Friday, June 9th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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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 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ hosea-10.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself.
The abuse of worldly prosperity
Our version is faulty here. Elzas renders, “Israel is a luxurious vine, whose fruit is very abundant.” So our subject is the abuse of prosperity. Some men are very prosperous. Every branch of their life clusters with fruit. Sonic nations are very prosperous. When is prosperity abused?
I. When it is used with an exclusive regard to our own selfish ends. As--
1. For self-indulgence.
2. For self-aggrandisement.
The right which property gives is the right to lay it out for the benefit of our fellow-men.
II. When it is used without a supreme regard to the claims of God. Unless we employ our property according to the directions of the Great Proprietor we abuse the trust. How does God require us to employ our property?
1. For the amelioration of human woes.
2. For the dispersion of human ignorance.
3. For the elevation of the human soul.
To raise it to the knowledge, the image, the fellowship, and the enjoyment of God. How are we, as a nation, using our enormous prosperity? (Homilist.)
The figure of the vine
Israel is a luxuriant vine. Not as in the A.V. “an empty vine,” nor as in the margin A.V. “a vine emptying the fruit which it giveth,” but a vine which pours itself forth, spreads out its branches. It denotes the outward prosperity and abundance which they had enjoyed. The vineyard had been planted with the choicest vine, and diligently cultivated, but it bore wretched fruit, significant of sins against God. (W. Henry Green, D. D. , LL. D.)
The Church compared to a vine
1. No plant has a more unpromising outside than the vine.
2. The vine is the most fruitful plant that grows out of the earth.
3. No plant requires so great care as the vine.
4. The vine is the most depending plant in the world, unable to underprop itself, it must have props more than any other plant, and therefore nature has given it tendrils by which it catches hold of anything near it.
5. If it be not fruitful, it is the most unprofitable thing in the world.
6. A vine is the most spreading of plants. It spreads larger than other plants, and fills a great deal of room with its branches.
7. The vine is the softest and most tender of plants, the emblem of peace. But Israel is an empty, or emptying, vine; he makes himself empty.
(1) Emptiness in those who profess themselves to be God’s people is a very great evil. It is unnatural. It is a dishonour to the root. It frustrates the Lord of all the care, and cost, and charge He expends. There is no blessing upon thy soul if thou art “an empty vine.” If there be grace, it cannot but bear fruit. Common gifts shall be taken away, if the vine proves empty. The evil of emptiness is great according to the greatness of opportunities.
(2) Sin will empty a land of all the blessings God has bestowed. Sin is an emptying thing; it empties lands, families, and persons of all their outward comforts.
(3) It is all one, to be an empty Christian, and to bring forth fruit to oneself. Men think that which they bring forth to themselves is clear gain; but this is an infinite mistake, for that which is for thyself is lost, and that which is for God is gained. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)
Israel as a robbed vine
The prophet means, that Israel was like a vine which is robbed after the ingathering is come: for the word bekok means properly to pillage, or to plunder. The prophet compares the gathering of the grapes to robbing; and this view best suits the place. Israel is like a robbed vine, for it was stripped of its fruit; and then he adds, “he will make fruit for himself.” I understand by the words that Israel would lay up fruit for himself after the robbing, and sacred history confirms this view; for this people, we know, had been in various ways chastised: so, however, that they gathered new strength. For the Lord intended only to admonish them gently, that they might be healed; but nothing was effected by God’s moderation. The case, however, was so, that Israel produced new fruit, as a vine, after having been robbed one year, brings forth a new vintage; for one ingathering does not kill the vine. Thus also Israel did lay up fruit for himself; that is, after the Lord had collected there His vintage, He again favoured the people with His blessing, and, as it were, restored them anew; as vines in the spring throw out their branches, and then produce fruit. God, in the next clause, complains that Israel, after having been once gathered, went on in his own wickedness. This is a useful doctrine. We see how the Lord forbears in inflicting punishments--He does not execute them with the utmost rigour. But how do they act who are thus moderately chastised? As soon as they can recruit their spirits they are carried away by a more head strong inclination, and grow insolent against God. (John Calvin.)
Israel as a vine
A luxuriant vine; one which poureth out, poureth itself out into leaves, abundant in switches (as most old versions explain it), luxuriant in leaves, emptying itself in them, and empty of fruit; like the fig-tree which our Lord cursed. For the more a fruit tree putteth out its strength in leaves and branches, the less and worse fruit it beareth. “The juices which it ought to transmute into wine it disperseth in the ambitious idle shew of leaves and branches.” The sap in the vine is an emblem of His Holy Spirit, through whom alone we can bear fruit. “His grace which was in me,” says St. Paul, “was not in vain.” It is in vain to us, when we waste the stirrings of God’s Spirit in feelings, aspirations, longings, transports, “which bloom their hour and fade.” Like the leaves, these feelings aid in maturing fruit; when there are leaves only, the tree is barren, and “nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.” “It bringeth forth fruit for itself,” lit. “setteth fruit to, or on, itself.” Luxuriant in leaves, its fruit becomes worthless, and is from itself to itself. It is uncultured (for Israel refused culture), pouring itself out, as it willed, in what it willed. It had a rich shew of leaves, a shew also of fruit, but not for the Lord of the vineyard, since they came to no size or ripeness. Yet to the superficial glance, Israel, at this time, was rich, prosperous, healthy, abundant in all things. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Self-aggrandisement, and its secret
“He bringeth forth fruit unto himself”; and yet, literally, he brings forth no fruit at all, only long stem and tendril, and leaves innumerable; his fruit is all foliage. The figure is very Hebraic and grand. Israel is a vine, and a growing vine, but Israel misses the purpose of the vine by never growing any wine; growing nothing but weedy leaves, and so disappointing men when they come to find fruit thereon, and discover none. The Church is an empty vine. Theology is an empty vine. All religious controversy that is conducted for its own sake--that is to say, with the single view of winning a victory in words--is an empty vine,--luxuriant enough, but it is the luxuriance of ashes. “According to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars; according to the goodness of his land, they have made goodly images.” They have gone pari passu with the Almighty--He, the living Father, doing the good, and they, the rebellious men, doing proportionate evil. When the harvest has been plentiful, the idolatry has been large, increasing in urgency and importance; when the vine has brought forth abundantly, another image has been set up. That is the teaching of the prophet; yea, that is the impeachment of God. God may be represented as saying, Your wickedness has been in proportion to My goodness; the more I have given you, the less I have received from you; the larger the prosperity with which I have crowned you, the more zealous have you been in your idolatry; the more lovingly I have revealed Myself to you, the greater your wantonness, selfishness, and rebellion. That is not only Hebrew, it is English; that is not only ancient history, it is the tragedy, the blasphemy of to-day. What is the explanation? Where is the point at which we can stand and say: This is the beginning of the mischief? The answer is in the second verse, “Their heart is divided.” That has always been the difficulty of God; He has so seldom been able to get a consenting heart. God says: These people want to do two irreconcilable things--they want to serve God and Mammon; they want to courteously recognise the existence of Jehovah, and then run to kiss the lips of Baal. Their heart does not all go one way; they cannot wholly throw off the true religion; it has indeed become to them little better than a superstition, but men do not like to gather up all the traditions of the past, and cast them in one bundle into the flowing river, in the hope that it may he carried away and lost for ever. So they come to the altar sometimes; now and again they look in at the church door; intermittently they listen to the old Psalm and the half-remembered hymn; but in the soul of them they are drunk with idolatry. There are persons very anxious to maintain orthodoxy who are the most notorious thieves in society; there are those who would subscribe to any society to defend Sunday, if they might do on Monday just what they liked; they are zealous about the Sabbath, and especially zealous that other people should keep it, but on Monday you would never imagine that there was a Sunday. “Their heart is divided.” (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The self-shoot the wrong one to cultivate
A little while ago an inexperienced hand had trained a rose-tree over a porch, The leaves of the tree were green, and the growth was strong, but not a flower was there. “Why is this?” inquired the master of a skilled gardener. The answer was given by an act, not by words, for, taking out his pruning knife, the gardener in one moment levelled the rampant growth to the ground. “What have you done?” cried the master. “Don’t you see, sir,” was the reply; “your man has been cultivating the wrong shoot!” and, at the same time, the gardener pointed out the grafted rose, which had barely struggled two inches above the ground, and which the wild shoot had completely overwhelmed. In a few months the graft, set free from the encumbering growth of the wrong shoot, sent out in vigorous life its beautiful branches, and covered the porch with its luxuriance; and there it lives, a parable of heavenly things. Not all the cultivation or training in the world could have made that wrong shoot become a beautiful and flowering tree, neither will the efforts of a whole life succeed in making our “old man” like Christ, or fruitful towards God. God has condemned our nature in the Cross of Christ: He has judicially cut it down; and no fruit fit for God shall grow upon it for ever. The practical word, then, to those Christians who are seeking to produce out of self-fruit acceptable to God is, Do not cultivate the wrong shoot. (H. F. Wetherby.)
