By J.R. Miller
Hosea was one of the prophets of the Ten Tribes, near the end of the Northern Kingdom. Most of his prophecies refer to the condition and destiny of his kingdom. Little is known personally of the prophet. The first three chapters of the book contain a history or parable of the prophet's marriage, in which the love of God for Israel is graphically depicted, and the treatment of Him by His people is shown in all its blackness. The remaining portion of the book contains prophecies against the people's sins.
In the chapter for our present study, we are reminded of the splendid opportunities Israel had had, and of the reckless misuse or abuse of these opportunities. "Israel is a luxuriant vine." The picture is of a vine that makes a great show in leaves--but in the time of fruit has no grapes on it. It represents a life of much religious profession--yet lacking in the fruits of righteousness, of character.
We understand its meaning as referring to Israel in Hosea's time. The nation made a great show of religion--but its religion was idolatrous. Possibly, too, we could find people or Churches in these very modern days that might have sat for the picture. It will be of more practical help to ourselves and a fitter use of the Bible, if we make careful scrutiny of our own personal lives to see whether this vine with luxurious leaves and no fruit--is in any sense a picture of US.
We profess to be good people. There is a great deal of religious privilege and profession in our lives. We have had fine opportunities. Have we the fruits of the Holy Spirit? Have we the love, joy, peace, long-sutfering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faith--which are given as samples of these fruits! Are we pure in heart, lowly in spirit, meek, peacemakers, as the Beatitudes paint the true Christian life? Have we the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians in our heart and disposition and life?
The secret of this failure in the true results of life, is given in the words, "Their heart is divided." They thought they were very pious, with great show of devotion. But it was not really worship. They were only half-hearted, at the best. A divided heart is an abomination to the Lord. We remember what our Lord said about it. Indeed, what he really said was that a divided heart was an impossibility. That is, only part of a heart--does not count at all with God. Unless the heart is His altogether, it is not His at all. "No man can serve two masters." "You cannot serve God and mammon!"
There is room in a human heart for a great many things--but there is not room for two Gods. If one loves father or mother or son or daughter or anything else--more than Christ, he is not worthy of Him. We need to look carefully into this matter for ourselves--not troubling ourselves much at present about the ancient Israelites. Are OUR hearts divided between Christ and something else? Is our worship sincere and spiritual? The ancient emblem of prayer was fragrance. The incense that was burned on the golden altar was rich in its perfume. God spoke of smelling a sweet savor from acceptable sacrifices. Does God find our worship fragrant? Is there love in it? Is there hearty praise? Is there sincere penitence?
A nation without God is like a ship adrift, without a rudder on the sea. This was the condition of the nation of Israel at this time. They were facing great perils--and had no Pilot. They had cut themselves off from God by their own sin. They had a king in name--but what could their king do for them in their danger? He could not save them from their enemies. There are many people who give up God--for a human friend, or for money, or honor, or place. But in time of sore trial, what can their friend, or their money, or their fame do for them? This world's trusts are frail and poor dependences, when sore need comes. They are refuges of lies, even the best of them. What could Israel's king do to save his people from the Assyrians? What can friend or gold or honor do for a human soul in time of great struggle, in temptation, in sorrow, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment?
A man was found dead at the foot of a precipice. He had fallen from the top. In his hand, clutched tightly, was a dried blade of grass. In his fall he had grasped this--but of what help was it to him? Of no more use will earth's trusts be to him who in life's great and sore needs clutches at them. They will be only dry straws in his hand. It is a fearful thing to give up God.
They thought they had gods--but they were only calves of gold. They had a very elaborate ritual of worship--but it was all only an empty form. There was no might, no heart of love, no power to help in these calves. Indeed, they could not even take care of themselves, and the people were now in dread lest their enemies should carry away their very deities. "The people who live in Samaria fear for the calf-idol. Its people will mourn over it, and so will its idolatrous priests, those who had rejoiced over its splendor, because it is taken from them into exile." Instead of turning to their gods for deliverance in their danger, they were in terror lest the gods might be carried away. There is something even ludicrous in the picture the prophet here paints--yet it is so true that it has its startling lesson for us. Anything that can be carried away into captivity--is not fit to be a god to an immortal soul. Israel's calf-diol was to be carried to Assyria as a present to the king. Think of one's god being given as a present to one's enemy.
Toward the close of the chapter, comes a call to repentance. God yearns over His apostate people with all tenderness. He pleads with them to do what is right. "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek Jehovah, until He comes and showers righteousness on you." It is never too late to repent. At least God never shuts the door--on this side of the grave. Here amid the predictions of ruin and sorrow--the prophet breaks off to call the people to repentance, and paints for them a vision of hope. Even yet God would have mercy upon them--if they would but return to Him. But the returning must be sincere and real. They must sow righteousness, if they would reap mercy. Mercy never can come to the sinner--until he comes to God in the way of holiness. The fallow ground must be broken up, before there can be any harvest. The hard heart must be broken with penitence, to receive the good seed of the kingdom. "It is time to seek Jehovah." Surely it is!
The prophet reminds them of what their sin had brought upon them. "But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception. Because you have depended on your own strength and on your many warriors." "Whatever a man sows--that shall he also reap," is as sure and fixed a law of the spiritual as of the natural kingdom. Those who sow righteousness, shall reap mercy. Then it is just as true, that they who sow wickedness, shall reap iniquity; and that they who sow lies, shall reap a harvest of lies. No man should hope to live in sin, doing wrong things--and then have the reward of the godly man, peace, joy, and blessing. No one should hope to be untruthful, false, faithless--and then have a name of honor, to be trusted and believed by others. One who forms the habit of lying--must expect to be regarded as a liar in the community where he lives. As a general rule, we get about what we deserve from our fellow-men, in the way of reputation. Especially in God's distributions, we may be sure that sooner or later that we shall reap--as we have sown!
The prophet warned the people of Israel of the doom that was coming upon them if they went on in their evil way. "The roar of battle will rise against your people, so that all your fortresses will be devastated-- as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children. Thus will it happen to you, O Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed." Thus the coming of the calamity was foretold. Judgment was sure. Judgment is sure likewise, for every one who is living in sin! It may be delayed, for God is very merciful and waits to be gracious. But it will surely come.