Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land: There is no truth, no loving devotion, and no knowledge of God in the land!
Hosea 1-3. The body of the book is occupied with discourses, which are full of mingled reproaches, threatenings, and promises. Hosea 4. evidently reflects the condition of the nation during the interregnum which followed the death of Jeroboam II. The key-word of the first strophe (vers. 1-5) is the word "controversy" (ver. 1), used in the sense of a legal action - a suit at law. Jehovah represents himself as prosecuting Israel for breach of contract.
I. THE SUMMONS. (Ver. 1.) A solemn covenant had been concluded at Sinai between God and the chosen nation. It had the Decalogue for its basis, and it had been ratified by sacrifice (Exodus 20-24.). But the people of the ten tribes had infringed the covenant, and exposed themselves (taking the figure of the passage) to legal proceedings for breach of contract. The summons, however, was not served without extreme provocation. For the Lord is not litigious. He is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8). We shall see from the indictment that almost every obligation of the sacred compact had been violated.
II. THE INDICTMENT. (Vers. 1, 2.) It is a tremendous one. There are two weighty counts in it, and together they show that by this time the very bonds of society in Israel had been dissolved.
1. Religion was dead. (Ver. 1.) "No truth." "Truth" may here be taken to cover the entire masculine side of the religious character, and to include all such strong virtues as veracity, faithfulness, integrity, righteousness, immutability. To love truth is one of the first duties of religion. "Igor mercy." This word represents the feminine side of piety, and includes such graces as pity, clemency, kindness, sympathy. These fatal defects were due to the lack of" knowledge of God in the land." Mercy and truth are glorious perfections of the Divine nature, and their existence as virtues of social ethics depends upon right conceptions regarding him. But Israel had lost the knowledge of Jehovah. The calf-shrines had been her ruin. The image-worship had destroyed the spiritual service of God. And the failure of the heart knowledge led to the failure of head-knowledge also, and that in turn to the loss of all virtue. How sad that there should be "no knowledge of God in the land." For was it not the land of Immanuel, and were not its citizens "a people near unto him"? How dreadful such an indictment against the nation of whom the psalmist exultingly sings, "In Judah is God known: his Name is great in Israel" (Psalm 76:1)!
2. Immorality was rampant. (Ver. 2.) The sin of Jeroboam I., in setting up the golden calves and encouraging the systematic violation of the second commandment, had become the fruitful source of disobedience to the whole moral Law. It had paved the way for the deeper apostasy of Baalism (1 Kings 16:31); and, the first two commandments being overturned, little respect was any longer paid to the others. Ver. 2 presents a picture of the eleven years which followed the death of Jeroboam II., when the forces of revolution and anarchy were struggling for the upper hand. Then the land was full of perjury and violence. All kinds of evil broke forth like a flood. The third commandment, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, were alike disregarded. One deed of blood trod upon the heels of another; assassination following assassination, and slaughter avenging slaughter. The character of the people, and of their prophets and priests, was hopelessly bad. Reproof would be in vain (ver. 4). The men of Israel were as contumacious as those who refused to obey the priest when he gave judgment in Jehovah's Name (Deuteronomy 17:12). Indeed, the sin of the whole kingdom, which began with the renunciation of the Aaronical priesthood, may be symbolically described as that of" striving with the priest." And now, at last, even the very mercy of God had to be withdrawn from the nation.
III. THE JUDGMENT. (Vers. 3-5.) The Lord does not cite and plead in vain. He is "justified when he speaks, and clear when he judges." The punishment of Israel's sin is to be universal and very terrible. The judgment is to fall upon:
1. The soil. (Ver. 3.) The threatening here is that of a universal drought. The very ground is to be cursed because of the people's guilt. The famine is to be one of fearful severity. In a sense, the soil of Palestine may be said to be lying under that visitation yet. Canaan is naturally "a fruitful land; ' but God has turned it "into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein."
2. The lower creatures. Animal life is to decline by reason of the drought. The brute creation shall be reduced to an extremity of hunger on account of the people's sin.
3. The people themselves. They are to be punished with:
(1) Loss of health. "Every one that dwelleth therein shall languish "-the physical frame losing strength and tone, and "joy being withered away from the sons of men" (Joel 1:12).
