Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PROPHET'S INTERDICT AGAINST ISRAEL. (Ver. 1.) Hosea, as it were, appears suddenly among the people when they are preparing to hold some joyous festival, and sternly forbids it in Jehovah's Name. He is constrained by the burden of the Lord to act the unwelcome raft of "the skeleton of the feast." He tells Israel that, in view of the dread realities of her position as a nation, this was no time for gladness. To ignore the facts would not obliterate them. To rejoice exultingly just now, merely because she had obtained a plentiful harvest, or secured some temporary relief from her political troubles, was to act with the folly of the ostrich, which thrusts her head into the sand, anal thinks that all is well because she does not see her pursuers. If it is "better" for an men "to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting," it would be especially advantageous at present for the Israelitish people to do so. For the condition of the nation was extremely insecure. The prosperity in which they were rejoicing was hollow, and it would be evanescent.
II. THE GROUND OF THE INTERDICT. This is unfolded in the body of the passage. It is twofold.
1. Israel's extreme sinfulness. (Vers. 1, 7, 9.) "Other people," i.e. heathen nations, might more readily be excused for holding festivals of rapturous joy; for, not having the knowledge of God, they could not perceive how far they had trans-grassed his Law. But Israel had sinned against abundant light, and in spite of continual warning. How sad that the chosen nation should look upon her harvests as the gift of heathen gods - as Baal's reward for her devoted service of him! Not only so, but Israel's wickedness was great all round. The people heartily hated both the Lord and his servants the true prophets. The whole country was now as notorious for its monstrous corruption, as Gibeah of Benjamin had been, since the time when the tragic atrocity of the Levite and his concubine had been perpetrated there (Judges 19:16, et seq.). The error of the men of Benjamin in shielding the villains who wrought that foul deed had involved the town of Gibeah in destruction, and the tribe itself almost in extirpation. And so also was it to be now with the ten tribes.
2. Israel's impending misery. The commonwealth was on the verge of destruction, and soon the people's place in the land would know them no more. Surely it were madness to rejoice now, when they are on the very eve of being carried away into captivity. The prophet proclaims most plainly the fiat of expulsion (ver. 3). The nation that is now "Lo-ammi," "Not my people," cannot be allowed any longer to remain in "the Lord's land." "Ephraim shall return to" the new "Egypt" of Assyria, and shall there undergo a second Egypt-like oppression. The Exile shall involve the withdrawal of all the blessings and privileges in which the people gloried; as, e.g.:
(1) Loss of harvests. (Ver. 2.) Palestine was a land of inexhaustible plenty, and there Israel "did eat bread without scarceness;" but, in her effacement from the land, she shall of course lose her harvests. She shall have no happy harvest-homes in Assyria.
(2) Loss of national distinctions. (Vers. 3, 4.) To "eat unclean things in Assyria" would prove a severe trial and a sore punishment. For the Jews, although they imitated the heathen in some things - as, e.g., in desiring a king like the nations, and in falling into Gentile idolatries - plumed themselves all the while upon the fact that the Gentiles and they did not stand religiously upon the same level; and they clung to the Mosaic distinctions of meats because it was a badge of their peculiar privileges as the chosen nation (vide Smith's ' Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 3. p. 1590).
(3) Loss of spiritual privileges. (Vers. 4, 5.) In their exile the Hebrews would miss the opportunities of sacrifice to Jehovah which they had neglected while they "dwelt in the Lord's land." Jerusalem was the one place of sacrifice; and for the captives there would be no gracious presence of God in heathendom. No temple there, no ritual, no great annual feasts, no exuberant festal joy! The feast of tabernacles, as the grand harvest-home festival, used to be kept by the tribes with lively demonstrations of national gladness; but, alas! the "Greater Hailel" would never be sung amid the miseries of Assyria.
(4) Loss of inheritance in Canaan. (Ver. 6.) That land had been given to the Hebrews, and was continued in their possession, upon condition of obedience to the Divine Law. The occupancy of" the Lord's land" was a symbol of the enjoyment of the Lord's favor. Now, however, seeing that the people have forfeited the blessing of Jehovah, they must be expelled for ever from that goodly heritage. The ten tribes shall not return to Palestine. The people shall find their graves in the Egypt-like exile of Assyria. Thistles and nettles shall spring up in luxuriance among the ruins of their once beautiful houses. The traveler finds these nettles still, growing rankly to a height of six feet - a sign of the curse that yet rests upon the land.
(5) Loss of the hopes held out by the false prophets. (Vers. 7, 8.) At present there were false teachers among the people who kept saying, "Peace, peace," merely to flatter them, and to make matters pleasant for the time. But every prediction of prosperity would be falsified. The people would soon discover that these so-called prophets had been either "fools" or "snares," that is, either simpletons or sharpers. The expectations of well-being which these persons encouraged them to cherish would be miserably disappointed. It would presently be found that Hosea had been the real patriot, and the truest friend of his nation, although he did not prophesy good concerning it, but the worst of evils. The northern kingdom is to be wasted with misery; no wonder, then, that the prophet calls out, "Rejoice not, O Israel."
III. SOME LESSONS OF THE INTERDICT FOR OURSELVES.
1. The ungodly man has no rational ground for gladness or rejoicing (ver. 1).
2. Our harvest-joy should be a joy "before God" (vers. 1, 2).
3. In emigrating to a strange laud there is often danger to one's spiritual nature, arising from the loss of religious privileges (vers. 3, 4).
4. It is supreme folly to banish all thought of" the solemn days "of life by giving one's self up to habits of frivolity and worldly pleasure (ver. 5).