Sin the product of man’s free will
This is the oldest illustration of cause and effect known to our race. The Old Testament, with its system of conscience education, is a profound commentary on the subject, its moral law creating a knowledge of sin, its sacrificial system deepening the sense of the guilt of sin, and its prophetic ministry denouncing sin, and bringing the sorrow and suffering following sin home to the hearts of the kings and the people with unflinching courage and precision. None the less striking is this truth when read from the pages of classic heathenism. It is Helen’s crime and that of Paris which brings on sorrow in the downfall of Troy. AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are pagan preachers enunciating the terrible judgments following in the train of wrong-doing. Dante, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton build their poems and construct their dramas upon this foundation. Sin is the product of man’s free will. “Israel bringeth forth fruit unto himself.” In appropriating the gifts of God to self-gratification the Creator has been ignored. Sin is man’s own product. It is the child of our own self-will. While it is true that in every human being there is a persistent tendency to take the wrong direction in moral development, yet no man is ever otherwise than a wilful sinner. The election by the individual will to act counter to the requirements of God is the source of all sin. Again, we see the insidious manner in which sin makes its home in the human heart. Self-interest is pressed into the service of sin, but sin, once getting a foothold, transforms a healthy serf-interest into gross selfishness. Growth and prosperity are turned to sinful uses. In the satiety of self-indulgence, in the greed of self-aggrandisement, in the divided heart, we witness the wreck of God’s purposes as they are related to human life. Into this terrible state of antagonism to the will of God the prophet Hosea declares Israel has come. When the Almighty created man with free will, He, in a sense, “set bounds to His own omnipotence.” From that hour man has held in his will the awful power of resisting God. Sorrow, then, and suffering, are the inevitable results of persistent wilful sin. The moment sin is committed judgment begins with the steady developments of growth. But in the distressing picture of sin and its consequences now before us there is relief afforded. Sad, indeed, would be the lot of man if he were irrevocably doomed to endure the conditions of his terrible fortune. There is promised the overthrow of the dominion of sin by repentance and service in the cause of righteousness. (E. M. Taylor.)
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty.
A divided heart
It is one grievous fault with the Church of Christ at the present day, that it is not merely divided somewhat in its creed, and somewhat also in the practice of its ordinances, but, alas! it is also somewhat divided in heart. When our doctrinal divisions grow to so great a head that we cease to co-operate, when our opinions upon mere ordinances become so acid towards each other that we can no longer extend the right hand of fellowship to those who differ from us, then indeed is the Church of God found faulty. Even Beelzebub, with all his craft, cannot stand when once his hosts are divided. The smallest church in the world is potent for good when it hath but one heart and one soul; when pastor, elders, deacons, and members are bound together by a threefold cord which cannot be broken. Union is strength. By union we live, and by disunion we expire. Apply the text to our individual condition.
I. A fearful disease. “Their heart is divided.”
1. The seat of the disease. It affects a vital part, a part so vital that it affects the whole man. There is no power, no passion, no motive, no principle which does not become vitiated when once the heart is diseased.
2. The disease touches this vital part after a most serious fashion. The heart is cleft in twain. Nothing can go right when that which should be one organ becomes two; when the one motive power begins to send forth its life-floods into two diverse channels, and so creates intestine strife and war.
3. It is a division in itself peculiarly loathsome. Men who are possessed of it do not feel themselves unclean; they will venture into the church, they will propose to receive her communion, and they will afterwards go and mingle with the world; and they do not feel that they have become dishonest. Take the glass and look into that man’s heart, and you will discern that it is loathsome, because Satan and sin reign there. All the while that he is living in sin he is pretending that he is a child of God. Stand out in thy true colours. If thou art a worldling, be a worldling.
4. It is a disease always difficult to cure, because it is chronic. It is not an acute disease, which brings pain and suffering and sorrow with it. But it is chronic, it has got into the very nature of the man. What physician can join together a divided heart?
5. This disease is a very difficult one to deal with, because, it is a flattering disease. The most cunning of all flatterers is a man’s own heart. A man’s own heart will flatter him, even about his sins. He is contented and self-satisfied.
II. The usual symptoms of the disease.
1. Formality in religious worship. These men have no faith; they have only a creed. They have no life within, and they supply its place with outward ceremony. What wonder, therefore, that we fiercely defend that!
2. Inconsistency. You must not see him always if you would have a good opinion of him. You must be guarded as to the days on which you call upon him. You must have a divided heart if you live an inconsistent life.
3. Variableness in object. There are men who run first in one direction then in another. Their religion is all spasmodic. They are taken with it as men are taken with the ague. They take up with religion, and then they lay it down again.
4. Frivolity in religion is often a token of a divided heart. It is perhaps too common a sin with young persons to treat religion with a light and frivolous air. There is a seriousness which is well-becoming, especially in youthful Christians.
III. The sad effects of a divided heart. When a man’s heart is divided he is at once everything that is bad.
1. With regard to himself, he is an unhappy man. Men who are neither this nor that, neither one thing nor another, are always uneasy and miserable.
2. He is useless in the Church. Of what good is such a man to us? We cannot put him in a pulpit or make him a deacon. We cannot commit to his charge spiritual matters, because we discern that he is not spiritual himself. We know that no man who is not united in his heart vitally and entirely to Christ can ever be of the slightest service to the Church of God.
3. He is dangerous to the world. He is like a leper going abroad in the midst of healthy people; he spreads the disease. Though outwardly whitewashed like a sepulchre, he is more dangerous to the world than the most vicious of men.
4. He is contemptible to everybody. When he is found out nobody receives him; scarcely will the world own him, and the Church will have nothing to administer to him but censure.
5. He is reprobate in the sight of God. To the eye of infinite purity he is one of the most obnoxious and detestable of beings. The holy God both hates his sin and the lies with which he endeavours to cover it.
