And Ephraim boasts: "How rich I have become; I have found wealth for myself. In all my labors, they can find in me no iniquity that is sin."
i.e. his sin is not to be pardoned. The "reproach" or dishonor which he has done to God by his idolatry, and iniquity God will repay him. But the denunciation is mixed with mercy. "I will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles" (ver. 9) seems to include, not only a threatening of banishment from "the Lord's land," but a new redemption from the coming Egypt-like bondage, which shall bring with it rest and freedom and prosperity. Beyond his captivity, Ephraim shall keep the joyous Feast of Tabernacles again, as a memorial of Messianic mercies in connection with his restoration. As Ewald, however, remarks, the main feature of these verses consists in "three compressed comparisons."
I. "ISRAEL" HAS BECOME "CANAAN." (Vers. 7, 8.) The "prince with God" has degenerated into a cheating huckster; the descendants of the godly Jacob have become like paltry Phoenician peddlers. Instead of "keeping mercy and judgment" (ver. 6) in their commercial dealings, they love to practice deception and oppression. Ephraim, accordingly, does not deserve to be called by the honorable name of "Israel;" he exhibits rather the innate characteristics of the Canaanite tribes, and may well be spoken of as "Canaan." But, worse even than that, the people are spiritually self-complacent, all the while that they deal so dishonestly. They deceive themselves with the notion that their habits of social injustice involve no sin against God. They ignore the teaching of their law about "just balances, and just weights" (Leviticus 19:36; Deal 25:13-16). Enough for them if they become rich through their ill-gotten gains. They even argue that their continued success in acquiring riches by means of "the balances of deceit" is an evidence that the Lord cannot be angry with them (ver. 8). Lessons.
1. It is a spurious piety which does not take to do with "weights and measures."
2. The dangers of covetousness, a besetting sin of many Church members.
3. Long-continued temporal prosperity is not necessarily a token of God's favor.
4. Ungodly men pervert the Divine goodness and forbearance into an encouragement to persist in their sinful courses.
II. EPHRAIM HAS FORSAKEN THE PROPHETS FOR HEATHEN ALTARS. (Vers. 10, 11.) Jehovah, who had been his God "from the land of Egypt," had shown his love for the nation in raising up a succession of men as their teachers, upon whom he caused his Spirit to rest. The prophets instructed the people in spiritual truth and moral duty. They rebuked idolatry. They denounced all injustice and oppression. They warned of coming judgments. They testified beforehand of the coming of the Messiah, and of the ultimate salvation of the world through him. The larger number of the great prophets were sent to the kingdom of Judah, and yet some of the most distinguished of them labored in the northern kingdom, as e.g. Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea himself. The Lord gave his Word to the prophets in a variety of ways. Sometimes by an audible voice, as to Samuel; more frequently, by writing the message in burning thoughts upon the prophet's soul; and often, as Hosea here reminds the people, by "multiplying visions." The "vision was a frequent vehicle of Divine revelation during the whole course of the national life of Israel. Jehovah multiplied visions to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Daniel, etc. And the prophets, in delivering the Lord's message, were directed to employ material signs as a means of adding emphasis to spiritual truth. The Lord, who knows our frame, and who has made the earth but the shadow of heaven" (Milton), took care to "give similitudes by the prophets." Tile Hebrew seers used the metaphor, the allegory, the parable, the dramatic action. They found spiritual analogies everywhere in nature, and in the circumstances of human life. And all this was a manifestation of God's solicitude for his people's good. He sent the "prophets," and gave the "visions," and suggested the "similitudes" in tender love for his erring children. Yet all was in vain. The people continued to live as if God had given them no revelation. Their idolatry extended all over the region beyond Jordan, here represented by "Gilead;" and all over the west of Jordan, represented by "Gilgal." They turned a deaf ear to the warning voices of the prophets. Ephraim forsook the one altar which God recognized as his, and increased the number of idol shrines until they covered the land, like the heaps of stones cleared by the farmer out of a ploughed field. The idolatry and wickedness of Israel were committed against the clearest light of prophecy, and against the yearning love of Jehovah, which had led him "daily to rise up early" and send the prophets. Lessons.
1. The privilege of being within reach of an earnest gospel ministry.
2. The advantage of the judicious use of illustrations in religious teaching.
3. How sad it is when localities which were once the scene of special manifestations of God become polluted with scandalous wickedness!
4. How aggravated the guilt of those who" sin willfully after they have received the knowledge of the truth" (Hebrews 10:26)!
III. EPHRAIM HAS FAILED TO LEARN THE LESSONS OF HIS OWN EARLY HISTORY. (Vers. 12-14.) Had he reflected aright upon the course of Divine providence towards himself, his thoughts about God would have been thoughts especially of humility and gratitude.
1. Humility. (Ver. 12.) When the Jew offered his basket of" firstfruits" annually to the Lord, he was to say, "A Syrian ready to perish was my father" (Deuteronomy 26:5). Jacob, the stem-father of the tribes, went to Mesopotamia as a fugitive, and remained there for twenty years as a servant. He had no dowry to offer for Rachel; he could only serve for her as a shepherd. Israel, accordingly, had not much to boast of as regards his national origin; the beginnings of the nation could scarcely have been more humble. And yet how different was Jacob's life, spiritually, from that of his children to whom Hosea spoke this prophecy!
