In this chapter, the prophet’s special message was directed against the priests, the people, and the king. It was a national word to Israel as a whole, although it was particularly addressed to the priests and the king – that is, the religious leaders and the civil rulers. Its burden was one of national pollution, and of Divine judgment falling upon the nation as a result of that pollution. The piercing eye of God saw the people’s secret love of sin and their inclination to indulge in it (verses 1-7). And since Judah was treading in the same footsteps, they would also experience the same judgments that Israel was about to suffer. Those who do not take advantage of the opportunity to seek the Lord while He may be found will not find Him at all (verse 6). Herein we see how much it is in our best interest to seek God early and now – while it is still the day of salvation! (Ps. 95:7-9)
The prophecies of coming destruction upon impenitent sinners (such as we read in verses 8-13) are not mere words that are intended to frighten them. Rather, it is a sentence of judgment which will not be recalled! And it is a mercy that we have timely warning given us, so that we may flee from the wrath to come. The judgments of God sometimes exercise themselves upon rebellious people, as if they were a moth or a rottenness – which are plagues that consume clothes and wood in a silent and unobservable manner. The people imagine that they are safe and thriving; but when they look deeper than the surface, they find themselves actually wasting and decaying. The Lord uses these slow judgments so that His people have plenty of time to repent; and those who are wise will take warning from them, before stronger and more forceful judgments (represented under the form of a lion, instead of a moth; verse 14) are sent upon them. In one way or another, they will be forced to return to God. He will bring them home to Himself, by the afflictions which He sends upon them. When men begin to complain more of their sins than of their afflictions, then there begins to be some hope for them. And when we find ourselves under the conviction of sin and the corrections of the rod, we must seek the knowledge of God. Those who are led by severe trials to seek the Lord earnestly and sincerely will find Him to be a present help and an effectual refuge; for with Him, there is plenteous redemption for all who call upon Him. There is solid peace where God is – and there alone!
But alas! When Israel and Judah found themselves in trouble, they sought the protection of the Assyrians (verse 13); but this only helped to make their troubles even worse. And if we read verse 13 in a spiritual sense, and with an eye to Christ; we discover therein the weakness of all human attainments, and all human strength, to recover us from the ruins of the Fall. King Jareb the Assyrian is a picture of the inefficacy of all human means and methods to cure our soul-sickness, and to heal the wounds of our sins. None can rescue or deliver us, neither can any remedy be found for us, until the Lord Jesus Christ – the Lion of the tribe of Judah – becomes our hope of glory, and makes Himself known and felt in the sovereignty of His power!
“I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face; in their affliction they will seek Me earnestly” (verse 15). Jehovah is the Speaker here, but the background is that of intense gloom. Israel is in rebellion against her God, and Judah is also in danger. There was a political arrangement between these Northern and Southern Kingdoms, in an attempt to save them from what they supposed to be impending calamity. In view of this, the prophet was warning the nations of discipline in judgment, and the judgments which were predicted were progressive. The first is found in verse 12: “I am unto Ephraim as a moth”; the second is in verse 14, which reads, “I will be unto Ephraim as a lion;” and the last is in verse 15: “I will go and return to my place.” The warning is a solemn one. There can be none more solemn! The moth is a terrible thing. The lion is a terrible thing. But when God withdraws Himself, it is the most terrible calamity that can take place upon a person or a nation!
Nevertheless, it is to be immediately noticed that this solemn warning ends on a note which reveals the Lord’s heart and intention! The first part of the warning fills the heart with terror: “I will go and return to my place.” Then comes the little word “till”; and in that little word “till,” we discover the Divine heart! As we read it, and the words that follow, we discover the Divine intention: “I will go and return to my place” – but that is not His desire, for He says “till.” Till what? “Till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face.” Then the Divine word sings the song not merely of hope, but also of assurance: “In their affliction they will seek me earnestly.” Thus the solemn warning ends on the note of hope, and speaks of a door that is not shut. “I will go to My place,” He says; “but the door-latch is still left open. You can find Me if you want Me!” “Till you acknowledge your offence and seek my face” – “and when you do it,” says God, “the door is open!” Yes, His judgments are terrible; but they are inevitable, because they have been made necessary by the choices of rebellious man when he turns away from God. But our merciful Lord leaves the door-latch unlocked, and the light in the window, for any and all who seek Him in repentance!
Lord, help us to truly seek You with our hearts and souls, and to take advantage of the opportunity to seek You early and now, while You may still be found! Amen.
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