He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loves to oppress.…
In the manner of his acquisition of wealth, Ephraim conjoined deceit and oppression. He was dishonest in trade. He oppressed the poor. He was a better imitator of Jacob in his act of laying hold of his brother's heel than in his earnestness in wrestling with the angel. He inherited the evil, not the good, traits in the character of his progenitor He was a "Jacob," not an "Israel." Yet he plumed himself on his success.
I. EPHRAIM'S SAY IN THE MATTER. (Ver. 8.)
1. He was puffed up with the thought of being rich. "Ephraim said, I am rich, I have found me out substance." This was the main thing - he was rich. It did not matter how the riches had been got, when they were there. The existence of the riches covered a multitude of sins. This is too much the way in which wealth is looked at in the world. The possessor of it can count on being honored, courted, applauded for success, with few questions asked as to the means by which his wealth has been acquired. The love of the honor and position which wealth gives lead men to seek after it by fair means and foul. "Balances of deceit" are not unknown among ourselves. "Tricks innumerable," says Mr. Spencer, "lies acted or uttered, elaborately devised frauds, are prevalent - many of them established as ' customs of the trade; ' nay, not only established, but defended." Yet this is thought of little moment, if only men can say in the end, "I am rich."
2. He took the glory of his riches to himself. "I have found me out substance." It was himself that did it. To him the credit and glory of it belonged. He said in his heart, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth," forgetting that it is God alone that had given him power to get wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17, 18).
3. He justified himself in his ways. "In all my labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin." As Spencer says above of rogueries in trade, "not only established, but defended." The dishonest trader is yet to be found who is not disposed to justify himself. He gets to look on his dishonesties as trifles - bagatelles. He defies proof of them. He justifies himself by the practice of others. That cannot be wrong which everybody does. If, like Ephraim, he is assiduous in the practice of the outward duties of religion (ver. 11), he may regard this as amply outweighing the deceits and oppressions of his business life.
II. GOD'S SAY IN THE MATTER. (Vers. 8, 9.) God:
1. Exposes the sin and folly o/ Ephraim's boasting, "And I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt." If Ephraim was rich, it was God who made him rich. If he had substance, it was God who gave him substance, not Ephraim who had found it out for himself: Ephraim's boasting was, therefore, entirely out of place. It was as foolish as it was wicked and ungrateful.
2. Shows the inexcusableness of Ephraim's conduct. "I have also spoken by the prophets," etc. Ephraim had been well taught and warned. Moses, in the plains of Moab, had already foreshown the dangers to which Israel would be exposed when they came into possession of the goodliness of Canaan, and had forewarned them against pride and undue self-elation (Deuteronomy 8:7-18). Other prophets had been sent as occasion required. God had "multiplied visions" to the people, and had "used similitudes" to make matters plainer, and to draw attention. In spite of all, Ephraim continued sinning. If such were his privileges, what are ours, to whom God, "who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past to the fathers by the prophets hath in these last days spoken by his Son (Hebrews 1:1, 2)?
3. Declares Ephraim's punishment. "I will make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast?' Ephraim, having forfeited his blessings by his sin, would be turned back again into the wilderness, there to renew the experience of the old wanderings, of which the Feast of Tabernacles was a memorial (Leviticus 23:42, 43). The words are a threatening, yet imply mercy. The wilderness wanderings were a punishment, but also a discipline. During these wanderings, Israel enjoyed God's protection and sheltering care. The end of the wandering was Canaan. So Israel's present banishment is with a view to ultimate recovery.
III. THE DELUSION PRICKED. (Ver. 11.) Ephraim, like the Laodicean Church, said, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," and knew not that he was "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). He had failed to take God's counsel (by the prophets), to buy of him "gold tried in the fire" that he might be rich, and "white raiment that he might be clothed, and to anoint his eyes with eye-salve that he might see (Revelation 3:18). He still pursued vanity and deceit, and multiplied transgressions. This state of delusion in which he lived was now to be rudely broken in upon. Gilead, for its iniquity, would become (or, perhaps, had already become) vanity, nothingness. Gilgal, where bulls were offered in such numbers in sacrifice, would witness (or had already witnessed) its altars made as heaps of stones in the furrows of the field. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress.