It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in My arms, but they never realized that it was I who healed them.
Hosea 11:3 (first clause)
I. THE FIGURE THAT SETS FORTH THE TRUTH.
1. Its boldness. None but an inspired man, who was conscious of inspiration, would have dared thus to describe the God he humbly reverenced. Sometimes a painting represents the glories of sunset, or the swell of the sea after a storm, the colors of which are so vivid that the onlooker at first says, "That is unnatural." A second-rate artist might have shrunk from such a bold representation, but the great artist revels in the splendor of the scene; he feels that he must represent to others what was revealed to him; and so hands down to the future what had appeared at first a startling revelation of glory, even to himself. A people accustomed, like the Jews, to the signs of awful reverence with which Jehovah was approached would have been more surprised than we, who know God in Christ, to hear the prophet speak of him as a Father, or Mother, or Nurse, holding the child by the arms as he totters and trembles over his first footsteps.
2. Its beauty. Any natural figure drawn from a human home is beautiful. It is well that family life has so often been made the basis of religious teaching. There are few scenes more universally familiar than this. When we exercise care and forethought for our children, and our hearts go out in tenderness to them in their helplessness, we know what God is to us. When we remember the sense of rest and sympathy and help which was ours in childhood's home, we become more conscious of what we may find, yet so often fail to find, in our heavenly Father's love.
3. Its truthfulness. Israel had become a great nation because of the Divine care which overshadowed them in their feeble infancy. In Egypt they had no national life, but were degraded serfs for whom revolt was useless. Brought out by Divine power, they became conscious of new powers and possibilities. In the wilderness they were fed, not only with manna, but with the rudiments of piety, which were well adapted to their infancy. By penalties which immediately and visibly followed disobedience to Law, they learnt that God was King, that he was near, that he was wise; and imperfect though the revelation was, it was the most they could receive. God spake as they were able to bear it. He dealt with them as we deal with children. Nor is he less wise or less tender in our culture, but bears with us while we are feeble in thought and resolve, and blesses us in the first trembling steps we essay in the way of righteousness.
II. THE TRUTH SET FORTH BY THE FIGURE - namely, that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
1. In his condescension he does not despise us. Ezekiel describes a newly born child, taken up in its poverty and misery by tender hands, as a representation of what Israel had been to God. We have known such examples of human kindness: the foundling left to the stranger, whose motherly heart went out in pity, as she resolved that, in spite of all her own cares, the little one should not perish for want because of its parent's sin. Much more unworthy are we of the Divine regard, for each may say, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son." Even in earthly advantages we never won nor deserved, how many of us have been blessed! The home where no evil words are heard, where those who love us are daily witnesses for God, the heritage of a good name and wholesome habits, the tears and entreaties and prayers which win us to the love of righteousness, - all these are signs that God can say of many now in wisdom's way, "I taught you to walk, taking you by the arms."
2. In his wisdom he does not force us. We are not automatons. They may do wonderful things without noise, or disobedience, or wrangling; but God has not made us thus. We are, as the text suggests, children, who can make their own effort, but to it they must be prompted, in it they must be supported and helped. When the stirrings of a new life are felt in the soul, the question comes, "Who then is willing to consecrate himself to the Lord?" and it is only the self-consecrated servants God will have. It is a poor thing to employ the forced labor of those whose bodies are their owner's, but whose souls loathe him; but a blessed thing to have the loyal and loving service of the child, to whom a glance or a whisper means a command which it is his joy to obey.
3. In his graciousness he does not curse us. Children are weak and wayward; they forget what they are told, and do what is amiss; but their father says to himself, "They are but children," and he cannot be bitter or unjust. When Peter denied his Lord, falling through moral weakness, an angry curse might have driven him to despair; but "the Lord turned and looked on him," and as he went out, weeping bitterly, he yet could say, "The Lord loves me still." Christ drew him back with cords of love.
4. In his patience he does not demand of us instant perfection. Picture the scene suggested here. A child is about to take his first step. The mother is beside him, encouraging every step, or half-step, with a smile. Her eye does not wander from him for a moment; her hands are out to encourage, to support, to save, as she says, "Try, dear, try." When at last the effort is made, she catches him up in her arms and kisses him; and if you wondered at so much gladness and love being shown over such a feeble attempt, she would be annoyed at your dullness, because she sees in this the promise of the future. By such a homely illustration does Hoses set forth the Divine tenderness. God's "gentleness makes us great." Christ Jesus expected nothing wonderful from his disciples; but patiently lived with them and taught them, forgiving, encouraging, and upholding, till they became brave and stalwart heroes of the cross. Only let us keep near him, and as we recognize the difficulties of our way and the weakness of our nature, let the prayer of the psalmist be ours, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." - A.R.
I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms.i.e., of Christ our Passover sacrificed for us — and gives them His law, telling them to serve Him, He does not leave them to their own strength, but gives them power to do what He bids them: He teaches them how to go, taking them, as a nurse would, by the arms. Our obedience is not the cause which procures or awakens God's love to us, but His love is the cause that procures and awakens our obedience. The text tells us what God is doing for the true disciples of Jesus, and how God undertakes to teach them how to go. "Taking them by the arms." As a nurse teaches a helpless child to walk, He invites us to rely upon His strength and watchful care. He knows our weakness. The thought may be illustrated by Deuteronomy 32:11. In this life we cannot go without the support of Christ; but there are different ways in which He gives this to His people. At first He teaches them to fight against their own evil passions, to resist their own wayward wills, to quench their fiery temptations. But soon they pass onward. The new nature moves, stirs, waxes stronger, grows; the old decays. At first He leads, He guides them against their will, then without it, and it is a happy day when their will cheerfully goes along with His; then they are taught to go.
But they knew not that I healed them. —
1. At the words uttered by the Lord to Cyrus, the Persian king — "I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me" (Isaiah 45:5). From these words we learn that while God uses His own people for a gracious purpose, they are not the only people that He uses for the furtherance of His designs. He places men in high positions, and by their instrumentality He often brings about the fulfilment of His own purpose, though they themselves have had no conscious part in the accomplishment of such a glorious end.
2. Our text points to a very different dealing, namely, God's .treatment of the Jewish people. The ignorance of Cyrus, as a heathen, was not the culpable thing that ignorance of God on the part of any king of Israel or Judah would have been. God had granted Israel a special revelation, and admitted them into an exceptional relationship with Himself as His people. Notwithstanding all God's goodness to Israel, Hosea says, in God's name, "They knew not that I healed them." Thus we have two types of ignorance. That of the man who has never been brought under godly influence; and the wilful ignorance of those who sin against the light, and in spite of gracious influences. The latter is the only ignorance possible to us. The surprising thing about Israel was that they could be so ignorant of God's goodness after all that He had done for them. Knowledge of God they had, but it had formed no part of their being, had not permeated their character and life, and had not given a bent to their conduct. Their attitude Godward was atheistic. They talked flippantly enough about their history, but there was no gratitude in the heart that would mould and fashion life into submissive obedience to the law of God. Thus their ignorance was all the worse for being so wilful and persistent. "Ye are weary of Me," exclaimed God to them. I know of no charge more pathetic than that. This ignorance is the result of the blinding power of a sinful passion; an ignorance which will not let a man know the truth because he is too closely wedded to his evil.
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