Thursday, June 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hosea 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ hosea-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hosea 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Hosea 4:1. Controv.] = a legal action (cf. Micah 6:2; Joel 3:2), or ground of complaint with the ten tribes (Hosea 4:15). Truth] i.e. truthfulness in word or deed, no conscience nor uprightness (Proverbs 3:3; Jeremiah 3:4). Mercy] Affection, tenderness, and love; no compassion to the needy. Truth and love cannot be separated. “Truth cannot be sustained without mercy; and mercy without truth makes men negligent; so that the one ought to be mingled with the other.” No know.] which produces love and fear; wilfully ignorant; hence injustice the upper hand.
Hosea 4:2. Swearing] a breach of the second, stealing of the eighth commandment. In Heb. these nouns of action give emphasis and picture the scene, nothing but evil, and that continually. Break] out like waters beyond all bounds and restraint (2 Samuel 5:20). Blood] Lit. bloods, shed with violence. Toucheth] “Murder was so common, that no space was left between its acts” [Henderson].
Hosea 4:3. Mourn] by drought (1 Kings 18:17-18). As a consequence vegetation scorched, animal life wastes away, and pools dry, the greatest calamity that could happen in the East.
Hosea 4:4. Strive] Lit. only man, let him not strive, and let not man reprove. God had taken the matter in his own hands, reproof would only aggravate their guilt, man must not interfere. Some give, let none reprove one another; each must look to his own sins. Priest] The judge and tribunal to decide law-suits (Deuteronomy 17:12-13), to dispute with whom was the highest contumacy.
Hosea 4:5.] People and prophet would fall by night and day without intermission. Mother] The whole nation destroyed.
GOD’S CONTROVERSY WITH A GUILTY PEOPLE.—Hosea 4:1-5
The prophet now begins to speak more plainly. Israel was bound to God by legal covenant. God only wishes justice to be done, and will not subject them to disadvantages. But they have infringed upon his rights, neglected their obligations, and forgotten their relation to him. Hence the suit-at-law. The land, swept of fidelity, goodness, and love, is brought to shame and desolation.
I. The nation summoned into court. “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel.” The whole people, with prophets and priests, are called to the judgment-seat of God to make their defence or hear their indictment. Men are inattentive and negligent. They disregard the word of God, and forget things which make for their peace. If Demosthenes had need to reprove the Athenian senate for inattention to his speech on important affairs, how much greater reproof do the careless and indifferent require now. It is sad to be given up to a spirit of slumber, to have eyes and not see, ears and not hear. None so deaf as those who will not hear. God speaks loudly and continually in his providence and word—“once, yea, twice, yet man perceiveth it not.” In creation wisdom, power, and goodness are manifest; in works of judgment and mercy God’s voice is heard; by his prophets and his Son God expostulates, but men neglect the warnings. This needful admonition suggests a sad condition. One would think that every one would gather round the feet of Jesus, and, like Samuel, cry, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!” But sinners are—
3. Obdurate. God’s cause will be pleaded by the words of his mouth, and the wonders of his providence. He speaks with authority, demands fair hearing, and gives fair warning. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
II. The nation accused of guilt. The indictment of Israel is given negatively and positively. We have the absence of virtue and the presence of evil. There must be one or the other. The human mind does not like a vacuum. Dethrone good, you set up evil. A mind unoccupied and a life of sin are the impersonations of wretchedness. Some object must engage attention. The heart must have something really good, or thought to be good, to lay hold of. Wrest it away from one thing, without the substitution of another, you leave a void as painful as hunger. It may be dispossessed of one thing, but it cannot be desolated of all. If grace does not abound in thought and conduct, sin will much more abound. In Israel there was—
1. A declension of religion. “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” … (a) “No truth.” Truth is the bond of union and the basis of human happiness. “Without this virtue,” says Jeremy Collier, “there is no reliance upon language, no confidence in friendship, and no security in promises and oaths.” Neither talent nor genius can be trusted unless based on truthfulness. This is the foundation of personal excellence and human character; this is the health and ornament of the nation; loyal adherence to truth is the secret of a nation’s power and a nation’s glory. When there is no truth, but falsehood; when men’s acts are at variance with their words; then there is no respect, nor honesty, nor security. What a sad state of society! We depart from truth when we state as true what we do not know to be true, when we intentionally produce a false impression, when we deceive and designedly mislead. Often painful wrongs are inflicted by covert innuendos and malignant insinuations. Half a fact is a whole falsehood, and he who colours truth by false methods of telling it is a liar. “Of all duties,” says a writer, “the love of truth, with faith and constancy in it, ranks first and highest. Truth is God. To love God and to love truth are one and the same.” (b) “Nor mercy.” Mercy is pity or compassion which one man shows toward another in misery; clemency towards our neighbours (Proverbs 20:28; Luke 10:37). “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart.” Mercy and truth are the glorious perfections of God always in harmony and action. We rest upon them for salvation, and should copy them in life. The want of one neutralizes the effect of the other. A man may be truthful, and yet not merciful. Just in his dealings to others, yet “as hard as flint.” Mercy has been urged upon man from the very beginning to counteract his selfishness and cruelty. “It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown”, and “earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.” Kindness evokes kindness, and our own happiness is increased by our benevolence. “Kind words cost little.” Friendly conduct may meet with ungrateful return; but absence of gratitude on the part of the receiver cannot destroy the pleasure of the giver. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (c) “Nor knowledge of God.” There was no sense of honesty and obligation, no justice nor humanity. Truth and benevolence had been disregarded. The fragmentary man was seen in disordered society and ignorance of God in a land specially his own, and which should have presented his glory and preserved his name. The knowledge of God is a necessity of our moral nature, and lies at the foundation of all morality and religion. Man can have no obligation to mere laws of nature, and feel no sense of responsibility to an impersonal being. God has revealed himself in his works and word. We are related to him as intelligent and moral beings. We owe duty to ourselves and our fellow-men because God wills and commands it. But God is not recognized, and then forgotten in motive and duty. God is not seen through his works, and in Israel and England we have a succession of human beings instructed in the laws and duties of society, with the character and even the existence of the law-giver omitted. We have the means of knowing and worship ping God, but no true, practical knowledge of God. The supreme influence of God is lost in the family and in the land, in custom and law, hence a spirit of subordination and licentiousness. We have sound creeds but ungodly lives; theoretic, but little practical knowledge of God. If men “hold the truth in unrighteousness,” check the development of it in their lives, and reject the knowledge of God; they begin the downward course to idolatry and grossest sin. The history of the heathen world and the results of the French Revolution prove this knowledge to be the safeguard of the people, to be necessary
(1) to preserve mental vigour. If the knowledge of God is not thought worth keeping in the mind, then the mind itself will become worthless and degenerate, “a reprobate mind” (Romans 1:28).
(2) to preserve true morality. Progressive vice, penal suffering, and fearful lusts are the certain results of rejecting the knowledge of God. “If there be not a God, we must invent one,” cried one of the leading spirits of France. “Some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”
2. A corrupt morality. “Swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery,” were common practices. These, and nothing but these, were seen all around. Religion and morality are bound together. Without the one there can be no true existence of the other. Ignorance of God is a source of wrong practice, a source of all evils. Where there is no love and truth, no regard to God, there will be vices contrary to these virtues. When the soul or the land is empty of good, it will be full of evil. Evils of every description abounded in Israel. Society was penetrated with vice and profligacy. Perjury and falsehood corrupted the morals and manners of the people. Religion and virtue were swamped. Family and home were alike tainted. Domestic purity, religious sanctity, no longer restrained and bound society together. The laws by which God had fenced the estate, the life, and character of men were broken; violence and bloodshed knew no bounds, carried everything before them, and like a flood swept the nation to ruin.
III. The nation punished. “Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away,” &c. General depravity produces general punishment. God in judgment sent a universal drought, such as that which prevailed in the reign of Ahab. Vegetation was to suffer, animal life decay, and sea and land groaned beneath the visitation. If man will not love God, neither shall God’s creatures help man. For man’s interests and theirs are bound together in the wondrous providence of God.
1. Man’s sins affect inanimate creation. Man was not made for the earth, but the earth was made for man. By successive steps and gradual events the earth was prepared and fitted to be his residence. For him power had stilled the conflict of chaos and restored “the reign of law.” For his sake goodness had beautified the earth and clothed it with vegetation. In wisdom the various animals were subject to his control, and he had dominion over all the earth. Man had to replenish, subdue, and govern the earth (Genesis 1:28). (a) Man is related to material creation by his physical nature. His name (Adam), man, is formed from the (adamah) material of which his body is composed. He is related to the physical laws of the universe as a physical being, and is amenable to gravitation, mechanical force, and chemical action. As an organized being he is subject to organic laws. Every great characteristic by which vegetable life is distinguished from inorganic matter and animal life, is found in him. He also possesses animal instincts like the inferior creatures. Thus man’s constitution in its threefold character, of physical, organic, and sentient, “took up the strain of creation which had preceded his coming, in praise of the power, and wisdom, and goodness of God.” (b) Man has brought a curse upon material creation by his first sin. The earth is not like the garden of Eden in which he was placed at first; “cursed is the ground for thy sake.” It does not yield its produce with its original ease and abundance. We have disorder and decay, malformation and barrenness. “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth,” with all our toil and daily labour. When man fell from his original position with God, the earth lost its fruitfulness and dignity, and now “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain” under its bondage and corruption, and is waiting for its freedom and greater blessing (Romans 8:20-22). (c) Man injures material creation by his immoral conduct. Material forces are largely at his command. He can change and create; beautify and adorn impair and destroy. Solomon saw the field of the slothful “all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.” (Proverbs 24:30-31). A life of mere animal sensual indulgence, manual or mental sloth will bring to poverty. Idleness and neglect will bring drought and failure of crops (Haggai 1:2-11). Vice, idolatry, and licentiousness will spread their effects and spoil the face of nature. Creation is in sympathy with man, responds to his moral life, and is blessed or wasted by his moral conduct. In peace and plenty, under the benediction and providence of God, the valleys shout and sing for joy. In famine and war, under the curse and sin of man, “the land shall mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish.” “How long shall the land mourn and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein?” (Jeremiah 12:4; Psalms 107:34).
