Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PROCLAMATION OF JUDGMENT. (Ver. 1.) Hosea is here abruptly addressed by the Spirit as a sentinel or watchman. Being the herald of Jehovah, he is to proclaim with the trumpet of prophecy the near approach of the day of vengeance. His immediate message is that Shalmaneser, the Assyrian king, is soon to descend upon Israel as with the fell swoop of an eagle, and to carry the ten tribes captive. Beyond that, however, and little more than a hundred years later, Nebuchadnezzar, "a great eagle with great wings" (Ezekiel 17:3), is to fall similarly upon Judah. And yet again, in the year , when Jerusalem shall have become a "carcass," the Roman eagles under Titus shall assemble around it, perch victoriously upon the crest of Moriah, and take away from the Jews "both their place and nation." By means of such judgments as these was the wonderful prediction of Moses to be fulfilled, in which the Lord threatened to "bring a nation against Israel from far, as swift as the eagle flieth" (Deuteronomy 28:49). Even yet, however, in these times of the gospel, must the Lord's prophet "set the trumpet to his mouth" to warn wicked nations of the doom which national sin entails, and to remind the sinner of" the wrath to come" which shall overwhelm the impenitent. The "silver trumpet" of the gospel jubilee is to announce, not only the salvation which the Lord Jesus Christ brought at his first coming, but also the judgments which are to overtake unbelievers at the second advent, and which shall then be heralded by the dread "trumpet" of the resurrection.
II. THE CAUSE OF THE JUDGMENT. It was apostasy. This is stated generally in ver. 1, and more specifically in ver. 4. Israel had "transgressed the covenant" (ver. 1) that Jehovah had made with them at Sinai; they had done so by "trespassing against his Law," as written in "the book of the covenant" (Exodus 24:7). They had forsaken God in two ways: by rebelling against the royal house of David, and by rejecting the priestly order of Aaron (ver. 4).
1. Israel maintained a schismatic kingdom. In revolting under Jeroboam, they consulted only their own evil self-will, and not the will of Jehovah. During the two hundred and fifty years that the northern kingdom lasted, the throne was occupied by six or more wretched dynasties, and by nineteen unhappy monarchs, all of whom were apostates from God and tyrants over the people. Not one of the kings of the ten tribes did Jehovah recognize as his vicegerent. Dethronements and assassinations and usurpations followed one another, and he "knew it not."
2. Israel embraced a false religion. "They made them idols," and went astray into calf-worship and Baal-worship. Not only did the political apostasy lead to the adoption of these heathen practices; the tribes, apart from that, had at this period of their history strong leanings towards idolatry. The people found it pleasant to employ as objects of worship what they could see and touch. They desired to be like the nations around them that served graven images. So they gave freely of their wealth (ver. 4) for the maintenance of their idol temples. In our age, too, the Lord's prophet must point to apostasy from him as the cause of spiritual ruin. The gospel trumpet is to emphasize the counsel of the apostle, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21). The pulpit ought to warn men that the one sure result of persistently setting any creature - whether money, or power, or fame, or any earthly love - in the place of the Creator, will be the irreparable loss and everlasting shame of the soul
III. THE FALSE PLEA WHICH ISRAEL WOULD USE TO DEPRECATE THE JUDGMENT. (Vers. 2, 3.) Their affliction would drive the people to pray, and to plead that "we, Israel, have known thee." But such a declaration on their part were pretentious and hypocritical. It was irrelevant, and it would be unavailing. For, after all, it rested only upon their natural descent as the chosen race, and upon the historical information about God which they possessed. The plea is that the Lord must protect his own people; but he does not recognize as such those who can say nothing more than that "they have Abraham for their father." He regards mere head-knowledge of himself as dead knowledge. Israel "professed that they knew God, but in works they denied him" (Titus 1:16). "Israel hath cast off good" (ver. 3) - thrown it from him with loathing and contempt. He had rejected God's salvation, by "transgressing his covenant" - in token whereof he had separated himself from the dynasty of David and from the priestly house of Aaron. And he had rejected Jehovah himself as the chief Good, by seeking a portion for himself in idolatry. Inevitably, therefore, "the enemy shall pursue him;" the Assyrian must crush the northern kingdom under his iron heel, and utterly destroy it. But these verses sound still in our ears the warning, to beware lest we trust in spiritual privilege, as if that were personal piety; or in the faith of our godly ancestors, as if that could be imputed to us; or in our knowledge of theology merely, as if that were synonymous with heart-religion. There is a strong tendency in human nature towards such vain confidence; and Satan plies us with subtle temptations in this direction. The Lord Jesus has warned us that when the last "trumpet" shall sound, anti the great assize shall be held, this same false plea shall be presented by multitudes (Matthew 7:22; Luke 13:25-27). To many who shall then cry, "My God, we know thee," the reply of the Judge will be, "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.' We must during the present life calmly accept Christ, and live by the faith of him; we must have his Spirit reigning in our hearts, and devote ourselves to the pursuit of righteousness, if we would "not be ashamed before him at his coming." - C.J.
Isaiah 13.). The words are singularly abrupt, and indicate the suddenness of the threatened invader. 'Like an eagle.' If this be a prophecy against Judah, as some have supposed, then by the eagle Nebuchadnezzar is meant, who is often compared to the king of birds (see Jeremiah 48.; Ezekiel 17.; Daniel 7:4). But if the prophecy be against Israel, which is the most likely, then Shalmaneser King of Assyria is intended, who for his rapidity, avarice, rapacity, and strength is fitly compared to the royal bird. ' The house of the Lord.' This cannot mean here the temple at Jerusalem, which is otherwise so designated, since the threatenings are most probably denounced against the kingdom of the ten tribes. It must therefore be taken to denote the people of Israel, the whole nation viewed as the family of God." By the "house of the Lord," therefore, we are to understand not the temple at Jerusalem, nor the land of Judaea, but Israel as a section of the professed people of God. The house of the Lord was a conventional Church. Look at the words as presenting a conventional Church in three aspects.
I. AS ENDANGERED. "He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord." How comes the eagle? Ravenously, suddenly, and swiftly; it pounces down on its prey with the rapidity of lightning, and fastens its talons on its heart. A conventional Church is in greater danger than any secular community. Why?
1. Its guilt is greater. It has the oracles of God, and it professes faith in those oracles, and yet its heart is out of sympathy with God and his laws. "Wee unto thee, Chorazin," etc.! "He that knoweth his master's will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." The hell of conventional Churches will be, methinks, deeper and darker than any other hell in the black domain of retribution.
2. Its influence is more pernicious. Whose influence on society is the most baneful - the man who denies God, the man who ignores him, or the man that misrepresents him? The last, I trow. The conventional Church gives society a real-representation of God and his religion. Of all the men in Christendom there is no man who is a greater bane to his race than he who wears the garb of religion but is destitute of its spirit. Surely the eagle of retribution will wing its way to no class more savagely and more quickly than to these conventional religionists.
II. AS WARNED. "Set the trumpet to thy mouth." This is Heaven's command to the prophet. Blow a blast that shall thrill every heart in the vast congregation of Israel. Why sound the warning?
1. Because the danger is tremendous. It is utter destruction.
2. Because the danger is at hand. The eagle has spread its pinions, has mounted the air, fastened his eye on the victim, and is about swooping down in fury.
3. Because the danger may be avoided. Were there no escape, why blew the trumpet? Why raise the alarm? Thank God there is escape as long as life continues.
"While the lamp holds out to burn III. AS REPENTANT. "Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee." The alarm has been taken and the refuge is sought. "My God, we know thee." "This is life eternal to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Oh, hasten the day when all conventional Churches shall be brought to a deep and experimental knowledge of God and his Son! When this transpires, the dense cloud that has concealed the sun of Christianity shall be swept away, and the quickening beam shall fall on every heart. The mountain that has obstructed the chariot of redemptive truth shall be leveled to a plain, and the wheels shall move with lightning speed. "The Word of the Lord shall have free course, and be glorified." - D.T.
III. AS REPENTANT. "Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee." The alarm has been taken and the refuge is sought. "My God, we know thee." "This is life eternal to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Oh, hasten the day when all conventional Churches shall be brought to a deep and experimental knowledge of God and his Son! When this transpires, the dense cloud that has concealed the sun of Christianity shall be swept away, and the quickening beam shall fall on every heart. The mountain that has obstructed the chariot of redemptive truth shall be leveled to a plain, and the wheels shall move with lightning speed. "The Word of the Lord shall have free course, and be glorified." - D.T.
1 Peter 4:17). The "eagle" is the Assyrian; in later times the Roman (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49). The cause of the judgment is that constantly insisted on: "They have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my Law" (ver. 1).
I. KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THROUGH JUDGMENT. (Ver. 2.) In the day of doom Israel would cry to God, "My God, we know thee, we Israel" So at the last judgment:
1. Those who have hitherto denied God will be forced to acknowledge him. Their startled cry, when it is too late, will be, "My God, we know thee." They will know him to their cost. They will no longer be able to disguise to themselves the fact of his existence or the reality of his power. No more pretence of ignorance, no more caviling, no more blasphemous defiance.
2. Those who have hitherto forgotten God will be force to remember him. They will experience a rude awakening from the careless security n which they have been living. They will find God's words to be true, his warnings real, the "wrath to come" a dreadful certainty. It will be impossible longer to put off reflection, or to shut out thoughts of him with whom they have to do.
3. Those who have hitherto slighted God's friendship will be eager to make friends with him. They will address him as their God ("My God"), will recall past knowledge of him, will urge any pleas which they think will gain them mercy. They are as anxious now to make themselves out God's friends as formerly they were to have nothing to do with him. In times of affliction or peril, as well as on the approach of death or judgment, sinners show themselves very willing to call on God. "Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord," etc. (Matthew 7:22). Such pleas, however, will not avail. The repentance is too late, and it is not sincere. Israel would gain nothing by being of the seed of Jacob (cf. Matthew 3:9).
II. AN INVARIABLE SEQUENCE. (Ver. 3.) Israel, having cast off good, would be pursued by the enemy. The sequence is short, simple, certain. It is as sure as any law of nature.
1. Antecedent. "Israel hath cast off good." In every sense Israel had done this. The nation had
(1) cast out the knowledge of good (Hosea 4:6);
(3) despised the hope of good, the blessing and salvation promised on condition of obedience.
2. Consequent. "The enemy shall [or, 'let the enemy'] pursue him." The enemy pursues those who cast off good.
(1) Conscience pursues. The sinner cannot escape from its rebukes, scourgings, and pursuing memories.
(2) The laws of nature pursue. Nature is so constituted that its laws are on the side of the virtuous, and against those that do evil. Sin is followed by inevitable natural penalties.
(3) Divine justice pursues. There is, even in this life, a providential retribution which the sinner seldom escapes (cf. Deuteronomy 28.). In any case there is a final judgment, when every one shall receive for the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
III. REPRESENTATIVE TRANSGRESSION. (Ver. 4.) Israel's kings were not of God. They had been set up without consulting God, and had ruled in disregard of God's will. The worship of the calves was in direct opposition to Divine commandment. It had its ground in political expediency. This lays bare to us the essence of ungodliness. Ungodliness:
1. Waives all regard to God's will in the shaping of life. It plans existence irrespectively of God. Whatever the ungodly man "sets up," it is done "without God." He seeks an independent being.
2. Makes gods for itself out of God's gifts. "Of their silver and gold have they made them idols." The world becomes its god.
3. The end - "cut off?" - J.O.
Our hope is to be found in the same source: "This is life eternal, that they might know thee," etc.
I. THE MEANS OF KNOWING GOD. They can be seen in the experience of Jacob, who first won for himself the name "Israel."
1. Repentance is the first step in such knowledge. No one can see goodness while gazing on sin, or know God while absorbed in self. A moral change, not a mental, is required of us as of Israel. The teaching of Christ was not too abstruse for comprehension, but it was too Divine for those absorbed in earthliness. His foes "loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Paul was surrounded by men of culture, yet declared "the natural man receiveth not the things of God... neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned." John knew the advantages of intelligent study, but he said, "He that loveth not knoweth not God." The change from sin to holiness involves, in the spiritual realm, the change from ignorance to knowledge. Exhibit this in the vision Jacob had at Mahanaim. He knew God's Name after he had repented of his old sin against Esau, and of the habitual subtlety it revealed. Then as Israel he could say, "My God, I know thee."
2. Prayer is the outcry of repentance. "Israel shall cry to me." We know a man by fellowship with him, and thus we may know God; and he who speaks to God oftenest knows him best. How infinite the condescension that permits this, the love that encourages it! None can make God known to others unless they know him themselves. Hence the special need of prayer on the part of all who speak of him. The Divine teachers of the race have been those who have come from the presence of the Eternal. Illustrations found in the great lawgiver, who had spoken to God in Midian and on Sinai; in David, whose psalms show the agony of his prayer, the intensity of his worship; in the prophets, who saw visions of God; in the apostles, who were prepared for service by being with Jesus, and not by rabbinical culture; in reformers and others, whose spiritual power has been proportionate to their intimacy with God. If all professing Christians could say, "My God, we know thee," a human priesthood would be abolished, and the skepticism of the world would be paralyzed. It is true of this knowledge, as of all the higher blessings, "He that asketh receiveth."
II. THE JOYS OF KNOWING GOD.
1. The sense of personal relationship to him. "My God." He who can say, "My God," implies such blessings as these:
(1) Thou art the Pardoner of my sin; e.g. David in Psalm 51.
(2) The Bearer of my burdens: Esther and Nehemiah.
(3) The Source of my strength: Paul, "I can do all things," etc.
(4) The Place of my safety: Noah and Elijah.
(5) The Spring of my hope: John in Patmos.
(6) The Crowner of my life: Paul, "Henceforth there is laid up," etc.
2. The sense of saintly association. "Israel shall cry." In this cry the people of Hosea's time were associated with their forefathers. The God of their fathers was their God. He is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. Hence the helpfulness of the Scripture histories, which tell us what God has been to others. Dwell on the advantages of the history and the memories of the past. Show how the saints were accustomed to strengthen themselves for their present need by recalling former help. David recalled his experience as a shepherd; the exiles their former glory; the Jews their early deliverances, etc. Christian fellowship enlarges the possibilities of this. The experience of one is enriched by the memories of others. The joy of heaven will consist partly in the remembrances the redeemed have of the loving-kindness of God. Associations with the saintly are the noblest and most abiding.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF KNOWING GOD. They who know him are called upon:
1. To wait on him in lowly prayer. If he be God, he demands our constant homage.
2. To serve him with loyal heart, with no reserve of thought, or wish, or love.
3. To learn of him by constant thought. To one who knows him he says, "I will guide thee with mine eye." His glance, his whisper, is enough for us.
4. To represent him by consecrated life. When Moses came from the presence of God his face shone with heavenly light. When the Sanhedrim saw the courage and wisdom of Peter and John, they saw that they had been with Jesus. So he who is habitually with God will have about him something of heaven's atmosphere and of Christ's Spirit.
CONCLUSION. "No man knoweth the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him." - A.R.
I. WHEN A CRY OF HYPOCRISY, FEAR, OR SELFISHNESS, IT WAS VAIN. Alas! It was often this. Superstition led the people to conjoin the worship of Jehovah with the worship of idols. It would seem that, in their ignorant, selfish, worthless religiousness, they wished to stand well with both. There was a measure of truth in the cry; for the children of Abraham had a right to look to Jehovah and say, "My God," and they could justly add, "We know thee." Yet, occupying the position they did, their utterance was unheard by and unacceptable to the Searcher of hearts.
II. WHEN A CRY OF SINCERITY AND FAITH, IT WAS ACCEPTABLE. It was not that the words were wrong in themselves; it was the spirit that was defective and blamable. When such words came from filial, grateful, spiritual natures, most welcome were they to the ear of the Supreme. The language admits of, nay, it naturally expresses, devoutness - a joyful appropriation, heartfelt communion. It rejoices in an honorable and blessed relationship; it acknowledges a happy, elevating, and unbroken familiarity. - T.
Hosea 8:3, 5Hosea 8:3, 5 (parts).
Sin's mockery of the sinner. Israel hath cast off the thing that is good.... Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off. The power of the human will to choose good or evil. This evidenced by the representation Hoses gives of a people resolved on iniquity, whom God was longing to save. Refer to the teaching of our Lord upon this subject; e.g. "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life;" or, "How often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, but ye would not!" Appeal to experience for proof of our power to receive or reject good. Our text describes a fallacious, sinful, and fatal choice. The sin for which sacrifice was made ultimately sacrificed the sinner. Look at the two sides of this moral picture.
I. THE CASTING OFF OF THE GOOD. "Israel hath cast off the thing that is good." Illustrate this by a delineation of the depraved condition of Israel at this period. Show that what they cast off is still being cast off by multitudes in modern life; e.g.:
1. Faith in the nearness of God. It was the loss of this which led Israel to form fatal alliances with the heathen. In our day materialism and Positivism are enervating, and sometimes destroying faith. The symbol of the spiritual is becoming the substitute for it, This may be traced both in the teachings of a school of philosophy, and in the sensuousness of ritualistic worship. Many have cast off the old faith - "the thing that is good" - instead of believing where they cannot prove.
