose characters are rapidly forming; and he is not in the kingdom, though not far from it. They naturally say, "We are waiting for father; he is a hearer of the truth; he knows more than we; he is an upright man; if it be right to be wholly on Christ's side he will be, so let us wait for his decision." For the sake of others let procrastination come to an end, and be it yours to say with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
IV. THE PERILS OF THIS SIN.
1. You strengthen temptations against yourself. You say in effect to influences for evil," Don't give me up yet, for I am not decided." A candidate, who in canvassing finds one voter who has not made up his mind, will call again with others who have more influence than himself, and the waverer is won ever. In the counsels of the wicked concerning one who is half-hearted it is said, "We will ask him again; his answer was not decided; he is not an avowedly Christian man; by a little pressure we can bring him over." How can such a man pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"?
2. You weaken porters for good, and lessen beige of the future. There is a blossoming time for every tree, a flowering time for every corn-field, and then the future is decided, for fruit or for barrenness. Our Lord comes down to listen at every heart for prayer, to see the effect of all he has done for each. He looks and feels for fruit amidst the leaves of the fig tree, and finding none he finally utters the word, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever." - A.R.
I. WRONG COMPANIONSHIP. "Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people." The reference is here not to the punishment or dispersion of the Israelites among the nations, but to the state in which Israel was at the time. Heaven's plan was that the Hebrew people should separate from the nations, and be holy to him (Leviticus 20:24-26); to be as Balaam predicted, "a people dwelling alone" (Numbers 23:9). But in opposition to this the ten tribes had mingled with the heathen, learned their works and served their idols. Now, what is a wrong mixing with the people? Not intermixture in marriages. It appears to us that the mingling of the different tribes of mankind in matrimonial alliances is, according to the plan of the Creator, highly promotive of the good of the entire race. Not intercourse in business. Such is the state of human society that good men are bound in worldly affairs to have dealings with the irreligious and depraved. Not associating with them for spiritual usefulness. Those who think that the saints of God should shut themselves up from the world, dwell in monasteries, and live as hermits, make a great mistake. The more Divine love and truth a man has in him, the more bound is he to be out in the world, and to let the light of his doctrines and his character flash widely and strongly upon the heart of his compeers. The man who has "mixed himself with others" does as did the ten tribes now; for worldly advantage and unholy gratifications make bad people companions. It is said that Pythagoras, before he admitted any one into his school, inquired who were his intimates, justly concluding that they who could choose immoral companions would not be much profited by his instructions.
II. MORAL WORTHLESSNESS. "Ephraim is a cake not turned." The Easterns hake their bread on the ground, covering it with embers, and turn it every ten minutes to bake it thoroughly without burning it (1 Kings 19:6). Without the turning it would be charcoal on one side and dough on the other, and the bread would be worthless. Worthlessness is the idea. Ephraim or Israel - for the words seem to be used convertibly - had become utterly useless in a spiritual sense. It no longer fulfilled its Divine mission maintaining and promoting the worship of the one true and living God. As the unturned cake would be thrown away as utterly unfit for human food, Israel was to be thrown away by God as utterly unfit to fulfill its mission. What a sad thing to be utterly worthless in a moral sense! - salt that has lost its savor, only fit to be trodden underfoot; trees that have lost their fruit, only fit for the fire! Usefulness is the grand purpose of our being. The man who does not make the world better than he found it, must be accursed.
III. SOCIAL DESPOILMENT. "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not." The reference probably here is to the fact that Shalmaneser King of Assyria finally carried away Israel captive because of the defection of Hoshea King of Israel to So King of Egypt (see 2 Kings 13:7; 2 Kings 15:19, 20; 2 Kings 17:3, 6). In consequence of their unholy mingling with idolatrous people and their dependence upon foreign nations, they got rifled of their property, their power, and their influence. Thus strangers devoured their strength. How many souls in all ages lose their "strength" under the influence in which they mingle! Their intellectual power, social sympathies, moral sensibilities, get used up, and they become the mere creatures of others and of circumstances. The man of society "has his strength devoured;" he loses freedom and force and manhood.
IV. UNCONSCIOUS DECAY. "Yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not." Moral strength goes so slowly from men that they are often not conscious of its loss until they are reduced to the utmost prostration. Thus with Samson, "He wist not that the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him." Nations have their grey hairs, and they don't know it; Churches have their grey hairs, and are unconscious of them. So also with individuals; decay is so gradual that the subject is unconscious that death is working its ruin.
CONCLUSION. Let us look at these aspects of character and learn practical wisdom. Form no friendship with sinners; come out from amongst theme "the companion of fools shall be destroyed." Avoid a worthless life. Be not like the unturned cake; render some service to the universe. Allow not the social influences of your sphere to steal away your strength, to eat up your manhood; conclude not that decay is not working within you because you are unconscious of it. Wake up to the great realities of your spiritual being, and be strong in the Lord. - D.T.
spirit of the world, then comes outward worldly conformity. It is this which Christians have constantly to guard against (Romans 12:2). Their calling is to be separate (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). They need to remember that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4) and that "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). Mixing with the world - the sin of the Church today, as it was the sin of Israel of old - has its effects.