2. Man’s sins affect the animal creation. We should regard the animal world with due feeling. Life in its lowest form is the gift of God. We should not abuse any creature which God pronounced good and intended for our welfare. The inferior creatures have been useful to man and subservient to his interests in many ways. (a) They have been a source of sustenance. (b) A source of commerce. (c) The means of training his powers of body and mind. But they have been punished for man’s idolatry. Their growth and continuance have been hindered by man’s sin. As necessities of life they have been cut off, and as objects of adoration they have been smitten with the plague. “He turned their waters into blood and slew their fish” (Psalms 105:29). Internal blessing and outward prosperity shall go hand in hand when man is restored to right relation with God. Then shall the original promise be fulfilled, and God will give peace in the land; rid it of evil beasts: and its inhabitants shall lie down, and nothing shall disturb their rest (Leviticus 26:6).
IV. The nation punished without mercy. They had rejected God, and God would leave them to their fate. They had despised the priests, and he would slay their prophets. By degrees they had hardened themselves and grown stubborn in sin, and thus ripened themselves for destruction. When the Lord has a controversy with a people and they will not hear, it is useless to strive with them. They who resist the Spirit and the ministers of God, resist God himself. “He that despiseth you despiseth me.” Their state is most desperate and deplorable.
1. Punishment without intermission. “Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night.” There would be no time free from destruction, night and day calamities should never cease. Darkness would be no protection, and day would be no security. Terror by night found them helpless and exposed. Arrows from cunning foes and with deadly aims flew by day. Pestilence, shrouded in mystery, marched on unseen, to infect the home and alarm the city. Destruction wasted at noon-day, and there was no shield nor buckler. This reminds us of the Great Plague of London, when evil befell the city, and its inhabitants were stricken with death.
2. Punishment without exemption. People and prophets fell together. God’s judgments are impartial. Rank and title, wealth and worldly distinctions, are of no avail. “Label men how you please,” says Herbert Spencer, “with titles of ‘upper,’ and ‘middle,’ and ‘lower,’ you cannot prevent them from being units of the same society, acted upon by the same spirit of the age, moulded after the same type of character. The mechanical law, that action and reaction are equal, has its moral analogue. The deed of one man to another tends to produce a like effect upon both, be the deed good or bad. In whatever rank you see corruption, be assured it equally pervades all ranks; be assured it is the symptom of a bad social diathesis. Whilst the virus of depravity exists in one part of the body-politic, no other part can remain healthy.” Man’s evil character and influence blend and bind him up with others. Not a particle is lost, but the whole is taken up and produces its results in the general community. Collectively and individually the destruction of all is declared. Root and branch they were to be cut off. As a nation they could not escape. “I will destroy thy mother,” and as individuals they could not flatter themselves with hope. “Thou shalt fall.”
3. Punishment without human sympathy. “Let no man strive nor reprove another.” Man is forbidden to interfere or aid. God will implead them, and none can contradict or evade his judgments. We know not how to judge. We condemn and acquit without cause. We are ignorant and helpless ourselves. “None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him.” All are alike guilty, condemned and exposed to death. Christ alone can deliver us. The redemption of the soul is precious, but human efforts, gold and silver, and a world of rubies, could not purchase it. Riches cannot ward off judgment, nor tears avail with God. The Scripture hath concluded, shut up as in a prison, all in unbelief, not that God might condemn, but that he might have mercy upon all men (Galatians 3:22).
4. Punishment without Divine help. Criminals are sometimes recommended to mercy and delivered from punishment; but Israel was stubborn and incorrigible, and God forbids any to remonstrate or reprove. Christian reproof and expostulation bring sinners to repentance and are of immense service in setting them right. It is one of the duties of friendship. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” But when men hate reproof and defy the judgments of God, then they are let alone to reap their folly. Their doom is certain: “Thou shalt fall,” and “I will destroy.” “He that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” “The fruit of sin in time,” says Chalmers, “when arrived at full and finished maturity, is just the fruit of sin through eternity. It is merely the sinner reaping what he has sown. It makes no violent or desultory step, from sin in time to hell in eternity. The one emerges from the other, as does the fruit from the flower. It is simply that the sinner be filled with his own ways, and that he eat the fruit of his own devices.”
A TERRIBLE DEPRIVATION.—Hosea 4:3-5
The words lead us to consider a lamentable deprivation—a deprivation that comes upon the people in consequence of their heinous iniquities. Two remarks are suggested concerning this deprivation.
I. It is a deprivation both of material and spiritual good. First: Of material good.
(1) A deprivation of health. “Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish.” The physical frame loses its wonted elasticity and vigour, and succumbs to decay and depression. “Languish,” like a dying man on his couch. Sin is inimical to the bodily health and vigour of men and nations; it insidiously saps the constitution.
(2) A deprivation of the means of subsistence. “The beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.” Literally this refers to one of those droughts that occasionally occur in the East, and is ever one of the greatest calamities. What a dependent creature man is! The beasts of the field, the fowls of heaven, and the fish of the sea can do better without him, but he cannot do without them. How soon the Eternal can destroy those means of his subsistence! One hot blast of pestilential air could do the whole. It is a deprivation, secondly: Of spiritual good. “Let no man strive nor reprove another; for thy people are as they that strive with the priest.” The meaning seems to be that their presumptuous guilt was as great as that of one who refused to obey the priest when giving judgment in the name of Jehovah, and who, according to law, for that cause was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:12). One of the greatest spiritual blessings of mankind is the strife and reproof of godly men. The expostulations and admonitions of Christly friends, parents, teachers, what on earth is more valuable, is so essential as these? Yet these are to be taken away. “Let no man strive nor reprove another.” The time comes with the sinner when God says, “My spirit shall no more strive with thee; Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.” Men have become so dog-like in nature that holy things are not to be presented to them; so swinish, that you are to cast before them no more pearls (Matthew 7:6).
II. It is a deprivation leading to a terrible doom. First: The destruction of priests and people. “Therefore shalt thou fall in the day, and the prophet also shall fall with thee in the night.” The meaning is that no time, night or day, shall be free from slaughter, both of the people and the priests. This was literally true of the ten tribes at this time. And it is true in a more general and universal sense. God’s law is, that “evil shall slay the wicked;” and it is always slaying them, whether they be priests or people—the laity or the clergy. If they are not true to God, day and night they are being slain. Secondly: The destruction of the social state. “And I will destroy thy mother.” Who was the mother? The Israelitish state. And it was destroyed. England is our mother, and our mother will be destroyed unless we banish sin from our midst [The Homilist].
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
An expostulating God, Hosea 4:1. “Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel,” &c.
1. It is a marvellous controversy. God might forsake, but he strives with men. Princes might hold a controversy with princes, and nations with nations, but for God to plead with his creatures is wondrous love.
2. It is a just controversy. There is abundant reason for it. We have broken his covenant, reproached his name, and been ungrateful for his favours. The demands of moral government, the interests of the universe, require some rectification, some settlement of matters.
3. It is a continual controversy. God is speaking now day by day by his word and servants, carrying on the controversy yet with the most guilty and rebellious, seeking to convince them of sin, and leave them without excuse.
4. It is a hopeless controversy. The sinner has no excuse, no argument or right on his side. He has sinned against light and truth, the voice of conscience and the warnings of providence. “Let them bring forth their witnesses,” as I do mine, “that they may be justified” in their works and ways. “Or let them hear and say it is truth;” let them hear the arguments on my side, and say, after due consideration, if truth is not with me, and that I am perfectly reasonable in my requirements. The sinner is “speechless” now and will have no plea at the judgment day. The potsherd of the earth may strive with the potsherds, but man is unequal in strife with God. “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!”
Truth and mercy.
1. Rooted in the knowledge of God.
2. Related one to another.
3. Opposite to the five sins mentioned in Hosea 4:2, swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and incontinency. “Truth and love are mutually conditions, the one of the other. ‘Truth cannot be sustained without mercy; and mercy without truth makes men negligent; so that the one ought to be mingled with the other’ [Jerome]. They both have their roots in the knowledge of God, of which they are the fruit (Jeremiah 22:16; Isaiah 11:9); for the knowledge of God is not merely ‘an acquaintance with his nature and will’ [Hitzig], but knowledge of the love, faithfulness, and compassion of God, resting upon the experience of the heart. Such knowledge not only produces fear of God, but also love and truthfulness towards brethren (cf. Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12). Where this is wanting injustice gains the upper hand” [Keil].