5. We must "beware of false prophets," and "try the spirits, whether they are of God" (vers. 7, 8).
6. "The Lord's land" is only for the Lord's people: for such alone the Lord Jesus prepares a place in the heavenly Canaan (vers. 1-9). - C.J.
B.C. 743-738, and the invasions ending in the overthrow of Pekah, B.C. 734-730 (cf. 2 Kings 15:29, 30; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21, and Assyrian monuments). The interval seems to have been one of revived prosperity (2 Chronicles 28:6-15).
I. ABUSED GOODNESS. (Vers. 1, 2.)
1. A glimpse of prosperity. Israel had been rejoiced with a bounteous harvest. Land and people had previously suffered sore from the Assyrian. For a moment judgment pauses. It would be interesting if we could connect this gleam of prosperity with the momentary gleam of better feeling in the nation, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 28. God tries all methods with the sinner. He varies judgment with mercy. He pauses, as it were, to give space for repentance. He tries, having humbled by application, again to melt by goodness (Romans 2:4).
2. Goodness abused. Israel knew not the meaning of this grace. The momentary softening led to no good results. The people, reassured by the heaped-up corn-floor and the full wine-press, fell into the old error of attributing their prosperity to the idols (Hosea 2:5), and renewed their assiduity in their service. Our joy in the use of God's good gifts becomes sinful when,
(1) excluding God, we boastfully attribute them to our own labor, or to "nature' (Deuteronomy 8:17);
(2) our joy in them is purely natural, without recognition of, or gratitude towards, the great Giver;
(3) we abuse them by gluttony or drunkenness. In any case, with doom hanging over his head, the sinner's joy is a species of madness.
3. The disappointed expectation. "The floor and the wine-press shall not feed them," etc. One swallow does not make a summer, and the sinner errs if he supposes that one returning glimpse of prosperity means the reversal or collapse of God's threatenings. God punishes the abuse of his gifts:
(1) By their removal. "When they thought themselves most secure, when the corn was stored on the floor, and the grapes were in the presses, then God would deprive them of them" (Pusey).
(2) By denying his blessing with them. "I will curse your blessings" (Malachi 2:2).
(3) By their failure to satisfy. The good which the sinner seeks in a godless enjoyment of natural things, he is doomed not to find. They "lie" unto him. They constantly cheat his hopes.
II. DECREED EXPULSION. (Ver. 3.) The glimpse of prosperity did not mean much. The sinner, notwithstanding passing appearances to the contrary, abides under wrath (John 3:36). The decree of judgment stands unrepealed. "They shall not dwell in the Lord's land," etc.
1. The Lord's land only for the holy. Canaan was chosen by God as the seat of his majesty, the place of his abode. His presence sanctified it. Israel possessed it as his people. They held it on condition of obedience. Their first work in it was to purge it of the impurities which had formerly desecrated it (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Now that Israel themselves had become unholy, they must, in turn, be expelled from the land. God could not allow them to remain in it. The "holy land" is for a holy people. So it is said of heaven that into it "shall in no wise enter anything that defileth" (Revelation 21:27).
2. The Lord resuming his own from the wicked. The land was the Lord's, and, when Israel proved incorrigible, the Lord took his own from them, They had not owned him in the possession of what he gave, and he now resumed his gift. The sinner, who depends on God for "life, and breath, and all things," would fain keep the gifts, while declining all recognition of the Giver. This God refuses to permit. The day is coming when he will strip the sinner of all he has. The Lord has given, and the Lord will take away.
3. Egypt-bondage. "Ephraim shall return to Egypt." The people were to sink back into the state of oppression, misery, and mixture with the heathen in which they were when God took pity on them in Egypt. The Exodus gave them a national existence, a calling, and a land. They were now to become a "no people" to God, and be sent back, as it were, to Egypt again. Rejection by God means the loss of distinctive being, of life-aim, of sphere, of liberty, and subjection to the hard tyranny of sin, Satan, and the world.
III. UNCLEANNESS IN ASSYRIA. (Vers. 3-5.) "They shall eat unclean things in Assyria," etc. Israel's condition in exile would be marked by:
1. Privation of privilege. They would be cut off from the sanctuary ("house of the Lord"), and prevented from observing their feasts, and bringing their usual offerings (cf. Hosea 3:4). Their worship, as it stood, was not acceptable to God. They, however, attached importance to their sanctuaries, altars, wine offerings, sacrifices, etc. And it would be part of their punishment that they would be deprived of them.
2. Legal uncleanness. The prophet speaks here also from the standpoint of the people. Their outward life, even in Canaan, had no right sanctification in it. Now, however, their food, sacrifices, etc., would become even formally unclean. Uncleanness would arise
(1) from inability in a heathen country properly to observe the laws of food;
(2) from the fact that the heathen country was itself polluted, and communicated its uncleanness to food and offerings (cf. Amos 7:17);
(3) from the food not being properly sanctified by the presentation of the firstfruits (ver. 4). Israel, in short, would lose even their outward distinctness as a sacred people, and would sink to the level of the profaneness of the nations around, lit seems better, in ver. 4, to read, "their sacrifices shall not be pleasing to him; (their bread shall be) as bread of mourners unto them." Separation from God renders existence as a whole unclean. The principle is, first, the consecration of the person, then the consecration of the life. If we are not consecrated to God, nothing we think, say, or do can be spiritually acceptable Prayers, good works, eating and drinking, all remain unclean. We eat unclean things in Assyria - in the spiritual Egypt. The taint of death pollutes body, soul, and spirit.
3. An end of joy. (Ver. 5; cf. Hosea 2:11.)
IV. DESOLATE HABITATIONS. (Ver. 6.)
1. Exile as burial. "Egypt shall gather them up, Memphis [a noted place of burial] shall bury them." The allusion is still to Assyria figured as a second Egypt. The tribes would be lost in it as in a grave. Hence recovery is described as resurrection (Hosea 6:2). Sin is death. Those shah-cloned to sin are as the dead in graves.