I. SPIRITUAL INCONSISTENCY. "Ephraim is a cake not turned" - overdone on the one side, underdone on the other; not of a piece throughout; one side "scorched and black, the other steamed, damp, and lukewarm; the whole worthless, spoiled irremediably, but only to be cast away" (Pusey). The unturned cake is an emblem:
1. Of partial conversion. We have this where the Divine life has not penetrated the nature, but affects only parts and sides of it. The conscience is sensitive on some points, but not on others. Favorite duties are attended to, while others not less important are neglected. The conduct in some things shows the power of religion, in others it appears untouched by its influence. There is a want of pervasion, of through-and-throughness in the character. An illustration is afforded in what Stanley says of Saul: "He became ' another man,' yet not entirely. He was, as is so often the case, half converted, half roused. His mind moved unequally and disproportionately in its new sphere. Backwards and forwards in the names of his children we see alternately the signs of the old heathenish superstition, and of the new purified religion of Jehovah.... His religion was never blended with his moral nature. It broke out in wild ungovernable acts of zeal and superstition, and then left him more a prey than ever to his own savage disposition."
2. Of zeal for the forms of religion combined with denial of its power. Pharisaism was an instance of this. We have other examples in Judah and Israel. The people of the two kingdoms seem never to have failed in their zeal for the outward services of religion. They kept up sacrifices and offerings (Hosea 6:6); observed the feast days (Hosea 2:11; Isaiah 1:11-14; Amos 5:21, 22); were unusually attentive to these forms when trouble seemed impending. With all this they were iniquitous in heart and life. They neglected the weightier matters of the Law - judgment, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). With excess of zeal for the forms, there was no zeal at all for the reality. For this, God likens them to an unturned cake.
3. Generally, of religious profession, with inconsistency of conduct. Religion is intended to pervade the life. It should be as manifest on week-days as on Sundays; in the ordinary business of life as in the devotions of the sanctuary. Yet how many fail in thus carrying out the life of the gospel! What grievous inconsistencies are seen in their conduct I They maintain their profession, yet "mix with the people," and fall in freely with the world's ungodly ways. Surely this is to be "a cake not turned."
II. SPIRITUAL DECAY. "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, grey hairs," etc. Ephraim had already suffered much from the people among whom he had chosen to mix himself. But even he was not aware of the amount of harm they had done him. He did not perceive how this intercourse with the heathen had sapped the moral strength of the nation; had deteriorated its politics; had beguiled it into a false dependence on foreign helpers; had given a mighty impetus to every disintegrating force already at work in the kingdom. The grey hairs - significant of decay - were thickly strewn upon him, but he perceived it not. Deterioration inevitably results from the mixing of Christians with the world.
1. Worldly conformity leads to a decay of inward religious earnestness. The diversion of thought and affection from spiritual things to the objects about which alone the world cares necessarily brings about this result. The temperature of the spiritual life fails in conformity with its environment. Interest in religion gives place to interest in the things which are the constant subjects of thought, talk, and concern in the circles in which we move. It is, besides, soon found that participation in the world's pleasures and follies is incompatible with serious attention to the things of the soul, and the latter, accordingly, is soon abandoned.
2. Inward spiritual decay reveals itself by various outward tokens. As grey hairs upon the head reveal the gradual approach of age. Among the indications of decay of piety we may notice neglect of prayer, and of the reading of God's Word; aversion to religious conversation; the preference of the society of the worldly to the society of God's people; neglect of the sanctuary; a light, depreciating way in speaking of religious earnestness, etc.
3. The progress of spiritual decay is often not noticed by the sinner himself. It comes on gradually. There is an unwillingness to look closely into the spiritual state. The power of spiritual perception gets lost.
III. SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS. Ephraim did not know, and would not be warned. Darkness had blinded his eyes. "The pride of Israel" testified to his face, but Ephraim understood neither
(1) the plain speaking of the prophets;
(2) the signs of internal decay;
(3) the voice of external judgments. For all this he would not return to God. Sin is blindness, fatuity, folly. The worldly conformist speedily becomes blinded. The god of this world blinds him, and he is willing to be blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4). He "cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (2 Peter 1:9). "He knoweth nothing," says Pusey.
(1) "He knoweth not the tokens of decay in himself, but hides them from himself;
(2) he knoweth not God, who is the Author of them;
(3) he knoweth not the cause of them, his sins;
(4) he knoweth not the end and object of them, his conversion;
(5) he knoweth not what, since he knoweth not any of these things, will be the issue of them, his destruction." - J.O.
Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 16:31). Here, however, they are viewed simply as premonitions of old age, and of an old age, besides, that was premature. There is a lesson in our text, taking it even in its most literal sense. The believer's first grey hairs should remind him that the grace of God will enable him to "grow old gracefully." Bat the "grey hairs" spoken of in this verse are, of course, figurative. We may consider the text in connection with -
I. THE DECLINE OF NATIONS. Its primary reference is to "Ephraim," and to the symptoms which Ephraim showed of approaching national ruin. But the whole Bible, and especially the Old Testament, is full of teaching about the decadence of nations. The Hebrew prophets point to "the giant forms of empires on their way to ruin." Hence the priceless value of their writings to the Christian patriot, and to the devout student of history. What are some of the "grey hairs" which forebode national decay?