Speculative and practical knowledge are bound up together through the oneness of the relation of the soul to God, whether in its thoughts of him or acts towards him. Wrong practice corrupts belief, and misbelief corrupts practice [Pusey].
1. Strife against the means of knowledge. Priests were repositories of knowledge, the oracles and guides of the people (Malachi 2:7).
2. Strife against Divine authority. All difficult cases were taken to the priests (Deuteronomy 17:8-12), who pronounced judgment, and those who refused the sentence were put to death. They represented God’s authority, and spoke in God’s name.
3. Strife against spiritual interests. (a) Even here they, priest-strivers, are often left alone. Let not man strive with those who strive with God; reproof will only irritate and not correct them. (b) Hereafter they suffer the consequence of their evil ways. “To strive then with the priest was the highest contumacy, and such was their whole life and conduct. It was the character of the whole kingdom of Israel. For they had thrown off the authority of the family of Aaron which God had appointed. Their political existence was based upon the rejection of that authority. The national character influences the individual. When the whole policy is formed on disobedience and revolt, individuals will not tolerate interference. As they had rejected the priest, so would, and did, they reject the prophets. St Stephen gives it as a characteristic of the Jews, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye” [Pusey].
Hosea 4:5. When false prophets flatter and soothe the people in sin, when sinners rebel against Divine authority and reject Divine teaching, they hasten on their ruin. No degree of prosperity, no human aid, and no mere Church or State can save them from sudden, unexpected, and fearful fall. “Thou shalt fall in the day, and I will destroy thy mother.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Hosea 4:1-5. When God has a “controversy” with a people he appeals to conscience as a witness to his cause. He demands and should secure earnest heed. The speaker is great. The cause is most important, and concerns our spiritual and eternal welfare. If we cannot plead excuse now, how can we stand before the judgment-seat at last?
Consideration is the duty of the Church. Faith cometh by hearing, and every faculty of the mind should be bent to receive Divine teaching.
Hosea 4:6. Know.] Lit. the knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1), which is life to the soul. Reject] Utterly reject thee from being a priestly nation (Exodus 19:6); deprived of priestly rank, and made like heathens. God repays in kind; despise the truth, this will suppress it.
IGNORANCE OF GOD: A WARNING TO THE PEOPLE.—Hosea 4:6
The prophet had complained that there was no knowledge of God in the land. This was a serious offence in a land of privileges and religious teachers, and an error fatal to the people. All were ignorant. The people and the priests were all to blame. In spite of warning and judgment, by the destruction of one dynasty after another, they would not desist from the sin of Jeroboam. God therefore would deprive the nation of its priestly honour, strip it of its priestly rank, and make it like a heathen nation. The words contain a warning to people and priests.
I. Ignorance of God is inexcusable. Israel had abundant means and opportunities of knowing God. “For did Israel not know?” and “have they not heard?” (Romans 10:18-19). The sound of the gospel was heard, and was sent forth like the voice of nature in all the land. The conversion of the Gentiles and the universality of Christianity were predicted; they had the oracles of God, and were highly exalted above other people. They had no excuse therefore for their unbelief. They possessed the law of God, but neglected to look into it, and forsook it. In this Israel are like many now, who, in the midst of religious ordinances, in a land of Bibles and Christian Sabbaths, disregard, neglect their salvation, and live in total ignorance of God. There is a natural distaste for spiritual things, inattention to religious duties, and an absorption in things of this world, which beget indifference and lead to unbelief. There are persons who are moral but not devout, honest but not prayerful, benevolent but not converted, amiable but not decided, nominal Christians who are not real Christians. Those who forget God are more numerous than the profligate and profane. Ignorance of God seems a small sin, but ignorance is allied with wickedness. To forget God is to exclude the essential parts of religion. It implies that his goodness, holiness, and claims are of no value to us; it is to exclude God from our thoughts and give him no place in our heart and conduct. Hence to be ignorant of God is not to love and fear him; not to live in subjection to his law, nor to aim at his glory as the chief end of life. Yet this is the real, the sad state of thousands in Christian England!
II. Ignorance of God is wilful. “Thou hast rejected knowledge.” To forget is an act of negligence; to reject is a calm, deliberate sin, a positive refusal of God’s kind offers. Not the mere absence of knowledge, a deprivation of it; but a denial of it, an affected ignorance. They hated the light and loved the darkness. There is no guilt in rejecting some things, but to refuse the offers of mercy and despise the revelations of God’s love in his Son, is to sin away all mercy. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.” Deliberately and knowingly to forsake God and the services of the sanctuary, is to make common cause with ungodly men and anti-christian synagogues. To suppress by an act of self-will your better knowledge and conviction, is to reserve yourself for future punishment and rejection. If the apostate under the Old Testament was punished with severe penalty, how much greater the punishment of the sinner against greater privileges and fuller light! “Behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.”
III. Ignorance of God is destructive. A man may be ignorant of mathematics, astronomy, and geology, without suffering much; but to be ignorant of God, the chief and highest good, is to rob ourselves of happiness and expose ourselves to death. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
1. Ignorance perpetuates folly. Ignorant men fall into temptations, seek sensual gratifications, and live in error. Knowledge is valuable for its own sake, and when rightly used, preserves from many “foolish lusts.” “Be assured,” says Dr Chalmers, “it is not because the people know much, that they ever become the willing subjects of any factious or unprincipled demagogue. It is just because they know too little. It is just because ignorance is the field on which the quackery of a political impostor ever reaps its most abundant harvest.”
2. Ignorance destroys present enjoyment. The animal has all the instincts necessary to make it happy; but man’s true enjoyment is in the knowledge and love of God. Human beings to fulfil their vocations must have knowledge. We are dependent for happiness upon knowledge. Every evil that curses mankind is connected with ignorance. Hence knowledge is light. Ignorance is a blind guide, and its results are often more fearful than the cause itself. Exclude knowledge from the mind, you turn it into a world of darkness, and rob it of its native element. Thus driven from light, no brilliant genius, no flashes of fancy, can enlighten it. These will scathe like the lightning, rather than bless and cheer, and leave the gloom more horrible. Knowledge is life and health. “That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good.” The words of God are the health and life of the soul. “They are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.” Wisdom is the indispensable condition of physical and spiritual health. It promotes temperance, and gives self-restraint. It teaches submission to the Divine will, and leads to the emancipation of our noblest powers and capacities. It secures the fullest and freest development of body and mind in personal life and activity for God. Ignorance is sickness, decay, and death. Knowledge unites to God, but ignorance cuts off from God. “My people are cut off for lack of knowledge” Cut off from the source of life and enjoyment, like a branch lopped off from the tree. Man cannot bear fruit of himself, hence he will perish if not united to God in knowledge and faith.
3. Ignorance destroys future happiness. Eternal life is suspended in knowledge, for men “perish for lack of knowledge.” On the other hand, “This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Knowledge of all kinds is the proper wealth of our rational nature: but to captivate us with the knowledge of God, it is set forth as the only wealth worth possessing—the only science which conducts to life. And this life not mere unending existence, but growing knowledge and conformity to Christ. Religion on earth consists in the knowledge of God, and blessedness in heaven consists in the vision of God. Well may we pray with Professor Hall, “O Lord, remove our ignorance, that we may know thee; our idleness, that we may seek thee; our unbelief, that we may find and enjoy thee.”
IGNORANCE OF GOD: A WARNING TO THE PRIESTS
I. Priests blamed for the ignorance of the people. They were appointed to teach and warn the people; but were unfaithful to their trust, and suffered the nation to sin.
1. They neglected study. “Thou hast rejected knowledge.” They had the means, but did not improve them. They had the law, but did not read it. The preacher should be wise and teach the people knowledge (Ecclesiastes 12:9); should study to make provision for their wants (Matthew 13:52); and make full proof of his ministry. But an idle, ignorant minister, is a disgrace to the community, and a curse to the Church. 2. They lived inconsistent lives. They professed to belong to God, but worshipped the calves of Jeroboam. Through poverty, fear, or shame, they withheld, suppressed the truth, and connived at the nation’s sin. They shared in the rejection of God’s truth, and brought themselves under God’s curse. “I will also reject thee.”
II. Priests punished for the ignorance of the people. It was their duty to remove it, but they encouraged it to answer their own selfish ends. Hence they were guilty, partook of the sins of the people, and were deprived of their honour.
1. They were cast out of office themselves. “Thou shalt be no priest to me.” Sad fall! God will not retain idle and ungodly men in office. Those that have no love for Christ and immortal souls, will have no love for their work, and display no activity in it. “Consider this,” says Bishop Taylor, “which is a great truth—that every degree of love to the world is so much taken from the love of God.” “Take heed unto thyself,” lest thou miscarry and become a castaway.
2. They deprived their posterity of honour. “I will also forget thy children.” What will the rising generation be without the means of knowing and loving God? What will the nation become when its “candlestick is removed out of its place”? It is sad to be forgotten of God. The sun does not shine on more wretched creatures, than on the awful masses of our fellow-creatures growing up in ignorance and estrangement from God. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” God only knows how far the ministers of his word are the cause of this destruction. “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezekiel 3:18; cf. Psalms 51:14; Acts 20:26).
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Rejecting knowledge. Proves—
1. A wrong spirit: (a) hating to be taught, (b) despising the teacher, (c) resolved to sin.
2. A mournful indication: (a) pride, (b) contempt of God, (c) indifference to truth.
3. A fatal result: (a) deadness of conscience, (b) unbelief of heart, (c) utter rejection of God.
1. The course, forgetting his love and goodness, word and power, justice and grace.
2. The result: (a) awful, (b) unexpected, (c) universal, (d) inevitable. “Ignorance is so far from being the mother of devotion, that it is the mother of destruction; lack of knowledge is ruining to any person or people [Matt. Henry].”
Parents who are careless as to themselves, as to their own lives, as to their own shame even, still long that their children should not be as themselves. God tries to touch their hearts where they are least steeled against him. He says not I will forget thee, but I will forget those nearest thy heart, thy children [Pusey].
It is the righteous judgment of God upon negligent parents and unfaithful ministers, to requite their children, for their treatment to his. “I will also forget thy children.” Parents cannot do wrong without injuring their children. Ministers cannot neglect their duty without robbing their people. The iniquities of the fathers and teachers shall be visited on their children.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Hosea 4:6. Knowledge. Some years ago a vessel sailing on the northern coast of South America was seen to make signals of distress. When hailed by another vessel, they reported themselves as “dying for water!” “Dip it up, then,” was the response; “you are in the mouth of the Amazon river.” There was fresh water all around them, they had nothing to do but to dip it up, and yet they were dying of thirst, because they thought themselves surrounded by the salt sea. How often are men ignorant of their mercies! How sad that they should perish for lack of knowledge! Jesus is near the seeker even when he is tossed upon the oceans of doubt. The sinner has but to stoop down and drink and live; and yet he is ready to perish, as if salvation were hard to find [Spurgeon].
Those are marked for ruin that are deaf to reproof and reject good counsel. “Therefore,” says Bp Pilkington, “let every one keep himself in God’s school-house and learn his lesson diligently. For as the body is nourished with meat, so is the soul with the word of God.”
Hosea 4:7. Increased] in number and wealth. Shame] i.e. dishonoured by the loss of all. Some, in proportion as priests were elevated in power and dignity above the people, they surpassed them in sin.
Hosea 4:8. They] The priests made gain on the sins of the people, lived upon them. Set their heart] Lusted after, strongly desired, instead of checking iniquity.They encouraged idolatry for selfish ends.
Hosea 4:9. Punish] Visit upon them. Reward] Make to return upon them their doings; rank and wealth will not preserve them from sharing the fate of the nation. Presumptuous sins return to their own bosom (Proverbs 1:31).
THE DANGER OF WORLDLY PROSPERITY.—Hosea 4:7-9
The increase may refer to number, or wealth, power, and dignity. Israel had grown into a strong and powerful nation, but increase of greatness was attended with increase of sin. Its prosperity was attributed to idols (Hosea 2:7), thought to be the fruit of their worship, and strengthened them in their delusion. God would therefore turn their glory into shame and make them a warning to others.
I. In worldly prosperity men forget God. The standard of revolt was erected in the first sin. The history of man since has been an endeavour to build an empire, governed by laws and replenished with resources, independent of God. Having by apostasy cut himself off from the true God, he has joined himself to idols, or in his own sufficiency deified himself and made himself his own first and last, all in all.
1. God is not recognized. The gifts are received with ingratitude or attributed to human skill and effort. God is shut out entirely from men’s thoughts and business. When men do not fear, they sink into utter forgetfulness of God, into practical atheism. “Because they have left off to take to the Lord,” Hosea 4:10.
2. God is forsaken. “As they were increased so they sinned against me.” It is easy to forsake God when once he is forgotten. Worldlings make their prosperity minister to their pride and ingratitude. Increase of wealth occasions increase of pomp. “Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked, then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation.” An abundant population begets haughty self-reliance, and tempts nations to war. Riches and wealth are not evil in themselves. Nor is the mere possession of them wrong. In almost every stage of civilization they procure the necessities and conveniences of life, and may be made the means of doing good. But to desire them for their own sake, to put them in the place of the highest good, and to let them beget a rapacious worldly spirit, is to abuse them and sin against God. “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
II. In worldly prosperity men become covetous. “They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.” The priests made a gain of the sins of the people. They encouraged idolatry, which involved desertion of God, and connived at sinful customs. The more the people sinned, the more sin-offerings were presented. Their fees and support were derived from the calf worship. They set their heart, i.e. their longing desire, upon their iniquity, had an interest in its growth, and did all in their power to uphold and increase it.
1. False religionists feed upon sin. Religious teachers are most assuming in their authority and dictatorial in their conduct. They feed upon the ignorance and are worshipped by the superstitions of the people. Servility and flattery exalt them and puff them up with pride. A train of followers, a multitude of dependants, look up to them when they go out and when they come in. “Self, is Dives in the mansion, clothed in purple, and faring sumptuously every day—the cause of Christ, is Lazarus lying at his gate, and fed only with the crumbs which fall from his table.” Religious professors are satisfied with forms and ceremonies, anxious for the reputation without performing the duties of Christians, and feed upon merit, not upon Christ. They turn religion into traffic, and “suppose that gain is godliness.”
2. Covetous men feed upon sin. Every passion seeks to justify itself, but covetousness is defended and espoused by all the passions. Covetousness was manifest in the first transgression, and has maintained a fatal ascendency ever since. It turned the nations of old into rapacity, arrogance, and pride, which braved the very throne of God. Alas! it changes the priests and ministers of God into mercenary hirelings, “The heads of Zion judge for reward, and the prophets therefore divine for money.” All covetous men seek to feed, to support themselves, by fraud and deceit; by worldly lusts and pleasure; by idolatry and selfishness. “The covetous man lives as if the world was made altogether for him,” says South, “and not he for the world; to take in everything and part with nothing.” Worldly men have perverted spiritual appetites, relish only inferior and sinful pursuits, and feed upon ashes (Isaiah 40:20).
III. In worldly prosperity men are ruined. “I will punish them for their ways.” “Therefore will I change their glory into shame.” Sin brings its own punishment. The very objects which excite it form a rod for its chastisement. God is perpetually reminding men that pursuit of worldly good is attended with great anxiety and exhausting toil—that its possession is often a mortification and its loss an anguish—that it is dangerous and destructive, leading men “into temptation and a snare, and piercing them through with many sorrows.”
1. Ruin instead of glory. I will change their glory into shame. God overrules the purposes and pursuits of men. They reap what they do not sow, and are rewarded with the opposite of what they anticipate. God can strip worldly prosperity of all its glory, turn the ornaments of character, and the acquisitions of fortune, into a curse instead of a blessing.
2. Glory the means of ruin. Beauty is often the cause of pride. Pride and a haughty spirit come before a fall. Ambition, power, and population drive nations to war and destruction. “Ambition overleaps itself, and falls on the contrary side.” Amaziah would take no warning, lost his own wealth, and wasted the treasures in God’s temple, and the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, and the city exposed to shame and contempt (2 Kings 14:10).
3. Ruin upon all the people. “Like people, like priest.” Priest and people were alike in sin and must suffer in punishment. “As with the people, so with the priest” (Isaiah 24:2). Prosperity would not exempt the one, nor sanctity secure the other. None would escape, all must be carried away into disgrace and death. The people shelter themselves under the example of the priest: and the priest excuses himself by the power of number, the weakness of our nature, and the strength of temptation; but God “will punish them for their ways.” The wicked may prosper and rule for a while; but God will visit them. They act foolishly by turning God’s mercies to their own destruction, and because they prosper confirm themselves in their folly. Their fame will become infamous, their disgrace conspicuous, and their “shame will be their promotion” (Proverbs 3:35). “The prosperity of fools shall destroy them.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
A just retribution: if we turn God’s glory into shame by idolatry (Psalms 106:20; Jeremiah 2:2; Romans 1:23; Philippians 3:19); God will take away glory and give us our shame. “Such is the course of sin and chastisement. God bestows on man gifts, which may be to him matter of praise and glory, if only ordered aright to their highest and only true end, the glory of God; man perverts them to vain glory and thereby to sin; God turns the gifts, so abused, to shame” [Pusey].
In our own days Christian ministers and Christian laymen, from fear of man and love of popularity, shrink from denouncing the fashionable sins and follies of all classes, the spurious liberalism in religion, the equivocal amusements, luxury, absence of modesty in apparel, and covetousness, so prevalent. Ministers conniving at the corrupt ways of the people, and the people screening their sin behind the worldliness of ministers, are both alike in guilt, and shall therefore be also alike in punishment. God will make their sin their punishment; their own presumptuous doings shall be their reward [Fausset].
Like priests like people.
1. Like in moral character—good or bad.
2. Like in moral conduct—consistent or inconsistent.
3. Like in moral destiny—saved or lost. “Let your life be a commentary on your sermons” [Lamont]. “The life of a pious clergyman is visible rhetoric” [Hooker].
“When nations are to perish in their sins,
’Tis in the Church the leprosy begins.” [Cowper.]