2. Deserted dwellings. "Their pleasant places for their silver [or, 'valuables of silver'], nettles shall possess them: thorns shall be in their habitation." The present state of the Holy Land is the best commentary on this prediction. Sin leaves behind it rank desolation. Look at man's own soul! What desolation there! Nettles, thorns, a temple in ruins. - J.O.
I. IT IS THE LAND OF PROMISE, as assured to them by a gracious and "covenant-keeping" God, even as Canaan was promised to the descendants of the patriarchs.
II. IT IS A LAND OF SPIRITUAL PLENTY. Canaan was represented as a "land flowing with milk and honey," and in this is a figure of the sufficient provision which God has made in the gospel for the spiritual needs of his obedient, loyal people.
III. IT IS A LAND OF DIVINE FAVOR. Palestine was denominated a good land, upon which the eyes of the Lord rested "from the beginning of the year until the end of the year." Upon the citizens of the heavenly Canaan God ever lifts the light of his countenance.
IV. IT IS A LAND OF REST, Even as Israel rested in the promised inheritance after the wanderings of the wilderness, so Christians find that where God dwells, and where he appoints their habitation, there is rest spiritual and eternal. - T.
I. WHAT WILL YE DO WHEN EARTHLY PLAN AND PLEASURES FAIL? In the hot pursuit of worldly ends in life, in the absorbing enjoyment of the delights this world can yield, men forget their Maker and his claims, their Savior and his love. But when the time comes - as come it soon may - when favorite projects dissolve as dreams, and when no more pleasure is to be found where it has long been sought and often experienced, what will ye do?
II. WHAT WILL YE DO WHEN ABANDONED BY EARTHLY FRIENDS? The countenance of companions in health and high spirits is cheering, their hilarity is contagious, their presence is fitted to banish gloomy apprehensions. But such friendships are often superficial; times of adversity put them to a test too severe. Those who are willing to partake of hospitality and to heighten conviviality are seldom the friends "born for adversity;" they often vanish when sympathy is most needed, when solitude is most dreaded.
III. WHAT WILL YE DO WHEN RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES ARE FOUND TO BE EMPTY FORMS? It is sometimes supposed that any time will do for religion, that religious aid and consolation are always at the service, at the beck and call, of every one of us. But it is not so. If we neglect and abuse our privileges, they will forsake us. The man who has long disused his Bible, and given up prayer, and forsaken public worship, may, in the time. of anxiety and trouble, have recourse to what has been long neglected. But he may find that these ordinances and privileges are to him nothing but a form. They have not changed, but he has grown unspiritual, hardened, and morally incapable of using privileges within his reach. What then will he do?
IV. WHAT WILL YE DO IN THE PROSPECT OF DEATH AND JUDGMENT? In youth and in good spirits, men sometimes hear of these dread realities - for such they are to the impenitent and unpardoned - without at all realizing them, or believing that they have anything to do with themselves. But in sickness and in old age, eternity often draws near to the imagination and to the heart. Memory brings up evil deeds and words and thoughts. The foreboding soul feels, and feels justly, that the account must soon be given, that the judgment-seat must soon be faced. And yet there is no preparation, no defense, no plea. What a position! and what a prospect! Faithfulness and kindness induce the preacher of the Word to remind the careless hearer of the coming days, and the revelation they will bring; to urge upon him now, whilst it is of some use to consider the solemn question - What will ye then do? - T.
I. THE DAY OF PERSONAL AFFLICTION is a "solemn day." The day comes either by disease, accident, or infirmities of age, when, withdrawn from scenes of business, pleasure, or profession, we shall be confined to some lonely room, and languish on the couch of suffering and exhaustion. Such a day must come to all, and such a day will be "solemn" - a day with but little light in the firmament of earthly life, a day of darkness, and perhaps of tempests. "What will ye do in the solemn day?" What can you do? You will not be able to extricate yourself kern the sad condition. No man can raise himself out of that physical suffering and weakness that are destined to come on his frame. What will ye do so as to be sustained in soul? Skeptical reasonings will be of no service, the recollections of past life will be of no service. "What will ye do in that solemn day?"
II. THE DAY OF SOCIAL BEREAVEMENT is a "solemn day." Much of the charm of life is in our social loves, the love of partners, parents, children, friends. The time must come when ruthless death will tear them from the heart. This will be a solemn day. What a dark day with the soul is that when we return from the grave where we have left for ever some dear object of the heart, and when we enter the home where the loved one was the center and charm of the circle! Truly, a sunless, saddening day is this. And yet such a day must come to all. "What will ye do in this solemn day?" What will yon do for consolation? What word of comfort has science to offer, has the world to present? What will you do?
III. THE DAY OF DEATH is a "solemn day." This awaits every man. "What man is he that liveth and shall not see death?" "There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war." What a "solemn day" is this! All earthly connections dissolving, the world receding, eternity parting its awful folds. What will ye do in this day, when heart and flesh shall fail? What will sustain your spirit then? Will you count your wealth? Will you gather about your dying bed your worldly companions? Will you seek to bury the remembrance of your past life? Something must be done - this you will feel; but what?
IV. THE DAY OF JUDGMENT is a "solemn day." "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." What a day will that be! A "great and notable" day. "Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand." What will ye do? Will ye call "to the mountains and rocks to fall on you, and hide you from the eyes of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb"?