1. Idolatry. The northern kingdom had departed from God, first in worshipping Jeroboam's calves, and afterwards in serving the idol-deities of Phoenicia. And now, in his time of political need, Ephraim was looking for help to Egypt and Assyria (vers. 8-11), instead of returning to Jehovah as his Portion. This "grey hair" led quickly to the degradation and ruin of the kingdom. So, still, those nations that will not serve the Lord our God shall perish, and be utterly wasted.
2. Immorality. A people may increase greatly in civilization and intellectual culture, and yet be sprinkled all over with this "grey hair." Ancient Greece, when it was the land of art and poetry and philosophy, was morally all the while a mass of corruption. Rome, during the first century of the Christian era, was even worse. Juvenal calls it "a filthy sewer," and Seneca "a cesspool of iniquity." When immorality is rampant, it marks the commonwealth as moribund, and forebodes its "decline and fall."
3. Vicious luxury. It was a sign of decay when Ephraim began to" live deliciously," like ancient Tyre and Babylon (Amos 6:3, et seq.). In the palmy days of the Roman commonwealth the Romans were brave, hardy, and victorious; but under the Empire the inner life of the people was gradually eaten away by the canker of luxury. Our own nation, and all the great Anglo-Saxon communities at the present time, need to guard against this "grey hair."
4. Oppression of the poor. If a nation is to continue safe against dissolution, it must be governed by justice and humanity. The French revolution of 1789 was the result of the sinful waste of the Bourbon kings, and the misery of the French peasantry. But every nation is in danger which takes no care to "judge the poor of the people." This text reminds us, accordingly, of our duty as citizens. We must take order that our political representatives shall act in all public matters with justice and honor. Every Christian elector should use his ballot-paper under a sense of his responsibility to the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of nations; and he ought to do what he can otherwise to strengthen public opinion in the direction of wise political principles, and of a healthy condition of the national conscience.
II. THE DECLINE OF CHURCHES. For, alas! the marks of decay are often found there also. It was so with the seven Churches of proconsular Asia in the first century. In most of the epistles which the Lord addressed to them (Revelation 2., 3.) he points out the "grey hairs." How gradually, too, premonitions of spiritual decline appeared in the Church of Rome! The student of Church history sees at first only one or two "grey hairs" upon its head. We may indicate some of the signs of spiritual decay in Churches.
1. Prevalence of unsound doctrine. A Church, to be spiritually healthy, must be thoroughly evangelical. Its ministers must not regard themselves merely as the educators of some native goodness in man; and they must not preach as if the cross were only a myth, or the Holy Ghost a metaphor. The Church's best times are those in which it teaches most clearly and emphatically the three evangelical "R's," viz. ruin by the fall, redemption by the Lord Jesus, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
2. Lack of missionary zeal. This detect frequently accompanies unwholesome doctrine. The continued vigor of a Church depends upon its aggressiveness as a crusading institute in opposition to the sin and misery of the world. It is not enough that it provide carefully for its own edification, and know that its members are benefited by its services. It will decline in spiritual life if it forgets those around who perish "for lack of knowledge."
3. Decadence of family religion. In the Bible the true ecclesiastical unit is not the individual, but the family. Holy Scripture magnifies "the Church in the house." And experience shows that a congregation, to be strong and healthy, must be composed of well-trained, intelligent, and devout families. What both the Church and the nation greatly need today is godly households. The lack of family religion is a precursor of spiritual ruin.
4. The spirit of worldliness. The Lord Jesus detected this "grey hair" in the Church of Ephesus (Revelation 2:4) and in the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:15). And those of our own day are not untainted with the same spirit. It is a mark of decay when a denomination or congregation plumes itself upon its social importance; or when it makes an idol of decorum and good taste; or when it becomes formal in spirit, and discourages religious enthusiasm; or when it relaxes in faithfulness of discipline.
III. THE DECLINE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE IN THE SOUL. The figure appropriately describes the backslidings of true and professed believers. We shall mention one or two symptoms which even those who themselves manifest them are prone to fail to recognize.
1. Habits of sin. It may be that seeds of evil which we sowed long ago in our hearts are growing up now, and occasioning us spiritual failure and confusion. Little sins are like these" grey hairs;" e.g. the spirit of over-carefulness, the spirit of caviling, the spirit of ostentation in religious duties, the unforgiving spirit, undue love of human praise, uncharitable judging, etc.
2. Neglect of ordinances. Christ has given us his Word, and has invited us to come to the throne of grace, and has spread for us the communion-table. But how gradually may we lose our relish for these means of grace, and how easily may the habit of neglecting them steal in upon our souls!