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Hosea 4:7. Gratitude. Special favours call for great gratitude, as those who rent the largest farms generally pay the most for them. There is ingratitude in concealing a benefit or forgetting it, as well as not making a return for it; but the worst ingratitude is returning evil for good. Prosperity. No sooner does the warm aspect of good fortune shine, than all the plans of virtue, raised like a beautiful frost-work in the winter season of adversity, thaw and disappear [Warburton].
Hosea 4:8-9. Covetousness never judges anything unlawful. Blood is not too sacred for it to buy, nor religion too Divine for it to sell. It has turned the priests and ministers of God into mercenary hirelings. In Popery every shrine has its gift, every confession its cost, every prayer its charge, and every benediction its price [Wilson].
Hosea 4:10. Enough] Not be satisfied. Left off] keeping, observing Jehovah (Zechariah 11:11). All other means of increase failed. Polygamy against the law, and will bring the curse of God.
Hosea 4:12. My people] Their wood, give keenness to the reproach. God’s people seek to be instructed by a staff, depend on wooden idols constantly and entirely! From under] his authority and subjection.
Hosea 4:13. Tops] Thought to be near God and heaven (Deuteronomy 12:2). Shadow] screening from the heat of the sun, and filling the mind with certain awe. God delivers up to vile affections as a punishment for idolatry (Romans 1:26).
Hosea 4:14.] God turns from the reckless nation as unworthy of being mentioned, and speaks in the third person. They] Husbands and fathers go aside to be alone with harlots. Sacrifice] Come to the altar with them instead of their own wives, “the climax of shameless licentiousness.” The young cannot be blamed, for the older are much worse. Hosea 4:15-19 a warning to Judah not to partake of Israel’s guilt.
SINFUL INDULGENCES.—Hosea 4:10-14
God will visit the priests for their presumptuous sins. Those who eat up greedily the sin of the people shall receive neither enjoyment nor sustenance. Insatiable desire is its own tormentor. Sonsual indulgence can never satisfy the cravings of the soul. “Ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink.”
I. Sensual indulgences do not satisfy our wants. “For they shall eat and not have enough.” The food of the priests did not nourish their bodies, nor satisfy their greedy appetites. Sinful desires are never satisfied. The more they are gratified the more intensely do they crave, and cry, like the horse-leech, “Give, give.” Every indulgence creates the appetite. Men seek happiness in created good, and are wretched because they do not find it. God made man upright, with a healthy spiritual appetite, that sought its support and fruition in him. But deceived by sin, man sought out many inventions, prepared many idols, and substituted many pleasures for God, which cannot appease his hunger. The debaucheries of drunkenness, gluttony, and lust, are husks only fit for swine. The cares and toils of sin, the pursuit of wealth and honour, of fame and fashion, indicate the disease, but give no satisfaction to the soul. Even amid the surfeits of earth’s richest feasts men cry, “Who will show us any good?” Charles the Fifth, after a life spent in military pursuits and the active, energetic prosecution of ambitious designs, resigned his crown sated with its enjoyment. The poet Campbell, who sung in early youth “The Pleasures of Hope,” in the evening of life said to a circle of friends, “As for fame, it is a bubble that must soon burst. Earned for others, shared with others, it was sweet; but, at my age, to my own solitary experience, it is bitter. Left in my chamber alone with myself, is it wonderful my philosophy at times takes fright; that I rush into company; resort to that which blunts but heals no pang; and then, sick of the world, and dissatisfied with myself, shrink back into solitude?” They spend their lives and waste their substance in that which disappoints; “confessing all the time,” says a writer, “that they fail even when in form they succeed, and showing by their symptoms of disappointment and dissatisfaction that their objects, whether gained or lost, have no relation to their wants.” Nothing can satisfy the immortal soul that is not adapted to its nature and constitution. The enjoyment must be lasting and real, but the pleasures of sin are short-lived and only “for a season.” They gratify and excite, but never satisfy the mind. Our thirst dries up all earthly things, and our hunger craves for fuller joys than sensual indulgences. We must go out of ourselves, beyond the things of sense, and feed on God, the only good.
II. Sensual indulgences are pursued by unlawful means. “They shall commit whoredom and shall not increase.”
1. They are increased by sinful methods. Whoredom was not the way to increase their offspring. Children are a heritage from God. Polygamy is against the law of God and the welfare of humanity. The fruit of illicit intercourse God will turn to decay. Those who seek to increase in their families, to prosper in their business, and secure worldly wealth, by unlawful means, fight against God. Dishonest ways can never prosper. Nothing can succeed without God. He can desert the means or curse the issue. “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing (Proverbs 10:2); ill-gotten gains are a dangerous and uncertain possession (Proverbs 13:11; Proverbs 21:6); and the wages of unrighteousness will be the reward of those who follow ways of covetousness and sin.”
2. They are sought in forgetfulness of God. “They have left off to take heed to the Lord.” Once they regarded God’s authority and law, but now they take no heed at all. God is neither acknowledged in worship nor discerned in providence. They live in total forgetfulness and disregard. Men should “take heed,” look to God, “as the eyes of servants look unto the hands of their masters,” for support, direction, and duty. But when the eye is fixed on lower objects, and the heart centred on sinful pursuits, God is forgotten and forsaken. The lawless and hopeless ways of men spring from disregard to God and neglect of his word. When the eye ceases to watch God, they fall into error, wander amid the pomps, and vanities, and lusts of the world. “Show me what thou truly lovest,” says Fichte, “show me what thou seekest and strivest for with thy whole heart, when thou hopest to attain to true enjoyment, and thou hast hereby shown me thy life. What thou lovest is that thou livest. This very love is thy life, thy root, the seal, the central point of thy being.”
III. Sensual indulgences injure the spiritual nature. They were so attached to whoredom and wine that they seemed to have lost all sense of moral duty and religious obligation, and given themselves up to “work all manner of sin even with greediness.”
1. Sensual indulgences darken the understanding. They “take away the heart” from God their Benefactor. Sinful passions brutalize men, and “a brutish man knoweth not.” The unbelieving heart does not know nor understand God and his word. Men may parade their intellect, and boast of their gifts, but estrangement from God degrades their condition, and sinks them in the rank of being. If we have no sanctified principle within us, we look at God’s works, interpret God’s ways, and receive God’s blessing, just like the beasts of the field. We extract no useful and spiritual thoughts from them. We are content with the natural use, nay, we degrade the natural use of things. Vain imaginations darken the foolish heart (Romans 1:22). When the light and life of God have departed from the soul, when the wicked have cast out the knowledge of God, God will give “them over to a reprobate mind;” a mind void of judgment and perception, weakened in power to apprehend and approve of the truth and goodness of God (Romans 1:28). When once sinful indulgence darkens the mind, it becomes stupid, and its active powers are suffered to sleep in stupidity. Men could not preserve the truth and philosophy, could not retain the knowledge of God, without moral aid. Habits of sense and sin, of indulgence and passion, destroy the perception of the mind and blunt the understanding. Sensual life impairs and paralyzes the intuitive powers and bedims the judgment. What a sad picture to see the decay of knowledge, to see the moral sense extinguished in man, the king and lord, the minister and interpreter, of nature! It is melancholy to see the fair creation, which God pronounced good, poisoned and cursed by disease and death. But to make religion degenerate into idolatry, to pervert the moral instincts of our nature, and confound by evil habits and constant crimes the distinction between right and wrong, light and darkness, is sad beyond degree! “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”
2. Sensual indulgences deaden the affections. Man is a creature of appetites and instinctive desires, in common with the mere animal. If he were nothing more, he would be innocent in the abandonment of himself to their gratification. But they need controlling, lest his higher interests be endangered—his instincts and affections must be subordinated to a sense of duty and the love of God. If the sensuous predominate over the spiritual, and self-indulgence and self-gratification become the law of life, then his nobler feelings are crushed and his affections vitiated. “Fleshly lusts” war against the soul, the very centre and citadel of man’s nature. The “divers lusts and pleasures,” to which natural man is a slave, are dishonourable to the Christian and perilous to all. They disturb the peace of the soul by corroding care and by the tumult of passion—they darken its vision, and taint its powers with corruption—they threaten its life, and intercept its communication with God and spiritual influences. To be carnally-minded is death. In spiritual death men are “past feeling” and beyond the charms of life. The conscience is stifled, the heart hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and they are left without moral sense, and shame, and hope.
3. Sensual indulgences debase the moral nature. Every created object expresses some thought, some quality of the Divine nature. The moral character of God was revealed in the moral nature of man. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him,” in knowledge and true holiness. “Man,” says Clement, “is the most beautiful hymn to the praise of the Deity.” Divine properties in him were incarnated and humanized, and lodged in him were principles before at large. He was “crowned with glory and honour.” But he voluntarily broke away from God, deranged the harmony of his moral nature, disturbed the peace of the universe, and exposed himself to death. Sin has defaced God’s image, and man has lost his original righteousness. The understanding is blinded by ignorance and prejudice. The heart is alienated from God by wicked works. The affections are disordered, and the desires corrupted. Man is now subject to sense and a slave to sin. He defiles himself by the filthiness of the flesh, and deforms himself by sensual indulgence. Luxury and lusts bind the will and make him unable and indisposed to restore himself. He has become the sport and prey of his passions. There is a tendency to animalism, and an immortal being is compelled to ride on the back of lusts and “presumptuous sins.” There is a loss of the consciousness of God and a forgetfulness of the presence of God. The supernatural tie is broken, and man wanders into error and lives in earthly, sensual, and devilish sins. Any idol debases the moral nature, and changes the glory which distinguishes man “into the similitude of an ox” (Psalms 106:20).
