Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
I. We are apt to be surprised at the proneness of the Israelites to the sin of idolatry. And yet it may be doubted whether we have not a great deal in common with idolaters. Let us see what the idolatry of the Israelites was. There was given unto them a religion; it came direct from God. Of their religious system it was the singular characteristic that the chief acts of devotion could only be performed at one place. To Mount Sion the tribes went up for all their solemn observances, three times a year. At other seasons they were scattered over the country, cut off from the possibility of united worship. This, doubtless, was the cause of their manifold idolatry. God had taught them a religious system—that system contained some practical difficulties; it seemed, indeed, to check devotion. The Jews sought to remedy this by self-invented plans; the issue was apostasy. In the history of the Church of Christ we find much that is analogous. It was a zeal for religion which prostrated Israel at the feet of idols; it is zeal without knowledge which makes men forsake the catholic faith for crude theories of their own.
II. And now as to the punishment. "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone." To forsake God is to forsake our own mercies. The judgment threatened in the text is one which would reduce us to the position of Satan himself. For what will follow from God letting a man alone? He will experience no further promptings and warnings, but be left unrestrained by any secret reluctance to work all manner of evil. Memory and conscience have each a home in that lost spirit; but the whispers of the Holy One are never heard therein; and conscience has no voice to move to good, but wields only the fiery scourge for evil done or doing.
Bishop Woodford, Occasional Sermons, vol. i., p. 32.
These are very solemn words, whichever way we take them; but the way in which they are generally understood is distinctly a misunderstanding. They are not intended as a threatening of the cessation of the Divine pleadings with an obstinate transgressor; there are no people about whom God says that they are so wedded to their sin that it is useless to try to do anything with them; and they are not a commandment to God's servants to fling up in despair, or in impatience, the effort to benefit obstinate and stiffnecked evildoers. The context distinctly shows us that this is not the meaning; and the Book in which they occur is one long pleading with this very Ephraim, just because he is "joined to idols."
I. Ephraim is another name for the northern kingdom of Israel; one of the two halves into which the nation was divided. Hosea was a prophet of the northern nation, and his whole activity was devoted precisely not to letting Ephraim (that is, his countrymen of Israel) alone. But it is the people of the other, the neighbouring, kingdom that are addressed; and what is meant by letting alone is plainly enough expressed for us in a previous verse: "Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, let not Judah offend." The sin of the northern kingdom in the calf-worship is held up as a warning to Judah, which is besought and commanded to keep clear of all complicity therewith, and to avoid entangling alliances with backsliding Israel. This, and this only, is the purpose of our text—a plea with Judah to stand apart from association with evildoers.
II. It is a very bad sign of a Christian man when his chosen companions are people that have no sympathy with him in his religion. Of course there are many things—such as differences of position, culture, and temperament—which cannot but modify the association of Christian people with one another; but still, if you are a Christian man, and the brother most unlike to you in all these particulars, there is a far deeper sympathy, or at least there ought to be, than there is between you and the irreligious man that is most like you in them all. In the measure in which we walk in this world, separate from it because we are joined to Christ, in that measure will our faith be strong, and shall we be doing our Master's will.
A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, Sept. 16th, 1886.
References: Hosea 4:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1140; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 201; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 24. Hosea 5:7.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 349. Hosea 5:13.—W. Aitken, The Love of the Father; p. 193.
By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.
Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.
Yet let no man strive, nor reprove another: for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.
Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night, and I will destroy thy mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame.
They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.
And there shall be, like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings.
For they shall eat, and not have enough: they shall commit whoredom, and shall not increase: because they have left off to take heed to the LORD.
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.
My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God.
They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof is good: therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.
I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.
Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend; and come not ye unto Gilgal, neither go ye up to Bethaven, nor swear, The LORD liveth.
For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.
Their drink is sour: they have committed whoredom continually: her rulers with shame do love, Give ye.
The wind hath bound her up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.