2. Gratitude. (Ver. I3.) The reference now is to Moses. If Jacob's condition of servitude in Padan-aram taught a lesson of humility, the thought of the slavery of his immediate posterity in Egypt was fitted to inspire sentiments of gratitude. What a great emancipation was that of the Exodus! And the agent by whom that deliverance had been accomplished was a prophet, and one who, like Jacob, had been a shepherd. Degenerate Israel despised the teacher whom God sent, forgetting while he did so that the emancipation from the bondage of Egypt had taken place under the leadership of one single prophet. The Prophet Moses had conducted the tribes through the Red Sea; and had acted as their guardian, and their mediator with God, during all the forty years which they spent in the Arabian desert Under him the people had passed from a state of servitude into a position of sonship. Yet, alas! the nation cherished now neither humility nor gratitude. The Lord had preserved, enriched, and blessed them; but in return they only "provoked him to auger" by their grievous sins, until it became impossible that they could escape the punishment of their impiety. Lessons:
1. The profitableness of the study of Scripture biography and history.
2. God's people must expect to be subjected to discipline as a condition of their spiritual advancement.
3. The Lord uses apparently humble instruments to accomplish great results.
4. The duty of cherishing gratitude for past mercies in our national history. - C.J.
I. THE HIDING OF SIN. Ephraim is in truth most unrighteous, but he contrives to sin in such a way that he appears innocent. And do we not attempt by many subtilties to hide the real qualities of our actions, to shelter ourselves from their just penalties?
He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress, etc
Homilist.I. FORTUNES BADLY USED.
1. Here there is no recognition of human co-operation. No man comes in possession of wealth without the efforts of some men either living or dead. Wealth, in most cases, is the result of the efforts of a large number of human workers But the possessor oftentimes takes no note of this. He thinks only of himself.
2. Here there is no recognition of Divine agency. All fortunes come of God. Out of His materials, out of His seasons, out of the activity of His creatures. Many fortunes are held and employed in a spirit of haughty egotism.
II. FORTUNES BADLY MADE.
1. Here is fraud. There is deceit everywhere. In all fabrics, groceries, trade commodities. Deceit in making, deceit both in the buying and the selling.
2. Here is oppression. Fraud is oppression, in some form or other.
3. Here is cunning. Ephraim — this typical fortune-maker — took such care to conceal all that was unfair and nefarious in his operations that he was certain no wrong could be found in his doings. Many who have made a fortune by a swindle have so guarded the transaction that they have clapped their hands and said, "None will ever find it out."
III. FORTUNES BADLY ENDED. To all such fortune-holders and fortune-makers retribution must come sooner or later.
And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance
(Joseph Parker, D. D.)
1. Men sin deeply, and yet keep within the civil law. National and international law were scrupulously observed by Ephraim. Men still flatter themselves that they keep the law of the land. A man may do that and still be an infinite scoundrel. He may be guilty of gross dishonesty. He may keep the civil law with very little sense of generosity. We may be guilty of deep cruelty to our fellows, and the law of the magistrate takes no cognisance of our actions. Often the very worst escape, whilst those far less guilty are denounced and punished.
2. Men sin deeply, and yet keep within public opinion. A public opinion exists which is more strict and pervasive than the civil law. This public opinion we are bound to respect, we do respect it, and some of us are abundantly satisfied if we succeed in meeting its exactions. But how much personal, commercial, political immorality is yet untouched by public opinion! A man may be a rascal, and yet a gentleman. With a plausible tongue, a polished style, with fine phrases and fine manners, a man may be guilty of fraud, cruelty, uncleanness, and yet remain throughout popular in society! Rotten at the core, he is painted on the rind, and the world sees the skin and not the soul. Some of the handsomest butterflies have the strangest tastes — they turn aside from the most glorious flowers to sip filthiest messes.
3. We sin deeply, and yet maintain the sense of personal dignity. Ephraim hid the fact of his guiltiness by looking at his successfulness. Men still forget their sinfulness in their prosperity. A man may be a conqueror, and yet his glory be his shame; he may attain honour, and his scarlet robe be the fitting sign of his scarlet sins; he may grow rich, and every coin in his coffers witness against him. "His honour rooted in dishonour stood." Proud, selfish, dishonest, sensual men flatter themselves in their own eyes until their iniquity is found to be hateful.
4. Men sin deeply, and yet keep within ecclesiastical discipline. Ephraim would do no iniquity that were sin from an ecclesiastical point of view. Yet all the while he was guilty of falsehood, robbery, injustice, uncleanness; he called himself Israel, but God called him a Canaanite. A man may be a terrible sinner, and yet observe all the ceremonial law.
II. MARK THE INEVITABLE EXPOSURE AND PUNISHMENT OF SIN. Cleverly disguised as sin may be, it will surely suffer detection. God knows nothing about appearances; He knows us as we think in our heart. And what stands revealed is bound to meet with just retribution. "Then in all life let us —
1. Aim at the highest; and —
2. Test ourselves by the highest; let us judge ourselves in the sight of God, and by the absolute standard.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
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