CONCLUSION. "What will ye do in the solemn day?" "Do!" Why, do what you should do every day of your life - exercise a practical and unbounded faith in the love of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
"'Tis not the Stoic's lessons, got by rote,
I. THE TRUE AND THE FALSE PROPHET ARE OFTEN CONTEMPORARIES. One of Satan's favorite methods for the support of his kingdom seems in all ages to have been to caricature the works of the Almighty, and to induce men to accept the counterfeit and reject the real. Whenever, accordingly, the Lord raised up a true prophet, Satan at the same time sent forth false prophets. Thus Moses, at the beginning of his career, had to contend with" the magicians of Egypt;" and, towards the close of it, against the influence of Balaam, who, although constrained to utter true predictions, was all the while the Anti-Moses. In like manner, Elijah confronted at Carmel four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal; and Micaiah at Samaria other four hundred (1 Kings 22:6-28). Elisha also lived contemporaneously with false prophets (2 Kings 3:11-13; 2 Kings 10:19). Hosea, as he himself testifies both here and elsewhere (Hosea 4:5), was impeded and thwarted in his life-work by many impostors. And at last, when God incarnated himself in Jesus Christ as the supreme Prophet of the Church, the devil took care to send into the world "false Christs and false prophets." After nearly nineteen centuries of the gospel, Mohammedanism yet lives as the religion of "the false prophet," and in our day there are still pretenders to the dignity of" the Mahdi," or Moslem Messiah. In "the last time" there have already been "many antichrists;" and, before the Christian dispensation of truth shall close, the Antichrist par excellence must yet be revealed (1 John 2:18).
II. THE WORK OF THE TRUE PROPHET. (Ver. 8.) It is that of a spiritual "watchman," stationed on the watch-tower of faith and prayer. He stands there, concentrating his gaze upon the unseen, that he may obtain Divine revelations of mercy or judgment, and report such to the people (Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:7; Habakkuk 2:1). God sent many such watchmen to the chosen nation. He sent some even to the ten tribes - the two writing prophets Hosed and Amos; such great prophets of action as Elijah and Elisha; besides also Ahijah, Micaiah, Jonah, etc. These "watchmen of Ephraim' were "with God," in the sense of being:
1. Serif by God. His Spirit called them to their office, put his words into their mouth, and even caused them sometimes to feel as if their own consciousness were absorbed into that of God.
2. Helped by God. He infused into their hearts the courage and strength which they needed boldly to speak his Word to a "gainsaying people," who hated them for their faithfulness.
3. Responsible to God. For the prophets would have to give account to him of the manner in which they had announced the revelations vouchsafed to them for the nation's guidance. Moses had been "with God," for "the Lord knew him face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). Elijah had been "with God," for he spoke of him as Jehovah, "before whom I stand" (1 Kings 17:1). Elisha was called "a holy man of God" (2 Kings 4:9). Hosea's name means salvation; and the name reflected the substance of his ultimate message, that of the redeeming love of Jehovah. And similarly still, under the gospel dispensation, the minister of Jesus Christ is to stand among men as a witness for "the things which are not seen," a watchman whose eye searches the invisible, and who points with his finger towards eternity and God. Every preacher should deliver his message as David Hume, the infidel, remarked that John Brown of Haddington did: "That old man preaches as if Christ were at his elbow."
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE FALSE PROPHET. The northern kingdom abounded in such persons in the time of Hosea. They professed to be prophets, i.e. for-speakers; but they did not really speak for God. They called themselves "spiritual men" - men of the spirit; but the spirit which possessed them was an evil and a lying spirit. Their pretended prophecies were soothing and flattering, all the while that the land reeked with idolatry and unmentionable vices. The false prophets "prophesied out of their own hearts," and "saw nothing" of the vision of the Lord (Ezekiel 13:2, 3). At the very hour when the sword was about to come upon the land, and the throne was tottering to its fall, they derided the earnest warnings of the true prophets, and hoodwinked the people into the persuasion that all would yet be well. Thus the fake prophet, so far from being in any good sense a "watchman." was to the people; "snare of a fowler in all their ways;" and, with many a specious and plausible pretext, he allured the poor silly people to their ruin. When, at length, that ruin rushed upon them, it was demonstrated that the prophet who had misled them with the expectation of prosperity was a "fool" and "mad." Amid the horrors of their captivity in Assyria they would have leisure to reflect upon the folly of the impostors whom they had allowed to delude them. In these latter times, also, there are false prophets enough who are as "a snare of a fowler," and whom ever and again events prove to be "fools" and "mad." What mischief, e.g., was wrought in Europe by the infidel writings of Voltaire and Rousseau! What a snare, to a certain class of minds, has Comte been! How many unwary souls have been beguiled by Strauss and Renan! How sadly is the welfare of the Lord's flock put in jeopardy by the revival of sacerdotalism in Churches professedly Protestant! Who can estimate the harm that is done to the cause of God by the baleful influence of ungodly and unfaithful ministers? Such, wherever found, are "a snare" to the people. Their example tends to drive souls away from God, and to drag them down to perdition.
IV. HOW THE TRUE PROPHET IS TO BE DISTINGUISHED FROM THE FALSE.
1. The false prophet, when the times are evil, "speaks smooth things." He justifies the people's misdeeds, and fails to rebuke prevailing sins. He is a blind watchman; a dumb dog that cannot bark - loving to slumber; and a greedy dog, which can never have enough. So he flatters the people, promises them peace, and tries to make matters pleasant all round. The true prophet, on the other hand, without thinking of his safety or of his means of subsistence, always "prophesies right things;" and in an evil time "cries aloud, spares not, lifts up his voice like a trumpet, and shows the people their transgressions.