2. Fidelity in witnessing for God. It had been the glory of Israel to proclaim, both by its worship and in its history, the unity, the invisibility, and the holiness of God. By turning to the worship of visible idols, diverse in their attributes, yet all hideous in their impurity, they had deliberately repudiated this Divine commission. Still it is man's peculiar dignity to appear as the witness and the worshipper of God, in whose image he was created, and over whose works he rules. Pre-eminently he may be the Divine witness by the moral character and the spiritual life inwrought in him by the Divine Spirit, who conforms us to the image of God's Son. Falling short of this, man fails (as Israel failed) to fulfill his destiny. Hence, in proportion as a man refuses the grace of God, he casts off the thing that is good.
3. Obedience to the Law of God. Show from pagan history, and from the condition of modern heathen, as well as from the growing degradation of those to whom Hoses spoke, that idolatry brings with it moral deterioration. The man who ignores the first table of the Law will of necessity ignore the second also. Religious faith and moral rightness stand or fall together. When Israel turned from Jehovah to Baal and Astarte, the nation gradually but surely became false, self-seeking, ambitious in its political alliances, and hideously corrupt in its inward social condition. Israel had cast off the thing that was good.
4. Loyalty to sacred resolves. The people often appeared about to repent, but their goodness was transient as the morning cloud. How frequently now right impressions and even holy vows are cast off! How jealously all should guard themselves against the subtle influence of a busy life, or of an alluring pleasure, or of an ill-chosen companionship! There are many whose hearts are hard, and whose lives are godless, respecting whom, in memory of their early promise, it may be truly and sadly said, "They have cast off the thing that is good."
II. THE CASTING OFF OF THE SINNER. "Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off'." History shows that Israel was ruined by trusting to Egypt and to its own martial prowess, instead of confiding In God and simply doing righteousness. Jeremiah's words were fulfilled, "Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." Casting off good, Israel was cast off by evil. See how often this principle is exemplified in the broader sphere of human life. That which men put in the place of God sooner or later fails them.
1. Pleasures fail to give satisfaction. When the soul tries to quench its thirst with these the words of Isaiah are fulfilled, "It shall even be as when a hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty." The awakening comes ultimately to every man, and it is well when it does not come too late.
2. Intellect fails to find spiritual truth. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, and the unrest of many arise from the fact that they have cast off the yoke of him who alone was able to say, "I am the...Truth."
3. Self-righteousness fails to bring salvation. See our Lord's words respecting the Pharisees. The house built on the sand stands side by side with the house founded upon the rock; but the testing-time comes to both.
4. The world fails to afford a home. Whether we will or not, the world must fail us at last. If we make it our servant, we shall rule like kings; if we make it our god, in our hour of helplessness it will cast us off.
CONCLUSION. "There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." - A.R.
I. THE ABANDONMENT OF GOOD. "Israel hath rejected what is good" (Elzas). The good here undoubtedly refers to the true worship of the true God. Observe:
1. That true worship is the "good thing for man. It is good not only because God requires it, but because it is the necessary condition of spiritual life, growth, harmony, and blessedness. True worship is the soul's only heaven.
2. That this good thing" man sometimes abandons. Israel was once a true worshipper, but the true worship it had now "cast off." Fallen angels were once true worshippers, and many a human spirit once inspired with true devotion has fallen into worldliness and idolatry. Moral mind has the power of abandoning the highest good.
3. That the abandonment of this "good thing" imperils the soul. "The enemy shall pursue them." Moral good is the only effective safeguard of the spirit; when this is given up or "cast off," all the gates of the soul are thrown open to tormenting fiends. The walls of the vineyard axe broken down, and it lies exposed to the tread and ravages of every moral beast.
II. THE CONSEQUENT PURSUIT OF EVIL. "They have set up kings, but not by me," etc. The setting up of kings here refers to the founding of the kingdom by Jeroboam, and to the entire series of Israelitish kings. The kings of Israel were not according to Divine ordination (1 Kings 11:27-40). "Their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be out off." From these kings of their own making came the setting up of the idolatrous calf-worship which was started by Jeroboam. Though silver was not used in the construction of the golden calves, it was employed to support the idolatrous worship. Thus, because they abandoned the "good thing," they went wrong in their politics and religion. They made their own kings and their own gods. When once men give up the right they rush into the wrong. Let a man go wrong in relation to God, and he will go wrong in all his relations, secular and spiritual.
CONCLUSION. There is nothing in connection with the human race of such transcendent importance as worship. The religious element is the strongest of all elements; and men must have a god of some sort or other, and their god will fashion their character and determine their destiny.
"And yet from him we turn away,
(1) the root of viz. forgetfulness of God (ver. 14);
(2) its folly (ver. 6);
(3) its fruitlessness (ver. 7); and
(4) the ruin which it entails (vers. 8, 10, 13, 14).
But perhaps the most prominent thought in the passage is that of the self-punishing nature of sin, as illustrated in the early history and the later fortunes of Ephraim. We see this fact reflected -
I. IN THE NATIONAL CALF-WORSHIP. (Vers. 5-7.) Samaria had "cast off good" (ver. 3) by departing from the pure ritual which Jehovah had prescribed; and therefore the "calf" which she had set up, and in which she gloried, had "cast her off." There was no help in the golden god during the crisis of the country's peril. How could there be? - for "the workman made it." Instead, therefore, of interposing to save their worshippers from exile, the two calves were themselves taken to Nineveh as a spoil. Tiglath-pileser carded away the calf of Dan, and Shalmaneser that of Bethel. The worship of Jeroboam's images proved the ruin of the nation. It was a sowing of the wind. For the breach of the second commandment paved the way for the violation of the first, and for contempt of the whole Decalogue; and then Israel "reaped the whirlwind."
II. IN THE MULTIPLICATION OF ALTARS AND SACRIFICES (Vers. 11-14.) The Divine will had appointed but one central sanctuary and place of sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:5-14). But Israel evinced the corruption of her worship by multiplying temples all over the land, not only to Jehovah, but to the gods of heathendom. The people protested, indeed, that they did not deny the Lord God of their fathers, even when they called upon Baal (Hosea 2:11). But Jehovah could not accept a divided homage; he regarded their altars as set up only "to sin," and he rejected the sacrifices which they laid upon them. The temples which the men of Ephraim built, thus became a millstone round their neck to drag them to destruction (ver. 11). What a pathetic word-picture of a dead ritualism is sketched with one slight touch in ver. 14, "Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples! Yet these shrines were not true temples after all, for there was no Divine presence in them. Without the presence of God the most splendid cathedral is not a sanctuary, but a sepulcher.
III. IN THE POLITICAL FLIRTATIONS WITH ASSYRIA. (Vers. 8-10.) Again and again the kingdom of Israel endeavored to bolster itself up by abject vassalage to the King of Assyria, and by paying heavy tribute to buy off his invading armies. To this adulterous policy Hosea refers in the words, Ephraim hath hired lovers." But such expedients, so far from contributing to the safety of the nation, served rather to precipitate and aggravate its ruin. First of all, the tribute imposed upon the people caused them to "sorrow" (ver. 10); and at length Israel was entirely "swallowed up" by the invader. The nation became, in its headstrong obstinacy of disobedience, like the solitary "wild ass" of the desert; and it fell an easy prey to the Assyrian lion.
IV. IN THE CONFIDENCE OF THE PEOPLE IN MATERIAL DEFENSES. (Ver. 140 Hosea ascribes this particular sin to Judah rather than to Israel. The Jews "trusted in their fenced cities" (Jeremiah 5:17). A fortified city is certainly a place of refuge from the invading host. But the motto of such should be, "Nisi Dominus .frustra;" for, "except the Lord keep the city," it will be quite defenseless, in spite of its fortifications. Judah's battlements were not the Lord's; so they attracted the thunderbolts of the Divine vengeance, and were at last burned with fire by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13), and by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:9, 10). His cities and towers had been erected, Babel-like, in proud self-confidence; and thus they ultimately became his destruction.
1. What was true of Ephraim will be true also of England, so soon as the national life of our land shall resemble his. If we claim that the spiritual promises made to Ephraim apply to England, we ought also to acknowledge that the denunciations directed against Ephraim may possibly be deserved by England too.
2. If Ephraim's sin turned out to be its own punishment, it is the same also with that of each individual sinner. Retribution fails upon the wrong-doer in the course of natural law. For Providence is just, and "of our pleasant vices makes instruments to plague us." - C.J.
