Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment.…
In this strophe the Lord denounces as useless and foolish the policy which Israel had adopted of seeking to strengthen himself by alliances with Assyria. In doing this the nation was only adding to its guilt, and precipitating its doom.
I. THE NATURE OF THE JUDGMENTS. We gather from the passage that these are of three orders, each being more severe than the preceding.
1. Slow consumption. (Ver. 12.) The "moth and the worm" ("rottenness" should be, as in the margin, "a worm") suggest silent, stealthy, secret destruction. So the kingdom of the ten tribes is as a garment eaten by a moth, while the kingdom of Judah is as a tree slowly destroyed by a worm. The worm makes way much more slowly than the moth does; and we find, accordingly, that the "moth" ate up Israel in two generations from the time of this prediction, while the "worm" did not accomplish its work in Judah until after the lapse of a century and a half. Now, God's judgments still, both upon nations and individuals, are often like the moth and the worm. Many an ungodly commonwealth has the heart eaten out of it by a process of imperceptible moral deterioration. And frequently a young man of reputable character, who has never gone astray into gross vice, yet degenerates in spiritual tone, and loses the finer fibers of his nature, just because he has not cultivated elevating tastes, and has been content to cherish low ideals.
2. Sudden ruin. (Ver. 14.) If God sometimes punishes slowly, he does so at other times swiftly. The two Hebrew kingdoms resisted his judgments, when, in his long-suffering, he came at first somewhat lightly as the "moth" and the "worm." So he is compelled to adopt measures more dramatic and terrible. Jehovah will be to Ephraim as a strong full-grown "lion" - full-grown because the northern kingdom is very soon to fall; and he will be to Judah "as a young lion," which must become mature before it will do its work of destruction. Both kingdoms, however - each in its turn - are to be overwhelmed with a sudden rush of ruin. "'I, even I,' the Lion of the tribe of Judah, will tear the nation and take it hence. I will no longer be its guardian; I will make it my prey." How many powerful Gentile states also have been suddenly destroyed! And how many ungodly men, who "spread themselves like a green bay tree," have been "cut down like the grass"!
3. Settled desertion. (Ver. 15.) The Divine judgment upon the sinner, in its superlative form, consists in the withdrawal of the Divine favor and protection. When the two captivities took place respectively, the Hebrew nation became, as it were, God-forsaken. The Lord smote Ephraim and Judah, and tore them, and "returned to his place," leaving them bruised, bleeding, and to all appearance dying. To be thus God-deserted is, to a moral and spiritual being, the acme of punishment. When a soul becomes consciously God-forsaken, it begins to taste the pains of hell.
II. THE CAUSE OF THE JUDGMENTS. They fell upon the Hebrew people on account of their idolatry, aggravated by the unbelief which they showed in resorting for aid to the Assyrian power.
1. The worship of false gods. (Ver. 11.) "The commandment" refers to Jeroboam's idolatrous innovation in erecting the two golden calves. This measure was the result of considerations of state policy on the part of a prince who did not himself rely upon the Divine protection. But the people accepted it "willingly," showing thereby that their hearts also were not right in the sight of God. The calf-worship was the root of the entire apostasy of Israel; it prepared the way fur the grosser idolatry of Baalism, with its attendant train of moral disorder, vice, and crime. It was Jeroboam's sin that sowed the seeds of the ruin of the whole Hebrew nation.
2. The calling in of incompetent physicians. (Ver. 13.) Israel was suffering from the "sickness" of anarchy, and bleeding from the" wound" of revolution; yet he would not recognize in these distresses a token of the Divine displeasure. He refused to listen to the messages of warning which God sent him by Hosea, and kept looking to second causes alone, both for the disease and the remedy. Ephraim "sent to King Jareb." The word "Jareb means warrior," "adversary," "avenger;" and it is to be understood probably not as a proper name, but as a poetical epithet applied by the prophet himself to the King of Assyria. Again and again the two Hebrew kingdoms sought to make peace with the Assyrian power, buying him off by tribute, and occupying a position of abject vassalage (2 Kings 15-18). All, however, was in vain. This un-theocratic policy did not even heal the hurt slightly; it made matters worse (2 Chronicles 28:20). But the nations still have their King Jarebs to whom they apply when seeking a cure for their moral maladies. How numerous are the favorite social nostrums! With some, the hope of Great Britain is the further expansion of trade; with others, the spread of education; with others, "local option;" with others, parliamentary reform; with others, religious equality. But such expedients, however desirable in their own place, are at best only plasters and patches. Where the heart is the seat of the disease, the cure must be inward and radical. We must send, not to King Jareb, but to King Jesus. So, also, there are Jarebs to which guilt-stricken and sin-sick souls still apply. One seeks an anodyne in the pursuit of wealth; another fills high the bowl of sensuous pleasure; a third pays court to culture and the fine arts; a fourth labors hard in his own strength to live a clean moral life. But none of these pursuits can salve the wounds of sin. Only the application of the blood of Christ can bring spiritual life and health and blessing.
III. THE DESIGN OF THE JUDGMENTS. (Ver. 15.) The Book of Hosea is full of clouds and darkness; but behind them somewhere the sun is ever shining. And as we gaze upon the storm we see the rainbow of grace springing up in its very bosom. This closing verse of the chapter reminds us that the judgments are inflicted:
1. To produce penitence. For, after all, the Lord has only withdrawn a little way from his apostate people. If they will but have it so, he has only "returned to his place" for a short time (Isaiah 54:7-10). He has not cast them off finally, but only until they shall become convinced that they can have no comfort or salvation apart from himself. The first step in repentance is conviction and acknowledgment of sin. And multitudes of souls have been brought to take this step during a time of "affliction."
2. To bring back to God. To "seek God's face" is to seek his favor, his Son, his Spirit, the ordinances of his grace. To "seek him early" is to do so urgently, after the manner of one who will rise before the morning in very eagerness. If we view this verse as a prediction regarding the future of the Hebrew nation, we may find partial fulfillments of it towards the close of the Babylonish exile (Daniel 9.), and on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.); and we know that it will be fully realized in that national conversion of the Jews which is to precede the second advent of Christ (Zechariah 12.; Romans 11.). But the promise before us has a perennial lesson also to "sinners of the Gentiles." It assures us of the glad welcome which our God will give us - despite whatever guilt may have stained our lives, and the deep corruption which assuredly still dwells within our hearts - if only we turn to him in penitence, and make him our Righteousness and Strength and Hope. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, because he willingly walked after the commandment.