IV. The future punishment of the man whose heart is divided. Unless he is rescued by a great salvation. Let me describe the terrible condition of the hypocrite when God shall come to judge the world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The divided heart
The root of the evil in Israel was, as always, a heart divided,--that is, between God and Baal,--or, perhaps, “smooth,” that is, dissimulating and insincere. In reality, Baal alone possesses the heart which its owner would share between him and Jehovah. “All in all, or not at all” is the law. Whether Baals or calves were set beside God, He was equally deposed. Then with a swift turn Hosea proclaims the impending judgment, setting himself and the people as if down in the future. He hears the first peal of the storm, and echoes it in that abrupt “now.” The first burst of the judgment scatters dreams of innocence, and the cowering wretches see their sin by the lurid light. That discovery awaits every man whose heart has been “divided.” To the gazers and to himself masks drop, and the true character stands out with appalling clearness. What will that light show us to be? The ruin of their projects teaches godless men at last that they have been fools to take their own way; for all defences, resources, and protectors, chosen in defiance of God, prove powerless when the strain comes. It is a dismal thing to have to bear the brunt of chastisement for what we see to have been a blunder as well as a crime. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Solomon wanted to live a life of self-indulgence while posing as a servant of God. His offering costly sacrifices, and building a magnificent temple, and making a beautiful prayer, could not rectify the inconsistency. The two could not exist together in one person. It was like the ice palace built for an empress of Russia, which was beautiful as a dream, with elaborate architecture, and glistening like a jewel in the sun. But it was intensely cold, and the empress ordered a fire to be built in it. The architect had to explain to her that the fire would destroy the building. She could not have an ice palace and warmth at the same time. Neither can any one have a heart of icy selfishness along with the warmth of God’s love. (Christian Herald.)
A divided heart
You know there is what is called “changeable silk,” which looks now green and now brown, just as the light chances to strike it. It is neither brown nor green, as a matter of fact, but a commingling and compromise of the two: therefore you can get whichever colour you like, according as you present it to the sun. And I am sorry to say that it is so with a good many Christians. You can get a worldly shade or a heavenly shade on their piety, just according to the company they are in. (A. J. Gordon.)
We are told that some of our scientists have recently been trying a very doubtful experiment. They take a section of one creature and fasten it upon another creature of an altogether different type. This is done by a delicate surgery when the creature is immature, and when it comes to perfection you have a strange monster. For instance, it is said that they fasten a section of a spider on the butterfly, and by and by you get an alarming and tragical organism. You may imagine what becomes of those antagonistic impulses and instincts. The creature has a feeling for the light and a passion for the darkness; it has a taste for blood, and loves the scent of roses; is afraid of itself and worries itself. Now, when you have seen the spider and the butterfly blended into one organism, you have seen a pale reflection of your own personality. One part of us sympathises with the low and another part with the lofty; one part of us looks into the firmament and another part cleaves to the dust. (W. L. Watkinson.)
A divided heart
In every age and country there are some found with divided hearts on the subject of religion. Such was Hiram, King of Tyre, who, while he blessed the Lord that Solomon was king, and gladly traded with him for some of the materials for building a temple to Jehovah, also contributed one hundred and twenty talents of gold towards its erection. And yet, in his own country, he dedicated a golden pillar to Jupiter, built the temples of Hercules and Astarte, the Ashtaroth of the Zidonians, and enriched the shrines of the god and goddess with valuable gifts. So Redwald, the King of East Anglia, when converted to Christianity, is said to have kept two altars, the one to the God of the Christians, the other to Woden, a Saxon idol, being afraid of the imaginary god whom he had so long worshipped. So there are some now, who appear very religious at times, and yet their hearts go after covetousness, and they are quite at home in the circles of the gay and in the indulgence of sinful pleasure.
Judgment on the divided heart
1. As the heart is a vital part, which cannot be divided without death, so men can have no life of God, nor acknowledgment of Him, when they are not solely and wholly for Him and His way.
2. When men do fall from God’s way, it is just with Him to give them up to start and multiply divisions without end in their own way.
3. Civil dissensions and commotions are the just fruits of men’s divisions in the matter of God and His worship. (George Hutcheson.)
They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus Judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of a field.
Social sins and their result
I. Social sins.
1. Vain speech. “They utter empty speeches.” Not only are words of falsehood, blasphemy, and unchastity sinful, but empty words. How much idle language is there current in society!
2. False swearing. In judicial courts, in homes, in shops, in fields.
3. Unrighteous treaties. There is no harm in making covenants. Making a bad covenant is implied. The primal reference is to certain treaties Israel had formed with foreign nations. Untruthful as well as unrighteous bargains, are being struck every hour.
II. Results of social sins. “Judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.” Out of these social sins certain results appear. How do they come?
1. They come as a growth. Every sin is a seed from which a pestiferous plant must spring.
2. They come as a poison. Hemlock, or poppy, or darnel; poisonous productions.
3. They come in abundance. Very prolific is sin. See its plants growing in the ridges and furrows of life; in sick chambers, hospitals, workhouses, in prisons, in battlefields. (Homilist.)
Sin disturbing human relations
The sin of Israel is now contemplated in its effects on human relations. Before, it was regarded in relation to God. But men who are wrong with Him cannot be right with one another. Morality is rooted in religion, and, if we lie to God, we shall not be true to our brother. Hence, passing over all other sins for the present, Hosea fixes upon one, the prevalence of which strikes at the very foundation of society. What can be done with a community in which lying has become a national characteristic, and that even in formal agreements? Honeycombed with falsehood, it is only fit for burning. Sin is bound by an iron link to penalty. “Therefore,” says Hosea, God’s judgment springs up, like a bitter plant (the precise name of which is unknown) in the furrows, where the farmer did not know that its seeds lay. They little dreamed what they were sowing when they scattered abroad their lives, but this is the fruit of that. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”; and whatever other crop we may hope to gather from our sins, we shall gather that bitter one, which we did not expect. The inevitable connection of sin and judgment, the bitterness of its results, the unexpectedness of them, are all here, and to be laid to heart by us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Sin the cause of sorrow
There is a connection between sin and sorrow, between wickedness and calamity, between moral transgression and physical, social, political disaster. We may define sin negatively is impiety, iniquity, unspirituality; but Hosea speaks of it as a positive aggressive force, inflicting injury on the heart of the individual transgressor, and infecting also the external condition of the people. In emphasising the influence of sin on external conditions, the prophet teaches a profound truth, but not the whole truth. Jesus teaches that sin works disaster, even when the external condition is prosperous, and all that appears is respectable. Moral transgression is always followed by moral punishment. The connection between moral transgression and physical disaster is not constant and necessary. The prophet begins with a reference to Israel’s condition as blessed by God. “Israel is a luxuriant vine.” But he is found guilty. Here is the prophet’s charge against Israel on account of their sin.
1. It perverts prosperity. Prosperity itself is not sinful. It is far from the thought of the Hebrew prophet that misery is the normal condition of the servant of Jehovah. But sin perverts prosperity. It allows the material to eclipse the spiritual. It fails to use prosperity for the noblest ends. It fails to take account of the latent force of prosperity; it does not appreciate its value. Prosperity is to be valued as a condition of life, as a means of ministering to life more abundant.
2. It destroys religion, and takes away its inspiration. Sin does not at once do away with religion. It would fashion religion to its liking; but in this transformation the essence of religion evaporates. So it was at least in Israel. In perfunctory religion there is nothing to take hold of and mould the man.
3. It invalidates government. The deepest conditions of national prosperity are not of man’s creation, not determined by human legislatures. The political intercourse of men is conditioned on eternal principles of right, and nations as well as men must act in truth.
4. It emasculates society. It is a pitiable picture which Amos and Hosea paint of society in Samaria. Appetite reigns, drunkenness abounds, licentiousness and cruelty follow in their train. The very indulgence which sin practises defeats its own object. The fibre of the muscle is relaxed, the vigour of the mind is gone, patience, courage, hope have fled with faith, and the people lie supine, weak, inert. The prophet has disclosed the disastrous consequences of sin, but his purpose is to establish righteousness. God’s aim is not to curse, but to bless. But alas! the prophet, like all spiritual teachers, speaks to heavy ears. The people have but little leisure for righteousness. They would none of Hosea’s counsel, they despised all his reproof. (T. D. Anderson.)