IV. Sensual indulgences are oftenconnected with superstition. “My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them.” It was a sad fall for the people of the living God to consult a heathen staff and say to mere wood, My father (Jeremiah 2:27). But the descent is easy and gradual. There is a tendency in man to depart from God, to acquire and foster false ideas of God, even in the midst of the clearest indications of his existence and the tenderest reasons for clinging to him. Guilt, fear, and despair isolate the soul and turn it from God—make it drop, and cut it off as a plant from the light of the sun. Then we approach God in terror. We create gods of our own fancy, philosophy, and early prepossessions. “Fear made the gods,” says a heathen writer. It is certain that superstition, polytheism, and atheism are only the counterpart and exponent of the moral condition of nations. Our nature is religious, and the corrupt heart will produce gods like itself. The philosopher contemplates nature, rejects a personal God, and becomes a pantheist. The wicked wishes there to be no God; governed by his wishes, and led to believe against all moral evidence, he says there is no God, and becomes an atheist. The ignorant multitude, dreading God, become superstitious, and foster and express their religious feeling in figurative representations “made by art and man’s device.” Men associate their notions of Deity with the palpable realities by which they are surrounded, and in every light of heaven and every element of nature they behold the presence of a presiding power. The grove and the mountain, the valley and the stream, have been peopled with divinities. The pride of monarchs and the ambition of heroes, the veneration of priests and the licentiousness of people, have swelled the catalogue of gods. In Egypt and Assyria, in Greece and Rome, in their palmiest days, idolatry was supported by the deepest principles, the most violent passions, and the most obvious interest of legislator and prince, sculptor and poet. Originating in the depraved propensities of fallen nature, depending upon their activity for existence and sup port, it afforded a patron for every vice, a plea for every cruelty; it consecrated every lust and sanctioned every crime. Its terrible effects are written in the destruction of institutions, the corruption of morals, and the doom of nations. Modern civilization fares no better. If men do not consult blocks of wood and stone, they kneel before statues and pictures, endow human conceptions with the attributes of Divinity, and set the creature on the throne of the Creator. We have Ritualism and Romanism, priestcraft and priesthood, sacrifice and offering, with their deadly evils. The mind is filled with narrow conceptions, the eyes are habituated to artistic nullities, and the morals are polluted by gross caricatures and sensuous worship. In the bosom of the Christian Church untaught myriads are sinking into modern heathenism, and believe “the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone.” We have material idolatry and superstition in the present day. The gods of sensualism are represented by lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God—by those who seek enjoyment in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. The worshippers of the golden calf bow down to riches and worldly success. Devotees of literature and science deify Nature and turn her into a temple of adoration. Worldliness, idolatry, and superstition, in their most refined and plausible forms, vitiate our conceptions of God, lower the standard of morality, wounds society at its core, and spread dire results in families and nations. They have breathed pestilence in the ordinances of the Christian Church—corrupting their simplicity, polluting their sanctity, and tarnishing their glory. Though upheld by the traditions of antiquity, the suggestions of expediency, or the dictates of human authority, they entice, deceive, debase, and are rebellious against the authority, the absolute and sole right of God to claim our homage. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath.”
V. Sensual indulgences affect posterity. “Therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.” Sin and suffering are inseparable. The moral order of the universe must dissolve and perish before a breach of God’s law can bring anything but evil and distress. Under the moral government of God, the consequences of an act do not pass away with the transgressor. We are taught to calculate upon remote results, impressed with our responsibility and aided in duty. The Jews were commanded to obey God—taught that obedience would secure, and disobedience would forfeit, their privileges to their posterity, and reminded that the principle of involving their children in the temporal condition of the fathers was a just and merciful provision. Religion appeals to the strongest instincts of our nature, guards its purity by enlisting the affection of parents for their offspring, and grafting on that affection a salutary fear of the visitations of God.
1. By the influence of example sensual indulgence affects posterity. “Therefore your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses shall commit adultery.” Children naturally imitate, do as you do, not as you say, and “catch the infection” of parents. Hence a wise man speaks of his children as his “future state.” According to example, will this future be good or evil, a success or a failure. If parents drink and swear, neglect the house and forsake the service of God, will their children walk in any other way? If fathers and mothers are spendthrifts, pleasure-seekers, and indulgent in vice, their children will follow their steps, and God recompenses parents in their children. The child copies the foibles of the father and pleases him; he copies his vices and punishes him. Men may love their sins, but they will be alarmed when they see them in their posterity. Antipathies are imbibed, reproduced, and intensified. Lusts are bred and born, and bring forth death in the rising generation. In the French Revolution, the children amused themselves by killing birds and small animals with little guillotines. This was the natural result of what they had seen. Children live again the lives of their parents, act their deeds, and are rewarded or punished by their example. “God layeth up his iniquity for his children.”
2. By a natural law sensual indulgence affects posterity. Parents and children, the present and the future generation, are bound together not by accidental circumstances, but by organic unity. The existing generation is giving the impress of its character to the one that is to follow it. No man liveth unto himself. Every action in this life is the beginning of a chain of results, the end of which cannot be seen. As in the natural, so in the moral world, there is a “conservation of force.” Example is contagious. Men beneficially or perniciously influence others, raise them up or bring them down to their own standard of morality. Good and evil are diffusive, and seeds of conduct ripen and reappear in the life of others. “That which is born of evil begets evil,” says Ruskin, “and that which is born of valour and honour teaches valour and honour.” The sensualist and the sabbath-breaker, the drunkard and the glutton, are spreading “the savour of death unto death!” The wicked and licentious are influencing the morals of those around them. The health and happiness, the honour and the degradation, of posterity are in the power of the present. When children are “born thieves,” or “born liars,” their parents and progenitors are to blame. Drunkards beget drunkards; dishonesty and lusts are hereditary vices. Sensual and vicious parents beget sensual and vicious children. Diseased parents transmit weakened constitutions and diseased tendencies to their offspring. Thus “the evil that men do,” as well as the good they do, “lives after them.” The law of influence is a continuous, ever-increasing power, working consequences to the end of time. “Thou recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Hosea 4:10. Take heed to the Lord.
1. God the object of love, regard, and life.
2. When men do not take heed, disregard God, they fall into sin, wander into the vanities and lusts of the world.
3. Culpable neglect of God, persisted in, is lawless and hopeless, involves the loss of blessing, and ruin. “As the true cause of all men’s departure is their not serious minding of God, that they might observe and love him, so where this neglect is he cares not for external form and performance, and especially is he provoked when men make apostasy from better things to this temper, for it is challenged as the root of their miscarriage and God’s judgments, because they have left off,” &c. [Hutcheson].
Hosea 4:11. The Triple Association. Whoredom, voluptuousness, and drunkenness—their influence upon individuals, families, and societies. “As it is God’s judgment on unfaithful ministers and people that they are given up to sensuality, so that will soon besot them and make them sapless in their doctrine and careless in their duty” [Hutcheson].
The Threefold Apostasy.
1. By whoredom, or illicit worship rendered to heathen gods by the chosen people. This worship was spiritual fornication, and by it their hearts were captivated, taken away from that exclusive trust and allegiance which they owed to God, their covenant King.
2. By yayin, wine—the type of sensual gratification—their hearts had been taken away from supreme affection to God, their Divine Redeemer and Benefactor.
3. By tirosh, the fruit of the vine—the type of natural earthly good—their hearts had been captivated from God, the infinite goodness and Fountain of spiritual joy. This was the apostasy of which the children of Abraham had been guilty; they went after strange gods instead of the true God; their best affections centred in sensual pleasures, instead of being fixed upon the Divine love; and their estimate of good was limited to earthly things (represented by tirosh, one of the most delicious of natural elements), instead of embracing him “from whom all blessings flow.” Or taking the ascending scale, their understanding was darkened, for they esteemed temporal good above the Giver of eternal good; their affections were sensualized, by being exclusively engaged with animal delights; and their spiritual nature was debased, by being prostrated before stupid idols [Temp. Commentary].
Hosea 4:12. Idolatry does not consist merely in calling upon idols, but also in trust in our own righteousness, works, and service, in riches and human influence and power. And this, as it is the most common, is also the most harmful idolatry [Luther].
Idolatry never stands alone. All the sins of Israel were centred in it. By association even good was magnetized with evil, and confirmed it. In heathen nations it is connected with cruel and barbarous rites—in modern times, lasciviousness and intemperance, with all their attendant evils, follow in its train.
Hosea 4:13-14. When men forsake God, mark the steps of degradation.
1. They worship sticks and stocks, inferior creatures.
2. They seek counsel and direction from them, and take any allusion for response.
3. They set up human ordinances for Divine, the creature for the Creator, and consecrate mountains and hills, groves and valleys, as temples of superstition.
4. They forsake God’s direction, go from under his providence and protection. God will not accept any but spiritual worship, and all who forsake him shall perish.
