The Blood Of Jezreel1
Hosea, whose book is the first of the so-called Minor Prophets, was a contemporary of Isaiah throughout almost his entire ministry, as also of Amos in his earlier years. A comparison of the first verses of each of their books with the one before us makes this evident. During the long reign of Jeroboam II, king of Israel, and those of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, there was much to rebuke in the two nations. Hosea seems to have confined most of his direct messages to Judah, speaking rather of the ten tribes than to them; but the scope of his prophecy embraces both, and that very fully. In fact, no other messenger gives so complete an outline of the ways of God with His earthly people as does Hosea, even Daniel not excepted. Read in connection with the visions of the latter, the one throws much light on the other.
Of Hosea’s personal history it has not pleased God to give us any particulars, save in relation to his marriage, and the issue therefrom. His father’s name is given as Beeri, but neither the prophet’s tribe nor the place of his nativity is mentioned. Hosea means help, or salvation. With a single vowel-point added it becomes Hoshea, salvation of Jah. Beeri is said to mean The well of Jehovah. The two names together remind us of the Lord’s words to the woman of Samaria. He offered her living water from Jehovah’s well, which would result in her assured salvation.
“The beginning of the word of the Lord by Hosea” was a command for the prophet himself, bidding him do what would be obnoxious to mere nature, and which must have tested the heart of Jehovah’s servant in a very marked way. As in the case of Isaiah, he and his were to be for signs in Israel; so he is told to unite himself in marriage to a woman devoid of character—a harlot; thus signifying the wretched condition of unfaithful Israel, who nevertheless remained the object of Jehovah’s love, despite their iniquity, and the filthiness that was in them. What more wonderful picture could we have of grace, not only to the undeserving, but to those who had deserved the very opposite? It is important to remember that grace is not merely unmerited favor, but it is favor spite of merited judgment.
Such is the marvelous loving-kindness of our God that He finds the objects of His love, not among the righteous and the holy, but among sinners lost and ruined, deserving naught but judgment, stained with guilt and polluted by sin, having all gone out of the way and become unprofitable; nevertheless He sets His love upon wretches so vile and unworthy, and redeems them to Himself. Jehovah’s dealings with Israel of old picture His ways of grace with believers now. “All these things happened unto them for types, and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have arrived.”
In obedience to the voice of the Lord, Hosea “went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim” as his wife; thus giving to her who before had no standing the place and honor of a wife in Israel. Of her he had several children. Having died to her old wretched life, of which she might well be ashamed, she brings forth fruit unto him who has set his love upon her and given her his name and protection. It is easy to see in all this a lovely illustration of the words of the Holy Spirit in Rom. 6:21, 22: “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” As also in verse 4 of the following chapter: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Hosea had to bear the shame of having espoused one of so wretched a character, but he did not have to die for her. It was far otherwise with our blessed Lord Jesus. He not only came where we were in our sin and shame, but on Calvary’s cross He was made sin for us that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. There He purchased us with His own precious blood, “that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).
Of His all-conquering love, the kindness shown by Hosea to Gomer is but a very faint picture; as also of Jehovah’s undying affection for Israel, the earthly bride. For the cross was where the purchase-price was paid for both the heavenly and the earthly people.
When the first son was born, “the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. And it shall come to pass at that day, that I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (vers. 4, 5). The name Jezreel itself speaks of blessing, yet here it is used to tell of judgment. Jezreel means “sown of God,” and in chapter 2, as also in the last verse of this present chapter, it is used in a very different connection from that in which it is here found.
God was about to cast Israel, the northern kingdom, out of His sight among the Gentiles, in order that they might be chastened for their iniquities. He had redeemed them in grace and brought them to Himself; but they had proven false and treacherous. Therefore they must learn by judgment what they would not learn by loving-kindness. He connects their destruction with “the blood of Jezreel.” This is most significant, for the reigning house of Israel had succeeded to the throne through that very “blood of Jezreel.” It was when Jehu became the instrument for the destruction of Ahab’s house, at Jezreel, that he ascended the throne, and Jeroboam II was of his dynasty.
But neither Jehu nor his house had profited by the lesson of Ahab’s judgment. They had themselves walked in the ways of the nations, and followed false gods; therefore the blood of Jezreel would be avenged upon them, and they too should be cut off.
But there is more yet connected with Jezreel. It will be remembered that this was originally the inheritance of the righteous man Naboth. In 1 Kings 21 we learn that this Naboth “had a vineyard which was in Jezreel.” Ahab coveted the vineyard, and sought to buy it, that he might transform it into a garden. Naboth rightfully refused to sell his inheritance, saying, “The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee” (ver. 3). Heavy and displeased, Ahab “laid him down upon his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no bread.” The proud and wilful monarch could not brook the thought that one so insignificant as this Jezreelite should thwart his wishes. Jezebel, his heathen wife, however, wrote letters in his name, saying, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people: and set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die” (vers. 9, 10). The ungodly plot was duly perpetrated. False witnesses swore away the life of the righteous one, and “they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died” (ver. 13).
His inheritance was declared forfeited, and Ahab went down to take possession of it. But on the way he was met by Elijah the prophet, who was sent with a message of judgment upon his lips. Jehovah’s eye had been looking on, and He commanded His servant to declare to the godless king that his doom was sealed, and his house should fall. The blood of Jezreel should be his ruin, for, “Thus saith the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine” (ver. 19).
“And of Jezebel also spake the Lord, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (ver. 23). All this was literally fulfilled. Ahab was slain in the battle of Ramoth-Gilead; and we read, “So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; and they buried the king in Samaria. And one washed the chariot in the pool of Samaria; and the dogs licked up his blood; and they washed his armor; according unto the word of the Lord which He spake” (1 Kings 22:37, 38). This was in the portion of Jezreel, Ahab’s summer home.
Ahab was succeeded by his ungodly son Joram, or Jehoram, as he is sometimes called. Jehu having been anointed king of Israel by Elisha, the man of God, set out first of all to put Joram to death. The latter had “returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him, when he fought with Hazael king of Syria” (2 Kings 9:15). In the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite the two met; Ahaziah king of Judah also being with the Israelitish monarch. “And it came to pass, when Joram saw Jehu, that he said, Is it peace, Jehu? And he answered, What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?” Joram attempted to flee, but Jehu pierced him through with an arrow, and, in fulfilment of the word of Jehovah, cast his bleeding corpse into the plot of Naboth. Ahaziah too was smitten, but fled to Megiddo to die. It was against the house of Ahab the Lord’s vengeance was to fall in the portion of Jezreel!
Here too Jezebel met her dreadful fate, as the prophet had predicted. “When Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it, and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window.” As she taunts Jehu as a regicide, he calls for one upon his side to throw her down. At once several eunuchs lay hands upon her, and “they threw her down, and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trode her under foot.” Afterwards Jehu sent his servants to bury her, but they found that dogs had devoured her in the portion of Jezreel, as the Lord had spoken (2 Kings 9:30-37). The present dynasty (Jehu’s) had therefore come to the throne through this blood of Jezreel; but, alas, they had failed to profit by the solemn lesson of God’s hatred of sin, and abhorrence of idolatry in particular! Therefore this same valley of Jezreel should be the scene of their judgment; as it was some few years later, when in that very spot (called then Esdraelon) the Assyrian defeated Israel, and their captivity began.
Dispensationally, all this is fraught with truth of a solemn and important character. Israel, according to Isa. 5, is Jehovah’s vineyard. Of Israel therefore the vineyard of Jezreel speaks. They were “sown of God” in the land of Canaan, to be Jehovah’s portion. But they hired false witnesses against the Lord of the vineyard, the Righteous One, who would not give to the enemy His rightful inheritance. By wicked hands they slew the Husbandman, and claimed the vineyard as their own. Because of this the Gentile oppressor was permitted to overturn the kingdom, and power was transferred to the nations. The awful prayer, “His blood be on us, and on our children!” has been terribly answered, as the antitypical blood of Jezreel witnesses. In the very place where they slew the Lord of glory their blood has been poured out as wine bursting from the winepress, and they have been devoured by the dogs—the unclean Gentiles.
Have the Gentiles, on their part, profited by the dreadful lesson of the blood of the seed of God? Far from it. High-minded and indifferent to God’s claims upon them, they have gone on in their own ways, and refused to hearken to His word. Therefore they too shall be cut off, and thus God will avenge upon them the blood of Jezreel.
Coming back to the literal application of the passage in Hosea, we note that Jehovah was about “to break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (ver. 5). Because they had not taken to heart the fact that Ahab’s evil house was destroyed because of sin, but had walked in the same unholy paths, the ten tribes were to be carried into Assyria; a prophecy which, as we well know, came to pass about fifty years later, in the days of King Hoshea, who was imprisoned by Shalmaneser the Assyrian ruler, and his people taken captive.
In the next verse we learn that a daughter was borne by Gomer, who was called Lo-ruhamah, in obedience to the word of God. The name means, “Not having obtained mercy,” and sets forth the present state of Israel since they have been cast out of their land. On Judah the Lord would still have mercy, and would save them from their enemies. They had not yet openly revolted, as had the ten tribes (ver. 7).
A third child, this time a son, was named Lo-ammi; that is, “Not My people:” for the Lord now declared, “Ye are not My people, and I will not be your God.” They had broken the covenant, entered into long ago at Sinai and ratified in the plains of Moab. From the beginning they had been treacherous and rebellious; therefore on the ground of merit they can claim nothing. Hence God gives them up for the time being, and refuses to own them as His people. This Lo-ammi sentence remains unrepealed to the present day. At the Babylonian captivity Judah also came under it, and all Israel have been in its shadow ever since. This accounts for the omission of the! name of God in the book of Esther, which sets forth His providential care over them while they are scattered among the nations, and when He cannot publicly identify Himself with them.2
With verse 9 the first chapter ends, according to the Hebrew arrangement; the two verses that follow being the introduction to chapter 2. They speak of mercy yet to be manifested, and tell us that though all is forfeited on the ground of works, God still has in reserve boundless stores of grace, the enjoyment of which they are to enter into in the latter day. “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.3 Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (vers. 10, 11).
The reference to the sand of the sea carries us right back to the original covenant of pure grace made with Abraham, and confirmed by the oath of El Shaddai. God will not forego the promise made to the fathers, however great the failure of the children. A numberless host of reunited Israel and Judah shall yet be brought into blessing, never more to be forfeited, in the very land pledged to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and stained with the blood of Jesus. This is not the return that took place under Cyrus. Very few from the ten tribes came back at that time, and all have since been driven out of their land because of the rejection of Messiah when He came, in accordance with prophecy, to offer Himself as King. When the Lord’s set time has come, they shall return from all the lands whither they have been scattered, and shall no longer be divided, but be one happy, united people, under one Head, the once-rejected Jesus—the Christ of God. That will be the true day of Jezreel, when the field of blood will become again the vineyard of Jehovah, and they shall be sown of God in the land of their fathers, never to be rooted up again.
The Valley of Achor
God’s ways of grace and government are marvelously blended in this first recorded instance of the prophet’s ministry, which follows closely on the promise in the last two verses of the previous chapter. In accordance with the assurance of future restoration and blessing, Jehovah cries, “Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi, and to your sisters, Ruhamah” (ver. 1). It is faith’s anticipation of the time when the “Lo” (not) shall be removed, and they shall again be owned as His people, who have obtained mercy. This, of course, looks on for its accomplishment to the Millennium, when “all Israel shall be saved.”4 But it becomes true even now whenever a soul of either Israel or the nations turns to God in repentance, trusting the once-rejected Messiah.
It is to lead Israel to this place of self-judgment and abhorrence of her past ways that He so searchingly outlines her grievous sin in departing from Himself in verses 2 to 5. As a wretched harlot—nay, worse than such, an adulteress—He had to put her away. For, after all the love and grace lavished upon her, she had turned from Him to idols, in spiritual harlotry. Because of this He will see that she eats of the fruit of her own devices. His dealings with her in His holy and righteous government are solemnly portrayed in verses 6 to 18. This is in full accord with Jeremiah’s words, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God” (Jer. 2:19). It is in this way He makes sin to serve. If His people do not refrain their feet from evil, but persistently take their own course, and refuse to obey His voice, then they must be taught by their own sin the lesson they would not learn from His words of warning and admonition. Israel had forsaken Him for idols: she should be given up by Him for a time, and left to the idols of her own choosing for her correction; and in her trouble she would find none to answer (ver. 7). Broken-hearted and world-weary at last, chastened and disciplined by her experiences, she would cry, “I will go and return unto my first husband, for then was it better with me than now.” Amazing the grace that, after such heartless abandonment on her part, would yet cause Him to open His arms to her again in the day of her genuine repentance.