The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Beth-aven.
These verses dilate, with keen irony, on the fate of the first half of Israel’s sin, the calf. It was thought a god, but its worshippers would be in a fright for it. “Calves,” says Hosea, though there was but one at Bethel; and he uses the feminine, as some think, depreciatingly. “Beth-aven,” or the “house of vanity,” he says, instead of “Beth-ei,” the “house of God.” A fine god whose worshippers had to be alarmed for its safety! “Its people,”--what a contrast to the name they might have borne, “My people!” God disowns them, and says, “They belong to it, not to Me.” The idolatrous priests of the calf worship will tremble when that image, which had been shamefully their “glory,” is carried off to Assyria and given as a present to “King Jareb,”--a name for the King of Assyria meaning the fighting or quarrelsome king. The captivity of the god is the shame of the worshippers. To be “ashamed of their own counsel” is the certain fate of all who depart from God; for, sooner or later, experience will demonstrate to the blindest that their refuges of lies can neither save themselves nor those who trust in them. But shame is one thing and repentance another; and many a man will say, “I have been a great fool, and my clever policy has all crumbled to pieces,” who will only therefore change his idols, and not return to God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The degrading influence of false worship
I. Idolatry is matter of ignominy to any place or interest that owns it; for it turns Beth-el into Beth-aven.
2. It proves the vanity of idols that their worshippers cannot trust in them, but must be solicitous and anxious about them in straits; for so were they about the calves of Beth-aven. This solicitude differs far from the fear of God’s people about His worship and ordinances in times of danger, which does not flow from their diffidence in God, but from the sense of their guilt.
3. Anything that men place their confidence in beside God will prove matter of fear and terror. For so did the calves prove to Samaria in the time of their siege.
4. Albeit corrupt worship and religion may seem strange at first to them who have been bred up in the truth, yet in process of time, and being attended with success, it may take with them who are not well rooted.
5. Such as are eminently employed in and great gainers by corrupt worship have a sad day abiding them, therefore it is added in special that mourning is abiding the priests.
6. The glory of idolatry and of a false religion (being but borrowed, and having nothing to commend it but novelty and success) will at last vanish and depart. God will bring about this by judgments, when no other means will effectuate it. “The glory thereof is departed from it.” This will be the lot of all false ways; whereas truth, however men loathe it for awhile, will still at last be found to be lovely, and to have a native unstained beauty. (George Hutcheson.)
The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed.
Redeeming qualities gone
Beth-el means the “house of God,” and by iniquity, manifold and black, Beth-el was turned into Beth-aven, which means the “house of vanity.” This is an instance of deterioration, and more than mere deterioration; it is an instance of transformation from good to bad, from the heights of heaven to the depths of the world of fire. Such miracles can be accomplished in the individual character, and such miracles have been found possible in ecclesiastical relationship. But the case is worse. We now read of “the high places also of Aven”; the “Beth” is left out: once it was Beth-aven, the house of vanity; now nothing is left but the vanity itself. That is the process of unchecked, untaught, unsanctified nature. We say of a man, he has still one or two redeeming qualities; but the time comes when every redeeming feature is lost. Then men say of the abandoned one, Aven, vanity, all vanity and vexation of spirit. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
When men degenerate from the pure teaching of God, they in vain cover their profanations with empty names. God loudly proclaims respecting Beth-el that it is Beth-aven, and the reason is well known; it is because Jeroboam erected temples and appointed new sacrifices without God’s command. The Lord approves of nothing but what He Himself commands. Hence the high places of Aven shall perish. (John Calvin.)
O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah.
Sin and punishment
“The days of Gibeah” recall the hideous story of lust and crime, which was the low-water mark of the lawless days of old. That crime had been avenged by merciless war. But its taint had lived on, and the Israel of Hosea’s day “stood,” obstinately persistent, just where the Benjamites had been then, and set themselves in dogged resistance, “as these had done,” that the battle against the children of unrighteousness might not touch them. Stiff-necked setting one’s self against God’s merciful fighting of evil lasts for a little while, but verse 10 tells how soon and easily it is annihilated. God’s “desire” brushes away all defences, and the obstinate sinners are like children, who are whipped when their father wills, struggle how they may. The instruments of chastisement are foreign armies, and the chastisement itself is described with a striking figure as “binding them to their two transgressions”; that is, the double sin which is the keynote of the chapter. Punishment is yoking men to their sins, and making them drag the burden like bullocks in harness. What sort of load are we getting together for ourselves? When we have to drag the consequences of our doings behind us, how shall we feel? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
It is in My desire that I should chastise them.
This is a graphic expression; the whole meaning of it does not appear in the English tongue. God does not willingly afflict the children of men: it is not the delight of Almightiness to crush. It is the vanity of considerable strength to tyrannise, but in proportion as strength becomes complete it pities, it spares the helpless, for it knows that by one uplifting of its arm and the down-bringing of the same it could crush every opponent. Imperfect strength is a despot; Almightiness is mercy. But now there is a stirring of the Divine emotions. God says, It will be better for these people to be afflicted; they have left themselves nothing now but depletion, and they must be brought to the very point of extermination . . . The Lord is very pitiful and kind, and His eyes are full of tears, and judgment is His strange work: but there have been times in the history of providence which could only be consistently and rationally construed by granting that even the Divine Father must be stirred to the desire to chastise and humble wicked men. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Render thus,--Ephraim indeed is a heifer, broken in and loving to thresh, and I have spared the beauty of her neck; but now will I make Ephraim to draw.
Changes for Ephraim
Israel’s punishment is enhanced by contrast with her former prosperity, which, as a mark of the Divine goodness, is compared to the consideration with which a young heifer is treated by its master. The work of treading out the corn was pleasant and easy; the heifer could eat freely as it walked without a muzzle round and round the threshing-floor. But this heifer, that is Israel, has abused the kindness of its Lord, and henceforth shall be put to the heavy labour of the field--a figure for the depressing conditions of life under a foreign master. The rendering “spared” (lit. passed by) is justified by Micah 7:18; Proverbs 19:2; it adds a beautiful distinctness to the figure, for the heavy yokes used in the East not only gall the necks of the animals, but often produce deep wounds. The meaning is that Jehovah has hitherto pre served His people from the yoke of captivity. (T. K. Cheyne, D. D.)
Ephraim’s two yokes
Albeit Ephraim bred themselves delicately, and could not endure trouble, or God’s yoke, yet God would put a yoke upon them, and to endure bondage and captivity. The yoke of treading out the corn, which was easy work, is contrasted with the hard yoke of the plough and the harrow. Whence learn--
1. It is a fault incident to our nature to be much addicted to our own ease, and that which brings present content and comfort, and to abhor any lot or way of God’s service which proves contrary to that.
2. It is a great snare to men, making them to dote on an easy way, when they have been accustomed in God’s providence to such a lot, and, by taking too well with it, become effeminate: for “Ephraim is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn,” that is, hath been tenderly dealt with, and hath accustomed his own heart to that way.
3. God hath an indignation at such as are too delicate, and take too well with ease, and is provoked to put them to trouble. For “I passed over upon her fair neck,” that is, I brought her under the yoke, who kept herself so dainty: as if a man put a yoke upon the fat and sound neck of an undaunted heifer.
4. Let wicked men tamper as they will, yet they will not get trouble always shifted, but God will bring captivity and bondage, or other trouble upon them. Ephraim shall be tossed into captivity, as a man makes his horse carry him in far journeys.
