O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in me is your help.
Underlying these verses, and interpenetrating the judgment of Jehovah's anger with which they are charged, there is a deep undertone of tenderness. The prophet speaks, in the Lord's Name," with the laboring voice, interrupted by sobs, of a judge whose duty it is to pronounce the final heavy sentence after all possible pleadings and considerations have been gone through ' (Ewald).
I. ISRAEL'S RUIN. This is referred to, both as regards its origin and its most recent manifestations.
1. The ruin began with the revolt from the house of David. Ephraim's proud determination to become politically independent of Judah was the root-sin from which sprang the corruption of his religion and the immorality of his whole life. In following Jeroboam, Samaria "rebelled against her God" (ver. 16), and entered upon a career which resulted in moral suicide. She rejected her only true "Help" when she said, "Give me a king and princes" (ver. 10). The kings of the ten tribes could not save the people; for Jehovah, the King of Israel, did not acknowledge their royalty. Neither Jeroboam I., nor any of the princes of the house of Omri, or of the dynasty of Jehu - not to mention the military usurpers who afterwards snatched the crown from one another - had fulfilled the true function of a king as being a shepherd of the people. Despite the seemingly splendid reign of Jeroboam II., the history of the northern kingdom was all along one of misfortune, degradation, and self-destruction. Israel "destroyed himself" with the weapons of pride and idolatry, sensuality and anarchy.
2. The ruin was perpetuated through his refusal to repent. This seems to be the idea presented in ver. 13. Hosea had prophesied for upwards of half a century during the last long agony of his country; and during that period God had sent many calamities upon Israel, which were graciously fitted, like labor-pains, to induce the new birth. The latest of these travail-pangs are now imminent; but still Ephraim delayed thorough repentance, cleaved obstinately to his sins, and refused to be "born again." The Lord desired that Ephraim's "sorrows should suddenly cease, through the birth of a new Israel; but the people were joined to idols," and thus - meantime at least - there could be no recovery from the ruin into which they had fallen.
II. ISRAEL'S RETRIBUTION. The sin of the nation accumulated gradually. And the justice of God "retained" it, and pronounced punishment on it, and kept the punishment in store (ver. 12). Notwithstanding the distresses of the last two generations, which Hosea had witnessed, and from which he had himself suffered - including now, it may be, the seizure and imprisonment of Hoshea, the last unhappy king of Israel (ver. 10; 2 Kings 17:4) - there was still a load of stern wrath waiting to discharge itself upon the guilty commonwealth.
1. Ephraim has been punished through his kings. (Vers. 10, 11.) The whole nineteen were apostates from Jehovah, and under them the cup of the nation's iniquity was slowly filled. The very "giving" of each monarch in the providence of God was a mark of his anger; indeed, many of them gained the throne as the result of military revolt and assassination of the preceding sovereign, whom God thus "took away in his wrath."
2. The kingdom itself is now to be destroyed. (Vers. 15, 16.) The once "fruitful" Ephraim is about: to suffer an irretrievable blight. The Assyrian power, like the hot blast of the simoom, shall blow upon his land, and for ever dry up the springs of its fertility. Samaria, its capital city, after a protracted death struggle of three years, shall be subdued and devastated by Sargon, the successor of Shalmaneser. The treasures of the city shall be plundered, and its inhabitants cruelly murdered or dispersed among the heathen. Scarcely any trace will be left of the once proud and luxurious kingdom of Ephraim. The sentence of political extinction pronounced against that state is irreversible.
III. ISRAEL'S RESURRECTION. The proper names "Hosea" and "Hoshea" mean help or salvation. In King Hoshea, however, there was no help during the final extremity of the national peril; but the venerable Hosea still lived, and announced that the Lord, whose word he had so long spoken to a disobedient nation, was still ready to become Israel's "Help" (ver. 9), notwithstanding all the wretched past. Although constrained passionately to denounce the sin of his people and to forewarn of the coming desolations, the prophet intimates that these dire punishments are also paternal chastisements, sent by Jehovah to arouse the people, and induce them to return to his service. The Divine heart is still full of tender compassion for Israel. The Lord cannot allow the nation utterly to perish. On the other side of the dreadful judgments and the long dispersion, there will be a recovery so glorious as to be called a resurrection. "What shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:15). This ultimate restoration is announced in the splendid apostrophe of ver. 14. - a passage which the Apostle Paul, following the Septuagint, quotes towards the close of his sublime argument for the certainty of the resurrection of the saints (1 Corinthians 15:55). In its original sense, however, this song of triumph refers to the deliverance of the posterity of Ephraim from their national doom. The ten tribes shall be carried captive, and shall become politically dead and buried; but the time is coming when God will raise them up spiritually, and restore them to his favor. This brilliant promise received no appreciable fulfillment in the return of a few exiles of Ephraim and Manasseh along with the first colony of Jews who went up from Babylon at the close of the seventy years' captivity. The oracle clearly refers to Messianic times. It is in line with the general run of those Scripture prophecies which anticipate the national conversion of Israel, and announce the Lord's unchangeable purpose to effect it (cf. ver. 14, last clause, with Romans 11:29). And, as Israel was a typical nation, this paean of victory might well be used, as Paul uses it, to celebrate the triumph over death and Hades which the Messiah has already achieved in his own person, and which he wilt by-and-by repeat in the general resurrection of his people.
1. God destroys no man; every sinner is self-murdered (ver. 10).
2. Adequate temporal punishment for our sins often consists in the simple granting of our desires (vers. 10, 11; Psalm 106:15).
3. When God leaves a man, his prosperity withers (ver. 15).
4. The soul that forsakes God for an earthly portion shall be overwhelmed with regrets (vers. 13, 16).
5. Even while the Lord must denounce severe judgments, his love broods over the sinner, and remains invincible. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.