(2) Loss of food, due to the breaking of the two staffs of life - the failure of the harvests and the destruction of the animals.
(3) Loss of grace (ver. 4). Expostulation with the people would be useless. They hated reproof. God's Spirit had ceased to strive with Ephraim; he was "joined to idols" (ver. 17). The men of Israel were so desperately wicked that it was "impossible to renew them again unto repentance."
(4) Loss of life (ver. 5). "Evil shall slay the wicked." The people of the ten tribes, with their false prophets, are to perish in their sins. The slaughter is to be continuous, neither day nor night being free from it. It is also to be indiscriminate, and at last universal. And the loss of temporal life is only the shadow of deeper spiritual loss, beyond in eternity.
4. The nation as such. (Ver. 5.) "I will destroy thy mother." The Israelitish state was the "mother" of the people; and already, by reason of the family wickedness, she is driving fast along the highway to destruction. These closing words, indeed, are her funeral knell.
CONCLUSION. Two lessons of this passage are specially prominent, viz.
(1) the essential connection between religion and morality;
(2) the inevitable connection between national sin and national suffering. Wherever the right knowledge of God is wanting, there sin and Satan are sure to triumph. Ancient Greece gave to Europe the glorious beginnings both of political and intellectual life and was herself resplendent with the choicest triumphs of literature and art; yet some of her wisest philosophers countenanced the practice of unmentionable vices. The sun never shone upon a more brilliant company of scholars, poets, philosophers, orators, jurists, and litterateurs, than that which adorned the court of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome; yet during the Augustan age the Roman people were plunging into depths of moral degradation which ultimately led to the ruin of the empire. On the other hand, when the general overthrow of the continental monarchs took place in 1848, and the throne of Great Britain remained as stable as ever, M. Guizot said one day to Lord Shaftesbury, "I will tell you what saved your empire. It was not your constable; it was not your army; it was not your statesmen. It was the deep, solemn, religious atmosphere that still is breathed over the whole people of England." For nations, knowledge of God and acceptance of his salvation are necessary, in order to the prevalence of that righteousness which is the source of national stability. And for each citizen in like manner, "This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent." - C.J.
I. THE SUIT COMMENCED.
Hear the Word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
Homilist.In the previous chapters the prophet's language had been highly and somewhat perplexingly symbolical. In this chapter he begins to speak more plainly and in sententious utterances.
I. A CORRUPT PEOPLE. The depravity of Israel is represented —
1. Negatively. "There is no truth," etc. These are the great fontal virtues in the universe; and where they are not, there is a moral abjectness of the most terrible description. A people without reality, their very life a lie. No acts of beneficence performed, and the very spirit of kindliness extinct. The greatest, the holiest Being in the universe utterly ignored.
2. Positively. The absence of these great virtues gives rise to tremendous crimes.
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) II. AN EXPOSTULATING GOD. "The Lord hath controversy." Of all controversies this is the most awful. 1. It is a just controversy. Has not the great Ruler of the universe a right to contend against such evils? 2. It is a continuous controversy. 3. It is an unequal controversy. What are all human intellects to His? Sparks to the sun. The sinner has no argument to put before Him. He cannot deny his sins. He cannot plead accidents. He cannot plead compulsion. He cannot plead some merit as a set-off, for he has none. This controversy is still going on. It is held in the court of conscience, and you must know of its existence and character. (Homilist.)
(2) (3) (4) (5) (6) II. AN EXPOSTULATING GOD. "The Lord hath controversy." Of all controversies this is the most awful. 1. It is a just controversy. Has not the great Ruler of the universe a right to contend against such evils? 2. It is a continuous controversy. 3. It is an unequal controversy. What are all human intellects to His? Sparks to the sun. The sinner has no argument to put before Him. He cannot deny his sins. He cannot plead accidents. He cannot plead compulsion. He cannot plead some merit as a set-off, for he has none. This controversy is still going on. It is held in the court of conscience, and you must know of its existence and character. (Homilist.)