5. The Lord’s sentence is universal against all secure and delicate sinners, that He will send toil and trouble upon them, be they less or more corrupt. Therefore doth Judah, though more pure in many things than Israel, come in in the sentence, “Judah shall plough,” which is a hard labour.
6. The hard lots of sinners may yet, through God’s blessing, prove useful and profitable to them, however they may be ill-satisfied with them. (George Hutcheson.)
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground.
There is not a more melancholy delusion than this, that in religious life the grand object may be secured without the use of the appointed means--that men may possess Christian privileges and realise Christian rewards, independently of those holy and strenuous endeavours so plainly required by our Divine Lord. In spiritual things there cannot be a cancelling of the rule which obtains in temporal things. The most unfading of crowns cannot be worn where there has been no running in the race. The most splendid of victories cannot be achieved where there has been no entrance into the battle. The most peaceful of havens cannot be reached where there has been no contending with the winds and the waves. The most glorious of harvests cannot be gathered in where there has been no labouring in the field.
I. “Break up your fallow ground.” The image here presented may apply variously. It may be applied to our country; to the circle of our own families; to the state of our own heart. The words may apply to the sincere believers amongst us. For we are found barren of many attainable graces and perfections, We may always find some fallow ground that needs breaking up.
II. Sow your seed.
1. The character of the work. There will be a righteous and constant rule of the law of Christ. We must respect it alone. The motive must be righteous. Whatever be the rule, if the motive be unholy, the act will be unholy.
2. The exclusiveness of the work. “To yourselves.” The application is individual and personal. Others cannot do it for us, nor we for others. In the singleness of his own responsible existence every man must stand before God.
III. Reap in mercy. The course of our spiritual husbandry bears an analogy with the natural. There is first the breaking up of the fallow ground, then the sowing of the seed, and then the reaping of the full corn in the ear: and as the strength is derived from God in the former two cases, the blessing in the third comes directly from Him as the Lord of the harvest. (T. J. Judkin, M. A.)
The Church is God’s husbandry. We are called upon--
I. To break up our fallow ground. The heart of man is represented--
1. As ground. Therefore expected to produce fruit that will benefit its owner.
2. As fallow ground. It is destitute of the fruit that it might produce. It is not only useless to its owner, it is prejudicial to neighbouring land that has good seed sown in it, in preventing the plants of righteousness from growing to perfection.
3. As our fallow ground. Because we all have ground committed to our cultivating care. And if it be not fallow now, there was a time when the term might have been applied to it with correctness and propriety.
Breaking up our fallow ground implies a work--
1. Of labour; for which the Master of the land imparts strength.
2. Of sacrifice; for which the Proprietor communicates fortitude.
3. Of constancy and perseverance; for which the Lord of the soil supplies patience.
4. Of renovation; for which the Owner of the ground affords means. The soil in its present state is unfit to produce any useful plants; but when the weeds which now grow therein are destroyed, the ground shall be renewed, that it may bring forth the fruits of piety.
II. Sow to yourselves in righteousness. We have here a representation of right principles, under the figure of seed; the propriety of which may be discerned, if we notice--
1. Right principles are not indigenous to the human heart. They must be sown there.
2. The value of right principles.
(1) Their author and giver--God.
(2) Their price--the blood of the covenant.
(3) Their result--plants of righteousness.
3. The care and attention they demand. How great is the solicitude of the husbandman in reference to his seed.
4. The vegetative power and productive quality. Right conduct is the offspring of these principles. “Sow to yourselves” means--
(1) Allow these principles to sink deep into the heart; let all obstructions be removed out of the way.
(2) Let every plant that grows in our heart be the result of this precious seed.
(3) Though our anxiety should be principally on our own account, yet our conduct should be a union of piety and benevolence.
III. Reap in mercy. If we plough and sow as directed, the result shall surely be a harvest of mercy. We shall reap--
1. In pardoning mercy, that cancels our sins.
2. In restraining mercy, that prevents us from running into error.
3. In preserving mercy, that preserves the faithful.
4. In rewarding mercy. The mercy of God is, like Himself, infinite.
The time of reward is represented as harvest, because--
1. The time of ploughing and sowing is for ever over.
2. Because at that period all the produce of the soil will be presented to the Lord of the harvest.
3. Because reaping time is a season of joy and festivity. Eternity shall declare the advantages of sowing in righteousness. Observe--
(1) This is the time to break up your fallow ground.
(2) How great is the mercy of our God, that He will assist our endeavours to sow in righteousness.
(3) How audacious is the conduct of those that despise the offers of mercy thus held out in the Gospel. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Sowing and reaping
See what the Word of God teaches with reference to the necessity of a life of righteousness on our part, and as to the grounds on which a reward will be given to the righteous hereafter. The illustration here chosen from the works of nature is common to many other parts of Scripture. And the resemblance is so obvious between the progress of a seed from its first being committed to the soil, till the final harvest, with that of the gradual development of the principle of good in the soul of man, that I need not dwell upon it particularly. We are told to “sow in righteousness”; and what this injunction involves we may gather from a consideration of the state of those persons to whom it was originally addressed. There was required of apostate Israel, a thorough, unshrinking reformation, an unqualified turning from sin to God. And nothing short of this is required of us. Few of us have not continued, for a longer or a shorter space, in deliberate and wilful transgression: all have to bewail an interminable catalogue of negligences and ignorances: and all have the evidence within themselves of an inherited nature so corrupt, that from the sole of the foot unto the head there is no soundness in it. This fallow ground must be broken up. Our hearts must be brought into a state of religious cultivation. Vicious inclinations, sensual appetites, inordinate affections must be rooted up. The soil must beploughed;--that which lay below must be brought up to the surface and exposed to the light of day. Self-knowledge and self-discipline must do their work, and the whole field be made fit for the reception and growth of the seed of righteousness. If we do, the text leads us to hope that we shall reap in mercy; that is, we shall receive from the merciful hand of God our Father an abundant reward of unfading happiness and glory, eternal in the heavens.
1. We have no grounds on which to expect a harvest of mercy without a previous sowing time of righteousness. Without a holy life here, no man need expect or hope for a happy life hereafter.
2. The reward of our service is not to be looked for as of right, but as the gift of the free grace and mercy of God. Granting our seed-time of righteousness ever so perfect or so plenteous, how is God the better for it, that He should be constrained to pay us wages for it? Here then is the sum of the whole matter. We shall not be saved for our works, but we shall never be saved without them. Knowing this, let us pray and labour and strive that no day may pass over our heads without our having made some progress in the work of sowing unto righteousness. (F. E. Paget, M. A.)
Let them “sow to themselves in righteousness”; let them return to the practice of good works, according to the rule of God, which is the rule of righteousness; let them abound in works of piety towards God, and in justice and charity towards one another. Every action is seed sown. Let them sow what they should sow, do what they should do, and they themselves shall have the benefit of it. (Matthew Henry.)
What repentance of national sins doth God require, as ever we expect national mercies
The prophet joineth counsel with threatenings. Amendment is that he calleth them to as a means to save them. By this text God proclaims, not only to particular persons, but to nations, how desirable it is to Him to execute His goodness; and His extreme backwardness to avenge Himself on the most provoking kingdoms, unless they add impenitency under solemn warnings unto their rebellion.
I. The words contain some of the essentials of repentance, and suppose the rest.
1. He that will repent must deal with his indisposed heart. “Break up the fallow ground.”
2. When the heart is thus prepared, we must proceed to proper acts of reformation. “Sow to yourselves in (or to) righteousness.” Let the rule of righteousness be observed in your hearts and ways.
