The change of style in this chapter is remarkable. The preceding chapter commences with the solemn plaintive notes of a funeral dirge, but this one begins with a loud and startling trumpet-blast! The beauty of the composition of the chapter will be seen after an attentive study of it; and the sustained animation of the inspired writer appears clearly from the fact that the 14 verses which it contains are only an amplification of two ideas expressed in the first clause – “them that are at ease in Zion,” and “woe unto them!”
Hosea’s countrymen were at ease in Zion. They trusted in carnal confidences – “the mountain of Samaria.” If they had been asked why they felt thus secure, they would at once speak of the strength and resources which they possessed. Instead of saying, “Our help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth”; they would say, “Our help and safety is in the mountain of Samaria.” And closely connected with this carnal confidence was a spirit of presumptuous haughtiness; they delighted in being named the “chief of the nations.”
The people’s ingratitude to God for His mercies is set before them in the second verse. It is as if the prophet had said, “Consider the nations around you – is the border of any one of them better than yours? Is not yours an ample inheritance in the comparison? And does not the possession of it involve serious responsibility on your part? And yet you ungratefully disregard the presence and despise the warnings of that same God Who has blessed you!” Then the prophet enumerates the particulars of their shameful self-indulgence, and this was combined with a neglect and contempt of their poorer brethren. As if this wasn’t bad enough, perversion of justice was yet another offshoot of their wanton ease and luxuriant prosperity. And this was not even to mention their vainglorious, empty boasting. The grand mark of their folly was that in every detail of their lives, they entirely left out the Lord. Alas! How sad is the thought that even in our own day, so many thousands fit this very same description in their real condition before God!
The Lord’s prophet threatens these people with deadly pestilence. One of the features of the plague that is spoken of here is that it would involve the entire sweeping away of all the members of some households. This would be a terrible spectacle for others to witness! It would show the fierceness of God’s wrath, and the terrible effects of His mighty power. He does not even need a sword, for He can send a deadly plague to do His work.
When such terrible cases occurred, the ceremonies of burial would have to be performed by individuals from another house. An uncle or extended member of the family would hear of the calamity, and come with the person who burned the contaminated and contagious bones; and he would ask someone, in sorrowful earnestness, “Is there yet any with thee?” He is told, “No!” Seeing the whole extent of the calamity, the person who was addressed is about to make some passionate exclamation – referring it to the judgment of God for the sins of the people. But he is suddenly checked and reminded that it is forbidden to trace the calamity to the hand of Jehovah, because that would involve condemnation of the people for their sin! The uncle would say, “Hold thy tongue! for we may not make mention of the name of the Lord!” – as if they were in such terror, that they were afraid that God would add to their punishment if they presumed to merely mention His name.
Lastly, upon those who were thus at ease in Zion, the prophet denounces woe by an express threatening – the meaning of which they could not mistake. He said that the Lord would raise up against them a nation which would afflict them, “from the entering in of Hamath unto the river of the wilderness” (verse 14). The people would thereby be made to consider all the land between those northern and southern boundaries. God would cause the storm of desolating conquest to burst with irresistible fury; and their conquerors would not only spoil their riches in which they trusted, but they would also cause them to feel sorrow and anguish by their oppression and cruelty.
This portion of Scripture speaks strongly to us of the deadly and dangerous effects of carnal and sensual indulgence! How repeated also, and how solemn, are the warnings of Jesus Christ on this subject! He speaks to us of one who said to his soul, “Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” And it was said to him, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; and then whose shall those things be which thou hast prepared?” Moreover, we here learn to observe and sympathize with the sufferings of others who are mourning. Who does not detest the hardheartedness with which the brothers of Joseph – ignoring his bitter grief – sat down to eat and drink? And yet a measure of their guilt will rest upon us also, unless our ears are open to the tales of sorrow all around us, and unless our hearts are touched by the spiritual and temporal destitution, and the mental and bodily sufferings, of those among whom we live. Moses, Esther, Nehemiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, David, and Paul – of all these men and women, we read how they observed the sorrows of their brothers and sisters; and they endeavored, to the best of their ability, to give them relief. But above all others, this feature of character is distinctly impressed upon the life and earthly ministry of our tender Savior! If there is no other way in which we can administer soothing consolation, we can always seek to procure a sufferer’s relief by earnest prayer on his or her behalf at the throne of grace!
O Lord, we beseech You to make us like our tender Savior, and to endeavor – to the best of our ability – to give relief to those around us who are suffering! Amen.
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