(3) (4) (5) (6) II. AN EXPOSTULATING GOD. "The Lord hath controversy." Of all controversies this is the most awful. 1. It is a just controversy. Has not the great Ruler of the universe a right to contend against such evils? 2. It is a continuous controversy. 3. It is an unequal controversy. What are all human intellects to His? Sparks to the sun. The sinner has no argument to put before Him. He cannot deny his sins. He cannot plead accidents. He cannot plead compulsion. He cannot plead some merit as a set-off, for he has none. This controversy is still going on. It is held in the court of conscience, and you must know of its existence and character. (Homilist.)
II. AN EXPOSTULATING GOD. "The Lord hath controversy." Of all controversies this is the most awful. 2. It is a continuous controversy. (Homilist.)
II. AN EXPOSTULATING GOD. "The Lord hath controversy." Of all controversies this is the most awful.
2. It is a continuous controversy.
1. Gross violation of both Tables of the Law, both by omission and by commission. God threatens, because of this, to send extreme desolation.
2. Desperate incorrigibleness. He threatens to destroy such, and the false prophets, and the body of the people and Church.
3. God accuseth the priests in Israel, that, through their fault, the people were kept in ignorance. He threatens to cast them and their posterity off. He further accuses the priests of ingratitude towards Elm, for which He threatens to turn their glory into ignominy. And tie even accuses them of sensuality and covetousness, rendering them unfaithful to their calling.
4. He accuses the whole people of gross idolatry, and threatens not to restrain their sin by corrections.
5. He accuses them of the idolatry of the calves, from which He dissuades Judah, as being an evidence of Israel's wantonness, and the cause of their ensuing exile.
6. He accuses Ephraim, the kingly tribe, of their incorrigibleness in idolatry, their intemperance, filthiness, and corruption of justice through covetousness. For this He threatens sudden and violent destruction and captivity, where they should be ashamed of their corrupt worship.
1. The knowledge that any truth is the Word of the Lord is a special means to prepare the heart to receive it with reverence and all due respect, even though it be hard and grievous to flesh and blood.
2. The nearness of a people to God does not exempt them from God's contending with them for sin.
3. The nearer the relationship the more grievous the controversy.
II. THE PLEADING OF GOD. A suit first is entered against a man; when the court day comes, there is calling for a declaration.
1. God contends not with a people without a cause.
2. God contends not against a people for little things. These are not little things "No truth, no mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land."
3. It is in vain for any man to talk of his religion, if he make no conscience of the second table as well as the first.
III. JUDGMENT PRONOUNCED (ver. 3, etc.). "Therefore shall the land mourn."
1. All the glory and pomp of the men of the world is but as
2. Times of affliction take down the jollity and bravery of men's spirits, and make them fade, wither, and pine away.
3. The good or evil of the creature depends on man.
4. God, when in a way of wrath, can cause His wrath to reach to those things that seem to be most remote.
5. No creature can help man in the time of God's wrath, for every creature suffers as well as man.
IV. EXHORTATION TO JUDAH TO BEWARE THAT SHE COME NOT INTO THE SAME CONDITION (ver. 15). The prophet Hosea was sent especially to Israel, to the Ten Tribes, but here we see he turns his speech to Judah.
1. Ministers should especially look to those whom they are bound unto by office, but yet so as to labour to benefit others when occasion offers.
2. When we see our labour lost on those we most desire to benefit, we should try what we can do with others. There were many arguments why Judah should not do as Israel did.
V. EXECUTION, GOD IN HIS WRATH GIVING UP EPHRAIM TO HIMSELF (ver. 17).
1. Ephraim engaging himself in false worship is now so inwrapped in that sin and guilt that he cannot tell how to extricate himself.
2. The Lord has given him up to his idols.(1) It is a heavy judgment upon a people when the saints withdraw from them.(2) The Lord here virtually says to Hosea, "You can do no good to them, it is in vain for you to meddle with Ephraim." God has a time to give men over to themselves, to say that His Spirit shall no longer strive with them. It is the most woeful judgment of God upon any people, or person, when He saith in His wrath, "Let him alone." It is a testimony of very great disregard in God for His creatures. Those thus let alone are going apace to misery. God intends by this to make way for some fearful wrath that is to come upon them. It is a dreadful sign of reprobation.
( Matthew Henry.)
There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land
(E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
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