3. You must also “seek the Lord.” Follow after Him: persist in your seeking.
II. This repentance is urged from a variety of arguments. Principally from this, that national mercies would certainly follow national repentance. What repentance of national sins doth God require?
1. Resolve the case in general. Repentance ordinarily affords ground of our expectation of national mercies, notwithstanding national sins. But when this repentance is not in a nation, we cannot ordinarily expect national mercies. These things are supposed in the case as stated. What are national sins? Such gross sins as render a nation guilty, and expose it to national judgments, and forfeit national mercies. These sins are gross in their nature. Not sins of infirmity, or sins which ordinary care, labour, and watchfulness could not prevent. They are such as idolatry, perjury, breaking of covenant, blood, uncleanness, apostasy, oppression, profaneness. These sins must be national. And sins become national by all, or the generality of a people, being personally transgressors, as to those crimes; or when the governors, representatives, and influencing persons are transgressors; or by the generality of a nation making itself a partaker of other men’s sins, though it do not actually commit them. These sins are such as expose to judgments and forfeit national mercies. More refined sins may expose one nation to judgments which may not expose another land. This depends on the variety of advantages some people are under above others. The provoking sins of one and the same nation may be made up by various kinds of offences, according to the different condition of offenders. The sins of magistrates are of one kind, and the sins of subjects another, according to their different talents and station. Usually the sins of a nation do not bring judgments or forfeit mercies by the simple commission of them, but as attended with some additional aggravations A land rarely is destroyed, unless sins are committed after warnings. Security and impenitence is added to rebellion before God proceeds against a people. What then are national mercies in the ease before us? Such blessings as truly and considerably affect the good of a community. They must be blessings in their nature, and national in their extent. These mercies regard our souls, or our bodies, or both. The pardon of past sins, and help against the like offences; the presence of God as effective of spiritual and temporal good; Gospel ordinances; love and peace among Churches; freedom from persecution and malignity; a godly magistracy; peace in our borders; justice in our courts; learning in the schools, etc. etc.
III. The case stated and distinguished from what seems like it. The question connects our repentance and warrantable expectations. The scope of it is,--what is the lowest sort or degree of repentance for national sins which is requisite to warrant, and ordinarily direct, our expectations of national mercies?
IV. The difficulties of the case.
1. Other nations are not under such express rules with respect to God’s outward dealings as the Jewish nation was. There have been always great displays of sovereignty in God’s dispensation of judgments and mercy toward nations. There are prophetic periods wherein national mercies shall not be obstructed by impenitence but repentance shall follow them. The desolation of a land is sometimes absolutely determined. God sometimes moderateth and refrains His judgments from other considerations besides repentance. It is not very easy, at all times, to judge of national judgments.
V. The case resolved. The rule by which we must determine this is hinted in the case itself, under those words, “What repentance doth God require?” Some expression of the Divine will must guide us; we must not judge by second causes, or by vain fancy, as we are apt to do.
1. A repentance short of that which is enjoined in order to eternal salvation will suffice to warrant our expectations of national mercies. Eternal issues are not determined by the same rules as temporal blessings. Uuregenerate persons may repent, so as to divert present judgments, and secure mercies. This is evident in Ahab and Nineveh.
2. The repentance which yields us ground to expect national mercies, must be for national sins. It includes clear convictions of the guilt and offences of a nation. Shame, fear, and deep humblings of soul under the sense of the wrath of God, as provoked by our sins. Such a compliance with God’s warnings and rebukes, as to put men on seeking God’s favour, and resolving to forsake the national pollutions. And there must be reformation. In proving the decision of the case, the described repentance doth ordinarily afford a people national mercies, notwithstanding national sins. And where this repentance obtains not, a people cannot justly expect national mercies. When a people is given up to impenitency, and God withholds a blessing from the methods that tend to their repentance, there is just cause to fear that judgments are determined against that land. Impenitence is not only a moral obstacle to good, but it is also a natural obstacle. The iniquity of a nation is even materially its ruin. (Daniel Williams, D. D.)
The fallow ground
Very often the prophet had to reprove and call the people to repent. Hosea is doing this in the passage before us.
I. The particular sort of characters here indicated. They are figuratively indicated by the term, “fallow ground,” or land lying fallow, producing nothing. The figure must not be taken quite literally, because there are some points in which it will not apply. The point in the figure is this. There is a human heart, producing nothing; there is a man, whose character has no religious fruitfulness, no religious excellence in relation to God. It is not verdant soil. It is not like the soil of the primitive forest, which never has produced any thing, for it has had its crops. That is the character here represented,--a nation, a Church, or an individual, that was fruitful, that was religious, but it has been neglected, and it is now lying barren, fallow, producing nothing. But the farm land is left fallow intentionally, and for a good purpose. In the fallow ground which is a man, and not a farm, there, is not one thing done with thought, delibera tion, purpose, or plan. Man’s heart is left fallow by temptation, negligence, ignorance, sin, backsliding, and instead of being the better for it, its condition is an injury and a curse.
II. THE EXHORTATION. “It is time to seek the Lord.” The Hebrews ought never to have needed a time for seeking the Lord. Heathen might feel after God, but Hebrews knew Him. The Hebrew child had to seek God for himself, but that is quite a different thing. Though, therefore, this exhortation ought not to have been needed, by the mercy of God it is given. It may be enforced in the sense in which the apostle uses an expression of the same sort, “It is high time to awake out of sleep.” It may be used in the sense of a time being propitious. An accepted time. Observe what man is told to do. Four things are figuratively expressed in the text.
III. The result. “Till God rain down righteousness upon you.” God rains down, not righteousness absolutely, but that which will produce it.
IV. The whole is in mercy. “Reap in mercy.” (T. Binney.)
What sowing involves
If we “sow for righteousness,” that is, if our efforts are directed to embodying it in our lives, “we shall reap according to mercy.” That is true universally, whether it is taken to mean God’s mercy to us, or ours to others. The aim after righteousness ever secures the Divine favour, and usually ensures the measure which we mete being measured to us again. But sowing is not all; thorns must be grubbed up. We must not only turn over a new leaf, but tear out the old one. The old man must be slain if the new man is to live. The call to amend finds its warrant in the assurance that there is still time to seek the Lord, and that for all His threatenings, He is ready to rain blessings upon the seekers. The unwearying patience of God, the possibility of the worst sinner’s repentance, the conditional nature of the threatenings, the yet deeper thought that righteousness must come from above, are all condensed in this brief Gospel before the Gospel. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Divine voice to a worthless people
Sowing and reaping are figures here used to denote the spiritual and moral conduct of this people. All human life consists of sowing and reaping. Every intelligent act embodies a moral principle, contains a seed that must germinate and grow.
I. A wretched moral state. “Fallow ground,” uncultivated earth. A state of--
1. Unloveliness. It is either an expanse of grey earth, or of weeds, thistles, and thorns.
2. Unfruitfulness. Unless the soil is cultivated there is no fruit, and the land is worthless.
3. Wastefulness. “On fallow ground the rain, dew, and sunshine fall, but all in vain. How much Divine grace is wasted on unregenerate men: sermons, books, Bibles, providences, means of grace, all wasted.
II. An urgent moral duty.
1. Moral ploughing. Think on two things. What God has been to us. What we have been to Him.
2. Moral sowing.
3. Moral reaping.
III. A solemn moral suggestion.
1. No time to lose.
2. Much has been lost.
3. It is only now the work can be effectively done.
IV. A glorious moral prospect. “He will rain righteousness,” or “teach you righteousness.” Pursue this work of moral agriculture properly, and God Himself will come and teach you righteousness. (Homilist.)
