He shall not return into the land of Egypt, and the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return.…
Ephraim had acted as if the mercy of God were unconditional; and he persistently contravened the one condition, via repentance, upon which alone that favor could be continued. He was thus guilty of despising the Divine loving-kindness; and hence these words of grievous denunciation. We learn from them -
I. THE FOLLY OF CARNAL CONFIDENCES. (Ver. 6.) The ten tribes had followed "their own counsels," but these were the result of wicked infatuation. The calves which the men of Israel kissed led to the national ruin. Egypt would afford the tribes no asylum; there was no hope of relief from her as an auxiliary against Assyria. It was indeed strange that the people should think of returning to Egypt, the land of their ancient bondage. Now, however, they are to endure a more dreadful tyranny than their fathers had suffered there. The devouring sword of the Assyrian is to make the round of the cities of Israel. The northern kingdom, with its rich territory and its sacred places - Shiloh, Shechem, Ebal and Gerizim, Sharon, Carmel, and the valley of Jezreel - is to pass into the possession of the heathen. Such was only the natural result of Israel's wickedness, and it stands in history as an affecting warning against ungodly counsels. "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord" (Jeremiah 17:5-8). "My brethren, it is a great mercy of God to be so wholly taken from all carnal props, from all vain shifts and hopes, as to be thoroughly convinced that there is no help in any thing, or in any creature, in heaven and earth, but only in turning to God, and casting the soul down before mercy; if that saves me not, I am undone forever" (Jeremiah Burroughs, in loc.).
II. THE POWER OF SIN TO HOLD FAST THE SOUL. (Ver. 7.) Israel was "bent on backsliding" from Jehovah. They were "fastened to defection" (Calvin); or, "impaled upon apostasy as upon a stake" (Keil). The prophets "called and exhorted the people, but in vain. They refused to raise themselves, in order to return to the Most High. Such is the effect of sin when long persisted in. All of us have by nature this fixed aversion to God and Divine things, unless he interpose in his grace to wean us from our idols. Even while the Word is calling us to rise, the flesh persistently drags us downwards, and with a dead weight which only the might of the Spirit of God can overcome. Many professors of religion suddenly fall away, because, the good work" never having been begun in them, they cannot restrain themselves from at last following visibly the "bent" of nature. And how hard it is, even for the Lord's true people, to escape from the entanglement of old habits of sin! During the process the soul may be often convulsed, if not almost torn asunder. A good man will sometimes continue throughout life to follow a trade or profession about the moral lawfulness of which his conscience is continually uneasy. Only by steadfastly looking to Christ, and allowing his love to flow into the heart, can we be set free from the dangers of backsliding. Clothed with his strength, the believer, instead of being "impaled upon apostasy," shall daily "crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts." Once more, this passage reminds us that -
III. TO "REFUSE TO RETURN" TO JEHOVAH IS THE SIN OF SINS. (Ver. 5.) Ephraim had done more and worse than to reject the Lord as the chief good. He had, besides, scorned the Divine grace and mercy which had so long and lovingly "called" him to "return," and promised to "heal his backsliding." For such foul and shocking ingratitude the ruin of the northern kingdom was a. righteous retribution. And so now, in these gospel times, the denial of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior is the crowning sin of man. To reject him is to "refuse to return" to Jehovah. It is to oppose the clearest light, and to despise the dearest love. It is to elect to serve Satan rather than God. This sin of sins does not render it necessary that sentence be pronounced against those who are guilty of it: the sinner's unbelief is of itself his sentence. "He that believeth not hath been judged already" (John 3:18). If we neglect the great salvation, there can be no escape for us from eternal shame and ruin. Sins against law do not exclude the possibility of the exercise of mercy, but the persistent rejection of mercy must close the door of hope against the soul forever (Proverbs 1:24-33). - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return.