It is the same love and grace that every weary sinner and every failing saint is made to know when he seeks God’s face, confessing the sin and shame of his evil ways. No transgression is too great for Him to pardon, no evil-doing is too much for His mercy, if there be but a breaking-down before Him, and He be justified by the erring one, while the wrong-doer condemns himself.5
Touchingly Jehovah points out the insensibility of Israel as to the true source of all her past blessing. “She did not know,” He says, “that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal” (ver. 8). The treasures He bestowed with lavish hand she had poured out upon the altars of her shame! Therefore He would withhold His favor until she learned that her false gods could bring her no good, but only sorrow and want of all things. One by one, all she valued would be stripped from her till she should learn that in Jehovah, whom she had so dishonored, was all blessing to be found. His gifts she had attributed to her idols, saying, “These are my rewards that my lovers have given me” (ver. 12): but, bereft of all, she shall learn that she had been deluding herself and dishonoring Jehovah.6
When at last her lesson has been learned, Jehovah has purposes of grace in store for her which will be fully revealed upon her repentance. This is the precious and tender theme of the balance of the chapter. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her” (Heb., speak to her heart). “And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor (Trouble) for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of Egypt” (vers. 14, 15). He loves to remember the days of her first betrothal to Himself, when she went after Him into the wilderness, into a land that was not sown; when she was holiness unto the Lord, and her heart was fixed upon Him alone. Those happy days of her first love are to be renewed. Once more He will allure and draw her away from the scenes of her captivity and dishonor. Alone with Himself in the wilderness of the peoples (see Ezek. 20:35), He will plead with her face to face. Her vineyards of joy will He restore, and the valley of Achor (of trouble) shall become an opening of expectation. Achor was the scene of Achan’s judgment, as recorded in Josh. 7:24-26. Defiled by her unholy departure from her God and coveting of the accursed thing, Israel’s blessing shall begin when the sin that has troubled her is judged and put away. Then, restored to Him from whom she had wandered so long, she shall sing (or, perhaps, respond) as in the days of her early freshness, as in the days of her coming out of Egypt.
The application to the individual soul is simple and natural. For the backslidden child of God who, having learned the folly of departure from the Eternal Lover of his soul, returns to Him, stoning his Achans, and thus putting away the accursed thing, the joy of early days will be restored, and communion, long lost, be once more enjoyed.
In the day of Israel’s restoration she shall be owned as the wife of Jehovah. It is important to notice the difference between her place and portion and that of the Bride of the Lamb in Rev. 19 and 21. The one is earthly; the other, heavenly. The former is not called a bride, because she is a restored wife, who had long wandered from her husband. The latter is presented, as the bride for the first time at the marriage-supper of the Lamb in heaven. In the Millennium, the Lamb and His heavenly bride will reign over all redeemed creation. On the earth the restored wife of Jehovah will have her place in the land of Palestine. The New Jerusalem above is the capital city of the first; the rehabilitated Jerusalem on earth that of the second. Then will the words be fulfilled, “And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call Me Ishi (i. e.,my Husband); and shalt call Me no more Baali (i. e., my Lord, or my Master). For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name” (vers. 16,17). These will be the days of Isa. 54:6, “For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.” Then shall the land become the land of Beulah, and both land and people be manifestly Jehovah’s.
Of this joyous period the prophets treat in large measure. It is the day of the glory of the kingdom, when Jesus shall be owned as “the blessed and only Potentate” by the world that once rejected Him.
It will be a time of universal diffusion of spiritual light and blessing. But not only that, the curse shall be lifted from the ground, and the lower creation be brought into the liberty of the glory for which it has groaned so long (Rom. 8:22). “In that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely” (ver. 18). All this is the result of the exaltation of the Son of Man of the 8th psalm, whose beneficent sway all creation shall rejoice in. Isa. 11 strikingly sets forth the blessings of that halcyon age, the true golden age, to be ushered in by the return of the Lord Jesus from heaven, who is to shepherd the nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2; Rev. 19).
Nor shall Israel ever prove unfaithful again. The blotted history of the past will be forgotten, or remembered only to emphasize the grace that shall have restored. “And I will betroth thee unto Me forever” is Jehovah’s word; “yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies: I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord” (vers. 19, 20). Not to the Church do these words refer, but to literal Israel, who, upon the expiration of the now fast-concluding “times of the Gentiles,” will be grafted in again into the olive-tree of promise, restored to God and to their land, and made the inheritors of the promises assured to the fathers. A careful reading of such portions as Rom. 11; Jer. 30; 31; Ezek. 36:22-38, and 37 should make clear to the least-instructed reader that God has not cast off His ancient people forever. When He restores them, it will be in pure grace, on the ground of the New Covenant, sealed already with the blood of His Son. Nothing shall ever destroy that hallowed union, or again divorce the earthly spouse from Jehovah.
A lovely millennial picture concludes the chapter. “And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow her unto Me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not My people, Thou art My people; and they shall say, Thou art my God” (vers. 21-23). This passage may be a little plainer if we read “respond to” or “answer” in place of “hear.” In the soon-coming day of Messiah’s glory, heaven and earth shall together be united in the blessing, of “the times of restitution of all things spoken by the prophets.”
The heavens, in which will dwell the glorified saints who have been raised or changed at the coming of the Lord, will respond to the joy of a redeemed earth, even as God Himself will respond to them. It will be a scene of blissful communion, never again to be broken, despite Satan’s last effort to mar and ruin what God shall have wrought (Rev. 20:7-10).
The earth, freed from the primeval curse, shall no longer yield thorns and briars, but shall respond with overflowing supplies of corn, and wine, and oil. The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. No more in the sweat of his face shall man eat his bread with weariness, but, as though an animate thing, the earth shall ungrudgingly yield her treasures for the redeemed of the Lord.
To Jezreel all shall likewise respond. Israel will be sown as the seed of God in the very land that had once been stained with the blood of the righteous One, and since, in awful retribution, with their own blood.
There they shall take root downward and triumphantly spring upward, and the people called once Lo-Ruhamah shall become Ruhamah, while the Lo-Ammi sentence shall be forever repealed and they shall be called Ammi. In gladsome response they lift their eyes and hearts to Jehovah’s throne, and with deepest reverence and self-abandonment exclaim, “My Mighty One!”
This shall be the closing scene of the day of Jezreel. No more shall sin and sorrow, war and desolation, sweep the plains of the field of blood, which shall become the scene of unmingled joy and blessing when Jesus is owned as Sovereign-Lord.
Israel’s Present And Future
This chapter, brief as it is, becomes of vast importance if one would understand the ways of God in regard to the earth and the earthly people. It is, one might say, the 11th of Romans of the Old Testament, and, read in connection with that portion, sheds much light on the mystery of Israel’s present anomalous condition and the predictions concerning their future glory.
Once more the prophet’s relation to his wife is taken up as an illustration. She who had been before denominated a harlot is now an adulteress. The difference in its application is readily perceived. Israel, utterly unworthy before Jehovah took them up in His wondrous grace, had—after their union with Himself had been sealed by covenant—proven more unworthy still, so that they are likened, not only by Hosea, but other prophets also, to an adulteress, following strangers instead of her husband.
Here the language used is significant. The . prophet is not told to love his wife. She had forfeited all claim to that relation. She is simply called “a woman,” and he adds, “beloved of a friend;” that is, one who had, as we have seen, chosen another in place of her rightful spouse.
Hosea’s love for so unworthy and worthless a creature was to be a picture of “the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel,” who, professing themselves to be in covenant-relation with Him, yet “look to other gods and love grape-cakes” (ver. 1). The latter expression is the correct reading, in place of “flagons of wine,” which has no specific reference to idolatry. The cakes were expressive of the idolatrous relation they were sustaining, as the reader may see by consulting Jer. 7:18 and 44:19. It was thus they honored her who in that day bore the title of “Queen of heaven”—a title which in apostate Christendom has been given to Mary the mother of our Lord, and that in direct defiance of Scripture.
Gomer (for I doubt not she is indeed the “woman” the passage speaks of) seems to have so involved herself that only by paying a redemption price can she be released from her wretched and degrading position; so the prophet “bought her to him for fifteen pieces of silver, and for a homer of barley, and a half homer of barley”—the purchase-price of a common slave, thus illustrating the words of Isaiah, “Ye have sold yourselves for naught, and ye shall be redeemed without money”7 (Isa. 52:3). Tenderly had Jehovah entreated them through the same prophet to “Return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee” (ch. 44:22). But though the purchase-price was paid at Calvary’s cross, Judah and Israel are wayward still, and the marriage-covenant has not been renewed.
Hosea says to Gomer, “Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee” (ver. 3); that is, a period of testing, undefined in duration, is to pass ere she shall be restored to conjugal privileges.
The application is made by the Holy Spirit in the closing verses, “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim, afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days” (vers. 4, 5). In these two verses we have succinctly set forth their whole state for this entire dispensation, as also the future blessing that is to be theirs in the day of the kingdom, when it is displayed in power and glory.
The “many days” run throughout the whole present period until the fulness of the Gentiles shall be completed.
Ever since the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans they have answered to the description here given. They have been a nation of wanderers, with no national standing, “without a king, and without a prince.” The sceptre has departed from Judah and the lawgiver from between his feet—solemn witness of the fact that Shiloh is already come, but come only to be rejected by them. Thus they are left without a sacrifice, for their temple is destroyed and their altar profaned. From nation to nation, and from city to city, they have wandered through the centuries; a homeless, often-hated people, despised by man and without means of approach to God on the ground of the law which they have broken.
Ritual and Talmudic lore have in large measure taken the place of God’s appointed ordinances and the authority of the “Torah” (the law) among them. But from year to year they have to confess in anguish, as they beat their breasts, “Woe unto us, for we have no Mediator!” The smoke of sacrifice ascends not to heaven; the blood of atonement is not sprinkled within the veil in any earthly sanctuary; and blindness in part having wrapped them in judicial darkness, they know not that by the one offering of the Lord Jesus on the cross iniquity is taken away and sin purged, because eternal redemption has been found in that precious blood.
Thus not only are they without a sacrifice, but without a priest also—“without an ephod”—for all records have long been lost: and though many survive who are in the direct line of priesthood (as shall be made manifest in the day of their restoration), yet they cannot now trace their genealogy; and if they could, there is no temple in which to officiate. Meantime the heavenly Priest ministers in the sanctuary above, but their eyes are holden, and they know Him not.
It might naturally be supposed that, being denied all the consolations of the religion of their fathers, they would have fallen again into the idolatrous practices of the heathen: but no; for we learn they were to abide “without an image,” and “without teraphim.” The Babylonian captivity cured them of idolatry. Since then, that at least has not been one of their national sins. They have no means of access to the true God while they revile and refuse His Anointed. On the other hand, they follow not after idols, but wait, like the redeemed wife of the prophet, till the day when they will again be publicly owned by Jehovah.
When the present dispensation is ended, and the Church has been translated to heaven, God will once more take them up in grace and fulfil the promises made to the fathers.8 After passing through the unparalleled tribulation of the latter days, as predicted by Jeremiah (ch. 30), by Daniel (chs. 11 and 12), by Zechariah (chs. 12-14), and by our Lord Himself in Matt. 24 and kindred scriptures, they shall “return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear [or the Hebrew may be rendered, ‘shall hasten to’] the Lord, and His goodness.” It will be the fulfilment of that to which all the prophets have looked forward, when Israel’s wanderings shall be over, their sins blotted out, themselves renewed, and the kingdom confirmed to them. In that day Jesus will be King over all the earth, sitting upon the throne of His father David, and reigning in glorious power and majesty. It would seem, too, from a careful comparison of this passage with the latter part of Ezekiel’s prophecy, that a lineal descendant of David’s line (called “the prince”) shall exercise regency on earth over the restored nation, under the authority of Him whose capital city will be the new and heavenly Jerusalem, the “city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
Thus shall the years of Israel’s mourning be ended, and the day of Messiah’s glory have arrived; for the two synchronize. There can be no full blessing for Israel and the earth till the tragedy of Calvary is repented of, and Jew and Gentile unite in owning their sin in crucifying the Lord of glory and killing the Prince of life.
Till then, the unhappy condition delineated in the next chapter must continue—save that the curse of idolatry has been done away, as we have seen.
Joined To Idols
The statement we have just been considering (that Israel should abide many days without an image or teraphim), seems all the more remarkable when we remember the gross idolatry into which they had fallen at the time when Hosea was divinely called to declare the mind of Jehovah regarding their state. Idolatry was then the characteristic condition; and from it, as from a parent-stem, sprang all the other evils for which the prophet was obliged to rebuke them.
Because truth had departed, and with it, mercy and all knowledge of God, Jehovah had a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. His holy eye beheld only swearing, lying, murder, theft, and adultery, in place of holiness and fidelity to Himself. The covenant entered into at Sinai had been broken in every particular. Not one of the ten words remained inviolate on their part. For all this He must set His face against them in His righteous government, as He had warned them He would, through the lips of the law-giver himself (vers. 1-3).
So utterly fallen and wretched were they that none was fit to reprove another. All were alike sharers in the common guilt. The leaven of idolatry openly introduced in the wilderness, though secretly carried from Egypt and even from beyond the Euphrates (Josh. 24:2), had been working unjudged until they were utterly perverted; —so true is it that “evil communications corrupt good manners.” They had become like those who “strive with the priest:” that is, they persistently refused to subject themselves when the mind of God was made known (ver. 4).
The lesson for us is a solemn one. Another has well said that evil never dies of old age. Sin unjudged among the people of God becomes like a fretting leprosy or a cancerous sore, ever working and extending its ramifications till the whole mass becomes denied.
With Israel it was not ignorance that led to their downfall in the first place; though, necessarily, light refused resulted in darkness. They were like those who fall in the day, even their prophets doing likewise. Hence they must be cut off (ver. 5).
“My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge.” Such was Jehovah’s lament. But the lack of knowledge was the certain result of their own refusal to hearken. He had pressed His truth upon them, but they would have none of it. Therefore He adds, “Because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to Me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (ver. 6). Light rejected results in deeper darkness than ever, and involves the offender in sore trouble, and rejection from God.
Often in the history of the Church has a similar state existed to what we have here, and always the issue is the same. When in the 16th century God raised up Luther to sound, with clarion voice, the battle-cry of the Reformation, “The just shall live by faith!” the mass of the professing Church had no ear for the message, and sank into deeper superstition and folly. The Wesleys and their co-laborers, later, were ordained of God to arouse the lifeless profession of their day with a call to repentance, but the majority refused to hearken, and formalism became more formal and ritualism gained its harvest of lost souls.
When at the beginning of the last century the truths of the unity of the Body of Christ and the presence of the Holy Ghost were recovered, the apostles of what were incorrectly called, “The new doctrines,” were ridiculed, abused and reproached. As a result, Christendom is rapidly going into apostasy, and the presence of the Holy Ghost is unknown in many places. The Scriptures are rejected as God’s revelation and put on a par with human writings, while pride and arrogance are the order of the day. The Lord’s words are having a solemn and awful fulfilment, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matt. 6:23).
Is the reader one to whom light has come, which you are afraid or unwilling to obey? Remember that when you act in accordance with the mind of God as made known to you through His Word, your path shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. On the other hand, revealed truth wilfully ignored, or still worse, refused, has a hardening effect upon the conscience. We have known of persons who had learned from Scripture certain truths which, if acted upon, would have delivered them from worldly ways and worldly religious associations, and given them liberty to go forth unto the rejected One, bearing His reproach. They hesitated because of possible worldly loss, or of probable family difficulties. Seeking an easier path to that marked out in the Book, they argued down their consciences and quenched the Spirit of God. Behold the sad result! Bereft of spiritual power, shorn of their strength, the truths they once enjoyed have become as a dead letter to them; their consciences are calloused and their testimony for God is over. In vain they may talk of, and endeavor to make sacrifices on other lines, but this will not do for Him who has said, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Israel’s solemn history may well be a warning to us of the dire consequences of resisting the truth, “As they were increased, so they sinned against Me: therefore will I change their glory into shame” (ver. 7). Prosperity had not turned their hearts to Him, but the contrary, so He must deal with them according to their deserts. Delighting in their iniquity and ignoring God’s word, He would give them up to destruction; and priest and people should suffer together. In their path of self-pleasing they should learn to their cost that there is nothing satisfying apart from going on with Him. Their unholy ways would but “take away the heart,” and they should stumble and fall “because they have left off to take heed to the Lord” (vers. 8-11).
They were ready to ask counsel of their idols, but were too haughty and self-sufficient to turn to Him to whom they owed every blessing! It has often been noticed that when people get away from God they can be most punctilious about self-imposed rites and superstitious observances, while counting it a hardship to obey the voice of the Lord. The same is true as to credulity and faith. He who finds it difficult to trust the simplest statement of the Holy Scriptures can accept with amazing ease the most remarkable hypotheses and notions of unbelieving theorists. So was it with Israel at this time. Nothing that their false gods were supposed to demand was too much for them; but the law of Jehovah they could not away with; “Therefore,” said He against whom they had so openly transgressed, “the people that doth not understand shall fall” (vers. 12-14). These things are among those “written for our admonition.” Oh, for grace to learn and act accordingly. It was this the prophet sought to press on Judah. “Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend!” (ver. 15). But, alas, later on we find the southern kingdom in like apostasy to the northern.
Because Israel had been given over to sliding back, “like a backsliding heifer,” God would, as it were, give them their way. They should be as a lamb feeding in a large place, left free to go all lengths, but with certain judgment coming: for though they thought they were pleasing themselves, they were like lambs fattening for the slaughter. The word had gone forth, “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone!” (vers. 16, 17).
“Joined to idols: let him alone!” Nothing can be more solemn than this. It is as though God had exhausted every possible means for their recovery, save one, and that one the giving them up to learn, by bitter experience, what they would not take to heart in any other way. In the New Testament it answers to being “delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (See 1 Cor. 5.) When a soul proves utterly stubborn and wilful, God may at times say of him as of Israel, “he is joined to his idols.” Further reproof or brotherly correction is useless. Let him severely alone, till he learns in Satan’s sieve how far he has got from God and how low he has fallen. Observe: it is only after the failure of all other means to recover the wanderer that God so deals with souls. It was when His patience had come to an end, as it were, that He gave up Ephraim. From the first He had borne with them, ministered to them, chastened, entreated, and disciplined them; but all had been in vain. They were set on having their own way. At last, because He loved them too much to finally give them up forever, He says, “Let them alone.” Now they are where they shall learn by sad experience the full result of departure in heart from Himself. They should be given up to their own hearts’ lusts till they should “be ashamed because of their sacrifices” (vers. 18, 19).
How deep the love that breathes through all this unhappy description. How tender the grace that persisted to the end in seeking the restoration of those so worthless and so undeserving!
And for us too, it is precious to know that His grace is unchanging; and if saved by that precious blood of Christ, we are the objects of that
“Faithful and forbearing love
That never turns aside.”
Surely, nothing should have so powerful an effect upon our ways, as the fact that our waywardness has not, cannot, quench His love. No change in us results in any corresponding change in Him. Therefore we are bidden, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” It is not to grieve Him away, as people often mistakenly insist it means, for then the words would be in the nature of a threat, instead of the exhortation to every child of God, which comes home to us with the force of so tender an entreaty. How base the soul who would take advantage of love so immeasurable to follow its own bent, and thus do despite to the Spirit of grace!
I Will Hide Myself
This chapter is replete with searching ministry for the consciences of the people of God in all ages, which we of the present latitudinarian times will do well to lay to heart. It may be part of a single discourse of which the previous chapter is the introduction, and the balance of the book the remainder; or the various sections may have been penned at different intervals, as the prophet was led of God to write them. In either case the moral value is the same, and the object is one throughout, namely, to bring the backslidden people into the presence of God, that they may be restored in soul, and taste the sweets of companionship and communion with the Everlasting One.
Priests, people, and the royal house, are all alike addressed in ver. 1, and told that judgment is toward them. It had not yet come; but it was as an angel of wrath with drawn sword facing their way, and naught but repentance could cause that sword to be sheathed.
In vain they had been rebuked by Him to whose eyes all things are naked and open. Their iniquity was ever before Him; but though He had sought their recovery so long, they persistently refused to “frame their doings to turn unto their God.” A malignant demon, “the spirit of whoredoms,” seemed to possess them, and they knew not the Lord (vers. 1-4).
Nor was this the worst. Despite their wretched condition, they were puffed up with haughtiness. “The pride of Israel doth testify to his face.” Because of this they must be brought low. “Therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity; Judah also shall fall with them” (ver. 5). Failing to learn by the sin of her sister,. Judah had followed in the same path, and she too must be cast out of the land under the judgment of God.
The sentence of Lo-Ammi, referred to in the first chapter, cannot be turned aside. Even though there seem to be a desire after God, they shall not find Him; for they had hated knowledge and despised all His reproof.
When people refuse light, the light is withdrawn, and they are given up to judicial darkness. So here we read: “They shall go with their flocks and with their herds [for sacrifice] to seek the Lord; but they shall not find Him; He hath withdrawn Himself from them” (ver. 6). Thus should be fulfilled the word spoken through Moses long years before: “I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith” (Deut. 32:20).
Observe, God would not forget them, nor should they be finally cast out of His presence; but He would withdraw Himself from them, leaving them to spiritual famine and desolation till they realized their true condition, and owned it before Him.
In the present dispensation of grace we are not without instances of similar dealing. It was thus the Lord acted in the case of the Gadarenes. Finding them bent upon going their own way, He left them for a time, but was welcomed by them on His return. And indeed this incident pictures to us His rejection when He came at first, but points too to the day when He shall return in glory, and shall be welcomed by the cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of Jehovah!” All this is in full accord with Hosea’s prophecy.
Till repentance ensues, He will not publicly manifest Himself on their behalf. They may go on in their pride, begetting strange children and boasting of progress and enlargement, but all is hollow and empty, for the Judge is at the door (ver. 7).
From vers. 8 to 14 the prophet seems to have the invading army in sight. “The day of rebuke” is almost upon Israel. In vain they blow the trumpet and seek to defend themselves. In vain they attempt an alliance with Assyria. It is but leaning on a broken reed. God has become as an enemy, and He it is with whom they have to do. To both Ephraim and Judah He will be as a destroying lion, from whose power none shall deliver them.
But, be it noted, in all this He is seeking their blessing still. So He says, “I will go and return to My place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face: in their affliction they will seek Me early” (ver. 15).
How clearly is the Spirit of Christ here discerned to be speaking in the prophet. The same conditions prevailed when the Lord Jesus presented Himself that were characteristic of Hosea’s day. True, idolatry was done away; but pride, arrogancy and self-will abounded on every hand. Consequently, “He came unto His own, but His own received Him not.” Therefore He had to say, “I will go and return to My place.” If they had no room for Him here, the Father had a seat for Him on His throne. So He left their house desolate, and has gone up on high, where He waits till they acknowledge their offence. The great tribulation-—the time of Jacob’s trouble—will result in a remnant seeking His face in contrition of heart. Then He will no longer hide Himself, but shall appear as their Deliverer in manifested glory.
What Shall I Do Unto Thee?
The opening verses (1 to 3) connect intimately with what we have just been considering, while the balance of the chapter is another appeal to the consciences of Ephraim and Judah.
Nothing could be more suited than the expression of these first three verses upon the lips of the restored remnant in the coming day of His power whose face has so long been hidden from them: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former ram unto the earth.”
It is the cry of the returning residue who have learned to know the Lord in the smoking furnace of the tribulation period, and who now ask the way to Zion, and with chastened spirits return unto the One so long despised. The awakening in the 12th chapter of Zechariah links closely with what we have here. Like Naomi, they recognize that He it is who has torn and smitten them; but faith counts on Him for healing and enlargement. After two days of solemn testimony to their consciences, leading to manifest repentance, He revives them on the third day; answering to the day upon which the water of separation was sprinkled upon the unclean man (Num. 19), that he might be declared clean upon the seventh day. Thus they who once were denied by the dead are made to live in His sight. So when He descends in glory like showers upon the grass, they find revival and blessing, with daily growth in the knowledge of Himself in His kingdom throughout the age to come.
But, alas, though this shall indeed be when they are made willing in the day of His power, they were far from being in that happy state when the prophet Hosea was sent among them. The lovely millennial picture is presented but for a moment ere the Spirit of God goes on to deal with them because of their wretchedly fallen condition, and to plead in tenderest beseechings that they turn from their evil ways.
There had once been what seemed like a desire to be true to Himself, but it had proven to be but transitory. “O Ephraim,” He cries, “what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (ver. 4). Like Ephesus of a later day, it was but for a brief season that they clung to their first love. The tender feelings of those early days, when they went after Him into the wilderness, had been evanescent indeed, and had now vanished like the dew when the sun rises in its strength. Because of this, in place of sending prophets to gladden their spirits, He had been obliged to give them a ministry like that afterwards given through John the Baptizer, laying the axe unto the root of the trees, which in their pride rose up in such loftiness (ver. 5). The distinction might be made that the prophets of old were more like men sent to prune and hew away all excrescences, thus endeavoring to trim the trees and purge them, with a view to fruitfulness. But all their efforts were in vain; so John came to lay the axe unto the root of the trees. All must come down. Recovery was hopeless. The first man could bring forth nothing for God. He must be superseded by the Second! This is the great difference between the closing books of the Old Testament and the opening message of the New. Mere outward correctness and attention to forms and ceremonies would not do for God. His word is, “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (ver. 6). Isaiah similarly declared the incompatibility of mere ritualistic observances when the heart was far from the Lord. See Isa. 58, et al. God must have reality. All else is but hollow mockery in His sight who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
Like Adam (see margin, ver. 7), they had transgressed the covenant. God had made known His will to them, but they had violated His every command, following the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Thus had they dealt treacherously with Him whose servants ^they professed to be.
And Gilead, so greatly favored naturally, had become a city of iniquity, and stained with blood (ver. 8). A priestly city, it should have been holy to the Lord; but these godless sacerdotalists were but as troops of robbers, plundering those they should have led in the right way; living in uncleanness too, instead of in God’s holy ways. The leaders of the people caused them to err, and led them astray from the paths of truth.
Who can fail to see the same ungodly conditions developing now in Protestantism, so-called? The open debauchery of the well-named “Dark Ages” has been checked by the light of an open Bible, which has made men ashamed of what they once dared to revel in, in the darkness and ignorance of Romanism and medieval times. But now Satan’s supreme effort is to poison the minds of men by the unholy speculations of infidel clerics who give free rein to the filthiness of the spirit, and use their positions as “leaders of Christian thought” to enrich themselves while starving the true flock of Christ and poisoning those who, while bearing the name of Christians, are destitute of divine grace! Terrible must be the end when false religion is judged in the day of the Lord’s anger!
In vain the warning voice was raised of old. In vain it is raised today. The mass, then and now, went recklessly on their way, heedless of His solemn rebuke. “I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel: there is the harlotry of Ephraim, Israel is defiled” (ver. 10).
The last verse seems to admit of a double interpretation. For Judah a harvest is appointed when their captivity shall be brought again. It might mean that God would get His harvest, whatever man’s failure, when they are at last restored to Himself; but as Judah alone is mentioned, while the guilt of both had just been proclaimed, I judge the harvest referred to is that awful one of judgment yet to be reaped because of the rejection of Messiah. Judah must pass through this, as we have already noticed, just prior to their restoration and blessing. The ten tribes, as such, had no part in the rejection of the Lord Jesus. It was not on them the rabid elders invoked the curse when they cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children!” Consequently, for Judah a terrible harvest is yet to come. They sowed the wind: they shall reap the whirlwind, when the vials of the wrath of God are poured out upon the prophetic earth.
A Cake Not Turned
Judgment is God’s strange work. He had no desire to punish the people He had taken into covenant-relation with Himself, but who had violated the covenant from the first. On the other hand, blessing and restoration had ever been offered them, conditioned on repentance. But when He would have healed Israel — had there been any evidence of self-judgment — He had to say “the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the evils of Samaria: for they commit falsehood; and the thief cometh in and the troop of robbers spoileth without” (ver. 1). No sign of contrition for all their offences could His holy eye detect, only sin and lawlessness deliberately persisted in, despite every entreaty to cease therefrom. In carnal security they considered not in their hearts that He remembered all their wickedness, till “their own doings” had beset them round, so that they were openly before His face. Their rulers delighted in the debauched state into which they had fallen, taking an unholy satisfaction in the dishonesty and wickedness prevailing (vers. 2, 3).
In verse four, a most significant picture is presented for our contemplation. “They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough until it be leavened.” The leaven of unrighteousness had long since been secretly working in the nation, but now was energetically and openly corrupting the whole. Satan’s effort had been only too successful. Idolatry having been early introduced, and never thoroughly judged, had permeated the entire nation. To this passage the apostle Paul doubtless would have directed the minds of the Corinthian saints when he wrote, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaven-eth the whole lump?” Upon the Galatians he also pressed the same serious principle (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9).
Leaven, in Scripture, never typifies that which is good; it is always significant of some form of evil. Here we see all Israel leavened with the unholy system of idolatry, with its corrupting influences, doing its deadly work for centuries. Once the leaven is inserted in the dough, the baker knows it will act according to its nature; he sleeps now through the night, but the oven is prepared for the morning. The oven was to be the furnace of judgment.
In Christendom we see the same thing. The Lord Jesus told of a woman who hid leaven in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. Be it noted: there is no such thing as the “leaven of the gospel.” Of the leaven of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees and of the Herodians we are warned. They seem to speak of hypocrisy, false teaching and worldliness. The leaven of malice and wickedness we are told of in 1 Cor. 5; but of the leaven of grace there is not a hint in the sacred writings. Consequently we infer that just as, in Israel, the leaven of idolatry was introduced when they made the calf in the wilderness, and, being never fully judged, worked on till it had permeated the whole nation; so, early in the Church’s history, did a woman, the false church, insert the leaven of error into the food of the people of God, which has never since been put away, but is rapidly leavening the whole lump: it is identical with the mystery of iniquity of which the Holy Ghost warns us in the second chapter of the second epistle to the Thessalonians, which will soon be headed up in Babylon the Great and the Antichrist.9
Believers are called upon to “purge out the old leaven,” whenever it is made manifest in their assemblies. If, however, the mass are already so corrupted that there is no activity in obeying the word of the Lord, he who would be “a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master’s use,” must purge himself from the unholy mixture, walking in separation from that which is opposed to the holiness that becomes God’s house, and finding his fellowship with those who “follow righteouness, faith, love, peace,” and “call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (see 2 Tim. 2:16-22).
For Israel there was no hope. The entire body politic was symbolized in the king at their head, made sick with the wine of fleshly exultation and stretching out his hand with the scorners. Their own hearts were as the oven of the baker, who could sleep in the night while the leaven wrought, and the fire was prepared to heat the oven for the baking of the coming day. Thus they themselves should work out their own judgment, because there were none who called upon God (vers. 5-7).
“Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people [as one with the nations]; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not. And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him for all this” (vers. 8-10). It is their unconsciousness of their true condition which this section emphasizes. Like a cake placed upon the coals and forgotten by the house-wife, till, left unturned, it is all burned on one side; so they were quite indifferent to their actual state before God. The mass taking no heed to the prophet’s warnings, went carelessly on in their own way, taking it for granted that all was as it should be, when, in reality, everything was all wrong. It is this apparently unconscious backsliding that is so sad a feature in many today. Away from the Lord, yet professing, and even supposing, that all is well—how many are thus like a cake not turned! This one-sidedness is what tells the tale to an observant, anointed eye, that something is radically wrong in many a case. Often saints make much of the truth as a matter of doctrine while allowing themselves to become utterly negligent as to walking in that truth from day to day. They are like a cake not turned, all brown on one side and raw dough on the other. Doctrinally, they may be very particular. Practically, they are loose and unconcerned.
At other times the case is just reversed: much is made of experience, with little or no heart for what is slightingly termed “dry doctrine.” But it is as necessary to “hold fast the form of sound words,” as it is to seek to live in a godly way. In fact, doctrine is the root of all practice; and our experience will prove a very faulty one if it be not the result of a knowledge of the mind of God as revealed in His Word.
Let us never forget that truth and practice go together, even as position and condition must never be divorced.
Ephraim’s first grave mistake was in mixing himself among the people. God had called Israel to dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations. Nothing but evil ever resulted from mixing with those from whom they had once been separated. It was “the mixed multitude” who first caused them trouble in the wilderness, and started their murmuring and longing for Egyptian food in place of the bread from heaven —type of our Lord Jesus Christ come down in grace to meet His people’s need. See Exod. 16; Num. 11; and compare with John 6. Again, when Balaam could not curse because God had blessed, he taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel by causing them to mix with the daughters of Moab; the result of which brought dire judgment upon them —stayed only by the javelin of Phinehas.
This mixing among the people was the ruin of Samson, the mighty Nazarite, who gave up the secret of his strength when he lay upon the lap of Delilah. Alas, how many a valiant servant of God has become weak as other men in a similar way since!
And so we might trace the same evil practice all down through the history of the chosen race, until at last it ended in their being cast out by the Lord, in judgment, to mix among the nations till they should have their fill of the society of the strangers who devoured their strength and brought them to desolation.
The lesson is an important and salutary one for us who have been called with a higher calling, and are commanded to walk apart from a godless world and a corrupt Church. Indifference as to this separation of the clean from the unclean has had a lamentable effect upon the testimony and experience of thousands. Yet we learn so slowly. Oh, that there were in us hearts to cleave to the Lord, heeding His word, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate!”
It is as vain to hope to reform and recover what is not of God, by intermingling therewith in fellowship and intimate association, as it would be to try to teach sparrows or linnets to sing like a warbler by placing a canary in a cage with them. The only result would be that the canary would lose its song, while the sparrows would chirp on as before. Alas, how many a once joyous saint has lost his song by mixing among the people of the world and the world-church! Such an one may boast of his liberality and breadth of mind, and be as unconscious as was Ephraim of the true state of affairs; but the spiritually-minded shake their heads in sorrow as they say, “Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.”
The gray hair is the sign of departing strength, and tells the tale that its owner is going downhill—age and decrepitude are coming on. But Ephraim, like many another backslider in heart, was quite unaware of the true condition of affairs. In such a case others may note the gray hairs “here and there upon him”—the carelessness here—the indifference there—a growing fondness for worldly companionship—less and less time spent in prayer and over the Word of God—increased love for that which is light and frivolous—the name of Jesus less frequently upon the lips, and a growing fondness for conversation that is not for profit. Contrast with this 1 Tim. 4:15,16.
Accompanying this, will invariably be found an assumption of easy-going superiority. “The pride of Israel testifieth to his face;” but there will be no turning to God and seeking to get His mind regarding it all, till broken by discipline.
Ephraim, like a silly dove, without affection for Him that had carried them in His bosom, had turned to Egypt, then to Assyria, for help when the hour of trial came. But the Lord loved them too much to permit them to find anything stable in what spoke of the world and its vain pomp and show. So He would spread His net upon them, like one taking a bird in a snare. He cannot allow those who are in covenant-relationship with Him to go on in their own way for long (vers. 11, 12).
They had transgressed against Him, though He had redeemed them; reminding us of some in a later day, who, having drifted away from God, had “forgotten that they were purged from their old sins:” with supreme indifference to their actual state they blamed Him for what had come upon them as though they themselves were blameless; so that He charges them with speaking lies against Him. “I sometimes think,” said one,10 “that God has been hard with me, when I forget how hard I have been with God!” This is ever the tendency of a heart not before Him in self-judgment (ver. 13).
And so, for long years had they gone on, neither seeking Him when alone in the secrecy of their own chambers, upon their beds, nor when gathering together in what should have been a solemn assembly, but was really a season of godless merriment. “They howled upon their beds,” but not in repentance, only bewailing His discipline instead of their own evil ways. Jehovah had indeed trained them to confide in Him, and strengthened their arm against their adversaries, but in recompense they think ill of Him, turning to any expediency rather than turning to God—so incorrigible is the heart of man, even of a saint, when away from God. So they must be left to sound deeper depths of sorrow and disaster, like the incestuous man of 1 Cor. 5, who was “delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Their princes were to be destroyed, and they themselves would become a laughing-stock to their Egyptian allies, upon whom they had vainly depended (vers. 14-16). Surely, the way of man is not in himself. It is not in man to direct his own steps. Therefore the need of brokenness of spirit and self-judgment before God, that He may lead in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
A Vessel Wherein Is No Pleasure
God seems almost to exhaust figurative language in describing the unhappy condition of His deluded people, their hearts set on wandering from Him who was their only real good. We have already contemplated them in their wretchedly fallen estate, under the expressive symbols of an adulterous wife, a wine-inflamed drunkard, a backsliding heifer, troops of robbers, a leavened mass, a cake not turned, a silly dove, and a deceitful bow. Now they are warned that because of their sins they shall be scattered among the nations as “a vessel wherein is no pleasure.”
This was the logical result of the covenant at Sinai, where they pledged themselves to obey all the words of the law, which promised blessing to all who kept it, but invoked a curse upon the violators of its precepts. According to this chapter, Israel had broken it at every point. Therefore, on that ground, they had nothing to claim. That God had wondrous resources of grace, yet to be manifested, the final chapter makes abundantly plain; but they would only come into the good of it when they owned their sin and gave up all pretension to merit.
The prophet, as it were, sounds the trumpet to summon the whole congregation into the presence of the Lord, that they may face the reality of their condition as a people who have transgressed the covenant and trespassed against the law (ver. 1).
In the second verse, we might understand a hint of future restoration: “Israel shall cry unto Me, My God, we know Thee.” But it seems rather to imply their unconsciousness of their true state at that time, and during the years of their wanderings while under God’s hand. With amazing effrontery, they cry, “My God, we, Israel, know Thee,” as the R. V. puts it; while all the time they go on in their folly, having cast off the thing that is good, and so are driven before their enemies. They set up kings after their own heart, and make princes without asking Jehovah’s counsel. Idolatry too is everywhere nourishing, and the temple service but a mockery (vers. 3, 4). Thus do they profess that they know God, but in works deny Him. How easy it is, alas, to fall into the truly lamentable state of soul here depicted! How many today talk of being the people of the Lord, or being “in the line of the testimony” (to use a vainglorious phrase popular in certain quarters), while all the time condoning unrighteousness and walking in disobedience to the Word of God. In His time our Lord had to say: “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not after their works: for they say, and do not”—they could preach to others fairly well according to the Law, but their practice was the true indicator of their soul’s condition—and how far from God! It should ever be remembered that while it is of prime importance to be in a right position as to ecclesiastical and other lines of truth, a merely correct position is a poor thing if there be not likewise a right condition of soul. Neither can be neglected without loss; but nothing can be worse than to be priding oneself on “maintaining divine ground,” and going on “in the line of the testimony,” while the life is denied and the heart is insubject to the truth.
But the soul that turns from the living and true God to idols, of whatever nature, will learn at last what it is to be bereft and forsaken when help is most needed. The calf of Samaria cast them off. As with the priests of Baal in Elijah’s day, they cried, but there was none that answered, nor any that regarded. And how could it be otherwise, when the work of their own hands was that in which they trusted! (vers. 5, 6).
Thus, having sown the wind, they had to reap the whirlwind, as many a soul has done before and since. Yet how slow we are to learn! Theoretically, all saints know that there can be no real blessing apart from walking with God; but experimentally, how easily most of us are lured aside, and led after other gods, when some opportunity seems to present itself for profit or advantage! But at last all have to realize that the only result of such sowing will be disappointment and sorrow. “The bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up” (ver. 7).
Apply this to every department of life, and it will be found to be a rule to which there are no exceptions. Apparent success may seem to follow upon disobedience, but “the end is not yet.” We may fancy God and His Word can be disregarded, but we shall prove in bitterness of soul that it is an evil thing indeed to choose our own path.
How many a broken-hearted wife could be cited as an example of the principle here enunciated; or how often a wretched and unhappy husband becomes a living illustration of it! God has plainly forbidden unequal yokes. The Word is clear, and the young saint has it pressed home upon the conscience. But one who seems to promise well as a suited life-partner crosses the path. Esteem develops into affection. Affection ripens into love. A proposal of marriage is made. Then begins a period of doubt and vacillation. God’s Word is plain enough, but its clear precepts are forgotten. Amiable qualities are remembered. The fact that the other party is unsaved is glossed over. A readiness to go to the meetings of Christians, a willingness to listen to the Scripture, is magnified into a persuasion that a work of God has begun in the soul; and at last the other party, only too readily, is drawn into the snare. An unequal yoke is entered into, and a lifetime of regret follows. In by far the majority of cases the seeming interest in divine things passes away with the first few weeks of married life, and then, even if open opposition is not developed, a cold, studied indifference ensues in regard to eternal things that no kindness or consideration can cover up. Thus the child of God is doubly wretched as the sense of disobedience comes home to the, at last, awakened conscience; and the realization presses upon the soul that the one so loved has no concern about God or His Christ, and that, if not soon awakened and saved, two who loved each other on earth must be separated for all eternity.
And so in many other ways the same sad law is fulfilled, whether in business, social, or religious life. Oh that we might learn from what God has so plainly put before us in His Word, and from the unhappy experiences of thousands, the danger of trifling with conscience, and with the truth which sanctifies the obedient soul!
It was because of refusing thus to obey His Word that God had at last to say of His earthly people, “Israel is swallowed up: now shall they be among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure” (ver. 8). This describes in one verse their history for over two thousand years. Driven out of their land, scattered among all nations, they have been as a vessel in which God could take no delight. In this, how opposite to Him who came to save them! “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” was the Father’s announcement when, at His baptism, He offered Himself as the One who came to “do always those things that please Him,” i. e., the Father. He is the vessel of God’s pleasure. Israel has become a vessel wherein is no pleasure. How marked the contrast!
It was in vain for them to turn to Assyria, or any of the surrounding nations. There could be no help for them while under the curse of the broken law. Like a wild ass, they had shown the untameableness of their nature. They knew not how to obey. So they must sorrow under the power of the Gentile oppressor whom God had made “a king of princes”—that is, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (vers. 9, 10; compare Ezek. 26:7)—for God is evidently passing by the Assyrian, and has before His mind him to whom the Gentile dominion was first fully entrusted.
Ephraim had made many altars to sin, by offering sacrifice to demons, and not to God. His sin should return upon his own head (ver. 11).
The pith of all Jehovah’s controversy with him is declared in ver. 12: “I have written to him the great things of My law, but they were counted as a strange thing.” They were responsible to act in accordance with the written Word. They had failed to do so. Therefore the Judge was at the door. As with them, so it is with Christendom— never more manifest than at the present time— God’s Word is despised and set at naught on all sides. The end, therefore, cannot now be far off.
Having despised the Word, it was useless to bring offerings and to sacrifice and eat flesh before the Lord. He could not accept worship from a disobedient and gainsaying people. He remembers their sins, and must deal with them because of their rejection of His law. Morally, they should return to Egypt, as in fact actually a remnant did in the last days of Jeremiah. “For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples!” They cast His commandments behind their back, yet built temples where a pretended worship was offered. History repeats itself. The words might well describe what is so prevalent today. But the day of the Lord is coming; and, as of old, a fire shall be sent forth from God that will consume all the vain works of haughty men when the hour of Jehovah’s wrath shall strike (vers. 13, 14).
Be it remembered, responsibility is always increased in accordance as God’s truth is revealed. How solemn then the present moment, and how serious must be the results, if truth be held in the mind that does not change the life!
The Days Of Visitation
Even an utter worldling is relatively happy as compared with a saint of God away in heart from Him whose child he is. This is what the opening verse emphasizes. “Rejoice not, O Israel, for joy, as other people: for thou hast gone a whoring from thy God.” Nations who had never known the Lord might go on with a measure of rejoicing, in their ignorance and superstition; but for Israel, that could not be. Having once become the object of His loving-kindness, to whom He had revealed Himself as the one true and living God, they could never be happy in their sin again.
The very recollections of past joys, of hours and days when the soul delighted in God and found precious food in His Word, but make all the more cheerless the restless, unhappy experiences of the backslider in heart as he becomes filled with his own devices. And what a mercy to us that it is so! How grateful we may well be to our God and Father that we cannot be in the enjoyment of true peace and genuine happiness while out of communion with Him to whom we are indebted for every good we have.
It is true the soul away from Him may find a certain excitement and pleasurable exhilaration in the follies of earth; but they are only the “pleasures of sin for a season,” and not to be compared to those precious realities which were before the soul of the psalmist when he sang, “At Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore!”
And so of fallen Israel, we read that the floor and the winepress should not satisfy them, and the new wine should fail. Nor should they dwell in the Lord’s house, but return to Egypt, and feed on the unclean in Assyria. Having despised the service of the Lord, they should be cut off from His temple, and should not eat of His sacrifices (vers. 1-4).
Then he presses home the question, “What will ye do in the solemn day, and in the day of the feast of the Lord?” when, scattered among the heathen, they thought of past seasons of blessing, and remembered that once more a solemn feast-day had come round, but they were cut off from its privileges; what then would they do, and how would they be able to satisfy their souls?
How seldom do the people of God think of these things as they should! Lured on by the world, fired by unholy ambition and stimulated by pride, believers often allow themselves to be drawn away from the simplicity that is in Christ! Soon they who once took sweet counsel together as they wended their way to the gathering-place of those who loved their Saviour and the truth of God, are widely sundered. Souls who once were filled with sweet contemplations as they sat at the table of the Lord, remembering His love to us in His sufferings unto death, are now drifting away in darkness. What must be the feelings of such when, on the Lord’s Day, they call to mind, amid scenes of worldly religiousness, or of irreligious worldliness, the sacred seasons once spent before the Lord with holy joy! To remember that, at the very hour when they are engaged in something which cannot have the Lord’s approbation, saints once well known and loved are communing one with another, and with Himself, at the feast His loving heart led Him to institute to remind us of Him when He had passed from human sight—surely in such tender recollections there must be mingled a grief and a remorse not easily overcome!
Such, in their measure, should be the nature of Israel’s memories as the appointed seasons for the passover, the solemn atonement-day, or the gladsome feast of tabernacles, came round; and they were scattered among strangers, and unable to participate in privileges once held so lightly. Gone from their land, a spoil to Egypt (typical of that world from which the believer has once been delivered), their precious things would be a prey to their enemies (“their silver shall be desired,” see margin), and they themselves wounded by thorns and nettles—pierced through with many sorrows (ver. 6). What a desolate, yet graphic, picture of that which every backslidden soul must prove!
And in all this they would be but reaping as they had sown. They had said (and in solemn irony they are reminded of it), “The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad!” So they had tried to quiet their consciences because of the multitude of their iniquities. Now, when all these things would have come to pass, they should know that “the days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come” (ver. 7).
The watchman of Ephraim, who had sought to turn them from their evil way, was with God. But they had said, “The prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways,” because of their hatred against the house of his God11 (ver. 8). So easy is it to denounce one who faithfully rebukes sin, and strives to hinder declension in the soul. The leaven of Gibeah’s wickedness (the record of which we have in the last chapters of the book of Judges) was still at work among them after these centuries. Sin never dies a natural death; it must be thoroughly judged. Like leaven, it is stopped by fire—by “judgment,” self-judgment or God’s judgment; for sin ever works on until it is judged. When indulged in by an individual, or permitted in a company, it continues working, though often imperceptibly, until it is judged, either in oneself, or by God’s people, or by God Himself. This is the solemn lesson here inculcated. Doubtless those addressed here had forgotten all about the days of Gibeah, or might have pleaded that the trouble at Gibeah happened centuries before they were born, and it was therefore useless to concern themselves about it. But God’s holy eye saw deeper than this. He saw that the self-will and corruption manifested at Gibeah were still rampant among them, and called for humiliation and self-judgment before His face. This they ignored. Therefore He must visit them and remember their sins (vers. 8 and 9).
All this is intensely solemn, and may well exercise us in the present season of the Church’s deep failure and ruin. Are we not a part of that house of God set up in responsibility upon earth? Do we bear on our hearts the sense of God’s dishonor in that house, of which we form a part? May God give grace to both reader and writer to let the truth of it penetrate the heart and arouse the conscience; thus leading to a godly discernment as to what is opposed to the holiness that becometh His house, and self-judgment because of the part one has taken in helping on what is not of Himself. It is easy to judge others. We are called upon to judge ourselves. But true self-judgment will lead one to go back over the path of declension trodden by the people of the Lord with whom I am united in blessing and responsibility. This involves a quickened conscience, and is the very opposite to ecclesiastical pretension and spiritual pride.
In verse 10 God lingers lovingly over the early history of His people, when He found Israel like grapes in the wilderness—precious fruit for Himself in a dry and thirsty land. But, alas, how soon did that early freshness disappear! It was not long till “they went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto that shame.” Balaam’s wretched counsel was only too literally followed when he “taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block” before the separated nation. The daughters of Moab effected what all the enchantments of the false prophets could not do; “and their abominations were accordingly as they loved.” Let the reader carefully study the whole account in Num. 25, and 31:16, compared with Rev. 2:14.
From the very beginning Ephraim had proven himself untrustworthy. Therefore his glory should fly away like a bird, and they should be bereaved till none were left. “Yea,” said God, “woe also to them when I depart from them” (vers. 11, 12).
It should ever be borne in mind that the Spirit of adoption—the indwelling Spirit—who seals all true believers in the present dispensation of grace, will never depart from those whom God thus marks as His own—much as they may fail: but there is what evidently answers to it; namely, the Holy Spirit grieved, communion interrupted, and the Lord ceases to own one as a testimony for Himself when waywardness becomes characteristic.
Ephraim, once “planted in a pleasant place,” could no longer be blessed with children. “Fruit-fulness” is what the name Ephraim signified. But they should become fruitless and barren; or if children were born they would only be appointed to death (vers. 13, 14). Communion with God and fruit for God go together. Where the first is lacking, the desired result will be absent likewise.
Gilgal, once the place where the reproach of Egypt was rolled away, and the witness to their sanctification to the Holy One of Israel, was now but a testimony to their wickedness. Therefore He whom they had so dishonored would drive them from His house, and disown them, because of their revolt from Himself. When He says “I will love them no more,” it is not that His heart or purposes had changed, but He would not openly interfere for them. He would give them up to their enemies as One who, so far as they could see, loved them no longer (ver. 15).
Thus, as above noted, Ephraim should belie his name. Smitten in chastisement, “they shall bear no fruit;” and even if they brought forth, His hand would be against them for destruction. In this way would God vindicate His holiness, casting them out of His sight, that they might become wanderers among the nations (vers. 16, 17). Moses had warned them of this from the beginning; but they had given no heed to what should have been ever before them if they had had eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. Therefore they must learn by discipline, because they had despised the word of the Lord. Are we, with so much greater light, any wiser than they? Let us search ourselves before Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and answer as in His own holy presence.
An Empty Vine
We have already been reminded of Israel’s early freshness when God found them like grapes in the wilderness. In those happy days of their first deliverance they bore a little fruit for the Lord (oh. 9:10). Now we have to notice His solemn judgment of them as an utterly failed testimony: “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself” (ver. 1). The lesson of the vine is an important one, which we shall do well to trace out through both Testaments. In Psalm 80, beginning at ver. 8, we have a most significant statement. “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river.” This was Israel according to the mind of God, as His testimony in the earth. Such they would ever have remained, had there been lowliness of mind and subjection of heart, leading to confidence in and dependence upon Him continually. But the very opposite of this was developed, as we well know, and Scripture makes abundantly clear. Therefore “the boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it” (ver. 1 of the same psalm). God came looking for fruit in accordance with Isaiah 5. Gazing down upon His vine, seeking grapes, He found only wild grapes. It was, as described by Hosea, “an empty vine;” there was no fruit for the Lord. All was for self.
Therefore the vine of the earth was set aside eventually, its enclosing wall broken down, and it will be fully judged in the awful vintage yet to come (Rev. 14:18-20). Meantime upon the rejection of the empty vine, God brings in a vine that will bear—one that He will ever find fruit upon. So the Lord Jesus, the Man of God’s purpose, tells His disciples in John 15 of “the True Vine,” even Himself. He takes the place of Israel to maintain a testimony for God in the earth. In matchless grace He associates His redeemed with Himself in this: “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.” Empty branches, with no vital link, may be intruded among the branches as belonging to the vine; but as there is no living connection with the vine there will be no fruit. Such are false professors who are cut off, and cast forth as branches, withered, and whose end is to be burned. The fruit-bearing branches are purged that they may bear more fruit. Yea, God the Father is glorified when they bear much fruit!
It will be seen from this that the vine refers to the earth. It is God’s testimony in the world; once committed to Israel, now maintained by Christ through His beloved people in this scene. The empty vine has been set aside in judgment. The True Vine has taken its place, and shall never be set aside, for it is Christ Himself and His people in Him. Therefore, however individuals fail, we find Him introducing Himself to Laodicea as “The faithful and true Witness” (Rev. 3:14).
This tenth chapter before us but concludes the proof that Israel had indeed fallen into the sad condition described in the first verse. All hope of recovery was gone for the present. They must pass through affliction and tribulation, and consequent repentance, ere they could again be taken up; and when they are, it will be as branches in the living Vine, linked up with their once-rejected Messiah as God’s testimony in the Millennium; no longer as under the old covenant, on the ground of their responsibility (in which position they failed from the first), but under the new covenant of God’s pure grace toward them, unmerited and sovereign.
The opening words of the second verse give the root-trouble in a very brief sentence, “Their heart is divided.” This was the cause of all subsequent sorrow and failure. They did not cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart. They were double-minded, and therefore unstable in all their ways. A single heart for God’s glory is the prime necessity for a holy life. This they had neglected. Therefore they had to eat of the fruit of their own devices.
To walk with God with a divided heart is utterly impossible. He is not asking for the first place in the heart, either—as people often put it. He is far too exclusive for that. His word is, “My son, give Me thy heart” — the whole heart, with no reservation whatever. Only when this is done will the walk and ways be in accordance with His mind. Here Israel failed, as their idolatrous altars testified; and when God chastened them for their sin, instead of owning His righteousness in thus dealing with them, they sought to make a covenant with the nations, that they might escape the merited discipline. Having no prince to save them, they made desperate efforts to secure an arm of flesh elsewhere on which to lean; but that God would not permit (vers. 3, 4).
The inhabitants of Samaria, who, for so long, had “feared the Lord and served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33), must now be made to tremble “because of the calves of Beth-aven,” upon them they had relied: for at last, after so long a trial, God had written “Ichabod” over the whole northern kingdom. The glory had departed (ver. 5). Therefore they were to be carried as a gift to the king of Assyria, that Ephraim might receive shame and Israel be ashamed of his own counsel. Thus Samaria’s king would prove as powerless as the foam upon the water, which seems for a moment substantial and real; but, in the next, has vanished away (vers. 6, 7).
The eighth verse manifestly looks on to a far more solemn fulfilment than its secondary application to the Assyrian victory of old. The expressions used connect it with the awful overthrow of all established order in the last days, as described under the sixth seal of Rev. 6. Then “they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.” This will be the time when they shall receive of the Lord’s hand double for all their sins, and shall realize, in bitterness of soul, their folly in departing from the living God.
Again He reminds them, as in the previous chapter (ver. 9), that they had sinned from the days of Gibeah. The iniquity then perpetrated had never been thoroughly judged, but rather, as leaven, had wrought throughout all the years since, permeating the mass. Therefore He must chastise them, because of His yearning desire for their blessing. He loved them, and, because of this, He had to discipline them for their sins.
The expression, “When they shall bind themselves in two furrows,” is variously rendered, and seems ambiguous. The R. V. gives, “When they are bound to their two transgressions.” Might “their two transgressions” be the “two evils” of Jer. 2:13? They had forsaken Him who is the Fountain of living waters, and had hewed out broken cisterns for themselves. The prophet Isaiah similarly charges them with two transgressions—the rejection of God’s Anointed, and the setting up of idolatry.
The happy result of the disciplinary ways of the Lord is beautifully portrayed in vers. 11, 12, which here come in parenthetically, ere the subject of their sin and its punishment is continued in the closing verses. Both Judah and Ephraim, as tractable oxen, shall submit to the yoke, and delight to tread out the corn in the days when their lesson shall have been learned in the presence of God. But this will only be when they sow in righteousness and godliness. Then they shall reap in mercy. The fallow ground must be broken up by the power of the Word ministered in the energy of the Holy Ghost. Thus will there be response when the set time has arrived to seek the Lord that He may come and rain righteousness upon them. For us, all this has its present application, if we have hearts to bow to it.
But though, for Israel and Judah, such blessing is in store, the last three verses describe their unhappy state till they are made willing in the day of His power.
Plowing wickedness, they but go on reaping iniquity and eating the fruit of lies; because their trust is not in Him, but in their own way and the multitude of their mighty men. Consequently breaking up and spoiling, in place of repairing the breach and restoration, must be their portion. See Isa. 58:12. Bethel, which had become the centre of their idolatry, would prove their undoing; speaking as it did of their grievous apostasy. Judah, we know, was preserved for a time, and a light maintained for David’s sake, till Messiah should appear; but the king of Israel was utterly cut off and the throne over-turned, never to be re-established till He shall come whose right it is to reign. Then the breach between Israel and Judah shall be healed, as predicted by all the prophets, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. No longer will “an empty vine” be descriptive of the earthly people; but as a vine flourishing they shall take root downward and send forth fruit-laden branches above, to the praise of the glory of Jehovah’s grace.
Bands Of Love
“When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt.” It is plain, from a consideration of Matt. 2:15, that God had in view His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, when the prophet uttered these words. Clearly, and unmistakably, the Holy Babe’s sojourn in the land of Egypt is declared to be, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”
And yet a careful reading of the first few .verses of this chapter will make it equally clear that the prophet himself, doubtless, had none other than Israel nationally before him when he spoke the words quoted. He was dwelling on Israel’s past deliverance from the house of bondage, when Jehovah loved him and called him, as His son, out of the land dominated by the Pharaohs.
Is there then contradiction here? Far otherwise. There is the most perfect agreement, which another passage at once manifests. In 2 Cor. 3 we learn from ver. 17, read in connection with the ^entire chapter, that the Lord is the Spirit of the Old Testament. He is everywhere presented to the anointed eye. Hence the apostle wrote by divine inspiration when he declared that Hosea’s words prophetically foretold the coming up of God’s Son out of Egypt. In wondrous grace He would, as it were, begin as His people began, in regard to His earthly pilgrimage. So, as a Babe” whose life is sought by Herod, He is carried over the route taken by Jacob when driven by famine to Egypt; and from that land whence His people had been delivered when oppressed by Pharaoh, He later returns to Palestine. Thus would He be identified with them in their wanderings, that they might understand how the Holy Spirit spoke of Him when He said, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them” (Isa. 63:9).
Called out of Egypt, He was ever the One in whom the Father found delight. In this how blessedly opposite to Israel! Redeemed by power from Egyptian tyranny, they went far from Him, though He called them in tenderest love. Turning away, they sacrificed unto Baalim, and worshiped images of man’s design (ver. 2).
Yet He had taught Ephraim to take his earliest steps, as it were; holding his arms and directing his way. But they soon, like an ungrateful child, forgot Him to whom they owed so much, and knew not that He had healed them. Tenderly He recalls those early days when He drew them with cords of a man and with bands of love, delivering them from the yoke, and providing all that they needed for their sustenance and enjoyment (vers. 3, 4)—what saint but will see in words so lovely the story of his own deliverance from sin and Satan, when first brought to the knowledge of Christ! Long enthralled in worse than Egyptian bondage, how unspeakably precious was the earliest revelation of His grace to our souls, when He drew us to Himself from our wickedness and waywardness by the bands of love; which were indeed the cords of a man—the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all! Let us challenge our hearts as to what return we have made to love so deep and tender. What is the Baal that has lured some of us so far from Him who once was everything to our hearts, when we took our first steps out into the wilderness with Him to whom we owed so much? Rest assured, fellow-believer, till every idol is destroyed, we shall never know again the freshness and joy of those early days, if we have allowed .other lords to have dominion over us.
Once set free from Egypt, Israel, nationally, could never return there. But because of their sins, they were given into the hand of the Assyrian; as will, in a more awful manner, be the case in the last days, when the sword shall abide upon them, “because of their own counsels” (vers. 5, 6).
Such must be the bitter fruit of forgetting their God and taking their own foolish and sinful way. From the first they had been “bent to backsliding” from Him, though He had called them again and again to repentance. But they persisted in their folly till there was no remedy (ver. 7).
Yet His yearning heart causes Him to cry, “How shall I give thee up? ... My heart is turned within Me, My repentings are kindled together” (ver. 8). He could not bear to make them as the cities of the nations upon whom His wrath had fallen without any mixture of mercy. Zeboiim and Admah (see Gen. 14:8) were two of the cities of the plain blotted out in the day when Sodom and Gomorrah fell beneath His judgment (Deut. 29:23). Of a similar doom Moses warned Israel if they failed to keep His holy law. Thus they were righteously under that awful sentence; but God, falling back upon His own sovereignty, declares, “I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not a man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city”—i. e., to utterly consume it (ver. 9).
It is most blessed to realize that God, who, once He has given His word in grace, will never repent, or permit that people to be cursed whom He has blessed (as He made known to Balaam), yet reserves to Himself the right to turn from the greatness of His wrath, however richly deserved, and manifest His loving-kindness to the people of His choice upon their repentance. Therefore, though He might righteously have utterly destroyed Ephraim, He preserved a remnant, in grace, who shall yet be to the praise of His glory in the land of their fathers; when “they shall walk after the Lord,” in the day that “He shall roar like a lion,” causing His once-blinded people to tremble at His word; when He shall “set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea” (Isa. 11:11). At His call they will come, weeping because of their sin, yet rejoicing in His love; “as a bird out of Egypt, and as a dove out of the land of Assyria,” to be placed “in their houses,” never again to be removed, according to the word of Jehovah (ver. 11).
This verse completes another distinct division of the prophecy, which extends from their first call out of Egypt to their restoration to the land and to God in the days of the millennial kingdom.
The last verse is properly the introduction to chapter 12, and brings in a new subject, which closes with the end of chapter 13. When Hosea prophesied, as frequently noted, the iniquity of Judah was not yet so manifest as that of the ten tribes whom Jeroboam had led astray from the very beginning, turning them away from Jehovah, and setting up the golden calves for their worship. They had been idolatrous from the first, and all their kings had followed in the steps of “Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin.” Therefore sentence was early pronounced on them because God had to say, “Ephraim compasseth Me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit.” There had never been any response to the many warnings and entreaties sent them by the Lord.
But with Judah it was far otherwise. Among them, decline was a matter of slow, and sometimes thwarted, progress. Hence we read, “But Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the Most Holy” (ver. 12, margin). Up to the time when Hosea prophesied, there was still a measure of devotion to Jehovah in Judah. Moreover, revival after revival followed the fervent calls to repentance uttered by the prophets; but it will be observed that as the years went on, they too became less and less responsive to the voice of God, until they lost all concern for His holiness.12
The Balances Of Deceit
As already noticed, a new section of the prophecy began with verse 12 of the previous chapter, in which God most searchingly exposes the hidden corruptions of Ephraim, laying bare the moral springs of their being, which resulted in such open revolting from their God.