The fallow ground state
The characters represented by the term, “fallow ground,” are to be found in every town and in every congregation.
I. Who are the characters indicated? Those whose affections, habits, and thoughts were once bearing a rich harvest for God, but in whom this is all changed, and the heart is become barren. But not the backslider only; the description applies to all who are careless or hardened in their sins; all whose characters have no religious fruitfulness.
II. How may we break up the fallow ground? We must first satisfy ourselves that the ground is fallow; and in doing this prayerful meditation will greatly assist us. We may also have the guidance and assistance of the Holy Spirit.
III. Why we should break up the fallow ground? The constraining motive is this, “it is time to seek the Lord.” Time because you have already spent too much of your short life in the service of sin and Satan. Because you will never have a more suitable season than the present. You have sought to persuade yourself that, by and by, you would be more at leisure for seeking the Lord. You must not think a time of affliction will prove a more suitable time. The more happy we are, in the fulness of our strength, before the eye is dim, and before the intellect begins to fail--that is the time to think deeply upon the claims of God. (R. K. Bailie, M. A.)
The reward of well-doing
How shall we attain eternal life? The text declares that obedience shall not fail of its reward. And that the reward is of grace, and not of debt. We should understand that there is a vast difference between reward and merit. Merit is the right to receive a reward. Reward is a free testimony of approval. The text animates every one of us with the hope of reward; it abases each one of us by a denial of merit.
I. If we sow, we shall reap. A man might as reasonably expect a crop in the autumn, though he had wasted the season of seed-time, as suppose that a life of indolence and sensuality would lead him to Paradise.
II. Consider the caution, “reap in mercy.” The caution is against admitting any notion of merit. They claim most who have no ground of claim at all. If the notion of merit would be impiety in an angel, what must it be in man? And men have to regard not only the power of God, but also His holiness, which can carry no terror to sinless spirits. You shall reap “according to mercy.” Be assured, then, that you cannot sow too freely for that harvest. (M. Biggs, M. A.)
Sowing and reaping
Activity is not only a sign of life, it is a necessary condition of its continuance. The illustrations of this common law of life are as abundant as life itself. That which is true of trees, of muscle, and of brain is equally true of spiritual powers. For them no condition is a surer augury of death than unuse. As a Divine call to religious activity, Hosea’s words contain some points of perpetual importance. The call is--
1. Distinctly personal. “Sow for yourselves.” Whether a man will or not, he is constantly a sower of seed. The bad man, the defective Christian, the dilatory, the prayerless, are all sowers. This Divine call does not deal so much with unconscious influences, as with purposed and determined work.
2. The call is specific and definite. You are not to sow anything that may come first to hand. You are to sow the right word, the right spirit, the right action. Every seed we scatter with our hands deliberately, every seed that is unconsciously permitted to wing its way from our whole demeanour, is to bear within it the germ of the true life.
3. The call is opportune. It is always timely to be doing good. There are, however, certain seasons when religious activity is the present duty.
4. The call is urgent. All the verbs axe in one mood; and this is not the conditional or subjunctive, but the imperative. God never gives men any call without making it possible for them to obey it.
Our encouragement, to obedience is found in the--
1. Answer of a good conscience.
2. In certain success.
3. In full proofs of Divine mercy.
4. The success will be far spreading. The Christian worker is blessed in his deed. And--
5. The success will be abundant.
Let the labour for God tax our utmost ability, our patience, our faith; still, be it ours to work on, confident of the result. The blessing is certain to come, even for ourselves, certain to have proofs of mercy in it, certain to reach further than we anticipated, certain also to be plenteous. Enlarge your faith, therefore, in the power and blessing of God. Your work of faith and labour of love shall not be forgotten; but shall be copiously and even abundantly blessed. (J. Jackson Goadby.)
The prophet, bids them “seek diligently” (so the Hebrew) and perseveringly, “not leaving off or desisting,” if they should not at once find, but continuing the search, quite up to the time when they should find. His words imply the need of perseverance and patience, which should stop short of nothing but God’s own time for finding. The prophet, as is the way of the prophets, goes on to Christ, who was ever in the prophets’ hearts and hopes. The words could only be understood improperly of God the Father. God does not come, for He is everywhere. He ever was among His people, nor did He will to be among them otherwise than heretofore. No coming of God, as God, was looked for to teach righteousness. But the coming of Christ, the partiarchs and holy men all along desired to see. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
God has been pleased to give us instruction not only by His Word, but also by His works. Nature echoes Scripture to our sins, and if we would permit it, to our hearts. The ground we till is under the curse of God for man’s sin; that its natural produce is only thistles, weeds, brambles. You have seen a piece of ground that has been left waste and uncultivated, and how it has become full of weeds, and rank with poisonous herbs, and infested with noisome creatures. Just such a place is man’s heart. You have but to look at what man becomes when left to himself, without knowledge, without instruction, without the restraining and renewing grace of God, and you cannot doubt but that the inclination of his heart is not to good, that its imaginations are only evil continually. And out of that heart comes all manner of wickedness that is practised amongst mankind. Suppose any one of you had a garden overrun with weeds, how would he set about getting rid of them, so as to do it effectually? Would he take a scythe and cut off the tops, or a spade and dig them all up by the root? So if we were to tell men that they must put away this or that particular sin, we would do no more towards making them really holy, than a man would do towards clearing his garden if he should only break off the heads of the weeds growing in it. For both would be leaving the roots alive. Some may doubt whether their hearts are so bad as they have been represented to be. Then hear the Word of God (Jeremiah 17:9, etc.). The words of the text Bid us break up the fallow ground of our hearts, that it may be prepared to receive the good seed of eternal life.
I. The thing to be done. The plough breaking up the soil, the harrow tearing to pieces the hard and cumbering clods, are a sign of what must be done in our own hearts. The foul, unprofitable soil of the carnal and natural heart must be broken up from the bottom. It will not do just to disturb the surface. Have you ever even suspected that your heart wants cleansing? Is not the deadly root of sin shooting up there in a thousand shapes? Is there not unbelief, like the poisonous nightshade? Is there not pride, as a towering plant that brooks none to overlook it? Does not selfishness twine its roots and strike them deep, ay, down to the very ground of the heart? Is there no foul and rotten heap of unclean desires? Are not the cares and pleasures of this world like thorns and briars within you, choking up the thought and the love of better things? But how can your hearts be broken up? Not of yourselves. It is the Spirit of God carrying home the word which, like a two-edged sword, pierceth even to the dividing asunder of the bones and marrow,--it is He alone that can break up the hard and stony soil of the sinner’s heart. It is a joy to the angels to see the fallow ground of the sinner’s heart broken up with godly sorrow, humbled into repentance before God. When the ploughshare of conviction has gone deep, when the heart is no longer hardened, the seed of everlasting life will have a chance of springing up. But it is the Spirit alone who can renew us unto repentance and holiness.”
II. A reason why it must be done. A stirring motive is given us all in breaking up our fallow ground. “It is time to seek the Lord.” The farmer who should stand idling with folded arms when he ought to be sowing, and should let the seed-time slip away, could expect in harvest only weeds and thistles. Leave not, then, to the evening the proper work of the day. Opportunities lost cannot be recalled.