5. They bring ruin upon themselves. “The people that doth not understand shall fall,” and be confounded (Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 10:10). “Ignorance which we might avoid or cure, if we would, is itself a sin. It cannot excuse sin. They shall, he says, fall or be cast headlong. Those who blind their eyes, so as not to see or understand God’s will, bring themselves to sudden ruin, which they hide from themselves, until they fall headlong in it” [Pusey].
The sins of the fathers descend very often to the children, both in the way of nature, that the children inherit strong temptations to their parents’ sin, and by way of example, that they greedily imitate, often exaggerate them. Wouldest thou not have children which thou wouldest wish unborn, reform thyself [Pusey].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Hosea 4:10-11. Sin is a disease equally dangerous, whether it works secretly within, or breaks out into odious displays of vice. Yielding to immoral pleasure corrupts the mind; living to animal and trifling ones debases it; and both in their degree disqualify it for its genuine good, and consign it over to wretchedness [Wilson].
Hosea 4:12-14. Idolatry is the adoption of a false god. Apostasy is the rejection of the true God. The idols of the heathen stood, so to speak, between heaven and earth, obscuring the vision of God, intercepting and appropriating the incense which should have ascended to the eternal throne. If we look upon the world as a musical instrument, well-tuned, and harmoniously struck, we ought not to worship the instrument, but the Being that makes the music.
Hosea 4:15. Come not] by pilgrimages to places of idolatrous worship. Swear not] in temples of idols. “The confession of Jehovah is hypocrisy in the mouth of an idolater; pretended piety, which is more dangerous than open ungodliness, because it lulls the conscience to sleep” [Keel].
Hosea 4:16. Backsliding heifer] Stubborn and refractory (Jeremiah 7:24). As a lamb] Free play. If Israel would not submit to the joke, they might go where they liked, become prey of wolves in the field, be given up to exile and dispersion.
Hosea 4:17. Joined] Closely and voluntarily bound, and cannot give them up (cf. Numbers 25:3; 1 Corinthians 6:16-17). Alone] Lit. give him rest from all further expostulation, which he will not hear [Pusey]. Give him up as incorrigible [Boothr.]. Have nothing to do with him. He is bent on his ruin, let him suffer the consequences (Jeremiah 7:16); punishment cannot long be delayed.
THE DOOM OF SOME A WARNING TO OTHERS.—Hosea 4:15-17
A different turn is now given to the prophecy. Israel had sinned, would not heed, and must be punished; but Judah, who had the law and the temple of God, ought not to prove so stubborn and incorrigible. God specially warns his own, and if they sin their condemnation will be greater. The idea is that we must not partake of other men’s sins lest we share in their punishment.
I. The provoking sin. Israel had played the harlot, backslided from God, and continued in idolatry, heedless of Divine warning and judgment.
1. Israel were guilty of idolatry. They knew Jehovah, but set up idols. They had made graven images and worshipped golden calves in opposition to God’s command. They did not intend to worship the images themselves, but God through the images. One step led to another in the corrupting practices. Papists and Ritualists spring from ranks which some would call earnest and devout. Men make gods, honour and serve them, and fall into gross superstitions and idolatry. The proneness of the Jews to polytheism is instructive to us. Churches favoured with the purest worship, nations enriched with the oracles of God, individuals privileged with means of grace, may fall into formalism, perfect apathy in religion, and undue veneration of the creature. Formalism, corrupt worship, and entire abandonment of God are the steps which lead to idolatry. God has real claims upon all his creatures. “Thou shalt have no other gods but Me.” Obedience to his law is not merely an integral part of true morality, but essential to all religion. Regard to him, therefore, is our first and highest duty. Disregard to God accounts for idolatry in all its forms, for moral evil in all its features.
2. Israel were guilty of neglecting Divine warnings. They listened not to the prophets. Servant after servant was sent by God, but all to no purpose. They despised the message, and persecuted the messenger. A person unwarned may have some excuse; but “forewarned, forearmed,” yet Israel repented not nor turned from danger. Many sit under the sound of the gospel, but take no heed. If you despise exhortations, warnings, and reproofs, neglect privileges which exalt you to heaven, how can you escape at last? You incur sevenfold guilt by such conduct. Continuance in sin after Divine admonition will provoke God to anger. “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.”
3. Israel were guilty of despising Divine chastisements. God not only warns, but chastises the sinner to wean him from his sins. Personal health fails, business prospects fade away, and family circumstances change, but prayer is not made to the God of our life, and comfort is not sought in him (Psalms 42:8). Grievous sickness, personal and domestic troubles, do not convert men, nor turn them from the error of their ways. Trials ought to make us think, they are the strokes of a loving hand, designed to purify our hearts and lives. The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without affliction. “Sweet indeed” should be “the uses of adversity,” but they often fail to correct. They do not remind of neglected duty, nor separate the sinner from his sin. Pharaoh, Jehoram, and the Jews, are solemn warnings. “O God, I have made an ill use of thy mercies,” says Bp Hall, “if I have not learnt to be content with thy correction.” The intractable ox resisting the yoke is an apt image of the impenitent casting off Divine restraints. Conviction follows upon conviction, chastening upon chastening, still he rebels, hardens his neck, and invites threatened judgments. Ahab would not be corrected, and “the bow drawn at a venture” performed its mission. Pharaoh grew more stubborn under the rod, and madly rushed to ruin. “If men will harden their hearts, God will harden his hand,” says Howe. Unheeded reproof ripens us for judgment. “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
II. The fearful doom. “The Lord will feed them as a lamb in a large place.” Scatter them into exile and expose them to danger, as a lamb becomes the prey to wild beasts. And this “now.” The judgment is immediate and at hand, no longer delayed. “Ephraim is joined to idols,” in love with his sins; “let him alone,” let him rest from further correction and expostulation, and take the consequences of his folly. This is the last and most hopeless state of guilt.
1. Let alone by man. The godly must not reprove nor exhort some men. They feel on account of the sins, and are deeply anxious for the welfare, of their fellow-creatures. But there are sins beyond hope, total apostasy and final impenitence. “There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it.” Apostasy and idolatry are not only sins against God, but destructive to men. The intercession of Moses and Samuel would not avail (Jeremiah 15:1), when God is angry. “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me; for I will not hear thee.”
2. Let alone by God. It is sad to be without the sympathy and prayers of men; but to be left of God is a most awful condition. It is something more than being without the warnings of the minister, and the exhortations of a mother or friend. One let alone is not troubled with the power of truth, the checks of conscience, and the restraints of providence. He is undisturbed and unfettered in his course of sin. He goes from bad to worse, and his end is destruction. Like the adder, he cannot and will not hear the wisest charmer. The will is averse, the purpose is fixed, and the ear is deaf. As stones fall to the ground, sparks fly upward, and rivers roll to the ocean, so silly men run from God, and beyond the reach of mercy. “The soul that sinneth presumptuously shall have no atonement; it shall be cut off from the midst of my people.”
3. Let alone without any pity and protection. “As a lamb in a large place.” A lamb exposed to peril is a most helpless and pitiable creature. What more lamentable to behold than the sinner let alone, exposed to temptation and death. This made Christ weep over the guilty city, and Paul wish that he was accursed for his kindred in the flesh. “The large place” of Israel were the territories of the Medes, where they were deprived of temple worship, prophetic teaching, and Divine protection. The large place of the sinner is the broadway to destruction; to places where strong drink drowns reason and conscience; where sensibility is consumed by burning passions; where tender memories are quenched, conscience benumbed, and every noble feeling destroyed. The man who ruins his health and his happiness, his circumstances and his life, and who implicates his family and his fellow-creatures by the unbridled gratification of sense, is to be pitied for his folly. Woe to that man who has forsaken Christ, and whom God permits to go the downward road, unpitied, unprotected, and unsaved!
III. The kindly warning. “Though thou, Israel, play the harlot, yet let not Judah offend.” Israel and Judah were at variance, and such warm sympathy could not be expected from those at enmity with each other. But the heart of the prophet beats warmly for Judah, who alone represented the people of God. God is anxious to preserve Judah from the ways of Israel. Spiritual, theocratic feelings are stronger than natural feelings, and must prevail. Christianity is not insensible to private friendship and the claims of kindred; but it kindles within us the fire of universal benevolence.
1. A needful warning. (a) Proximity to Israel endangered Judah. Temptations are near, friends and neighbours entice, and the Christian is in danger of conforming to the world. Like a rebellious province, the world has customs, statutes, and pursuits, contrary to the law of God. Friendship with it is forbidden. Its pomp and vanities must be renounced. We must “come out from the world, and be separate,” that is, be Christians wholly or not at all. (b) The mixture of idolatry with the worship of God endangered Judah. “Come not ye unto Gilgal,” &c. Gilgal and Bethaven were places of note and great resort. Here people were accustomed to “swear the Lord liveth,” or associate the living God with idols. Formulas of Christian worship were employed to justify the service of idols. Man will worship something. When the worship of Jehovah is forsaken then the devices of man are chosen. Examples and places infect. God will not divide his claims with idols. Superstitions are not more warranted or imitable because they are practised under the pretence of serving God. Aaron’s golden calf was no excuse for the neglect of Jehovah. We must have no halting, no mixture in religion. Either Baal or the Lord must be our master and God. We cannot serve two masters. To swear by idols, by heaven or earth, or any creature, dishonours our nature, offends our God, and makes us a warning to others. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”
2. A timely warning. God warns before he strikes. Spaces for repentance are given men, and they are urged to flee from the judgment before it is too late. Though Israel is given up, yet Judah must be cautioned. This indicates Divine wisdom, love, and forbearance. “Sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.” “The long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” Provocations are given, yet God forbears to punish. But we must not question his providence, disregard his word, and abuse his mercy. There is clear and constant warning. The impenitent are without excuse, and the punishment will be complete. Punishment lingers long, but falls heavily at last. “Woe unto the wicked, it shall be ill with him.”