3. Covetousness. Some one has described the love of money as "the Church member's sin." Thomas Binney has said of it that it is "about the only great damning vice which can be indulged and clung to in connection with a recognized modern religious profession." There is no sin more insidious; it may occupy the heart and one "not know" it.
4. Conformity to the world. The daily circumstances of our lot constantly appeal to sense and self, and continually tempt us to give up trying to lead a spiritual, pure, and consecrated life. Even a true believer, before he knows it, may be "following afar off," and slowly abating his testimony as a nonconformist to the ungodly customs of the world.
CONCLUSION. We require frequently to "examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith." We ought constantly to hold up before our eyes the clear mirror of Holy Scripture, that we may detect the "grey hairs." We must also see reflected in it the glorious form of the Lord Jesus, the one Image of perfect manhood. There are no "grey hairs" upon him; "his locks are bushy, and black as a raven" (Song of Solomon 5:11). We must seek grace to give ourselves constantly to the imitation of Christ. - C.J.
(1) more opportunity of knowing God's will, and
(2) more influence over others (see Matthew 11:20-24).
A godless lad who has been brought up under Christian influence, and has seen the Christian life represented in his home, is more deserving of condemnation than the waif thrown up by the sea of irreligious life, who has been unblessed by teaching and prayer. The man successful in business or scholarship, the attractive and popular visitor, the gifted writer, the eldest in a family, the leader in policy, etc., have heavier responsibilities than others because they have nobler powers. The sins condemned here were
(1) drunkenness, which specially prevailed on the king's birthday (ver. 5) and at similar festivities;
(2) passion for idolatry and its licentious rites, the heart of the people being like the oven heated hot, and needing only the stirring of opportunity to burst into flame (vers. 4, 6, 7);
(3) refusal to believe in God's presence and watchfulness (ver. 2). These and other sins were the signs of moral decay, which were reflected in national disasters. Yet none of these were perceived by the infatuated people. (See Keil and Delitzsch in justification of the rendering "He knoweth it not" in both clauses.) Subject - Unnoticed signs of moral decay.
I. THAT MORAL DECAY HAS ASCERTAINABLE CAUSES. Exemplify from the sources of Israel's decadence.
1. Want of consideration. (Ver. 2; Isaiah 1:3; Haggai 1:5.) Every faculty fails after disuse; e.g. the eyeless fishes of lakes in dark caverns. Muscular and mental development or decay, by exercise or inertness. He who will not think of God, at last cannot think of him.
2. Association with evil. (Ver. 8.) Show the effects of unconscious influence in the formation of character. They must be jealously watchful over themselves who are necessarily associated with the godless. The companionship of books equally important. Sensuous or skeptical literature may emasculate character.
3. Forgetfulness of God. All are prone to this. Material life becomes increasingly aggressive in thought. The hurry of business, the whirl of society, lessen the frequency and intensity of prayer.
4. Self-indulgence. Israel gave way to drunkenness and the licorice of idolatry. It was the opportunity for gratifying the worst passions that made the worship of the groves so popular. Many begin by staining the imagination who end by defiling the life. Depict the ruin of the drunkard, who once perhaps was a leader in Christian and benevolent enterprise.
II. THAT MORAL DECAY HAS OBSERVABLE SYMPTOMS. "Strangers have devoured his strength." Egypt and Assyria had despoiled Israel, sometimes by exacting tribute, sometimes by violent attack (2 Kings 13:7; 2 Kings 16:9). Compare the condition of the Roman empire just before its ruin by the Goths. With Israel the losses were the direct result of leagues made, contrary to God's will, with idolatrous nations around; for they became thereby involved in their disputes and disasters. Still this was not perceived. These and other signs of wasting and decay were visible to the prophet, and seemed to him like grey hairs sprinkled here and there - the effects of declining age, the tokens of decay. Point out symptoms of spiritual decline in the soul.
1. Want of appetite for what is good. The house of God neglected, the old service forsaken, the infrequency and unreality of prayer, etc.
2. Want of sensibility to what is evil. Contentment with a lower standard for Christian life, flippancy in dealing with infidelity, indifference to acts and words which at one time would have raised a flush of shame, etc.
III. THAT MORAL DECAY HAS IRREVERSIBLE ISSUES. These grey hairs were the precursors of death. Israel would never be restored. The life was lived, was nearly over, and without hope of resurrection. Christ Jesus speaks of a time of probation given now which will not be given hereafter. He will do all that can be done even for a fruitless fig tree, but at last must say, "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"
IV. THAT MORAL DECAY MAKES IMPERCEPTIBLE ADVANCE. At first grey hairs are sprinkled here and there. How fast they multiply, though no one notices the change in each hair! When first noticed, an endeavor may be made by nostrums to disguise the fact; but the decay goes on. The march of old age, as he sprinkles his snows, is not really checked. If a man could persuade himself as well as others that he was still young, that would not prolong his life. But it is far easier to disguise from ourselves the signs of moral decay, and this has been done with fatal frequency. The old world, though often warned," knew not till the flood came and swept them all away." Samson betrayed the source of his strength and lost it; but when he rose against his foes as aforetime, "he wist not that the Lord was departed from him." King Saul was robbed of his means of defense and refreshment, but he still slept on (1 Samuel 26.). So Israel shut its eyes to the loss of strength and hope. Beware lest character be like the cliff, secretly honeycombed by the sea, until in an unexpected moment it falls in irreparable ruin.