2. The false prophet comes "before, Christ (John 10:8); i.e. he aims at intercepting men's view of him as the one Mediator, and does his work in opposition to the will and cause of Christ. The true prophet, on the other hand, never forgets that it is Christ who has sent him, and that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
3. The false prophet attracts ungodly men to his teaching, and attaches them as his followers; "but the sheep will not hear him." His impostures are detected by those who enjoy the teaching of the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:1-6). The true prophet, on the other hand, gathers around him those who are spiritually minded, and suffers persecution from the ungodly (e.g. Amos 7:10, 11).
4. The false prophet shall be finally branded as an impostor when "the days of recompense" shall have come (ver. 7). Thus the field of Ramoth-gilead decided whether Micaiah or the four hundred prophets of Ahab had prophesied truly. And on the day of judgment the Lord Jesus shall say to many who have professed to prophesy in his Name, "I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:22, 23). The true prophet, on the other hand, "shah rest, and stand in his lot at the end of the days" (Daniel 12:13).
"Ere long thy feet shall stand
I. THE PREACHES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS OFTEN MEETS WITH SLIGHT AND WITH CONTEMPT FROM MEN.
1. The charges brought: "The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad." Hosea and other prophets, from Noah down to the last of the order, had to contend with such foolish and wicked calumnies. As a shield for their own folly, sinners profess to find folly in those who rebuke them.
2. The motives which prompt to such charges. Sometimes it is done by the mistake of the unspiritual, who, to their shame, know no better, because of their insensibility to Divine realities, because of the low level upon which they live. Sometimes by the malice and calumnious willfulness of opponents of truth and goodness, who hate nothing so much as to be rebuked for their evil deeds.
3. The conduct which calls forth such charges. Usually the real ground of hostility to prophets and to faithful preachers has been the interference which has aimed rebukes at prevalent sins. Thus the real fools and madmen are not the ministers of God's word, but those who despise it and blaspheme.
II. THE PREACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL NEVERTHELESS BE VINDICATED BY GOD. Whilst unbelieving and impenitent sinners make a mock at sin, and jeer at those who condemn sin, God, the righteous Judge, observes the treatment with which his servants meet.
1. God approves and advances his faithful messengers, None can serve him faithfully and be neglected or passed over. The good and faithful servant, who has been deemed a madman by those themselves infatuated and mentally intoxicated, shall be commended and exalted in due time.
2. God will himself punish the mockers in the days of visitation and. recompense. "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." - T.
Ezekiel 13:10) proved them infatuated fools. Although some render the expression, "the spiritual man is mad," a mad man the man of spirit, the man of the spirit is frantic, the idea seems to be the same as that conveyed in our version, viz. that the man pretending to have spiritual inspiration and prophesying was mad. We may take the words as a charge against religious ministers, and make two observations.
I. IT IS A CHARGE THAT IS SOMETIMES TOO TRUE. There have been religious ministers in all ages, and there are still in connection even with Christianity, who are foolish and "mad."
1. There are men of weak minds. There are men in the ministry utterly incapable, not only of taking a harmonious view of truth, but even of forming a clear and complete conception of any great principle. We say not a word in disparagement of men of small cerebral power and feeble understanding. Heaven made them what they are; but they were never intended for the ministry. In the ministry they do enormous mischief. Their silly sentimentalities, their crude notions, their inane conceptions, bring the pulpit into contempt. They are "fools."
2. There are men of irrational theologies. There are men who, though not always naturally weak-minded, nevertheless propound theological dogmas which are utterly incongruous with human reason, and therefore unbiblical and un-Divine. The doctrines that multitudes of men are predestined to eternal misery, that Christ's death procured the love of God, that all that men require to make them good and happy for ever is to believe in something that took place eighteen hundred years ago, - such dogmas as these are often propounded in pulpits, and they are utterly foolish; they strike against the common sense of humanity, and have no foundation in the teaching of him who is the "Wisdom of God." The prophet that talks such things is a "fool," and the spiritual man is "mad."
3. There are men of silly rituals. The crossings, the kneelings, the bowings, the robings, the upholstering, the grimacings, which constitute much of the ministry of a large number of what are called Protestant ministers, justify the people in calling them fools and madmen. The outside world is constantly pointing to the pulpit, and saying, "The prophet is a fool, and the spiritual man is mad." Alas! that there should be any cause for ill.
II. IT IS A CHARGE THAT IS OFTEN A SCOFFING CALUMNY. The unregenerate world have from the beginning identified preaching with folly and fanaticism. The general impression today in England is that preachers are intellectually a feeble folk, effeminate, lackadaisical, unfit for the business of the world. Now, an ideal preacher of Christianity, instead of being a "fool" or "mad," is the wisest and most philosophic man of his age, and that for three reasons.
1. He aims at the highest end. What is that? To make himself and his fellow-men what they ought to be in relation to themselves, in relation to society, in relation to the universe, and in relation to God. Men are wrong in all these respects, and their wrongness is the cause of all the crimes and miseries of the world.
2. He works in the right direction. Where does he begin this work of moral reformation? At the heart. "Out of the heart are the issues of life." All human institutions, conduct, actions, flow from the likings and dislikings of the human heart, He deals therefore as a philosopher with the fontal sympathies and antipathies of the soul. To clear the stream he goes to the fountain, to strengthen the tree he goes to the roots, to improve the productions of the world he works upon the soil.
3. He employs the best means. What are the best means to touch the heart effectively, to give its sympathies a new and right direction? Legislation, art, poetry, rhetoric? No; LOVE. What love? Human, angelic? No; too weak. Divine love. Divine love, not merely in nature, nor in propositions, but in example, the example of God himself. This is moral omnipotence, this is the Cross, this is the power of God unto salvation. Let no man say that the ideal minister is a fool; the man who says it is a fool
"I saw one man, armed simply with God's Word,
I. THE TRUE PROPHET. (Ver. 7.)
1. What he saw. "The days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come." The true prophet saw, and did not hesitate to declare in the ears of all, the fall extent of the ruin which was soon to overwhelm the nation. He did not, like the false prophets, say, "Peace, peace," when there was no peace (Jeremiah 8:11). He told the awful truth. The event verified his words. God's messengers are faithful.