I. AS ABHORRENT TO JEHOVAH. "Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off; mine anger is kindled against them." By a synecdoche, Samaria is here used for all the ten tribes. There is no allusion in history to any calf set up in the city of Samaria, but its existence in Bethel, the most celebrated place of worship in the kingdom, is a matter of certainty. "The introduction of the worship of the golden calves by Jeroboam, in imitation of that of Apis at Memphis, and of Mnevis at Heliopolis, which he must have seen during his residence in Egypt, paved the way for the imitation and adoption of the gross idolatries practiced by the Phoenicians, Syrians; and Chaldeans.' Now, against this idolatry Jehovah declares his anger "to be kindled." The language is, of course, anthropomorphic, and used only to express his unconquerable opposition to idolatry, the foulest of all evils - a violation of his command, "Thou shalt have no other god beside me," It is the abominable thing which he hates. The fact that idolatry is abhorrent to the great God is the grand reason why his loyal servants should consecrate themselves to his service.
II. AS ANTAGONISTIC TO MORAL PURITY. "How long shall they be incapable of purity?" (Elzas). Where there is not supreme love to the supremely Good, there is no soil in which one solitary virtue can germinate, there is no foundation on which one stone can be laid for the temple of goodness. Hence the history of idolatry shows that it is inseparably associated with pollution and crime. Idolatry is a fountain essentially corrupt, and all its streams are filthy and foul. Paul's description in the first chapter of Romans is true to universal fact. If the world is ever to be made virtuous, it must have the one true and living God presented to it as the one Object of supreme love and worship.
III. As AN OUTRAGE ON REASON. "For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God." "It is the greatest folly," says an old author, "to look upon that which derives its excellency from ourselves as superior to us, and that in the highest degree; to forsake God that made us, and to make that to be a god unto us that we have made ourselves. If one be maintained or raised by another, he is expected to be serviceable to him. In this relation we stand to God, but idolatry makes men go against the very principles of reason. They fashion the idol and yet account it their god; they are made and sustained by God, and yet forget him." And yet this folly men are constantly committing every day, not only in heathen lands, but in Christendom. Men are everywhere making their gods. Power, money, pleasure, fame, - these be thy gods, O England!
1. God has destroyed idols by the gospel.
2. God is destroying idols by the gospel. D.T. As I live, saith the Lord, all the earth shall be filled with my glory. "In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats: to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth."
V. As PRODUCTIVE OF GREAT EVIL. "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind," etc. "As the husbandman reaps the same kind of grain which he has sown, but in far greater abundance, so he who sows the wind shall have the whirlwind to reap." "It hath no stalk." Nothing that can yield a blossom. "The bud shall yield no meal." "If they should have a stalk, and that stalk should have a blossom, that blossom shall yield no fruit; and if there be fruit, the sower shall not enjoy it, for strangers shall eat it. The Israelites should be unsuccessful in all their undertakings, and whatever partial gains they might acquire would be eagerly seized by the Assyrians" (Elzas).
1. All men are sowing. Every human act is a seed.
2. Some are sowing worthless seed - " wind." The worldling, the man of pleasure, the conventional religionist, the speculative skeptic, are all "sowing the wind."
3. The more worthless the seed sown, the more terrible the reaping. "Reap the whirlwind." Great is the power of the whirlwind. The Scripture describes it as very great. In 1 Kings 19:11 it "rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks." Sabdicos reports that Cambyses' soldiers being at dinner in a sandy place, there arose a whirlwind and drove the sand upon them, so that it covered them all. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
"Hear, Father! hear and aid!
I. SAMARIA'S CALF. (Vers. 5, 6.)
1. The futility of making it. "From Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it is not God" (ver. 6). Idolatry is a huge absurdity. That cannot be a god which we make with our own hands (cf. Isaiah 40:18-20; Isaiah 44:9-20). As foolish is it to make a god of wealth, position, reputation, or anything created by man's effort.
2. The folly of trusting in it. "Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off" (ver. 5); "The calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces" (ver. 6).
(1) It could not help.
(2) It was helpless to save itself.
Anything earthly that man relies on will prove a vain help when God wills its overthrow, or the overthrow of him who depends on it.
3. The reward of serving it. "Mine anger is kindled against them" (ver. 5). God's anger was kindled
(1) at the idolatry;
(2) at the sins connected with the idolatry;
(3) at the resistance shown to the means used for the nation's spiritual recovery. How long will it be ere they attain to innocency? The effects of this kindling of God's anger are described in ver. 7. One effect would be the destruction of their idol (ver. 6).
II. SIN'S PENALTIES. (Ver. 7.) Retribution is set forth under two images.
1. The wind and whirlwind. "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." "The wind is an image of vain human efforts, from which ruin is developed, as naturally as the wind becomes a tempest" (Schmoller). The image suggests:
(1) The insubstantiality of sinful objects of pursuit. Substanceless as wind (cf. Hosea 12:1).
(2) That the sinner is not his own master. Wind is an image of the hurrying force of passion. The sinner's passions hurry him along.
(3) That sin develops the elements of its own retribution. The sowing is congruous with the reaping. As the sinner is hurried along by sin, so he must submit to be swept along by God's judgments. As he lived an unsubstantial life, he must submit to have the unsubstantiality of his life revealed by the tempest that lays it in ruins.
2. The blasted grain. "It hath no stalk." etc. The thought here is that of designs frustrated at every stage. It appears first as if there would be no stalk. Then such stalk as there is yields no fruit. Or if, perchance, there should be any, it is devoured by strangers. Thus, life without God proves to be but deceptive show, promise without performance, effort without result. It has to reckon with God's frown at every stage. He may nip its designs in their inception. He may thwart them a stage further on. He may prevent them from attaining final success. Or, if success be permitted, it is only that he may make their overthrow more striking in the end (Psalm 73:18; cf. Hosea 9:11, 16). - J.O.
I. MAN'S PRONENESS TO SET OTHER OBJECTS IN THE SUPREME PLACE WHICH OF RIGHT IS GOD'S. Every object, every being, every pursuit, which men place in the position which is God's alone, becomes an idol. Thus idolatry is a sin of all times. Pleasure, fame, learning, power, etc., all by turns assume the throne of the heart, stand in the shrine of Deity.
II. SUCH IDOLATRY CAN ONLY ISSUE IN HUMAN DISAPPOINTMENT. The vanity of trusting to the works of their own hands was impressed again and again upon Israel, until at length idolatry was rendered forever impossible to them. How much of the Old Testament consists of warnings that to trust in other refuges, in other helpers, than in Jehovah is the way to shame, confusion, and destruction! "Confounded be all they that serve graven images." Who is there that has forsaken God, and sought another deliverer, but has been miserably disappointed?
III. THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE IS MANIFESTED TOWARDS SUCH AS FORSAKE GOD FOR OTHER HELPERS. His honor he will not give to another. He sent prophets to Israel, and inspired them to upbraid and to denounce the unfaithful and apostate. The greater the mercies the Hebrew nation had enjoyed, the greater the Divine indignation with those who, having been so favored, had so rebelled.
IV. DOOM AND DESTRUCTION ARE PRONOUNCED BOTH UPON IDOLS AND UPON THOSE WHO TRUST IN THEM. "The calf shall be broken in pieces." The reed, upon which the faithless leans, shall pierce his side. He shall see the hosts in which he trusted melt into nothingness before his eyes. Riches shall take wings and fly away. The bubble of honor shall burst and vanish. The blossom of power shall be nipped, or the fruit shall fall unripe. Man is but man, and not God.
V. THE PURPOSE OF THIS PROVISION IS TO LEAD TO REPENTANCE AND TO RETURN UNTO THE LORD. Declarations of displeasure and denunciations of wrath afford no pleasure to the Divine mind that authorizes them. God's threat to destroy all rivals to his authority and supremacy must indeed be literally fulfilled. But for those who return to the God they have forsaken, there are open arms, there is a heart of mercy, there are words of pardon, there is welcome, restoration, and life. - T.
I. IDOLATERS. It is of such that the prophet is more immediately speaking. The people of the ten tribes were "sowing the wind" when they prayed to the golden calves for abundant harvests; and they would presently "reap the whirlwind" in the three years' siege of Samaria by Shalmaneser, in the successive deportations into exile, and in the final ruin of the nationality of Ephraim. The generation that came out of Egypt seven centuries before had reaped a sad harvest from the calf-worship at Horeb. "There fell of the people that day about three thousand men" (Exodus 32:28). And ever since that time the idolatries of Israel had been a standing grief to Jehovah their Redeemer (Psalm 81:8-16); until at length there was nothing for it but the two hurricanes of captivity, which respectively swept the ten tribes into Assyria, and the remaining two into Babylon. All heathendom, moreover, "reaps the whirlwind' still as the fruit of its idolatries - a harvest (as Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-32) of moral corruption and vileness, overhung by the storm-cloud of the Divine wrath.