CONCLUSION. Address the aged. There is a natural decay, which may be the precursor of destruction or the promise of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.).
1. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness." Eleazar said, "I will not do that which seems to be evil, lest I should spot my white head."
2. The hoary head is a call to repentance, if it be found in the way of wickedness. "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." - A.R.
I. THE IMPORTANCE AND NECESSITY OF RETURNING UNTO THE LORD. The further the sinner proceeds the nearer he approaches final ruin, and the harder it is for him to reverse his steps.
II. THE METHOD OF RETURNING UNTO THE LORD. The sinner must change his view of God and his view of himself. He must repent of sin and believe the gospel
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO RETURN UNTO THE LORD. There are the express directions, and the faithful promises of Heaven.
IV. THE RESULTS OF RETURNING UNTO THE LORD, To return to God is to return to holiness and happiness, to peace and hope. Truly to return to him is to remain forever in his favor and his fellowship. - T.
I. POLITICAL INFATUATION. (Vers. 11, 12.) The true resting-place of the commonwealth was in God; but Ephraim had wandered from him, and was fluttering about inconsiderately "like a silly senseless dove," now seeking help from Egypt and now from Assyria (2 Kings 17:3, 4). How prone are governments to lay stress upon statecraft and diplomacy, when they should be simply trusting in God and following righteousness! Dr. Pusey aptly refers in this connection to "the balance of power" which for so long a period controlled the policy of European statesmen. But this theory has of late years largely lost its influence, and given place to a policy of non-intervention, accompanied with an enormous increase of military armaments. The true balance of power will be established only when the nations everywhere acknowledge the kingship of Christ, and deal with one another on the principles of justice and amity which his Law enjoins. As Ephraim was caught in the "net" of his own foreign entanglements - these becoming his ruin - so will all those nations be that forget God, and make flesh their arm. In the case of Israel, "their congregation had heard" the threat of such chastisement from Moses and the prophets; while modern states "hear" it from the Word of God, and witness its execution in the retributions of history.
II. MORAL INGRATITUDE. (Vers. 13-15.) During the whole career of the Hebrew people God had lavished upon them his tender love and compassion; but they had requited him with the basest ingratitude. They had been unthankful and evil, although he was:
1. Their Redeemer. (Ver. 13.) Jehovah had delivered them from Egypt; he had protected them in the desert; he had raised up the judges to repel their foreign oppressors; he had "saved" the northern kingdom "by the hand of Jeroboam II., the son of Joash ' (2 Kings 14:27). The Lord had constantly redeemed them; and he was prepared to do so again, if they would but turn to him in penitence and faith. But, alas! Ephraim persisted in his apostasy, and by his idol-worship and insincerity "made God a liar," and his own national life also a lie.
2. The Giver of their harvests. (Ver. 14.) In the time of prosperity Israel ignored Jehovah as the Author of fruitful seasons (Hosea 2:8). In the time of famine, however, the people in their distress wildly" howled" for bread; but if they cried to Jehovah at all, they did not do so "with their heart."
3. Their Physician. (Ver. 15.) Jehovah had acted towards Israel like a wise and skilful surgeon. He had seen their power enfeebled, like a relaxed or dislocated arm; and he had bound the arm, to make it once more strong and sinewy. Yet the first use to which Israel put the healed arm was to raise it to strike the Healer. What a warning have we here against the sin of unthankfulness! The Lord's reproach reminds us that apart from the grateful heart there can be no true piety. Gratitude is inseparable from faith in God. And the reflex influence of gratitude upon the soul is to inspire and ennoble it. "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness!"
III. SPIRITUAL INSTABILITY. (Ver. 16.) The princes of Israel were constantly changing their policy; but they never, amidst all their changes, really turned towards God. The nation often professed to seek him, but their evil heart constantly drew them aside to idols. "They are like a deceitful bow," which has either been faultily constructed at the first, or the string of which has lost its elasticity, and which, therefore, disappoints the archer by sending forth the arrow wide of the mark. So Ephraim had given a wrong direction to his whole spiritual life. The nation had failed to accomplish the end for which God had chosen it. Its profession and its practice were at variance. Its arrows were not directed towards the Divine glory, and therefore it must presently "fall by the sword," and suffer the "derision" of Egypt, in whom it had foolishly trusted. But does not this graphic metaphor, "a deceitful bow," describe the character of every unbeliever; and of every Christian, in so far as he trusts in his own strength? "In like way doth every sinner act, using against God, in the service of Satan, God's gifts of nature or of outward means, talents, or wealth, or strength, or beauty, or power of speech. God gave all for his own glory; and man turns all aside to do honor and service to Satan" (Pusey). We must be daily strengthened with the grace that is in Christ Jesus, if our bow is to "turn not hack," but to "abide in strength." - C.J.
