O Israel, you have sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood…
In this passage, for the second time (vide Hosea 9:10), the prophet starts with a brief reminiscence of former days, and then proceeds to deliver an urgent exhortation to present duty; but all serves merely as a basis for more denunciation and announcement of retribution.
I. THE IDEAL LIFE OF A NATION. (Ver. 12.) Although this verse is in the first instance a summons to Israel to repent and reform, we may view it as indicating also what the life of every commonwealth ought to be.
1. Its activities. Foremost amongst these is:
(1) The pursuit of godliness. The ideal nation "seeks the Lord," and recognizes that always "it is time" to do so. It acknowledges Jehovah as its supreme King. It aims at making all the legislation upon its statute-book in harmony with the laws of the Bible. The Lord of hosts regards such a country as "a delightsome land" (Malachi 3:12). "Happy is that people, whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 144:15).
(2) The cultivation of morality. "Sow to yourselves in righteousness." Plowing and sowing and reaping in this passage denote the moral conduct of the community. And the one great principle which should determine the activities of a nation should be that of "righteousness." Its supreme aim should be, not the accumulation of wealth, nor the acquisition of power and prestige, but the establishment of righteousness; it should strive after what is true and just and equitable in everything.
(3) The accomplishment of needful reforms. "Break up your fallow ground." The model nation looks out for new soil as well as for right seed, and for that Divine influence which is necessary to the harvest. As soon as it discovers any neglected portion of its own life, it will endeavor to subject that to spiritual husbandry, and bring it into cultivation. It will be continually anxious to reform, wherever it finds at any time that reform is necessary. But the life of the model nation has also:
2. Its rewards.
(1) The Lord wilt "come" to the community that seek him. He will dwell among them, and be "unto them a wall of fire round about." He will "come" in Christ, the King of nations; and by the Holy Spirit, who is the principle of the life of every godly commonwealth.
(2) The holy nation shall reap a harvest of mercy. They shall gather mercy as the fruit of the good seed of righteousness which they have sown. The best of men, when they have done their best, are "unprofitable servants;" so that the rewards which shall accrue from their works of faith and love must be all of grace. But the harvest shall be a glorious one; for it shall be proportionate, not only to our humble sowing, but to God's infinite mercy.
(3) They shall receive a rain of righteousness. Wherever the Lord Jesus comes as King, he brings with him this blessing (Psalm 72:1-7). Wherever the Holy Spirit dwells, he "creates a clean heart," and "renews a right spirit" (Psalm 51:10-12). The people that sow righteousness sow "to themselves;" for "to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward" (Proverbs 11:18). In proportion to their willingness to "do God's will," shall they "know of the doctrine," and reap its blessed fruits in their hearts and lives. The angle of reflection shall be equal to the angle of incidence; that is, their obedience shall be the measure of their assurance and of their reward.
II. THE ACTUAL LIFE OF ISRAEL This was quite the reverse of the ideal above described. Its wrongness had begun very early, for the nation had "sinned from the days of Gibeah" (Judges 19., 20.); and, alas! it persisted in the sin of Gibeah still. The corruption of the community was deeply rooted in ancestral habit. In describing the actual life of Israel, Hosed refers to:
1. Its basis. (Ver. 13.) The foundation of the whole lay in sinful self-confidence. Israel "trusted in his way," i.e. in his own political devices and idolatrous worship. He relied also upon "the multitude of his mighty men," as if Providence were on the side of the strong battalions.
2. Its pursuits. Ephraim led a self-indulgent life. In the days of Jeroboam II., when be was victorious and prosperous, he was "as a heifer that loveth to tread out the corn" (ver. 11). The nation was self-reliant, and it grew rich; so it became pampered and selfish. Really, however, the people all the while were following a career of laborious sin. "They ploughed wickedness, and reaped iniquity" (ver. 13). Like self-made slaves, they "bound themselves in their two transgressions" (ver. 10) - their double sin of apostasy from Jehovah and revolt from the dynasty of David.
3. Its results. As sin is the evil of evils, the consequence of the people's long course of iniquity could not but be ruinous. Disaster fell upon them as the outcome of natural law, and also because at last it was God's "desire to chastise them" (ver. 10). Hitherto the ten tribes, although they had lived in the commission of the sin of Gibeah, had not been destroyed in war, like the Gibeahites; now at last, however, the Divine vengeance is to descend upon them. There is to be:
(1) Invasion. (Ver. 10.) The Assyrians, with their allies, "shall be gathered against them."
(2) Bondage. (Ver. 11.) A heavy yoke shall be put upon the "fair neck" of the heifer Ephraim; and in her state of subjugation she shall have to perform hard labor. Judah also shall undergo a similar punishment. This threatening was fulfilled in the two captivities, the Assyrian and the Babylonish.
(3) Disappointment. (Ver. 1.3.) Israel's reward for his wickedness was that he had "eaten the fruit of lies." The idolatry which he practiced was a lie; and this, instead of promoting the prosperity of the nation, as for a time it seemed to be doing, led to its utter humiliation and decay,
(4) National ruin. (Vers. 14, 15.) The "tumult" of war is soon to arise. Shalmaneser shall overthrow the strongholds of Ephraim, as he had lately "spoiled Beth-arbel." The land shall be devastated, and its inhabitants cruelly murdered. And, in consequence, the kingdom of Israel shall be destroyed forever.
1. God's long forbearance with a wicked nation before he proceeds to visit it according to its works (ver. 9).
2. The determination to which at length he must inevitably come, to vindicate his justice (ver. 10).
3. The folly of those who expect to enjoy the comforts of religion while neglecting to discharge its duties (ver. 11).
4. The history of the kingdom of the ten tribes an illustration of the truth that "pride goeth before destruction" (ver. 11).
5. The deceitfulness of sin, as being "the fruit of lies" (ver. 13).
6. This passage should lead us to cherish gratitude to Almighty God for his goodness to our nation, and should suggest to Great Britain to take warning from the doom of Ephraim. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood: the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.