How shall I give you up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver you, Israel? how shall I make you as Admah? how shall I set you as Zeboim?…
Jehovah's love for Israel had been conspicuous during the infancy of the nation (vers. 1-4); but it seems even more wonderful now, in the time el Ephraim's moral decrepitude and premature decay. There is no more exquisitely pathetic passage in Holy Scripture than the one before us. It is of a piece with Jeremiah's prophecy respecting the restoration of the ten tribes (Jeremiah 31:20). The denunciation of punishment contained in vers. 5-7 suddenly dissolves into an ecstasy of tenderness, which is followed by a promise of blessing.
I. THE LORD'S MERCY TO EPHRAIM. (Vers. 8, 9.) Moses had predicted (Deuteronomy 29:23) that the lapse of the nation into confirmed idolatry would be punished with a curse upon "the whole land," like that which overtook the cities of the plain (Genesis 19.). But just when' we might expect the lawgiver's words to be at once fulfilled, there is an outburst of Divine compassion. Here the Lord is:
1. Apparently changeful. It often seems as if, instead of there being one center of thought in this book, there were rather two foci. In Hosea's message threats and promises alternate, and sometimes commingle. In ver. 8 the Lord, speaking after the manner of men, appears as if in doubt as to his course of action. Is justice to have its way to the end, or is any place to be found for mercy? Jehovah's attitude is like that of the tender-hearted monarch who trembles when the death-warrant is placed before him, and hesitates whether he will sign it. But he declares at length that he cannot sacrifice his brooding yearning love for Ephraim even to the most righteous anger. He is resolved to exercise his mercy; he will display his grace more conspicuously than his justice. In all this, however, the Lord is:
2. Really unchangeable. He is "God, and not man." The apparent conflict within his heart is only apparent. All the time that he has been threatening vengeance, his bowels have been melting with love. He cannot forget that Ephraim is his "son." Yet the Lord's mercy does not blind the eyes of his justice. He says here, in effect, that Ephraim fully deserved the irreparable doom of the Cities of the Plain. And he must inflict judgment upon the present generation of Israelites. But the three years' siege of Samaria, and the long Assyrian captivity, with the total oblivion of the northern kingdom as such, are not "the fierceness of his anger." On the other side of these judgments there will be rich mercy for Israel. In the New Testament gospel, in like manner, we "behold the goodness and severity of God." Jehovah says now, more distinctly than ever, "As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33:11). Calvary shows that God is "just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).
II. THE GROUND OF THIS MERCY. (Ver. 9.) It has a twofold basis.
1. The nature of God. Jehovah speaks after the manner of men; but he is "God, and not man." Were he not God, he would not tolerate the wicked world for a single day. Because he is "God," and "the Holy One," he "in wrath remembers mercy." The Divine compassion is self-originated; it wells up out of the infinite fountain of the Divine nature. God has the heart of a father; but he is without the infirmities of a human parent. His mind is not discomposed by frail human passions; and he never in his thoughts - as finite men do - straitens the abundance of his grace.
2. The Divine covenant with Israel. "In the midst of thee" (ver. 9). "I wilt dwell among them" had been Jehovah's promise to the Hebrew nation. Of this promised presence there had been many symbols; as, e.g., the burning bush, the tabernacle, Jerusalem, and the temple. "And what was the purport of the covenant which God made with Israel? Even that God would punish his people; yet so as ever to leave some seed remaining" (Calvin). In the New Testament gospel we see God's mercy similarly grounded. Its basis is the Divine nature. That nature is love. "God so loved the world." And its basis is also the Divine covenant; for we live under a new and better dispensation of the covenant of grace (Hebrews 8:6-13).
III. ITS FAULT IN EPHRAIM'S RESTORATION, (Vers. 10, 11.) These verses shall be fulfilled in Messianic times. In the last days, the "Lion" of the tribe of Judah "shall roar," earnestly calling the Hebrews to repentance.
1. The restoration will consist in heart-renewal. "They shall walk after the Lord," i.e. spiritually. The time is coming when the house of Israel shall accept of Jesus as the Messiah, and clothe themselves with his righteousness, "The children" of the exiles "shall tremble" with convictions of guilt, with conscious unworthiness, and yet with eagerness to accept the gospel call They shall return to a relation of intimate friendship and fellowship with God.
2. It will be national and universal. The Jews shall at last return from all the various lands to which they have been banished. The Lord shall "gather together the outcasts of Israel." Students of prophecy, indeed, are not agreed whether there is to be a literal restoration to Palestine; but all expect an infinitely more blessed consummation - the admission of Israel as a people into the kingdom of Christ, as the result of their repentance and faith in him. This oracle applies also to all the spiritual seed of Abraham. Jew and Gentile, in these gospel times, are adopted into God's household upon precisely the same footing. The west (ver. 10) stands mainly for Gentile Europe; Egypt represents (ver. 11) the whole continent of Africa beyond itself; and "Assyria" in like manner the continent of Asia. "They shall come from the east and from the west," etc. (Luke 13:29). The doom denounced in Hosea has been inflicted; and in that fact have we not a pledge that the promises which this prophet makes shall also be fulfilled? "Two rabbis approaching Jerusalem saw a fox running upon the hill of Zion; and Rabbi Joshua wept, but Rabbi Eliezer laughed. ' Wherefore dost thou laugh?' said he who wept. 'Nay, wherefore dost thou weep?' demanded Eliezer. 'I weep,' replied the Rabbi Joshua, 'because I see what is written in the Lamentations fulfilled because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.' 'And, therefore,' said Rabbi Eliezer, 'do I laugh; for when I see with mine own eyes that God has fulfilled his threatenings to the very letter, I have thereby a pledge that not one of his promises shall fail, for he is ever more ready to show mercy than judgment.'"
1. In the gospel "mercy and truth are met together." God "spared not his own Son," that he might not have to "give up" such as Ephraim.
2. The hindrance to salvation is not in God, but in the sinner's wicked will. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37).
3. If God deals so tenderly with the sinner, how complete must be the security of the believer! "For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be renewed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee" (Isaiah 54:10). - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.