III. The blessing promised. We shall not seek in vain. He will “come and rain” righteousness “upon us.” The Lord will “satiate” the weary soul, and replenish every sorrowful soul. Upon them that seek Him will the Lord rain righteousness, even all the sanctifying graces of His Holy Spirit. Then wait upon the Lord in prayer, wait upon Him till He come, and pour out of His Spirit upon you. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
The proportion of mercy
Rather “Sow righteousness in the proportion of mercy.” As God has been merciful to you, so be ye righteous to Him: keep pace for pace with the Divine mercy; be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect; be ye holy as your Father in heaven is holy. This is the ideal; God would have human righteousness in proportion to Divine mercy. The standard is not arbitrary; it is gracious and tender and condescending, but who can attain unto it? It is not in man that liveth to keep pace with God. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
It is time to seek the Lord.--
Seeking and seekers
I. Whom are we to seek? “The Lord.” Our Creator, Father, Redeemer, Lord, Judge.
II. How are we to seek Him?
1. Earnestly. “Agonise to enter in.”
2. Humbly, in view of our helplessness and sin; hence penitently.
4. Obediently. Israel had become profane, idolatrous covenant breakers.
III. Why are we to seek him?
1. For God’s sake.
2. For our neighbour’s sake.
3. For our own sake.
(1) Viewing the facts connected with our being as immortal sinners, we cannot be happy without salvation.
(2) Seeking the Lord is preparation for the future.
IV. When are we to seek him? Now--
1. The Scriptures often urge haste.
2. Delay itself is sin.
3. The great good derived from such a course.
4. The way to the throne is open.
5. The time is short. (W. Veenschoten.)
The duty of seeking God
I. The duty enjoined. We should seek the Lord--
1. In the performance of His will.
2. In a dependence on His mercy.
3. In a due preparation of heart to receive His blessings.
II. The arguments by which it is enforced.
1. The urgency of the duty.
2. The certainty of success in it. (T. Hannam.)
Seeking the Lord an immediate duty
I. Whom are we to seek? “The Lord.” This implies--
1. That man is removed from God by sin.
2. That man may get near to God by seeking.
3. That it is his duty to do so.
II. How are we to seek the Lord?
1. By repentance.
(1) The heart broken for sin.
(2) The heart broken from sin.
(3) Reformation of life.
2. By faith.
(1) In God.
(2) In Christ.
III. When are we to seek the Lord? “Now.”
1. To some of you these words contain a reproof.
2. For many of you these words contain a warning.
(1) You will never have a better time. Facilities for seeking the Lord decrease with delay.
(2) You may not have another opportunity. Many have waited for the convenient season which never came. (E. D. Solomon.)
Seeking the Lard an immediate duty
I. The being whose favour men are to seek. “The Lord”; this is expressive of His greatness and power as the Proprietor of all things. “He is Lord over all.” “The earth is the Lord’s,” etc. Think of His relation to us. Creator--Preserver--Benefactor--the God of grace. Think how able and willing He is to promote our happiness.
II. The nature of seeking the Lord. It implies--
1. A knowledge of His character and a conviction of the importance and advantages of having Him for our portion.
2. A conviction that sin has deprived us of Him as our portion. “Your iniquities,” etc. “All we like sheep,” etc.
3. A knowledge of the way in which God may be sought. Through the Sacrifice of His Son, the Mediator, the Surety, mercy, pardon, and acceptance may be obtained.
4. Heartfelt repentance. Contrition; godly sorrow; confession of evil to God; cessation from sin, as an evidence of regeneration commencing. “Let the wicked,” etc.
5. Faith in Christ. “Repent and believe the Gospel.” “Believe in,” etc. What is faith? It is the reliance of the sick and diseased one upon the skill and healing power of the Great Physician; it is the reliance of the debtor, of the prisoner, captive, etc. etc., upon Christ, whose work on the Cross is adapted to meet all those exigencies of the sinner.
6. With diligence and perseverance. “With the heart man believeth,” etc. “Ye shall find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart”; “Cry out for the living God.”
III. The advantages of seeking the Lord.
1. We avoid infinite evil; as the result of transgression. “The wages of sin is death.”
2. We become possessed of infinite good. The benefit of all His attributes--of all His providence--of all the riches of His grace--of all the glories of HIS heaven--of His eternity.
3. We become auxiliaries to Christ in the glorious work of salvation--extending the boundaries of the mediatorial kingdom. This honour have all the saints!
4. By seeking the Lord, and finding Him, we do that which thousands in a dying hour, and at the judgment day, will regret that they have not done. “The harvest is past,” etc.
5. Those who seek the Lord now will never lose Him in eternity.
IV. The immediate attention which this duty demands.
1. It is time, according to the statements of Scripture. “To-day,” etc. “Behold now,” etc. “Seek ye the Lord while,” etc.
2. It is time, on account of the great evil already perpetrated. “One sinner destroyeth much good.”
3. The great good to be realised proves that it is time to seek the Lord. When the miser, the ambitious, etc., perceive an opportunity of gaining gold, honour, etc., how do they rush forward to seize the coveted good!
4. The frailty of human existence declares it is time.
5. It is time, because the facilities in seeking the Lord will gradually lessen. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity.
Diligence in serving sin
Whereas the Lord had, by His prophets, frequently inculcated that exhortation, to taker pains on their own hearts, to bring forth the fruits of piety and righteousness; they, on the contrary, took pains enough in serving sin, wherein they wanted not fruit, though it should disappoint their expectation. This challenge is farther amplified and enlarged by showing what was the fountain and spring of all this wickedness; to wit, their carnal confidence in the sinful ways and courses they followed, both in matters of state and religion, and their confidence in their many valiant men.
1. Many are so perverse, as they are not only content to live in sin, neglecting their duty, but they will be at pains to promote sin, and will trouble themselves to undo themselves.
2. Sin is a very fertile weed among the children of men; such as are bent on it will soon get their hearts’ desire of it, and God will give up such as are diligent that way, to a height of impiety, as a plague upon them. “Ye have reaped iniquity.” By this we are not to understand God’s causing them to reap the fruit of sin in judgments, but that their labours in sin came to a ripe harvest of grown-up iniquity.
3. Whatever fruit sin seem to promise to its followers, or whatever present comforts or success men seem to have by it, yet it will prove but vain, and disappoint them.
4. Men’s carnal confidences are great snares to draw them upon sinful courses, and are promising fruits which will disappoint them.
5. There is no confidence that more easily ensnares men, and will disappoint them sooner, than their own witty projects and devices in matters civil and sacred, without respecting the law of God; and their seeming to have power enough to manage and uphold them in these contrived ways. For such is their snare here, which will surely disappoint them. (George Hutcheson.)
Sow a habit, reap a character
Professor William Jones, of Harvard, in his text-book on psychology, says: “Could the young but realise how soon they will become mere bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson’s play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, ‘I won’t count this time’ Well, he may not count it, and a kind heaven may not count it, but it is being counted none the less. Down among the nerve-cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up, to be used against him when the next temptation comes. Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out. Of course, this has its good side as well as its bad one. As we become permanent drunkards by so many separate drinks, so we become saints in the moral, and authorities and experts in the practical and scientific, spheres by so many separate acts and hours of work.”
Because thou didst trust in thy way.
Trust in our own things
Israel, the ten tribes, had two great confidences. “Thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men.”
I. In their way. That is, in the way of religion that they had chosen for themselves, and which was distinct from the way of Judah, from the true worship of God. They were confident that they were right, and would not hear anything to the contrary. That which is a man’s own way he is very ready to trust in, and to esteem highly. None are more ready to charge others with pride than the proud; and none are more ready to charge others with adhering to their own way than those who most stick to their own conceit.
II. In their mighty men. “They had an army to back them, to fight for them, and to maintain that way of theirs. When the outward strength of a kingdom goes along with a way of religion, men think it must needs be right, and that all its opponents are but weak men. Great armies are the confidence of careless hearts. Those that trust to any way of their own have need of creature strengths to uphold them. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)