2. What he felt. "The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad." (Cf. Robertson Smith's 'Prophets of Israel,' p. 157.) The words may express at once:
(2) The sympathetic anguish which actually made the prophet feel as one beside himself. "Hosea was a stranger among his own people, oppressed by continual contact with their sin, lacerated at heart by the bitterness of their enmity, till his reason seemed ready to give way under the trial."
3. His moral mission. "For the multitude of thine iniquities, and the great hatred." His eye pierced to the moral cause of the judgments that were impending. He read their origin in the people's sin, and in their hatred of what was good. A. true prophet is known by the intensity of his grasp upon moral truth.
II. THE FALSE PROPHET. (Ver. 8.) The prophets in whom Ephraim trusted were:
1. Self-constituted. "The watchman of Ephraim was with my God," or, "Ephraim is a watchman," etc. Ephraim was not content with the prophets God gave him. He must have prophets alter his own heart. He must be a "watchman" on his own account. The false prophet thus ran without being sent (Jeremiah 23:21). He was not, like the true prophet, a "man of the spirit." If any spirit was in him, it was a lying spirit.
2. Ensnarers of the people. "The prophet is the snare of a fowler in all his ways." They snared the people to their ruin
(1) by their teaching, promising peace and prosperity when there was none;
(2) by their example, encouraging the people in their idolatries and follies;
(3) by making light of the moral element in conduct. They "strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life" (Ezekiel 13:22). They flattered the people's wishes; felt none of that agonizing sympathy with them which made Hosea seem as one mad; kept away from all denunciation of their sins. They were hirelings, whose own the sheep were not, and who cared not for the sheep (John 10:12, 13). They were a snare "in all their ways" - out and out in everything they did.
3. Themselves as bad as the rest. "Hatred in the house of his God." Professing to speak in God's Name, the prophet was full of malignant hatred of God, and of those who spoke in God's Name (cf. Amos 7:10-13). - J.O.
I. BY WHOM APPOINTED. The watchman is placed at his post by authority. "I have set thee a watchman," is the utterance of the Lord himself. The minister of Christ prefaces his counsels and admonitions, as did the olden prophets theirs, with the assertion "Thus saith the Lord."
II. OVER WHOM STATIONED. The Hebrew prophet testified to the Hebrew people. There is no limit to the commission of the Christian preacher, who is bound to witness to Jew and Gentile, to young and old, etc.
III. WITH WHAT FUNCTION CHARGED. St. Paul describes this when he writes of spiritual pastors and overseers, "They watch for your souls, as those who shall give account." Warning of the temptations which assail, counsels regarding the way of escape and the promises of deliverance, - these form a large part of the duties of the spiritual watchman's sacred office.
IV. WITH WHAT RESPONSIBILITY ATTACHED. The watchman who fulfils his trust is permitted to cast the responsibility upon those to whom he ministers. It is for them to take warning. If they do so, they will escape; if not, their blood will be upon their own head.
V. OF WHAT TREATMENT DESERVING. For his work's sake, for his message's sake, for his Master's sake, he merits a respectful hearing and a grateful regard. No superstitious reverence attaches to his person, but his office is a sacred office, and the herald is honored when he faithfully carries his message to sinful men.
VI. THE PERSONAL PROBATION INVOLVED. Let it not be forgotten by him who is stationed upon the walls as a watchman entrusted with stuffs, that he also, as well as those to whom he ministers, is upon his trial. By faithfulness he may deliver his soul, whilst he secures the safety of the people and the approval of the Lord. By unfaithfulness he may not only be the means of ruining others; he may incur the displeasure of God, and may bring down upon himself the sentence due to disobedience or remissness.
1. The watchman is admonished to watch.
2. Those who hear his warning are entreated to give heed to what they hear, and thus escape the danger:, of this probationary life, and avail themselves of the opportunities of salvation. - T.
I. THE EVIL OF SIN IS SEEN BY COMPARISON WITH FORMER SINS, THE HEINOUSNESS OF WHICH ALL ADMIT. Two such outstanding sins of the past were those of Gibeah, and, at a still earlier period, of Baal-peor. The former (cf. Judges 19., 20.) was a sin revealing depths of corruption in Israel such as had not previously been heard of (Judges 19:30). It shocked the national conscience. It led to fierce vengeance being taken on the transgressors, and on the Benjamites who sided with them. The latter was a sin of wider scope, and scarcely less heinous in its character (Numbers 25:1-18). It combined idolatry with whoredom in a peculiarly daring and offensive manner. It led to the destruction of twenty-four thousand in the camp of Israel by a plague, and to the after extermination of the Midianites. These were the "deep corruptions" which were now reproducing themselves in Israel. The people might refuse to give the right name to the iniquity as practiced by themselves, but they could scarcely fail to reprobate it when presented in these earlier instances. It was a peculiarity of these sins that they had been judged by Israel itself. It was the tribes that pronounced sentence on the evildoers at Gibeah; and Phinehas had executed judgment on Zimri, as afterwards the men of war did on the Midianites. This, accordingly, was a case to which Paul's principle applied, that ability to judge of an offence in another renders one inexcusable if he does the same thing (Romans 2:1). We are often, however, willing to condemn in others sins which we inconsistently tolerate in ourselves.
