The first five verses of this chapter are an example of plain dealing and sharp rebuke. Sometimes occasions arise when such sharp rebuke becomes an imperative duty for the messenger from the Lord, and to shrink from it would be to forget the account which must one day be given before Him. “Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy!” says the prophet. The high and mighty in the land of Israel were greatly guilty in their tyrannical oppression of their poorer brethren. The prophet describes how these cruel tyrants crushed the needy among their own countrymen; and after selling them for slaves, they said to their masters into whose hands they had delivered them unjustly, “Come, let us drink!” Thus we see how the wicked encourage each other in sin. Let this be a spur to us to encourage each other in our love and pursuit after holiness and truth!
The particular sin which is so awfully spoken of in verses 4 and 5 is an attempt to combine the worship of false gods with the worship of the true God! Yes, the people did the sacrifices that God appointed to be done, but they did them at Bethel and Gilgal instead of Jerusalem. Also, they performed their ceremonies of worship in the presence of idolatrous images; and so their worship was only a multiplication of transgression. And the language which was addressed to them here, as well as in other places, shows how every such mixture is an utter abomination to the Lord God! How all-important it is, therefore, to have true doctrine without any mixture of error; and to have right principles in the service of the Lord, without any unworthy motives. If there is any mixture whatsoever, the allurement of the idols will eventually overpower and displace the heart’s attraction to the true God. Let us pray for grace so that our hearts may not be divided in an attempt to serve both the Lord and idols!
In the latter portion of this chapter (verses 6-13), we have an account of Jehovah’s sore judgments upon Israel. These were manifested in many different forms: in famine; in crop failure; in droughts in one locality, while rain watered another; in pestilence, blasting, and mildew; in the destruction of the sword; and in particular works of Providence, which were not unlike the overthrow of Sodom. These were some of the methods that the Lord was pleased to take, in order to rouse Israel to a sense of their sin, and in order to awaken them to seek His pardoning love and mercy.
But the Lord adds – and He repeats it five times, as if He was extremely sorrowful for His people – “Yet have ye not returned unto me!” Our heavenly Father always deals with us as with children. His afflicting works of Providence are intended to bring us back from our wanderings, so that we may return to Him – the source of all blessing! To every heart in Israel that still felt the stirrings of the Spirit of grace, this tender reproach must have come home with power; and doubtless, to some, it proved to be a means of grace whereby they did return to their God. But what an awakening subject for thought! Strange and repeated calamities are often intended to be instruments of conversion for our souls! How shall we escape, if we refuse to hear the loving voice of Him Who has bidden us – in such startling and awful sounds – to turn to Him? But it is sure and certain that there can be no return to the Lord, except in a way of repentance and faith; and this will never happen until the Lord first comes to the sinner in a way of grace and mercy! This is what the Gospel of Christ teaches, and this Scripture fully confirms it. Grace must first enter the heart, before the heart will ever cry out, “Lord! Save me, or I perish!” How blessed it is to have such provisions of grace in the Person of Jesus, preserved for the recovery of His redeemed ones from the enemy which has trampled them! When the Lord gives grace, then – and not before then – the Church is prepared to meet her Lord as a covenant-God in Christ.
“Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” said the prophet (verse 12). Man is called to meet his God in the way of repentance. A course of sinful living is a turning of the back upon the Lord, so to speak. It is a vain endeavor to flee from Him, for it is only fleeing from a God of mercy to meet a God in anger. Jehovah reveals Himself to us as One Who is willing and waiting to be gracious; He calls upon the careless and impenitent to meet Him in mercy, and He tells them to do so quickly. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found!” There is a time of mercy – a day of grace, in which outward calls and inward convictions combine to press upon the soul the duty of going to meet God in the ways of His mercy. That time is precious, and it will be succeeded by an everlasting night. But the person who prepares to meet the Lord without delay, with reverent care, and with determined resolution – seeking mercy in the name of Jesus – will always find Him ready to receive, pardon, and bless! Through Christ, we may meet Him in repentance, and we shall find Him appeased and reconciled. In prosperity, He calls us to meet Him with gratitude and praise. When He approaches us in judgment, we may endeavor to bow with submission to His chastenings, and eagerly seek to derive profit therefrom. In the use of the means of grace, we should meet Him with holy joy, with glad reverence, and with earnest expectation of good things from His Fatherly bounty. And in the operation of that “faith which worketh by love,” we may expect to meet our God and have the light of His face shining brightly upon our path.
Lord, pour out Your grace upon many lost souls, so that they may meet You in mercy through Christ! Amen.
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