II. DESPOTS. The tyrant makes an idol of his own evil will, and "sows the wind" of ambition, and pride, and vain-glory, and disregard of the rights of others. Universal history teems with illustrations of the fact that those kings and grandees of the earth who will not give God the glory are doomed to reap a harvest of whirlwind. Take, e.g., from sacred history such cases as Pharaoh, Ahab and Jezebel, Sennacherib, Haman, Herod. Or, from profane history, such illustrations as the Stuart kings of England, the Bourbon kings of France, and the fate of the two Napoleons, Some tyrants have foreseen the harvest before it began to be gathered in; like Louis XV., when he said to his courtiers, "After me, the deluge."
III. CARELESS PARENTS. All who neglect the godly upbringing of their children "sow the wind." There are well-meaning heads of households who fail to maintain a firm and resolute as well as kindly family government. They allow their young people to cherish self-will, or to follow pleasure as if it were the business of life, and neglect to exercise due restraint over them. This was the sin of Eli (1 Samuel 3:13); and he soaped the tornado in the disgrace which was thus brought upon the priesthood, together with the destruction of his own house. There are parents, also, who in their own personal character fail to set a consistent godly example before their sons and daughters. David's great sin entailed evil upon his family like a whirlwind; some of his sons became arrows in his heart, instead of "arrows in his hand." The historian shows us the poor king reaping his dismal harvest in the pathetic scene in which he bewailed the fate of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33),
IV. Vicious MEN. The young man who "wastes his substance with riotous living" has his career described in our text. In following the impulse of his wild hot passions he "sows the wind." The sensualist, the drunkard, the gambler, - how profitless all their sowing "to their own flesh"! And what a harvest of torment and terror and shame they are compelled to reap! It has been so even with men of the most brilliant genius, as e.g. the poets Byron and Burns. A career of sinful pleasure produces the whirlwind as its natural harvest. It undermines the foundations of morality within the soul (Hosea 4:11). The appropriate epitaph for such a life is, on the one side of the tombstone, "Vanity of vanities;" and on the other, "Vexation of spirit."
V. ALL UNBELIEVERS. For even the man of good moral character "sows the wind," if he neglects the salvation of Jesus Christ. Every one who lives without God is without hope. He who believes that the only real life is a life of sense, and who therefore shuts his eyes to the world of the unseen, shall one day be fully undeceived. Should no whirlwind arise within his conscience during the present life, he shall find himself, when he passes into eternity, at once involved in tremendous wreaths of storm. He "shall eat of the fruit of his own way," and his "destruction shall come as a whirlwind" (Proverbs 1:24-33). What a dreadful tempest is "the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:12-17). Yet the ungodly shall be exposed to all its fury. They shall "reap the whirlwind;" or, rather, the whirlwind shall reap them; they are "like the chaff which the wind driveth away" (Psalm 1:4).
1. This life is the seed-time of eternity, and all are sowers.
2. The harvest depends upon the seed; hence the importance of sowing good seed.
3. To sow sin is a policy of wretched infatuation; it is like "sowing wind."
4. The harvest of sin is not only profitless, but terrific and destructive; it is "the whirlwind."
5. All men have "sown the wind," for all are sinners; but there is "a Man" who is able to shelter us from the whirlwind (Isaiah 32:2). - C.J.
Hosea 8:7 (first clause)
I. THAT MEN SHALL REAP AS THEY HAVE SOWN IS A DIVINE AND UNIVERSAL LAW.
1. This law is seen in nature. Sow wheat, and without further anxiety, you are confident that you will reap wheat, and not something else. And not in kind only, but in quantity, whether abundantly or sparsely, you will reap as you sowed. The child is surprised to see his own name appear written in living green; but he who sowed the seed in that form sees in it only what is natural and usual.
2. This law asserts itself in social life. If a nation allows its children to be brought up without regard to the sanctities of life, it finds its retribution in crowded jails and asylums, in political insecurity, in death-bringing pestilence, etc. Having sown the wind, it reaps the whirlwind. So it is with the methods adopted by despotic tyranny. History shows how often repressive measures, excessive and uncertain punishments, etc., have culminated in the whirlwind of revolution which has overwhelmed and wrecked orderly society.
3. this law is visible in the culture of the mind and the occupations of life. Contrast the destiny of the indolent shifty schoolboy with that of the steady student who yearly grows in intellectual capacity.
4. This law never fails in the moral and religious sphere. Suppose a man resolves to do that which will pay in a financial sense. He deliberately abjures righteousness for expediency, resolving at all costs to win wealth. He does win it. He reaps according to the seed he has sown, but it is no wonder if in his moral being he is "given over to a reprobate mind." On the other hand, the religious man gives up a profitable practice because he believes it to be immoral. The result is that he fails to reap riches because he has not sown for them, but he does reap the bliss of having a conscience void of offense towards God and towards men.
II. THAT THIS LAW SOMETIMES ASSERTS ITSELF IN THE SAD EXPERIENCE OF SINNERS EVEN IN THIS PRESENT LIFE. "Even as I have seen, they that plough inequity, and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job 4:8). Retribution often comes (as it came to Israel) through the sin that at first brought nothing but success. The notorious life of James Fisk, of New York, was a remarkable illustration of the declaration, "The wicked shall fall by their own wickedness."
1. Examples from Scripture.
(1) Haman plotted against Mordecai to his own destruction. His was the vaulting ambition that overleaps itself.
(2) Daniel's foes were themselves cast into the lion's den.
(3) The Pharisees found that the cross to which they triumphantly nailed our Lord was at once the means of their confusion and of his victory over the world.
2. Examples from experience. Pope Alexander VI. Tried to poison his friend Cardinal Adrian. Through the mistake of his cupbearer, he himself died by the cup which was meant to destroy another. The Regent Morton was another example. So was Thomas Cromwell, of whom Macaulay says, "No one ever made a more unscrupulous use of the legislative power for the destruction of his foes;" and it was by these means he was himself destroyed.
2. Common proverbs illustrate the text. "Ashes always fly in the face of him who throws them." "Harm watch, harm catch," etc. Thus, even in outward circumstances, the words of the text have been fulfilled; but how much more terribly in that inward retribution which is veiled even from the victim's dearest friends! The anxiety that fears detection, the loss of self-respect, the horror of being alone, the failure of hope, the growing dread of the future, have caused many a man, even on earth, to know what it is to "reap the whirlwind." But observe finally -
III. THAT THIS LAW WILL ULTIMATELY PROCLAIM ITSELF WITH UNMISTAKABLE DISTINCTNESS. Sin's retribution is not always seen here. Human taws may be powerless to reach a recognized offender. Social morality may be too degraded to rebuke his sin. For these and other reasons much is necessarily left to the future, when crooked things will be made straight. Perhaps it is well that it should be so. It is for our profit that we should walk by faith, and not by sight. God does not append instant pain to every act of disobedience. He deals with us as men, not as children. To do right not because it pays, but because it is right, is the obedience of the wise man, not that of the petted child; and it is the higher God ever seeks. Hence he has contented himself with giving a few signs that his Law cannot be broken with impunity, and these point us on to the day when righteousness and truth shall be crowned, and wrong and falsehood cursed amidst the "Amens" of the universe. In such events as those to which we have referred, we see a few ripening ears which tell us what the harvest will be when those who have sown the wind shall reap the whirlwind. This experience, so far as it refers to the future retribution, denotes:
3. That it is terrible in its effects. Compare the destruction of men's works by a whirlwind, with the desolation of the worldling's hopes by death.
1. Show how close is the connection between this life and the life to come. That is the reaping of this sowing. Therefore do not wait till harvest-time before beginning to sow in righteousness.
2. Show how possible it is, through God's goodness, to reap a harvest. Both of Christian character and of Christian work the promise is true, "He that soweth and he that reapeth will rejoice together." - A.R.
kind remains the same, the measure of what is reaped largely exceeds the measure of what is sown. This is the lesson of the text. What is sown is the wind; what is reaped is the whirlwind.