II. THE EVIL OF SIN ONLY BECOMES FULLY APPARENT AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF DIVINE LOVE. This is brought out in ver. 10 in the case of Baal-peor. The enormity of that sin was only fully seen when set against the manifestations of Divine love which had preceded. "I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time." There is indicated here:
1. God's choice of Israel. He "found" them "in the wilderness; ' he "saw" them there, and chose them.
2. God's delight in Israel. The nation was pleasant to him as grapes in the desert, or as the first-ripe fig. His choice and his affection were both manifested in many wonderful ways. It was this love shown to Israel which made such acts as the making of the golden calf, and, again, the shameful apostasy of Baal-peor, so inexcusably wicked. To see sin in its full enormity we must count up the mercies of God against which we are offending - must reflect, above all, on God's love to us as displayed in Christ.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF CONTINUITY IN SIN. Israel's apostasy, Hoses seeks to show, was no new thing. It began at a very early period (cf. Hosea 10:9). The strain of it bad continued in the blood of the people ever since. It was proved to be a constitutional disorder which no mild treatment would eradicate. We gain insight into the virulence of depravity by studying its hereditary manifestation. - J.O.
I. A BRIGHT BEGINNING. (Vers. 10, 13.) Jehovah "found Israel:" the people depended upon him for their preservation as a community. The emancipated slaves of Egypt would have been poor and helpless indeed but for his supporting care. But he set his love upon them, and planted and trained the Hebrew commonwealth as the Oriental husbandman does his vines and fig trees. At Mount Sinai Jehovah made a gracious covenant with Israel, set up his tabernacle with a view to dwell among the people, and arranged the tribes in order as his sacramental host. When they struck their tents at Sinai, and journeyed towards Paran (Numbers 10:11, 12), the Lord looked upon them with complacency out of the cloudy pillar; and he marched on before the host, to lead Ephraim into a land beautiful for situation as that of the famous type, and where they might become as rich and prosperous as the Tyrians. The people had solemnly chosen Jehovah for their God, and "no strange god" was among them. So the Lord delighted in them, as the weary traveler in the desert rejoices in the clusters of the vine, or in the firstfruits of the fig tree.
II. AN EARLY FALL (Ver. 10.) Although God "had planted Israel a noble vine, wholly a right seed," very soon, alas! they "were turned irate the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto him." They had left Egypt, but Egypt had not left them. During the forty years which they spent in the wilderness, they frequently rebelled against the Lord. But the prophet mentions here only one of their provocations, the idolatry of Baal-peor or Chemosh (Numbers 25.), an idol whose rites of worship involved the practice of the grossest sensuality. The Hebrews, in fact, had in those early days indulged in precisely the same abominations with which Hosea was now so familiar in this last time of the northern kingdom. The unchaste worship of Baal and Astarte, even before the tribes entered Canaan, had brought a sad blight upon the fair early promise which for a little while the chosen people had given. "They separated themselves" - like an evil class of Nazarites - to the service of the filthiest of the gods of heathendom. "And their abominations were according as they loved;" i.e. they became more and more assimilated in their own character to the objects of their worship.
III. AN INFAMOUS CAREER. (Vers. 15, 17.) That early idolatry of Baal-peor repeated itself again and again, especially within the northern kingdom, after its revolt from the dynasty of David. There was:
1. The desecration of sacred places. "All their wickedness was in Gilgal;" it seemed concentrated as in a focus in that very locality which had been the first to be called "holy' within the Holy Land (Joshua 5:15), and which had been the scene of special mercies when the tribes began to take possession. It was a sore aggravation of Israel's sin that the people should pervert Beth-el into Beth-even, and destroy the hallowed associations of such a place as Gilgal.
2. The ungodliness of the kings. "All their princes are revolters," i.e. apostates, men who with unanimous infatuation had departed from God and righteousness. All, without exception, were wicked men; therefore in the annals of the Books of Kings the same melancholy refrain constantly recurs: "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord: he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin."
3. The wickedness of the people. "They did not hearken unto God" (ver. 17). Israel "went after her lovers" the Baalim, prostituted herself to them, and forgot Jehovah her rightful Husband. He had long pleaded with her to return to him, but in vain. He had told her of his shame and anger because of her unworthiness, he had reproached her for perverting his gifts to the basest uses, he had threatened her with severe chastisements and even with final rejection; but she was "joined to idols," and "did not hearken unto him."
IV. A TERRIBLE PUNISHMENT. With the denunciation of this penalty the whole passage is saturated. "Ephraim is smitten" (ver. 16). There is to be:
1. Bereavement. (Vers. 12, 13, 16.) The once mighty and powerful nation is to have its ranks sadly thinned by sudden and violent deaths. "Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer." The ten tribes are to have their numbers so greatly lessened as to be brought to the verge of extermination. "There shall not be a man left." This would prove a heavy humiliation to a people who expected that the blessing which Moses pronounced upon them would always be contained: "They are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh" (Deuteronomy 33:17).
2. Barrenness. (Vers. 11,14, 16.) The name Ephraim means double fruitfulness, and the northern kingdom gloried in its numerous progeny; but, now that the curse of God is upon the nation, "their glory shall fly away like a bird," and they shall have few births, as well as many deaths. The very "root" of the once powerful and fruitful Ephraim has been smitten with an incurable hurt; and the fruit of Israel's womb shall perish at the birth. For the nation has been guilty of both spiritual and literal harlotry; and of such sins barrenness is the appropriate penalty.
3. Banishment. (Vers. 12, 15, 17.) This is the acme of Ephraim's doom. "Woe also to them when I depart from them!" They are banished:
(1) From the favor of God: "I will love them no more;" "There I hated them."
(2) From the "house" of God, i.e. from his family - from the blessings of his covenant.
