O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in me is your help.
God is exalted, negatively, by the overthrow of whatever is opposed to him - in Israel's case, by the humbling of their pride, the discovery of the vanity of their earthly trusts, and the overthrow of the sinful kingdom; and, positively, by the ultimate triumph of his purpose of salvation - a triumph even over death.
I. ISRAEL THE AUTHOR OF HIS OWN DESTRUCTION. (Ver. 9.) It was a destruction:
1. For which he only was responsible. "Destroyed thyself." It was entirely the result of his own perverse actings. Had he taken God's way, all would have been well with him. But - so the words literally run - he was against God. He chose of his own will the way which God told him was the way of death. The sinner's ruin is entirely his own work. God refuses all responsibility for it. He has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth (Ezekiel 18:32).
2. Resulting from refusal of Divine help. "Thy help." This aggravated the sin. "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?" (Jeremiah 8:22). God wished to be Israel's helper, but Israel would not let him. Sinners perish though salvation is within reach. "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light," etc. (John 3:19); "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
3. Which his self-sought helpers were unable to avert. Israel found in his hour of need the vanity of trusting to his earthly helpers. "Where is thy king, that he may save thee in all thy cities? and the judges, of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?" (ver. 10). Baal failed him (Hosea 8:5; Hosea 10:5); the Assyrian failed him (Hosea 5:13); his kings failed him (Hosea 10:3, 15). Thus it was demonstrated that God is the only Helper, that there is no Savior beside him (ver. 4). God in Christ is the only Hope of the sinner. He is an all-sufficient Hope, if the sinner will only be persuaded to apply to him. Instead of this, how many "refuges of lies" do men resort to I
II. ISRAEL PUNISHED BY THE GRANTING TO HIM OF HIS OWN DESIRE, (Vers. 10-12.) Often nothing will please the sinner but to get his own way. God, in wrath, sometimes grants the sinner his own way. When he gets it, he finds it to be to his hurt. This is illustrated in the case of Israel.
1. The desire for a king. "Thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes." The kingdom of Israel had its origin in self-will - was an embodiment of that principle. Rehoboam's rough answer afforded the occasion of revolt, but the desire of the northern tribes to have a king of their own was the real soul of the movement. It was a rebellion against the house of David. The people set up kings, but not by God (Hosea 8:4).
2. The desire granted. "I gave thee a king in mine anger." Partly as a punishment of the sins of David's house, and partly as a punishment of the tribes themselves, God granted the wish for a king. The rebellious spirit in which the separate kingdom was set up was chastised by the calamities brought upon the nation by its self-chosen rulers. There is a difference between granting a desire and approving of it. It does not imply approval that Jeroboam was designated beforehand by the prophet as the person to whom God would give the kingdom. God did give Israel its king, but it was "in anger." Doubtless had Jeroboam, on receiving the kingdom, walked in God's ways, his rule, as having a relative sanction from Heaven, would have been established (1 Kings 11:38). But it was obvious, both from the spirit of the man, and from the motives of the rebellion, and the temper in which it was carried out, that nothing of this kind could be expected.
3. The king given in anger taken away in wrath. "I took him away in my wrath." The northern monarchy brought only evil on the nation. The principle of self-will in which it originated wrought itself out further into state-idolatry, Baal-worship, frequent revolutions, intestine conflicts, alliances with Assyria and Egypt, sins and crimes of every description. The kings vied with each other in their wickedness. They set an example which their subjects were only too ready to follow. Thus wrath was prepared which at length swept them away like the whirlwind. Their king perished with them. The monarchy fell, never to rise again.
4. In the wrath which overtook the kingdom, hidden iniquity was brought to mind. "The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is hid." His whole career was remembered against him. Like a thing treasured up, put past, but not forgotten, it was brought forth at the appointed time for punishment. No sin escapes the remembrance of God. Unrepented of, it will have to be reckoned for in the judgment.
III. ISRAEL UNDULY DELAYING HIS CONVERSION. (Ver. 13.) The pangs of distress which came on Israel were, had he understood their end, meant for his salvation, They ought to have issued in a change of heart, and in "newness of life." While, however, he felt alarms, convictions, and compunctions for what be had done, Israel failed to come to the birth of a genuine conversion. He was an unwise son, who prolonged the birth-labor by refusal to come forth.
1. The delay of conversion is a cause of needless pain. How much better bad Ephraim come forth at once, instead of thus, as it were, lingering in the womb! Many delay their conversion by indecision, by unwillingness to part with some darling sin, by slowness of heart to believe God's promise, by the thought of what the world will say, what friends will say, etc., thus unnecessarily prolonging their distress, fear, and pains of conscience, and shutting themselves out from the peace, joy, and comfort of the new life of grace.
2. To delay conversion is to risk the loss of life. The infant, delaying to come forth, dies in the womb. Israel, because it refused to be taught by the sorrows which had come upon it, was, as regards the nation at large, to be destroyed. It would perish through its delay of conversion. Procrastination in spiritual child-birth is a cause of spiritual death Compunctions die away, the Spirit ceases to strive, anxiety disappears, the crisis passes and never comes back.
3. Israel's conversion, though long delayed, will yet take pace. A remnant of the people will be preserved, and these - though the process is slow and tedious - will yet be reborn to God. The nation will be recovered as from death (ver. 14).
IV. GOD THE RANSOMER EVEN FROM DEATH. (Ver. 14.) God's gracious purpose in the case of Israel, of the elect soul, of humanity, cannot be defeated. The words contain a pledge:
1. Of national restoration. Israel, though now cast away, will yet be recovered as from death (Hosea 6:2; Romans 11:15). God had promised to be the God of this people, and his love would triumph even over their unbelief and sin, Their recovery will have in it all the marvel of a resurrection.
2. Of spiritual renewal. There is a spiritual death from which recovery is more difficult than from national death, or even from the death of the body. A nation, having played its part in history, and perishing, rarely recovers the life it has thus lost. It needs the power of God to restore national life to Israel. It needs a yet higher exercise of God's power to restore life to their souls, dead in long-continued unbelief. But every soul by nature is "dead in trespasses and sins," and needs a moral miracle to be wrought upon it to give it life. God alone can ransom it from death. Each conversion is a new triumph over him that hath the power of death.
3. Of bodily resurrection. Salvation would be incomplete if it left its subjects still under the power of physical death. This is clearer under the New Testament than it was under the Old, but it underlay the promise of salvation there also. Christ has made the truth perfectly distinct. He has, by his own resurrection, "brought life and immortality to light" (2 Timothy 1:10). "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death meanwhile claims all as his prey. He reigns over all. He comes to men in innumerable forms of horror and anguish. His plagues are terrible. But Christ will rescue his own even from the power of this inexorable destroyer. Then, in their full sense, the words of the prophet will be fulfilled (1 Corinthians 15:55). - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.