I. IS WHAT SENSE SINNERS SOW THE WIND. The sins for which Israel was chiefly denounced by the prophet were idolatry and heathen alliances, in both of which the Lord's honor was given to another, and the confidence due to him was unrighteously and foolishly transferred. Now, the wind is the emblem of emptiness and unsubstantial vanity. Accordingly, the language of the text teaches that the conduct of Israel was foolish and vain. And this may be asserted of all who, by vice, or crime, or irreligion, depart from God.
II. IN WHAT SENSE SINNERS REAP THE WHIRLWIND. Under the government of a just and almighty Ruler, it could not be that Israel or any nation could forsake the true religion and abandon lofty principles, without suffering the consequences in the penalties attached to disobedience and rebellion. But the point of the text is to be found in the apparent disproportion between the offence and the penalty. Israel hoped for safety; instead of this, and as the result of apostasy, Israel went into captivity. The national life of the kingdom and people of Samaria was absolutely destroyed, never to be revived. Thus a mighty whirlwind, the messenger of Divine indignation, carried the people away in their sins. Thus is it with all high-handed and stiff-necked sinners. Their rebellion and apostasy has even to human eyes the appearance of a sowing to the wind; but in the order of the Divine government it is appointed that such shall reap the whirlwind. We read the lesson in the awful fate which has overtaken all nations which have been unfaithful to their calling, which have defied the righteous and Divine Governor. And in how many instances of individual life have we seen the operation of the same law! Moral ruin and utter overthrow have followed upon estrangement and rebellion. The very confidence which sinners repose in the idols they choose for themselves becomes the occasion of their more complete and irremediable confusion. Judgment is delayed; but the stores of retributive force accumulate, and in due time the tornado of Divine indignation sweeps down upon the sinner's head with irresistible force, issuing in the catastrophe of temporal and spiritual ruin. - T.
I. MINGLING WITH THE WORLD LEADS TO ABSORPTION BY THE WORLD. (Ver. 8.) It was the complaint against Ephraim that he had mixed himself among the people (Hosea 7:8). He was not content to remain separate, as God had ordained. He must have his freedom (cf. Luke 15:11-13). We now see the end of this: "Israel is swallowed up." He was:
1. Absorbed by the world. The Gentiles got wholly the possession of him. It is so spiritually with those who try to serve both God and mammon. The attempt to serve two masters proves vain. The world gains ground in the heart; God loses ground. By-and-by the world has the whole. The backslider is "swallowed up" (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9, 10; 2 Timothy 4:10).
2. An object of contempt to the world. "Among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein there is no pleasure." The world in its heart secretly despises those whom it has got under its influence, having turned them away from God. It holds them in contempt. Two kinds of men the world has respect for - its own kind, and the thoroughly godly. It has no respect at all for the third something, that tries to be both and yet is neither - the trimmer, the compromiser, the backslider. Nor, once it has them in its power, is it slow to show its contempt for them.
II. THE DESIRE TO BE INDEPENDENT OF GOD LEADS TO DEPENDENCE ON THE WORLD. (Ver. 9.) Israel went up to Assyria - "a wild ass alone by itself." We understand the figure to allude to Israel's intractable spirit and desire of independence. The nation must, at all costs, be rid of God's yoke, and go out "alone by itself." The use it makes of its independence, however, is to go to Assyria. The motive is not, of course, to have Assyria's yoke imposed on it instead of God's; but this is the result. Seeking independence of God, it sinks into dependence on Assyria. Herein is imaged the end of all attempts at a false independence.
1. True freedom for man - true independence - dies in loyal acceptance of the rule of God. This gives inward emancipation and superiority to the seductions of the world.
2. Renouncing this, the soul sinks into a dependence on finite things, alien to its nature. It fails into bondage. It exchanges God's service for a worse. It is ruled by the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (l John 2:10). The prodigal, leaving his father's house for freedom, ended by joining himself to a citizen in the "far country," who sent him into his fields to feed swine (Luke 15:15, 16).
III. TRAFFICKING WITH THE WORLD LEADS TO OPPRESSION BY THE WORLD. (Ver. 10.) Israel trafficked with the world for its favor - "hired among the nations;" the result being that it was given up by God to be oppressed by the world - "the burden of the king of princes." The stages are
(1) sinful desire towards the world - "hired lovers" (ver. 9);
(2) propitiation of the world, by gifts, alliances, etc.;
(3) absorption by the world and subjection to the world, as already described;
(4) oppression by the world. This power of Assyria over Israel was:
1. Divinely given. "Now will I gather them." It was God, and no one else, who gave this people into the hands of the foreigners.
2. Distressing. Israel would suffer much in exile. Her burden would be heavy; her numbers would be diminished. The world is a terrible tyrant over those whom it gets in its power.
3. Equitable. We trace here the same proportionateness between sin and punishment as falls so frequently to be noticed. They voluntarily "hired" among the nations; now they are oppressed by Gentile tribute. - J.O.
rejecting the aid which her covenant God would readily and gratuitously have bestowed, and by expending her treasure in purchasing from neighboring nations assistance which proved to be vain and unprofitable. Her conduct is compared to that of an adulteress, so wanton as to purchase with her husband's money the affection and embraces of a stranger.
I. IT IS THE INFATUATION OF SIN TO FORSAKE THE FREE AND UNDESERVED FAVOR OF GOD. The folly of such a course is apparent to all whose minds are not under the influence of prejudice and passion. When the fountain of living waters is accessible, how wretched is the self-delusion of those who turn away from it!
II. THIS INFATUATION IS STILL MORE APPARENT WHEN IT LEADS SINNERS TO TRUST TO VAIN REFUGES. The cisterns which are sought when the fountain is forsaken are broken cisterns, which can hold no water. Such was the powerlessness, the insufficiency of the gods and the kings whom Israel sought. And in that they represent the men, the systems, the societies, the pursuits, which sinners are ever wont to exalt to the seat of God.
III. TILE INFATUATION OF SINNERS LEADS THEM TO PART WITH EVERYTHING IN ORDER TO OBTAIN NOTHING. Israel spent her treasure, drained her resources; and for what? Only to endure the bitterest humiliation, the most cruel disappointment. There was none, in the day of her sorrow, that could help, deliver, or comfort her - none! And this was all she obtained for her apostasy. The lovers, the friends, whom she "hired" were unfaithful and unhelpful. So is it with all who put their confidence in men and in princes. Men give up character and friends, a good conscience, a bright hope; they part with all, and what do they receive in return? The pleasures of sin for a season; but very soon weariness, disappointment, and misery. And "the end of these things is death." - T.
Deuteronomy 12:5). But, instead of that, Ephraim had built a number of altars in different places to multiply the sin of idolatry, and thereby heap more and more guilt upon itself (Delitzsch). The passage leads us to notice the perversion of worship. This is one of the oldest, the most prevalent, and most baneful sins amongst mankind. Men have perverted worship, not only by making false gods, but by making false altars for the true God. There is only one altar in true worship, and that altar is Christ (Hebrews 13:10). The text leads us to make two remarks in relation to false worship.
I. IT IS A GREAT SIN.
1. It is a very propagative sin. "Ephraim hath made many altars." "It men leave the rule," says an old author, "they know not where to stay; hence the multiplying of things thus amongst the Papists - five hundred altars in some one temple." How sublimely antagonistic the Jews were to the introduction of any altar but one (Joshua 22:11)! But now they had "many." Once admit a wrong thing in worship, and that one thing will multiply itself; superstition will give it fertility. The Romish Church is a sad illustration of this, and the Anglican Church in some sections is multiplying examples.
2. It is a self-punishing sin. "Altars shall be unto him to sin." The idea probably is, "As you have gone on persisting to multiply altars contrary to my will, I will let you alone; you shall go on. Your altars shall be a sin to you." That is, thus seeing they will have them, they shall have them; they shall have enough of them. Let them go on in their ways; let them multiply their sin. They make a great deal of stir for it, and have it they must; they refuse to see the light; they are prejudiced against the way of God's worship. Let them have their desires; let them have, saith God, governors to establish by their authority, and teachers to defend by their subtle arguments, what they wish for. They multiply altars to sin, and they shall be to sin, even to harden them; their hearts are set upon them, and they will have them and love them, and they shall be hardened in their heart's desire in what is evil. And as it shall be to them for sin, so it shall be to them for misery, the fruit of sin; for so sin is taken very frequently in Scripture for the fruit of sin. They will have them to sin, and they shall find in them the fruit of sin - misery. The text leads us to remark that -
II. IT IS A SIN AGAINST GREAT LIGHT. "I have written to him the great things of my Law, but they were counted as a strange thing." They could not say they sinned in ignorance. God gave them directions most concise and abundant concerning the nature and object of true worship. Some translate the words," I may prescribe my laws to them by myriads; they will treat it as a strange thing."
1. God has given us laws concerning worship.
2. Those laws are oft repeated. By myriads or by thousands. We have "line upon line, precept upon precept."
3. These oft-repeated laws leave false worshippers without excuse. - D.T.
I. THE ALTAR BECOME SIN. (Ver. 11.) The law required that there should be but one altar, and that in the place where God had put his Name (Deuteronomy 12.). Ephraim disregarding this command, multiplied altars, and so committed sin. The worship at local altars was at most but tolerated in the days of the judges, of Samuel, and the early kings, in consideration of the unsettled state of the nation (1 Kings 3:2). It became sin once a house had been built for God's worship. Had it been necessary, after the division of the nation, to appoint a district center for Israel, God would have directed the people in the choice of one. They, however, neither desired nor sought for guidance, but organized their worship in their own way, blending with it idolatrous rites, and, beside Jehovah's altars, reared altars to idols (Hosea 10:1). They thus sinned, both in the number of their altars and in the use they put them to. Accordingly, God declares that these very altars, the things whereby they professed to worship him, would be imputed to them for sin. We are taught:
1. That God claims to regulate his own worship.
2. That wanton departures from the rule he has given is imputed as transgression.
3. That will-worship is not acceptable to God (Colossians 2:23).
4. That we cannot condone for disobedience in the matter of worship by either the number or magnificence of our services.
II. THE LAW BECOME SIN. (Ver. 12.) God had given Israel a Law, the myriad precepts of which would have guided them aright in every situation of life; but this Law Israel had "counted as a strange thing." The Law, which was "holy, and just, and good," became sin to the people through their neglect of it. Consider:
1. The dignity of the Law. It is God's Law ("my Law"); one, yet many. Single in its principle - " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5) - yet manifold in its applications, branching out into an infinite multiplicity of precepts, and extending to every detail of life.
2. The accessibility of the Law. God had, to secure its being kept it: remembrance, put it in written form. The turn sometimes given to these words, "I would have written to him," etc., is meaningless in the connection. The prophet is dealing with what Ephraim has done, not with what he might have done under certain conceivable circumstances in which he was never placed. The passage is a testimony to the existence of a written Law. We should remember our own privileges in the possession of a written revelation.
3. The neglect of the Law. Ephraim permitted this Law, great, wonderful, and holy as it was, fitted to instruct and guide him m the way of life, to be as "a strange thing" unto him. He forbore to study it. He neglected to practice it. The very Law thus redounded to his condemnation. How many act in a similar way with the Bible! They possess it, but leave it unopened, unstudied. The unread Book becomes sin to them. It will rise against then, in the judgment.
III. SACRIFICES BECOME SIN. (Ver. 13.) As seen before, sacrifices will not be accepted by God as a substitute for obedience (Hosea 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:22). Without the right spirit in the offerer, they become as mere "flesh," in which God takes no pleasure. The sacred thing becomes a thing common. Instead of atoning for iniquity, the sacrifices became themselves iniquity. They were imputed for sin. Neither the number nor magnitude of them could avert the wrath that was decreed. "They shall return to Egypt," i.e. to a new Egypt, to Assyria.
IV. TEMPLES BECOME SIN. (Ver. 14.) As sacrifices cannot be taken instead of obedience, so temples cannot be accepted as a substitute for godliness. Israel "built temples," but had "forgotten his Maker." The very temples thus became as sin. The building of temples and the lavishing of outward adornment upon them often proceeds the more rapidity that God himself has been forgotten. Worship becomes externalism. The outward is made the most of, as if to condone for the want of the inward. It is not, however, outward temples that God primarily desires, but the temples of humble and contrite spirits (Isaiah 57:15). The former without the latter are sin.
V. FENCED CITIES BECOME SIN. (Ver. 14.) It is added that Judah had multiplied fenced cities. As sacrifices were substituted for obedience, and temples were substituted for godliness, so fenced cities got to be put instead of God himself. The sin lay in looking away from the pledged Divine help to mere earthly defenses. Those who do this are left at last to prove the worthlessness of their defenses. God would send a fire upon the cities, and it would devour the palaces. Human strength is no protection in the absence of God's help; it is equally powerless to protect against God's judgments. - J.O.
I. GOD'S GREAT GIFT OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. "I have written to him the great things of my Law."
1. What is God's "Law."? The word is used in various senses. Sometimes it denotes the ten commandments alone; sometimes the five hooks of Moses as distinguished from the prophets; sometimes the Mosaic economy, in distinction from the gospel; and sometimes the whole will of God as published in Holy Writ to determine man's faith and to control his conduct. Hosea in this verse, without doubt, refers immediately to the Pentateuch; but, in applying the passage to ourselves, we must extend the application of the term "Law" so that it shall cover the whole Bible.
2. What are "the great things of God's Law? These can be nothing else than those matters which constitute the substance of revelation. The Bible discloses truths which are:
(1) Great in themselves. The Book is a revelation of God - his nature, his trinity in unity, his ways in providence, his love to sinners. It unveils to man his own origin and destiny; shows him the greatness of his nature, despite its ruins; supplies him with the perfect standard of moral purity; and satisfies his loftiest aspirations. The Book grapples with the problem of sin, and reveals the way of salvation, through the mediation of the Son of God, his incarnation, his obedience unto death, his resurrection and exaltation (1 Timothy 3:16), and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. It anticipates the last things " - the universal triumph of the gospel, the find resurrection, the general judgment, and the blessedness of the heavenly kingdom.
(2) Great in their importance to man For the Bible tells man what he most needs to know, in order to his highest well-being. It answers to all the wants of his many-sided nature - his desire of knowledge, his admiration of what is noble, his yearning after sympathy, his need of inward rest, his hunger for immortality. Holy Scripture is a lamp unto his feet. It is the storehouse of his spiritual food. It is the fountain of life (see Psalm 19:7-11).
(3) Great in their comprehensiveness. Some read the clause thus: "I wrote to him the myriads [or, 'the fulnesses'] of my Law;" the reference being to the almost numberless individual ordinances connected with the Mosaic institutions. This thought may well remind us of the inexhaustible supplies of knowledge of all kinds - facts, doctrines, ethical principles, precepts, promises, predictions, etc. - which are stored up in Holy Scripture. The Book evinces its greatness in this respect, that it affords us sure rules and directions for out' life under all circumstances.
3. In what sense has God "written these great things? In the same sense, surely, in which a man reveals his thoughts through the medium of his writings. The Lord himself is the Author of the Bible. Its teachings rest upon his authority. Whatever is declared by inspired men to be part of Divine truth or of human duty, God declares to be such. Christians may and do differ regarding theories of inspiration, but every believer accepts the fact that the books of Scripture are the Word of God.
II. MAN'S SHAMEFUL NEGLECT OF THIS GIFT. But they were counted as a strange thing." The people of the ten tribes treated the precepts of the Pentateuch as if they were a matter which did not concern them. Holy Scripture is treated similarly still:
1. By worldly men. Some refuse to receive it as a Divine revelation. They reject the supernatural, ignore the whole realm of faith, and particularly dislike the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. Many more, however, have an orthodox intellectual) belief in the Bible as the Word of God; but their faith, such as it is, does not affect the conscience or the heart. When they read from the inspired volume, its words do not "come home to their business and bosoms." "They do not realize the grand evil which the Bible has come to cure, and they have not a heart to the blessings which it offers to bestow. The film of a fallen nature, self-maintained, is upon their eyes while they read" (Dr. John Ker). So, they neglect "the great things of God's Law" for the little matters of sense and worldly vanity. Many see no further grandeur in the Bible than its literary beauty. Others prize it simply as a book of moral culture, and nothing more. The baser sort profane Divine revelation by jesting with its holy subjects, and using its most sacred words as idle oaths.
2. By many professing Christians. Are there not such, to whom the Bible is "a strange thing," because the), very seldom sit down to read it? And of those who do regularly read "their chapter," how many do so merely to pacify conscience, and thus make little or no effort to understand the meaning of the passages read! Some sincere believers confine their attention to a few pet chapters which contain what they call "the simple gospel," and ignore the rest, although the Scriptures are full of "the manifold wisdom of God." This very prophecy of Hosea, as one has said, is "too often a deserted well;" but those, however, who come and draw from it find it full of living water. One of the wants of the age among professing Christians is a more adequate acquaintance with the contents of the Bible. The man who would enjoy robustness of spiritual life must study the Scriptures book by book, that he may discern the drift and scope of each book, apprehend its particular place in the scheme of truth, and at the same time appropriate and assimilate its teaching for the nourishment of his soul.