Like the royal Preacher of Ecclesiastes, Ephraim, seeking in vain for something to fill the heart apart from God, had been feeding on wind and following the desolating wind of the east, and thus proving that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit” when the heart is estranged from the one true Source of all good. Endeavoring to make a league with the powerful Assyrian whom they dreaded, and sending oil (as a bribe, evidently) into Egypt to buy the help of their old enemy, they thus sought to avert the evil day; but they were following lies and desolation. No human ingenuity could turn aside the day of the Lord’s dealings with them for their sins (ver. 1).
With Judah too He had a controversy; for the encouraging word spoken in verse 12 of chapter 11 did not necessarily imply that God was fully satisfied with them. The seed of Jacob, as a whole, were emulating the crookedness of him from whom they sprang; so they must be visited according to their ways, and recompensed according to their doings (ver. 2).
In verses 3 to 6 Jacob is himself before us, as in all respects a picture of the people descended from him. A supplanter from his birth, he manifested his overreaching spirit from the womb, taking his brother by the heel, as recorded in Gen. 25:26. Nevertheless grace had come in, and in his distress he laid hold upon God; or, as the margin says, “He behaved himself princely with God;” thus making good his new name, Israel— a prince with God.
When unable longer to struggle, he clung to Him against whom he had striven; and this was the power in which he prevailed—when he wept and made supplication to Him. It was what another has called “the irresistible might of weakness”—clinging to Him that is mighty, even as the apostle declared, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” This was the secret of Jacob’s prevailing with God, who had found him in Bethel when he was a fugitive and a wanderer because of his sin. “There He spake with us” implies, I judge, that the word of the Lord to him on the night when a stone was his pillow was intended likewise for all his house to the end of time. Whatever their failings, His eye would ever be Upon them; “Even the Lord God of hosts, the Lord (Jehovah—the eternal, the unchanging One) is his memorial.”
Oh that Israel would learn from all these things to turn to their God, keep judgment and mercy, and wait on Him continually!
Instead of this, they had but followed in the first ways of Jacob their father; so that God likens Ephraim to a merchantman, or a trafficker, in whose hand are the balances of deceit. He is really a Canaanite—for such is the word rendered merchantman. Could anything more aptly describe the Hebrew as he has ever since been known? Conscienceless when business interests were at stake, there can be no doubt that the anti-Semitism of Europe is in large measure the judgment upon his knavery (ver. 7). And so unconscious is he of wrong-doing when he takes advantage of the need or covetousness of his victim, that he congratulates himself on his increasing wealth (as his store grows day by day, swollen with ill-gotten gains), saying, “In all my” labors they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin” (ver. 8).
But however dark the picture may be at the present (and that present is from Hosea’s day to now), the Lord has never utterly cast off the nation whose God He was “from the land of Egypt.” In pure grace He shall yet restore them to their ancient land, fulfilling all His pledges, and bringing them into the full enjoyment of the true feast of tabernacles; when, their toil ended, their lessons learned, and their warfare accomplished, they shall dwell every man beneath his own vine and fig tree, with none to make them afraid (ver. 9).
To this end God had spoken by His prophets, multiplying visions and using similitudes; thus pressing upon the people’s consciences their unhappy condition, and encouraging them by the promise of blessing conditioned upon repentance (ver. 10). In reading the ministry of these prophets, it is important to bear in mind the instruction given us in the New Testament, that no prophecy of Scripture is of its own interpretation, but all must be read in view of the ways of God, as set forth so fully by both Hosea and Daniel. The end of all the burdens of the prophecies of these men of God is the bringing in of the day of the Lord, and the establishment of the kingdom in glory on this earth; when Israel shall return in heart to Jehovah, and own their once-rejected Messiah as David’s Son, for whom they have waited so long.
The ministry of the prophets was for the laying bare the true state of affairs. So they discovered the iniquity of Gilead. Vanity was written on all. In Gilgal, where once the reproach of Egypt had been rolled away, they sacrificed, but not to Jehovah. Altars were everywhere, like heaps of stone piled in the furrows of the field, but not to His glory (ver. 11). So they must find their symbol once more in Jacob, who, because of his deceit, fled into the land of Syria, and there kept Laban’s sheep, that he might purchase his wife by hard toil (ver. 12). When, of old, the Lord’s set time had come to bring Israel out of Egypt, it was by a prophet He did so; and by a prophet he led them through the wilderness, preserving them in all their trials (ver. 13). So the same kind of ministry must be heeded again, ere they would be delivered from the bondage of their sins and brought into the enjoyment of the promised inheritance.
But instead of heeding the word of the Lord, and humbling themselves before Him, when He sent His servants to them, “Ephraim provoked Him to anger most bitterly: therefore shall He leave his blood upon him, and his reproach shall his Lord return unto him” (ver. 14). God-sent ministry, heeded and bowed to, leads to enlargement and blessing; but the Spirit’s testimony rejected increases the guilt of him who hardens himself against it, and makes his condition far worse than before. It is ever the case that light refused makes the darkness all the deeper. Hence the need of a tender conscience, quick to respond to every word from God.
In Me Is Thy Help
The opening words, which are really a continuation of the burden begun in the last verse of chapter 11, remind us forcibly of the word of the Lord to Saul when he had turned back from obeying His voice. (See 1 Sam. 15:17.) “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel: but when he offended in Baal, he died” (ver. 1).
These words give us the spiritual history of thousands who have begun well, but ended badly, because of failure to cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart. As we trace out the biographies of many of the kings of Judah, we see the same thing exemplified. And if it is otherwise with the kings of Israel, it is only because not one of them began with God at all. They were idolators, all of them; and of the entire number, Jehoahaz is the only one of whom it is stated that he ever sought the Lord, and that only when in deep distress.
But among Judah’s rulers there were many who started out well, of whom it might be said that “as long as he sought the Lord, the Lord made him to prosper.” With most of them, however, failure came in eventually, to mar their testimony, and bring sorrow and trouble in its train.
When God first took Ephraim up, he “was little in his own eyes,” and “he spake trembling;” that is, realizing in some measure his weakness and insufficiency, he was humbled when the word of the Lord came to him. God says, “To this man will I look; even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word” (Isa. 66:2). Such was Ephraim in the freshness of early days. And when this was his condition, “he exalted himself in Israel. But when he offended in Baal, he died.” Alas, that the last sentence had ever to be penned! How much happier had it been for Ephraim, as for untold thousands more, if they had never left their first love! These things are our types, and from them God would have us learn not to trust our own deceitful hearts, but to walk softly before Him, in reverence and godly fear. In no other way shall we be preserved from a moral and spiritual breakdown. Self-confidence is ever the prelude to severe and crushing defeat.
And it is generally found that, the first step taken away from God, each succeeding one becomes easier and easier. Twinges of conscience are less frequent; the strivings of the grieved Holy Spirit attract less and less attention as the heart becomes hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. So was it with Ephraim. “And now they sin more and more,” says the prophet, as he proceeds to picture the gross idolatry which everywhere pervaded the land, prevailing among all classes of people (ver. 2). Consequently they are to be carried away in judgment. “They shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away, as the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney” (ver. 3). In this way the Lord was about to “purge His floor.”
But, as so frequently declared, He did not purpose to make a full end of them, the people of His choice. On the contrary, He remained the only true God, the Lord who had been their God from the land of Egypt. The day would come when they should own Him alone, and know no God besides Him; for He only was the Saviour of Israel. In the wilderness—that dry and thirsty land—He had sustained them, till their heart was exalted: and when they were filled with all good things they had forgotten Him, therefore He who had given them all these mercies would be to them as a leopard by the way, and as a bear bereaved of her whelps, who would rend the caul of their heart, and tear them like a lion. The wild beast was appointed to devour them (vers. 4-8).
In the figures here used it would seem that we have more than a hint of the character of the Gentile empires which were to become successively the oppressors of Israel. If the passage be compared with Dan. 7, I think most readers will feel that it is more than a mere coincidence that the lion was there used as the symbol of Babylon; the bear, of Medo-Persia; and the leopard, of Greece. The generic term, “the wild beast,” or, “the beast of the field,” is possibly a veiled reference to the last beast, “dreadful and terrible,” typifying the Roman empire, for long years the persecutor of Israel, and which, though now fallen, is yet to be revived in the first beast of Rev. 13, when the time of the end is come, and the great tribulation shall conclude the sufferings of Jacob.
They alone were responsible for all that had befallen them, and for all that should yet come upon them. “O Israel,” God says, “thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help” (ver. 9). Their self-will had been their ruin; but He waited still to save, ready to make bare His arm for their deliverance, if there were any sign of repentance and self-judgment. None other could avail for their salvation if they turned not to Him. “Where is thy king?” He asks. (See margin.) Hoshea,13 in whom they trusted, was a prisoner in the hands of Shalmaneser, king of Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-4). Where was any other that could save them, in all their cities? They had asked for a king, to be like the nations around them; God had granted their request; but where was the power of their king and his judges? They had been trusting in a bruised reed.
It may seem strange, so many centuries after the establishment of the monarchy, and at the close of the history of the ten tribes as such, that God should thus reproach them for the sin of asking a king in the days of Samuel. This but illustrates the remarks already made in seeking to expound chapter 7. The same spirit of independency that led them to desire a king to go in and out before them (when Jehovah Himself was their King), prevailed among them still; and for that, judgment must fall. Solemn are the words, “I gave thee a king in Mine anger, and took him away in My wrath” (ver. 11). So may God often allow His children to have what they desire, when their hearts are away from Him; giving them their requests, but sending leanness into their souls. It is well when the will is subject, and in all our prayers and supplications we say, “Thy will be done.” He knows so much better than we possibly can what is best for us; and where there is subjection of heart He will reply, not according to our faulty petitions, but according to His own loving-kindness and wisdom. When it is otherwise, He often has to answer our prayers in judgment, and we may have years to regret our folly in not having left all our affairs in His hands.
To all his other failures Ephraim added this, that he kept his iniquity bound up and his sin covered (ver. 12). As long as this is the case with any, God’s hand must be on them in discipline: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper.” On the other hand, the moment all is out in the light, and sin is judged and confessed, God Himself provides a covering, and the evil is gone from His sight forever. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Ps.32:l, 2).
Because of Ephraim’s persistency in covering his own sin, the sorrows as of a travailing woman must come upon him. This at once suggests another simile. He is an unwise son, remaining where his presence can only be most embarrassing and foolish. So he persisted in his folly when warned and entreated to cease therefrom (ver. 31).
The last two verses continue the general subject, declaring the terrible extent of the disastrous judgments they must undergo. But ere these solemn scenes are depicted, a precious word of grace, like a rainbow of hope in the gloomy, wrath-laden sky, is seen in ver. 14. He who is about to visit them in His anger speaks of mercy and kindness, giving a promise of the triumph of His love at last. “I will ransom them from the power of sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O sheol, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from Mine eyes.”
What could be more blessed than such a promise in the midst of so solemn an arraignment? In wrath God will remember mercy. He will yet appear as the Redeemer of His chosen, despoiling death and sheol (synonymous with hades, the unseen world of spirits—not hell nor the grave) of their prey, and saving all who turn to Him in brokenness of spirit, owning their guilt. Of His purposes of grace He will never repent; they shall abide forever in His goodness and mercy.
For centuries now Israel has been like a dead man, buried among the nations, wandering like a shade in sheol; but the hour is not far distant when the closing message to Daniel shall be fulfilled, as also the prophecy of the valley of dry bones in Ezek. 37. “At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:1, 2). Such also is the testimony of an older prophet, Isaiah (ch. 26:19, R. V.). “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth her dead.” All these passages will have their glorious fulfilment when the Kemnant of Israel and Judah are awakened from their death-sleep, and shall come forth at the call of God to return to Zion with singing and with everlasting joy upon their heads.
Literally, too, there will be a wondrous fulfilment when “All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.” “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection!” (John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:6).
It would be happy indeed to close our chapter with this precious reminder of the grace of our Saviour-God. But it is salutary and necessary to be reminded that the day of Jehovah’s power and Messiah’s appearing has not yet come; so we are once more turned back to contemplate the lamentable estate of Israel and the dark days awaiting them ere the glory dawns.