I. THE DOVE'S PERPLEXITY. Alarmed by a bird of prey hovering over her and ready to seize her, the simple dove is ready to rush into any danger. An emblem of Israel of old. placed between Assyria and Egypt, and, when alarmed by the threats of one power, ready to court the alliance of the other. And an emblem of foolish sinners, of all nations and of all times, whose only safety and whose only guidance is in God, but who are ever prone to look hither and thither, to human counselors and to human helpers.
II. THE DOVE'S FLIGHT. As the simple dove, in her danger and perplexity, makes straight for the fowler's net, so Israel, seeking security by her fancied policy, which in reality was short-sighted and vain, again and again brought herself into national disaster and misery. "They said, We will ride upon horses." "Therefore," was the responsive prediction, "shall ye flee." Where is the foolish rebel against God who has not by his own unwise precipitation brought himself into ruin and calamity?
III. THE DOVE'S CAPTURE IN THE NET. The dove fails to escape, falls into the snare of the fowler, and perishes. Israel, however she might forget and forsake God, could not evade the penalties of disobedience; for she could not get beyond the range of the Divine government and judicial sway. "I," said Jehovah, "will chastise them, according to the announcement to their congregation." "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." Let none imagine that there is a possibility of eluding Divine justice.
APPLICATION The way of wisdom is the way of safety; and "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom." It is better to flee to the Lord as to a Tower of refuge, than to fall into the net of retribution. - T.
at hand, and not afar off, rested his hope of defense upon the celerity of his movements - stretching his wing towards Assyria or Egypt; but in the length of the flight is overtaken, secured, and dies in the cruel talons of his unrelenting pursuer" ('Pictorial Bible'). The passage may be used to illustrate the silliness of sin. Men under the influences of sin are as silly as the dove. What do naturalists say about the dove?
I. IT IS TOO SILLY TO DEFEND ITS OWN. Most creatures will stand by their young and fight for them to the last, but the dove, it seems, cares but little for them, and allows them to be captured without resistance. Ephraim had sunk into this state; his most distinguished blessings were going from him, and he struggled not to retain them. The sinner will not battle with the devil to defend his own - his force of thought, his sensibility of conscience, his freedom of will, his purity of love; he allows these precious things to be taken from him without a struggle.
II. IT IS TOO SILLY TO FEEL ITS LOSS. It is said that the dove will lose its nest and not feel it. The tree seems as attractive to it without its nest as with it. Men under the influence of sin do not feel their loss. Though sin has broken up their nest, they still strive to make the world a resting-place. Whatever is taken from them, they still cling to earthly things.
III. IT IS TOO SILLY TO ESCAPE DANGER. More dull than other fowls, it discovers not its perils; it "hasteneth to the snare, and knoweth not it is for her life" (Proverbs 7:23). Thus it was with the ten tribes politically, and thus it is with all souls morally in their fallen state. They will not flee to the right place of safety - too silly to be calm under trial. It is said of the dove that it has not courage to stay in the dove-house when frightened, where it is safe under the careful protection of its owner, but flutters and hovers, seeking rest first in one place and then in another, and thus exposes itself to new and greater dangers. Thus with Ephraim: instead of settling down under the protection of God, he hurried forth in quest of foreign help, and was the more exposed to calamities and ruin. Thus, too, with souls under the influence of sin.
CONCLUSION. Sin is folly. The fool and the sinner are, in God's vocabulary, convertible terms. Oh, how sad it is to see human souls hovering and fluttering about like silly doves, with no sense of their loss, no resting-place, no security, no peace!
"A soul immortal spending all her fires,
I. FLEEING FROM GOD. (Vers. 11, 12.) The wicked "say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways" (Job 21:14). They themselves try, though vainly, to escape from God. They would fain put a great distance between him and them (Jonah; the prodigal).
1. Fleeing from God is sin. It is an attempt on the part of the creature to establish an independence which the Creator does not allow. Even the attempt at such flight God must check and punish.
2. Fleeing from God is folly. It is foolish
(1) because it is an attempt at the impossible; and
(2) because, if the wicked could succeed in the attempt, it would still be to their own hurt. Abandoning God, the soul is doomed to the pursuit of vanity. It cannot rest in itself, for it is not self-centered; but neither can it rest in the creature, for the creature is constantly proving itself a false support. Besides, life without God has no longer a proper aim. The soul is thus smitten with restlessness; its movements become vague, methodless, erratic. "They call to Egypt; they go to Assyria." It flits from one object to another, and finds repose in none. Existence is a succession of new trials, and a series of new disappointments.
3. Fleeing from God is destruction. God declares that when the sinner flees, he will pursue (ver. 12). No matter how lofty their soarings, he will spread his net for them, and bring them down. He has forewarned them of this, and they will find it true, Jonah found, when he tried to escape, that God's net was spread for him. Every sinner will find the same. The net which God spreads for the haughty, would-be independent ones is that of his punitive justice. Their pride will end, as all evil ends, in destruction.
II. FALSE DEALING WITH GOD. (Vers. 13-16.) A main part of the charge against Ephraim is falsehood (vers. 1, 3). The falsehood is primarily falsehood towards God. We have here three phases of it.