III. HOW WE OUGHT TO USE HOLY SCRIPTURE. (See Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 90.) If we would avoid incurring the censure of this text, we must:
1. Receive the Book with a believing and thankful heart; treat it with deep reverence as the Divine Word; and make what effort we can to circulate it throughout the world.
2. "Search the Scriptures with regularity and system, that our intellectual acquaint and with them may be both accurate and comprehensive.
3. Meditate upon Bible teaching with self-application in our leisure hours, that our minds may be imbued with its principles of truth and duty, and that conscience and affections and will may become subject to their power.
4. Keep" God's Word in our dally acts, and in the habits which we form, so that it may mould our character, and make us Christ-like. "My mother and my brethren are these which hear the Word of God, and do it" (Luke 8:21).
5. And in all our use of Scripture we must Tray /or the promised aid of the Holy Spirit, without which our best efforts will be in vain. - C.J.
I. THAT INSPIRATION IS CONSTANT WITH REASON. If it be admitted that God exists as the Creator of man, it is reasonable to expect that he would so tar direct and control the human mind as to secure the ends of moral government. We do not believe that the laws of physical necessity are paramount. We refuse to throw the reins to the modern Phaeton, who drives he knows not whither, and who cares not though the whole world of, Christian thought and of moral life be burnt to ashes. The theory that the universe is a vast machine, governed only by the laws of material organization, and that all its affairs are carried on by its own conceited powers, leads ultimately to the abasement of man and to the abolition of God; and from the abyss of despair to which Positivism leads us we recoil with horror. Our soul is something more than the concatenation of physical causes and effects; thought is not the mere product of movements in the particles of brain-matter; and love to each other and to God is higher than the ganglionic affection with which it may be associated. We believe that, though we are endued with freedom, God has not renounced all control over us; that side by side with our plans is a concurrent Providence evolving good; that the words are profoundly true, "in him we live, anti move, and have our being." It is to those with such a belief we are addressing ourselves, and say the inspiration of Scripture is what you might reasonably expect. If God control the physical world, it is not incongruous that he should present to human minds, and incline them to regard, and to communicate truths which relate to man's future destiny. If he make his sun to rise and flood the natural world with light, he will not leave the intellectual creation in darkness. In this thought lies the essential truth of inspiration. We shall not attempt to enumerate all the methods of Divine revelation. God's ways are various in this, as in the natural world. He can hurl up an island by volcanic force or he can build it by the multitudinous labors of coral insects. He can split a rock by the crash of the sea, or let a tiny stream trickle through it till it falls asunder. So in his revelations, Sometimes a voice has spoken, as on Sinai, and during the ministry of our Lord. Sometimes angels have appeared to speak to Abraham in his tent, or to the women at Christ's grave. The future has been revealed, now in dreams, as to Joseph; now in visions, as to Ezekiel. But we speak not of these revelations (ἀποκαλύψις), but of inspiration (Θεοπνεύστια), the direct internal suggestion given to men who wrote and spoke for God, giving to us in Scripture an authoritative rule of faith and practice.
II. THAT INSPIRATION IS CLAIMED FOR ITSELF BY SCRIPTURE.
1. These writers, who were evidently modest, humble men, declare that they were imbued with supernatural knowledge; that they knew what they could not recognize by intellectual research, being wrought on directly by the Holy Ghost; e.g. 2 Samuel 23:2; Matthew 10:20; 1 Peter 1:11, etc.
2. The truths they uttered justify such pretensions. Think fairly of any one of these men, consider his previous culture, his mental capacity, the condition of the world around him, mentally and morally, and see whether the dignity of Mosaic theology, the devout wisdom of the psalms, the pregnancy of prophecy, the nobility of moral tone throughout Scripture, could find source in the writers themselves. Above and behind them all a voice says," I have written the great [or, 'multitudinous'] things of my Law."
3. We may rest our belief in the inspiration of the Old Testament on declarations in the New. And these ultimately depend on the authority of Christ, the everlasting Word of God. Our Lord refers to several writers by name, appealing to them as of Divine authority, and using their utterances in his great conflict in the wilderness. He habitually spoke of" the Law and the prophets "as giving a revelation of God's will, saying about these, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." His promises also to his disciples give authority to their utterances (comp. John 14:17, 26; John 16:13). (Note the effects produced in human society by the direct and indirect influence of Scripture.)
III. THAT INSPIRATION IS TO BE DISTINGUISHED BOTH FROM
(1) GENIUS AND
(2) FROM THE ORDINARY WORK OF GRACE IN THE HEART OF MAN.
1. Job 32:8 is a declaration that intellectual gifts are of God; and some speak of Shakespeare and of others as "inspired" men. In Job's sense they were inspired; but their thought is not parallel with the thought of Scripture. The Bible writers were not men of extraordinary ability; nothing in their history, or claims, or writings would indicate that they were; and sometimes they affirm that it was by giving up their own thinking for trust and prayer that they knew God's will.
2. Nor must the inspiration of the sacred writers be considered as identical with that being "filled with the Spirit," etc., of which we often read. It was even given sometimes independently of character, as to Balaam - though (as there is congruity in all God's works, so there was in this) usually it was associated with sanctified character. The two were separable, yet true men spoke of truth, pure men of purity, devout men of God. "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. They were not unconscious instruments - mere automata. God employed their faculties, but did not supersede them. Each man retained his own individuality. It is well [or us that it was so. We read the psalms and hear the voice of God; yet we hear also in them the sobs and songs of man. We find Divine truth in Paul's Epistles; yet it is commended to us in Paul's human argument. Whether, however, it be in the thunder of Isaiah or in the trembling of Jeremiah, whether in the logic of Paul or the mysticism of John, we hear throughout all the declaration of God, "I have written," etc. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God."
CONCLUSION. Never account God's Word "a strange thing."
1. We may do so by applying its precepts and promises to others and not to ourselves, as it' they were foreign to us.
2. We may do so by allowing God's Word to lie beside us unread. Illustrate our duty by the story of the conversion of St. Augustine. - A.R.
I. THE GUILT OF FORGETTING GOD, GENERALLY CONSIDERED. This appears when it is borne in mind:
1. That God is our Maker. To him we owe our existence; and to be unmindful of our Creator is the grossest sin.
2. That God has not forgotten us. He did not create man to leave him to himself, to live or to die. On the contrary, his care is ever over us, his love is always towards us. The tokens of his remembrances are always around us, in the bounties of his providence and in the proffers of his gospel. 3. That God has done much to keep himself in our memory. This is condescension indeed on the part of him who is the theme of heaven's eternal song; whom they praise day and night in his temple. Yet on every side we see tokens of God's presence, we hear the tones of his voice. He is not far from every one of us. Unnumbered suggestions of his presence, unnumbered reminders of his Fatherly love, aggravate the guilt of the unreflecting and ungrateful
II. THE SPECIAL GUILT OF FORGETTING GOD ON THE PART OF ISRAEL OF OLD AND ON THE PART OF CHRISTIANS NOW. To the children of Abraham God was a covenant God; he had done great things for their fathers and for them. To forget One who had the highest claims upon their memory, their fidelity, their devotion, - this was guilt indeed. Yet not comparable to the guilt of those who enjoy the advantages secured to such as live under the sound of the gospel, and in the midst of the privileges of the Church. How, if we forget God, can we hope, can we ask, that he should remember us in mercy and for good? - T.
I. THE MULTIPLICATION OF TEMPLES IS NO INFALLIBLE PROOF OF THE GROWTH OF RELIGION IN A COUNTRY. Temples were now multiplied in Israel. And the reason assigned is forgetfulness of their Maker. When strangers visit England and witness the number of our churches of all sects, and measures of beauty and size, their first impression would be - What a religious people these English are! But when we think of the moral causes that often lead to the erection of temples, they rather prove our forgetfulness of God.
1. There is greed. Churches are sometimes built as an investment.
2. There is spite. One or two, or more, have received a grievance at the neighboring Church, and, inspired by spite, they set to the erection of another.
3. There is sectism. Episcopalians, Wesleyans, Congregationalists, all seek to rival each other in this respect; so that the multiplication of temples, we fear, must not be taken as a proof of the growth of religion.
II. THE INCREASE OF NATIONAL DEFENSES IS NO PROOF OF THE INCREASE OF NATIONAL SECURITY. "I will send a fire upon his cities." When noble foreigners visit our shores, we, with our national vanity, seek to impress them with the greatness of our national defenses. We exhibit our fleets, our standing armies, our fortifications; we have our naval and military reviews. What fools are they who think that national security is in these things! The safety of a people is in the moral excellence of their character and the guardianship of Heaven. - D.T.