As we dwell upon the solemn words of verses 15 and 16, the “rainbow like unto an emerald” seems to fade away; the dark clouds of doom gather heavier and heavier above the land of promise; while “out of the throne proceeds lightnings, and thunderings, and voices,” presaging the dreadful storm about to burst upon those who, having eyes to see, saw not, and having ears to hear, heard not the ominous rumblings of the approaching day of wrath, till it was too late to find a hiding-place. An east wind from Jehovah “shall come up from the wilderness,” drying up all the springs of hope and fountains of joy, and spoiling all the vessels of desire. Desolation should enwrap Samaria in midnight gloom and direst woe; “for she hath rebelled against her God.” Therefore they should fall beneath the avenging hand of the bloodthirsty Assyrian, who would spare neither age, sex, nor condition.
All this has had a fulfilment in the march of Shalmaneser’s hordes through the land. It shall have another and more dreadful one when the last Assyrian sweeps down,14 like a resistless flood, till stopped by the breath of the Lord.
With this the body of the prophecy closes. The next, and last, chapter is a tender call addressed to the backslidden people, exhorting them to return to Him, who is their only good and their only hope.
Restoration And Blessing
The same yearning tenderness that led the rejected Messiah to weep over Jerusalem as He said, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” is manifest throughout this final chapter of our prophet. It is one of the most touching yet faithful entreaties to be found in the Book of God, reminding us of the soul-stirring appeals uttered by the Holy Spirit through a later servant, Jeremiah. Not only does it give us the beseechings of Jehovah that His people heed His voice and return to Himself, but it sets forth clearly just how they should go about it, even putting into their lips the words which, if they came from their hearts, He would delight to hear. Abundant promises too are given of blessing to be poured out upon them when they should thus bow before Him in repentance and contrition of heart.
“O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity!” (ver. 1). How bitterly had they proven that “the way of transgressors is hard!” “Righteousness,” we are elsewhere told, “exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.” Had they followed in the paths of uprightness which their faithful, covenant-keeping God had marked out for them, theirs had been a very different history. But they refused to hearken, and turned away the shoulder. The result was failure and disaster from first to last. They had indeed fallen very low. Yet He, who had been so grievously sinned against, could lovingly entreat them still to return unto Him, who was their God from the land of Egypt.
Let us learn from their unhappy course both to avoid their sins and to know the exceeding grace of our God. The Church, as a testimony for an absent Lord, has failed as fully as Israel. But however dark the day, wherever a true heart turns back to God, judging itself for participation in the common sin of those so highly privileged, He who has been so grievously dishonored will still gladly receive such an one; yea, He waits but for open doors to come in and sup in communion, though the hour be late.
If the soul say, “But I have erred so seriously, I know not how to approach so holy a God after having dishonored Him to such an extent;” then He Himself will put a prayer into the lips of the returning one: thus assuring each seeking soul of His willingness to hear. “Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy” (vers. 2, 3).
This prayer, indited by God Himself, will repay the most careful consideration. Let us take up its clauses one by one, weighing each in the presence of the Lord. “Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously,” cries the repentant soul. Having long been denied, till the conscience was almost calloused, the light of God has now shown things up as they really are. This produces an abhorrence of the waywardness so long tolerated as though it were a thing indifferent. Unconcern is succeeded by deep exercise. “Take away all iniquity!” is the soul’s longing. Sin becomes hateful the moment one gets into the presence of God. Then the need of grace is felt, and so the cry comes, “Receive us graciously.” What a mercy that it is to “the God of all grace” we are directed to come!
There can be no restoration so long as one sin is trifled with and remains unjudged; but the instant a full confession is made and all iniquity is honestly turned from, the Word assures us of instant forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is the principle that applies to a lost sinner seeking salvation, or an erring saint desiring restoration of soul. Sin judged is sin gone; and the soul may afresh enjoy the communion that has been interrupted from the moment evil was allowed upon the conscience. In the knowledge of this—a knowledge received, not by feelings, but resting on the testimony of Scripture— praise and worship once more spring up in the heart. “So shall we render the calves of our lips!”
Only when the life is right and the conscience pure from defilement can there be worship in spirit and in truth. Then the happy saint can without hindrance pour forth into the ear of God his grateful praises, and his worship, like incense, arise from the heart to which Christ is all. Israel shall enter into this, when, restored to their land after their disciplinary wanderings, they rejoice before Him who shall dwell in the midst of them, having first purged them with the spirit of burning from all that has hindered their full acknowledgment of His grace.
“Asshur shall not save us,” is the cry of a people who have learned to “cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils.” We have seen throughout this book how in the hour of their distress they turned, not to God against whom they had revolted, but to Assyria, the proud northern power, who was destined to be their ruin. Thus they learned that “vain is the help of man.” Therefore they will say in the day of Jehovah’s might, “Asshur shall not deliver us;”15 but in God alone will they find their Saviour.
Nor will they depend in that day upon their own armies, mounted like the cavalry of the nations. “We will not ride upon horses.” It is noticeable throughout this history that their strength for warfare consisted not in imitating the manners and customs of the nations, but in reliance upon God in the spirit of praise. When Judah (“praise”) led, they conquered, as they counted on the Lord alone for succor. When Jehoshaphat met the enemy, he put singers, not cavalrymen, in the van, and a great victory ensued. To this they shall return when humbled before God because of all their failure and sin. “A horse is a vain thing for safety,” though it seem to add wonderfully to human prowess. But better far is it to lean upon the arm of Jehovah, and remember that the battle is His, not ours.
Idolatry had been their undoing in the past. But then they shall cry, “Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods!” Having learned the impotence of the “gods many and lords many” who have had dominion over them, the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. It is a lovely picture of a soul who has proven that no power, seen or unseen, can avail for deliverance, but the strength of “the mighty God of Jacob.” When everything is thus out in His presence, and no guile remains in their spirit, they can add with assurance, “For in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.” Israel had been Jehovah’s son, whom He had called out of Egypt. But they had forgotten Him, and done despite to His Spirit of grace. Therefore He had pronounced the Lo-ammi and Lo-ruhamah sentences upon them, as we saw in the beginning of the prophecy. Thus, when they return, they come in on the ground of pure grace and mercy. They come as “the fatherless;” not to claim the rights of a child, but to be the subjects of that loving-kindness which is better than life. How suited to the lips of the Remnant of the last days will be the words of this prayer!
The gracious response of the Lord immediately follows: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for Mine anger is turned away from him” (ver. 4). It is as though His great heart of love had been full, nigh to bursting, but their sins had kept Him from expressing all that was there. Now every barrier is removed, and, like an irresistible torrent, His kindness flows forth, overleaping, or sweeping away, every obstruction that a timid faith might yet raise. Loving them freely, He will set them in paths of righteousness, healing their souls and turning them from all their backslidings. Everything of the dark past forgiven and gone, His wrath has vanished, and His grace knows no bounds.
No longer shall they be as a barren and desolate heath, but like a watered garden, tended and kept by Himself. “I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon” (ver. 5). The dew ever, in Scripture, sets forth the refreshing influences of the Holy Spirit, ministering the truth in grace to the soul. The manna in the wilderness fell on the dew—type of Christ ministered in the power of the Holy Ghost. Gideon’s signs pictured in a marvelous way God’s varied dealings in this regard. At first the dew was on the fleece, while all the ground was dry. Again, the fleece was dry, but all the ground covered with dew. So had Israel been blessed with the Spirit’s testimony, while the world lay in ignorance and idolatry. But Israel rejected Messiah at His first coming, and now the chosen nation is dry and desolate, while the Spirit of God is working among the Gentiles. In the Millennium He will be poured out on all flesh; then fleece and ground shall alike be refreshed with the dew. In Psalm 133 “the dew of Hermon” sets forth the same quickening and revivifying power as here in Hosea. God Himself will be as the dew unto His restored people, giving new life and freshness, that they may evermore rejoice in Him. Under His kindly nurture, they shall put on the beauty of the lily, with the strength of the cedar of Lebanon. No fading glory shall again be theirs, but a beauty that shall endure, and a strength that can never fail.
Then “his branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon” (ver. 6). Towering up to heaven like a mighty cedar, Israel’s branches shall go out in majesty, and their fragrance shall be wafted in the air, that all may know that the Lord has taken them as His own. Nor is it only dignity and fragrance, but there shall be all the loveliness and fruitfulness of the olive tree—the oil tree, as the word might be rendered. This too speaks of the Holy Spirit, who will permeate the nation as the oil permeates the olive, making it a source of spiritual blessing to the whole earth.
“They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon” (ver. 7). Figure after figure is pressed into service to tell the joy of the Lord in His people, and their beauty and preciousness in His eyes. Jacob shall not only be regathered, but others shall find blessing through him, according to the promise to the fathers. Many shall “dwell under his shadow,” finding rest through the message committed to him. The corn and wine tell of strength and gladness. It shall no more be said, “Israel is an empty vine; he bring-eth forth fruit unto himself.” But, planted again in the land, the vine of the Lord shall flourish, and send forth its branches laden with choice clusters, to provide the wine of joy for the whole earth.
Then shall Ephraim say, “What have I to do any more with idols?” Dwelling in fellowship with God, and enjoying His matchless love and grace, the wretched follies of the past will be detested. The new affection will so possess the heart, that the vain idols at whose altars they once bowed will be hated and forgotten. In holy complacency the Lord looks down and says, “I have heard him, and observed him.”16 In joyous exultation, Israel answers, “I am like a green fir tree!”—not temporary verdure; but, like an evergreen, they will be perennially fresh and lovely in His eyes. But all their goodness is from Himself; so He replies, “From Me is thy fruit found.” Apart from Him, all would be barrenness once more, even as Jesus said, “Without Me, ye can do nothing.” But, abiding in the uninterrupted enjoyment of His love, their fruit shall never fail nor their freshness ever depart.
This closes the prophecy; but pointedly the Lord presses upon every reader the importance of weighing all in His presence. “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein” (ver. 9). The ways of the Lord has been the theme of the book. Happy shall we be if we are, through grace, numbered among the wise and prudent who know and understand, and the just who walk in them!
The Lord give efficacy to His Word for His name’s sake! Amen.
1 It is essential the reader should first read with care, in Scripture, the chapter under consideration in these “Notes.” To derive profit and blessing, the subject must be familiar.—[Ed.
2 This has been gone into at some length in the author’s “Notes on the Book of Esther,” to be had of the same publishers. Paper covers, 30 cts.; cloth, 75 cts.
3 It will be observed that, in justifying from Scripture the present work of God in showing mercy to the Gentiles, this is one of the passages to which the apostle Paul appeals in Rom. 9:25; while his brother-apostle Peter applies the same words to the present remnant of Israel in 1 Pet. 2:10. Both Jew and Gentile stand now on the same ground before God; therefore the same passage may well apply to both, for the salvation of either is on the ground, not of legal works, but of pure grace.
4 That is, the remnant of Israel: “Because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.” See Rom. 9:27-29; Isa. 10:20-23. The remnant then becomes the righteous seed for the millennial kingdom.—[Ed.
5 It is a sad and significant fact that the three words, “Condemn not thyself,” form an oft-repeated motto among so-called Christian Scientists of our day. Thus they lock against themselves the door to all true blessing; for God can only justify the one who condemns himself and his ways.
6 For a striking instance of what is here portrayed, see Jer. 44:15-23. There the remnant actually trace their temporal mercies back to their idolatrous rites.
7 I take “without money” to mean that they had no money to redeem themselves with—so had to be redeemed by another.
8 For a fuller opening-up of Israel’s past, present, and future see a book entitled “The Mysteries of God.” The same author and publishers. Paper, 3 cts.; cloth, 75 cts.
9 For a fuller consideration of this solemn theme, see chapter eight of “The Mysteries of God.” Same author and publishers. Paper covers, 30 cts.; cloth, 75 cts.
10 G. V. Wigram, a man of much devotedness—now with the Lord.
11 I understand verse 8 should read as follows: “The watchman of Ephraim was with God. [But] the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways! [Because of] hatred against the house of his God.”
12 Hypocrisy, therefore, developed especially in Judah— “This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Mark 7:6; Isa. 29:13). This is the danger where doctrine is right and outward form correct while the heart is away from God. Let every child of God beware of this. See Luke 12:1.—[Ed.
13 In so writing, I simply follow the marginal note. There is no positive proof that Hosea prophesied in the days of Hoshea, or that he is the king referred to.
14 This will take place when they shall be restored to the land of Palestine in unbelief, subsequent to the rapture of the Church, and previous to the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom. This has been gone into at length, both in the Author’s “Notes on Jeremiah” (chaps. 30 and 31), and in “The Mysteries of God,” to which attention has already been drawn.
15 It is usually God’s way to cause the very thing in which His people have dishonored Him to become their chastisement—thus to deliver the heart from the idol it has sought after.—[Ed.
16 There is good ground here to question the proper construction of this dialogue. I have followed J. N. Darby’s suggestion in “The Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.” We might understand Israel as saying, “What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard Him, and observed Him! I am like a green fir tree.” Then Jehovah’s answer, “From Me is thy fruit found.”