Prophets were sent to be reprovers – to tell their people of their faults; and to warn them of the judgments of God, to which their sins had exposed them. And it is in this office that Hosea is employed in this and the following chapters. He here represents the King of kings, and opens an indictment against the people of Israel. He labors to convince them of sin, and of their misery and danger because of sin, so that he might thereby prevail with them to repent and reform.
“Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel,” he begins; “for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood” (verses 1-2). Here is an awful account of sin, in some of its most deadly branches and variations. But the most awful part of it is that it is Israel – the people of God – who are thus charged! Sin is sin in any nation; and the crimes here enumerated are horrible, no matter where they are found. But when God’s people are the first and worst in the ways of transgression, this makes sin exceedingly sinful.
In verses 3-5, the Lord follows the accusations of the sins of His people with His threatened punishments. And it is noteworthy that the priests and prophets are to perish alongside of the rest of the people; for where the Lord does not give an understanding heart, the labors of both the people and their leaders are all in vain (Ps. 127:1-2). The people and their priests hardened one another in sin, and so they would justly share the punishment. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” said the Lord to the priests (verse 6); “because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Observe, dear reader, how tenderly – even in the midst of judgment – the Lord seems to mourn over the perishing circumstances of His people. And do not forget that all the miseries and sins of our own times may be traced back to the same problem as they were back then; we are “destroyed for lack of knowledge,” for we are ignorant of Jesus. If we only knew Him as we ought, then surely every blessing in love and obedience would follow! Hence Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19, in which the great and leading petition is not that we may love the Lord; but rather, that we may know His love to us, in all its fullness.
In verses 15-19, let us observe – for it is very blessed to observe – the sweet minglings of grace that we find here, even amidst the solemn and awful words that the Lord speaks concerning His people. Witness His tender watchfulness over Judah, and His charge to them to not follow Israel, who is compared to a backsliding heifer. It is a well-known fact that when a heifer is sliding on slippery ground, she still has her head upward to the place where she aims to go; and so she has not turned her back, although she is falling down. So also, the Lord’s people, in their backslidings, have not totally relinquished the Lord – although they are slipping and sliding. In themselves, they are nothing – and even worse than nothing. But to the Lord, they are well-valued – no matter how unconscious they may be in their own hearts of that fact.
“Let Ephraim alone!” says the Lord, in verse 17. “He is joined to idols!” Some interpret this as if it means that by letting him alone, his everlasting ruin would follow. And so it would indeed, if the sentence was uttered by the Lord in this way; for none could ever recover himself from the idols of his own heart, if the Lord’s grace did not first enter that heart. If the case had been otherwise, and man could save himself from his own idolatries – then for what purpose did the Son of God even come to redeem us? But some others think that this sentence is spoken in great grace and mercy! “Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone.” Why? So that he may see and feel the wretchedness of such a union, and become like the prodigal son – who comes to himself by his idols becoming bitter to him, and by his way being hedged up with thorns! By secretly inclining the heart of the prodigal to consider Christ’s love and his own unworthiness, he is brought back to the Lord with the cry of grace upon his lips – “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
Lord, we praise You for sending Your Son to redeem us from the ruin that we had brought upon our own heads by our own idolatries; for none of us could have ever recovered ourselves from the idols of our own hearts, if Your grace had not first entered within us! We pray that it may never be said of us that we rejected You. We beseech You to give us grace to desire Your Word and retain it in our minds, and that we may also transmit the remembrance and obedience of it to our children! Amen.
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