1. Insincerity in repentance. "They have not cried with their heart, when they howled upon their beds, etc. (ver. 14). The insincerity of their repentance was evinced:
(1) By the very noise they made about it "they howled," etc.
(2) By their unabridged indulgence in sin: "They assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me." They insulted God by lying protestations of a desire to return to him, while openly dishonoring him by their wickedness. It is not loud outcries, but changed actions, which show the reality of repentance (Matthew 3:8).
2. Speaking lies against God.
(1) God had attested his willingness to redeem, but they alleged that he would not do so. "I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me" (ver. 13). It was easier to profess doubt of God's Word than to fulfill the moral conditions necessary for the securing of the blessing.
(2) God had shown himself their true Helper - " I instructed and strengthened their arms" - yet they plotted alliances with heathen powers, disowning his past goodness. "They imagine mischief against me" (ver. 15). Thus, doubly, they made God a liar. But their whole life and worship was a denial of his Word. They gainsaid the Word sent them by the prophets, denied his anger at their sins, changed his truth into a lie in the worship of the calves, etc.
3. Faithlessness in promises. Even when, for a brief moment, they seemed wishful of amendment, their goodness did not last (Hosea 6:4). Their promises were broken. They did not keep faith with God. They were as "a deceitful bow" (ver. 16). The deceitful bow:
(1) Holds out a promise. The person who shoots thinks he can depend upon it. It seems a bow that will serve his ends.
(2) Suggests an aim. The use of a bow is to drive the arrow to the point aimed at. God had an aim in the calling of Israel. It was his desire to reach that aim through the obedience of the nation. He has an aim in our own creation, calling, and moral discipline.
(3) Proves treacherous on trial. It either does not shoot at all, or sends the arrow but a little way, or turns it off in a different direction from that which the shooter intended. In any case, it proves not to be depended on. Confidence cannot be placed in it. It deceives and disappoints. Israel had thus repeatedly disappointed the expectations raised by repentances and vows.
III. A LAUGHING-STOCK TO MEN. (Ver. 16.) "This shall be their derision in the, land of Egypt." Their princes had used boastful language - "the rage of their tongue." Once their pretensions were exposed, they would become a mockery to those for the sake of whose friendship and help they had deserted God. - J.O.
from Egypt against Asshur; whilst at another they try to secure the friendship of the latter. For what threatened Israel was the burden of 'the king of princes.' And that they tried to avert, partly by their coquettish arts (Hosea 8:9), and partly by appealing to the help of Egypt; and while so doing, they did not observe that they had fallen into the net of destruction by the power of Assyria. In this net will the Lord entangle them as a punishment. As they go thither God will spread his net over them like a bird-catcher, and bring them down to the earth like flying birds; i.e. bring them from the open air, that is to say, from freedom - unto the net of captivity or exile." Here the work of retribution is spoken of as the work of the fowler, and it includes two things - entrapment and abasement.
I. ENTRAPMENT. The spreading of the net refers to the taking of the birds that lay on the ground. The literal reference here is to 2 Kings 17:4. Here the retributive providence of God employed the Assyrians as a net, but so ensnared the Israelites that they could not escape. Eliphaz observed this ensnaring work of Providence: "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." So did David, who says, "He made a pit and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate." How often in the history of the world is this retributive entrapment witnessed I The cases of Joseph's brethren and the crucifixion of Christ are striking examples in sacred history. Popery confined Luther in the Wartburg Castle, but there he translated that Bible which shattered the whole system. Anglican bigots confined Bunyan in Bedford Jail; there he produced a book that has given him immortal fame. The net that entangled sinners is not manufactured in heaven; it is made on earth, made by themselves. Righteous Providence allows them to be so ensnared by it as to render that enthrallment painful and lasting. Take care of the net.
II. ABASEMENT. "I will bring them down as the fowls of the heaven." However high up they may tower in their ambitious work, retribution has missiles to bring them down. "Thine eyes are upon the haughty, that thou mayest bring them down." There are men on earth who in their worldly prosperity, pride, and ambition soar like the eagles high up in heaven above all the rest. It is said that an ancient philosopher, when once asked what Jupiter did in the highest heaven, replied, "He pulls down the haughty, and exalts the humble." Hear these words: "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord."
CONCLUSION. Ponder well thy condition, sinner. Not only is the eye of retributive justice upon thee wherever thou art and whatever thou dost, but it has all the machinery for thy ruin. Art thou down groveling in the earth, working out thy sordid soul? it has nets that will ensnare thee there! Or art thou high up in the heavens of worldly prosperity and haughty ambition, proudly exulting in thy superiority? it has shots that will reach thee and bring thee down to the dust. Thy only safety is the cross. - D.T.
I. IT IS A DEFERRED PRAYER. "On their beds." In health and strength the idols had been worshipped. Now death seemed near, the Name of Jehovah was on the trembling lip. Mercifully, delay is not of itself sufficient to make a cry to God useless. David lingered in sin till Nathan rebuked him. The prodigal dwelt in the far country till all was gone, etc. Still it is perilous to defer any known duty, most of all that of coming to God.