(3) From "the Lord's land (ver. 3); for they are to become lost and hopeless wanderers among the nations." This doom has been very fully suffered by Israel in the past, and the nation is lying under it still. The condition of the Jews during the past eighteen centuries has been a striking verification of Old Testament prophecy, as well as a convincing argument for the truth of Christianity.
1. The attractiveness of early piety, and the advantages which flow from it (ver. 10).
2. The duty of gratitude for being "planted in a pleasant place," temporally and spiritually (ver. 13).
3. The danger of backsliding, which besets every Christian, and our need of humility, watchfulness, and prayer (ver. 10).
4. The leavening influence of sin upon the whole heart and life of the sinner (ver. 10).
5. The awfulness of the condition of every God-forsaken soul (vers. 15, 17). - C.J.
I. IN RESPECT OF FRUITFULNESS. (Vers. 11, 12.) Fruitfulness and strength of numbers was an especial part of the promise to Ephraim (Genesis 49:22, 26; Deuteronomy 33:17), even as a numerous posterity was the promise to Israel generally. This "glory" would now be taken from the people that boasted of it. Licentiousness had already, in part, undermined the nation's strength (Hosea 4:10). The sword would now finish what their own misconduct had begun. As in a previous figure (Hosea 8:7), and in ver. 16, the curse is represented as working to the frustration of the people's wishes at every stage in the advance of their hopes. First, there is no conception; then, in the cases where there is conception, there is "a miscarrying womb" (ver. 14); then, at the stage of birth, there is failure to bring forth; even if the child is born, it is doomed to be killed by the sword. Nothing goes right; everything goes wrong; there is but woe, failure, frustration, disappointment, when God departs from us. The numbers of a nation are in God's hand. He can bless or he can blast. His judgment works both through natural laws and events of providence.
II. IN RESPECT OF PLEASANTNESS. (Vers. 13, 14, 16.) God designed for Ephraim a situation pleasant as that of Tyre; he had in reserve for him all "precious things" "blessings of the heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under" (Genesis 49:25, 26; Deuteronomy 33:13-15). Thus gloriously planted, Ephraim was to be the cynosure of the tribes, a paragon of sweetness and beauty. How ghastly the contrast - "But Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer" (ver. 13)!
1. A worm at the root. "Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit," etc. (ver. 16). This is the fate of all glory without God. Its root is not drawn from the sources of perennial life in the eternal One. It has in it the principle of decay. It is a glory of the world, fading, perishing. Sic transeat. The Christian's inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away (1 Peter 1:4).
2. Ruthless butchery. (Vers. 13, 16.) The pleasantness of Ephraim would be smutched with the blood of his own children - the "beloved ones, the darlings of the womb. The very thought of the carnage that is to come almost makes the prophet's brain reel. He has threatened Ephraim with barrenness, but now that he has to frame a prayer for his people, he can think of no kinder one than that they may have a miscarrying womb and dry breasts" (cf. Luke 23:29). One woe swallows up another, and makes it all but seem a blessing in comparison. Terrible, truly, when God departs!
III. IN RESPECT OF SETTLEMENT. (Vers. 15, 17.) Ephraim would be driven from God's house, i.e. rejected from being his people, or spiritual house, and would be sent abroad as "wanderers among the nations." This, again, was in contradistinction to the original design of a permanent settlement as the Lord's people in the Lord's land.
1. The often-reiterated cause of the banishment is here again specified. The people were driven out
(1) for their wickedness, which had assumed peculiarly aggravated and concentrated forms ("in Gilgal"); and
(2) for their obduracy: "They did not hearken unto him," i.e. God. Even their wickedness would not have ruined them, had they repented of it when God reproved and pleaded with them. Now the day for repentance was past. "I will love them no more."
2. The doom is further individualized. "Wanderers among the nations." Such are the Jews at this day. Prophecy never spoke a truer word. - J.O.
I. NATIONAL CONTINUITY. The Hebrews were, and are, treated as one people. God visited, and still visits, the sins of the fathers upon the children. The Israelites who apostatized were one generation; the Israelites who suffered the ills and privations of captivity were another generation. Generation after generation of Israel's sons have been "scattered," "wanderers among the nations" - a fate incurred by the obstinate unbelief of their forefathers, who rejected and crucified the Son of God. This is no doubt a very mysterious arrangement of Providence; but we must acknowledge it as an indisputable fact.
II. DIVINE RIGHTEOUSNESS. God is a Ruler, a moral Governor, who never abdicates his regal and judicial functions. The prophets were inspired to insist upon this great fact with emphasis and with repetition. A covenant God, a God delighting in mercy, yet threatens his chosen people thus: "I will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto me: and they shall be wanderers among the nations." People, hearing from preachers of the gospel much about the pity and the love of God, sometimes scarcely believe in the equity and the moral sway and reign of him who is supremely just. Nevertheless, he will vindicate his government, he will assert his authority, and under his rule the wicked "shall not go unpunished."
III. DIVINE TRUTHFULNESS AND FORESIGHT. The language of the text has been so exactly verified that it might have been written after the event. Inspiration) only could have written it before. Human sagacity might have predicted the captivity; only Divine foreknowledge could have predicted the dispersion. Thus in the process of time God's Word becomes its own warrant.
IV. PURPOSE AND PREPARATION FOR NATIONAL RESTORATION' AND RETURN. Why are the Jews kept separate from the peoples in whose lands they dwell? Surely "he who scattereth will gather them"! It is the expectation of some that the Jews shall be restored to the land of promise; it is the belief of all that the ingathering of the Jews into the Christian fold shall one day be brought about, and that their union with Gentiles, in subjection to the one Divine Lord and Savior, shall be as "life from the dead." - T.