3. A reasonable warning. Let not Judah offend, “though Israel play the harlot.” The separation of Israel from Judah was most unrighteous and disastrous in its results on both kingdoms; but Israel’s departure from God was most aggravating and hazardous. It was harlotry and wantonness. God’s service is a reasonable service, in harmony with our mental and moral constitution. God is no hard task-master, demanding impossibilities and requiring bricks without straw. “His commandments are not grievous.” He treats men as rational and responsible beings, beseeching them to repent, and warning them of the consequences of neglect.
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Hosea 4:15. Places of good reputation become infamous, lose all honour, by connection with idolatry and immorality. Bethel, the house of God, becomes Beth-aven, the house of idols, the house of vanity. Places consecrated by the piety of our forefathers and the mercy of God are turned into scenes of corruption and vice. We are forbidden to go to such places lest we should be infected. Christians must not sanction worldly customs and amusements in which God has no place. Abstain from the very appearance of evil.
Hosea 4:16. The sinner, like Israel, is often fretful under Divine restraint, impatient in the narrowness of God’s ways, and is bent on backsliding; but when God lets him alone, gives him his wish, liberty brings no security and happiness, like a lamb bleating alone, bewraying its solitude, and he wanders about to destruction. How much better to be in God’s fold, daily fed, and led into green pastures, and beside the still waters!
Hosea 4:17. “Ephraim is joined,” &c.
1. The Alliance.—
2. Ruinous. II. The Abandonment.—
3. Hopeless. “A man may be given up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the soul may be saved; but to be given up to sin is a thousand times worse, because that is the fruit of Divine anger, in order to the damnation of the soul” [John Shower]. Ah, Lord! this mercy I humbly beg, that whatever thou givest me up to, thou wilt not give me up to the ways of mine own heart; if thou wilt give me up to be afflicted, or tempted, or reproached, &c., I will patiently sit down and say, “It is the Lord; let him do with me what seems good in his own eyes.” Do anything with me, lay what burden thou wilt upon me, so that thou dost not give me up to the ways of my own heart [Brooks]. Deliver me, O Lord, from that evil man, myself [Augustine].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Hosea 4:15-17. If sin be fashionable, Christians should be out of fashion. If others be punished for it, we should take warning from them. Three things arise from sin, viz. fear, shame, and punishment. The first arises from the guilt of sin, the second from its defilement, and the third from its demerit. A sinful life is the death of the soul. Look at sin in its guilt, malignity, and curse. Abhor it, oppose it, and dread it more than death [Wilson].
Hosea 4:18. Sour] A metaphor for degeneracy in principle (Isaiah 1:22); turned, as we say of milk. They had lost all their life and taste of goodness [Pusey]. Rulers] Lit. shields, protectors, and supporters of the state. Love] Avarice and luxury. No remedy against corruption when rulers are bribed.
Hosea 4:19. Bound her up] A tempest will suddenly and violently seize them, wrap them up, and carry them away (Psalms 18:11; Psalms 104:3; Isaiah 57:13). Ashamed] of idols and disappointed in hope. Disappointment is certain to those who seek out of God what can only be found in him.
THE BITTERNESS AND THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN.—Hosea 4:18-19
In these verses we have another triplet of vice. The people are guilty of intemperance and adultery. The princes and leaders are covetous, pervert justice, and cry, “Give, give.” The whole nation had become sapless and corrupt. “Drink” is here put for the effect of sweet intoxicating wine. As sourness was opposed to sweetness, so sin is opposed to holiness and idolatry to the service of God. The verses set forth the bitterness and the punishment of sin.
I. The Bitterness of Sin. “Their drink is sour,” their delights are insipid and dead. Man’s spiritual appetite is strong, and God has made abundant provision for our happiness. But men indulge in sin, are not satisfied with healthful refreshment, and “add drunkenness to thirst.” The appetite, cloyed with indulgence, turns with disgust from the sweetest dainties, while “every bitter thing is sweet” to the hungry soul (Proverbs 27:7). So in spiritual things. The sinner has no relish, and feels no need for the bread of life. He seeks to quench his thirst by intoxicating pleasure or sensual indulgence. This may make him merry, but cannot make him happy. Whatever be the relish and allurements of sin, “at the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder.” There is poison in the cup. Like the little book which the Apostle John had to take, sin is sweet as honey in the mouth, but when committed, bitter in the belly (Revelation 10:9). “Life, they say, is sweet; I have found it bitter,” said a young artist in the closing scenes of death. Lord Chesterfield echoed the sentiment, when he said, “I have run the silly rounds of business and of pleasure, and have done with them all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world and know their futility, and do not regret their loss. I appraise them at their real value, which is very low; whereas those who have not experienced them always overrate them. They only see the gay outside, and are dazzled with their glare; but I have been behind the scenes. I look back on all that is passed as one of those romantic dreams which opium commonly produces, and I have no wish to repeat the nauseous dose.” This Marah is never dry. No art can sweeten, no draughts exhaust its perennial waters of bitterness. The bitterness of sin consists—
1. In its wretchedness. Byron described himself as a man whose happiness was gone and could not be restored. “If I were to live over again,” he writes, “I do not know what I would change in my life, except not to have lived at all.”
2. In its dissatisfaction. After all toil and labour “the good” is ever absent. The thing which was expected to give joy palls on the instant it is obtained, like the apples of the Dead Sea, which turn to ashes when tasted. On and on! the spirit still cries, “Give, give.”
3. In its disappointment. Solomon had tried everything, but unalloyed happiness was still beyond his grasp. He drank from broken cisterns, tasted the wormwood and the gall, and gives the verdict—“All was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.”
II. The Punishment of Sin. “The wind hath bound her up in her wings.” The simple meaning of this is that they would be carried away with a swift and shameful destruction. So sudden is the overthrow of the wicked, that his designs are baffled, his life upset, and he himself overwhelmed with the tempest. “He shall take them away as with a whirlwind.”
1. This destruction is sudden. The wind may sleep and be forgotten, but justice never fails. The sky is clear, men settle down, and undisturbed pursue their folly; but “when they shall say peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them.” In their revelries they will be surprised, and, like Belshazzar, “they shall not escape.”
2. This destruction is violent. What more violent than mighty winds tearing up the mountains and rending the rocks (Job 28:9). The wicked cannot stand before the tempest of God’s wrath and the thunder of his power. Cambyses, invading Ethiopia, sent a detachment to ravage the country. Herodotus says that “after they had left Oasis, they halted to take some repast, when a strong south wind arose and overwhelmed them beneath a mountain of sand.” Plutarch, in the Life, speaking of the design of Alexander “to visit the temple of Jupiter Ammon,” adds, “it was a long and laborious journey, and they might be surprised by a violent south wind amidst the wastes of sand, as it happened long before to the army of Cambyses. The wind raised the sand, and rolled it in such waves, that it devoured full 50,000 men.”
3. This destruction is shameful. “They shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices.” Ashamed on account of their sacrifices, or of them, and should forsake them and turn to God. But in any case both they and their sacrifices would be put to shame. (a) They would be disappointed in their sacrifices. They had brought nothing but evil, and not any good. Nothing good should be sought, or can be found, away from God. (b) They would be detected on hill and in dale, in public and private worship. They could not hide their shameful ways from God. Justice would discover them. “As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed.” (c) They would be exposed in their shame. Exposed without refuge to Divine judgment. Shame and confusion of face will be the final issue of all the lofty expectations and the sinful ways of the ungodly. Shame is their present fruit, and what will be the results in eternity “of those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” “Many that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Avoid the guilt if you wish to escape the doom of Israel.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Hosea 4:18-19. Pleasure taken into the soul is like liquor poured into a vessel so much of it as it fills it also seasons, the touch and the tincture go together. It is certain sin has no real pleasures to be stow; they are all embittered, either by the strokes of providence from without, or the accusations of conscience from within. The fine colours of the serpent do by no means make amends for the smart and poison of his sting.
Penalties are often so long delayed, that men think they shall escape them; but they are certain to follow. When the whirlwind sweeps through the forest, at its first breath that giant tree, with all its boughs, falls crashing to the ground. But it had been preparing to fall twenty years. Twenty years before it received a gash, the water commenced to settle in it at some notch, and from thence decay began to reach in towards the heart of the tree. Every year the work of death progressed, till at length it stood all rottenness, and the first gale felled it to the ground. There are men, who for twenty years shame the day and the night with debaucheries, who yet seem strong and vigorous, but in reality are full of weakness and decay. They have been preparing to fall, and the first storm will strike them down in a moment [Beecher].