II. IT IS AN INSINCERE PRAYER. "They have not cried unto me with their heart." This fact would make any prayer useless. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit, and in truth." Compare the prayers of the Pharisees' m the temple or the street with those of publicans and sinners (Matthew 6:7; Matthew 15, etc.).
III. IT IS A DESPERATE PRAYER, "They howled upon their beds." The agony of paint or the dread of meeting God, not the consciousness of sin, caused this. Repentance is not the dread of sin's punishment, but the turning from sin because of its sinfulness. Contrast the cry of the condemned criminal with the prayer of the dying Christian. Depict, for example, the death of Stephen, and the utterance of Paul about his departure (2 Timothy 6:6).
IV. IT IS UNAVAILING. The unreality of the prayer was seen in the subsequent conduct of those who offered it. This is described in the next clause. No sooner were they restored to health than "they assembled for corn and wine," i.e. went back to the old revelries and forgetfulness. How many have dealt thus with God I Brought back from the gates of death, the spared life is no more sober, devout, and holy than the past. Let us beware lest we harden ourselves through the deceitfulness of sin. If, of those restored, so small a proportion prove that the prayers and vows in illness were genuine and availing, how can we indulge much hope of those whose future is not in time but in eternity? In view of this solemn subject:
1. Urge Christians to speak faithfully to sinners in the day of health.
2. Urge sinners to come humbly to the Savior in the day of hope. - A.R.
I. ALTHOUGH CIRCUMSTANCES MIGHT HAVE IMPELLED TO SUCH AN INVOCATION, Many a time had Israel been afflicted, and her afflictions were intended in mercy to drive her to the God she had forsaken. No one of us has been without occasion, urgent and distressing occasion, to seek God. Providence has not left us without the inducement, furnished by great straits and sore needs, to seek the God of salvation.
II. ALTHOUGH NO OTHER REFUGE OR HELPER COULD BE FOUND. Israel was ever seeking safety by heathen alliances, by the policy of diplomacy, or by the might of arms. Yet events constantly taught the unwisdom of such recourse to human aid. It is well when the soul is led to exclaim, "Beside thee there is none else;" "To whom shall I go, but unto thee?"
III. ALTHOUGH ENCOURAGED BY THE CHARACTER AND THE PROMISES OF THE DIVINE HELPER. AS in the history of Israel, so through all time, the great Ruler has revealed himself as the great Deliverer. To us as Christians this revelation is especially plain and effective; for in Jesus we see the salvation of the Eternal." If it be hard to cry upon a God who is known to us only as a just and almighty Judge, surely it is not hard to call upon a God who has come to us in the person of his Son, full of "grace and truth."
IV. ALTHOUGH THE VANITY IS APPARENT OF CALLING UPON THE LORD ONLY WITH THE LIPS. We have only to consider our own spiritual nature, and to remember that God is a Spirit, in order to feel the absurdity and uselessness of offering to Heaven the homage of the lips, and withholding the reverence, the faith, the aspirations of the heart, Ye shall find the Lord, if with all your heart ye truly seek him. - T.
I. THAT GOD'S DISPENSATIONS WITH MEN ARE CHARACTERIZED BY VARIETY. "I have bound and strengthened," or, "I have chastised and strengthened." The events of human life are of a mixed and conflicting character. There is affliction and health, prosperity and adversity, friendship and bereavement, sorrow and joy, wounding and healing. All these conflicting events are under the direction of the great Father, whose aim in all is to make his children "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." As the soil to be fruitful requires the frosts of winter as well as the sunbeams of spring and summer, man requires trials as well as joys to make his spirit fruitful in good works. As the loving father has the good of his child at heart whether he chastens him with a rod or presses him to his bosom, so has the Almighty Father in all his dispensations with men, whether the painful or the pleasant. "All these things worketh God oftentimes in man, that he may bring him back from the pit and enlighten him with the light of the living."
II. THAT WHATEVER THE CHARACTER OF THE DIVINE DISPENSATIONS, THEY ARE OFTEN PERVERTED. "They imagine mischief against me." It matters not what the treatment, they continue to rebel. They are like the sterile ground to which all seasons, all weathers, are alike. Observe:
1. The force of the human will. It can oppose the influences of God, and turn what he designs for good to in. Man is no passive being. He is not to be acted upon as a machine, not to be coerced either by anathemas or benedictions. He is a voluntary agent. This links him to moral government, makes him responsible for his actions, and invests his existence with a momentous solemnity.
2. The depravity of the human heart. This force of will explains, not man's rebellion, for regenerate souls and holy angels have it, and they run in the way of the Divine commandments. The reason of the rebellion is the depravity of the human heart, which is desperately wicked.
CONCLUSION. Open your hearts to the various dispensations of Heaven. Be thankful for their variety. One is designed to touch a chord within thee that another cannot reach. The one may strike conviction of sin, another may tune thy heart to gratitude and hope.
"God, full as kind as he is wise,