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Hosea 5:1-5 -

God here arraigns the sins of princes, priests, and people.

Their degeneracy had been very great and their sins very grievous. Though there is no formal catalogue given of those sins, yet they are incidentally exhibited in the reproofs and rebukes which follow.

I. ALL CLASSES ARE ADDRESSED BY THE DIVINE WORD . It is directed to the high and to the low alike; to the rich and to the poor; it speaks to every grade in society and every rank in life; there is none so high as to be above its teaching, and none so lowly as to be beneath its notice. To sovereigns as to the meanest subjects of their realm; to magistrates and men in authority, as well as to those under their jurisdiction, the warnings and admonitions of Scripture reach. To all, of every class and condition, of every caste and clime, the Divine Word is offered as a light to their test and a lamp to their path.

II. ALL CLASSES ARE AMENABLE TO THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS . The judgments of God are denounced against all workers of iniquity—from the poorest and meanest of the people to the priests who should be their instructors and examples, and to the princes and principal men, who should not only rule and guide, but protect and preserve them to the utmost of their power. And yet there is a distinction; for those who, through their exalted position or extensive influence, seduce others to sin, expose themselves to sorer condemnation. But, while those who entrap others into sin are doubly guilty, the persons entrapped are not on that account guiltless. Subjects sometimes suffer through the mistakes of their sovereigns; but when subjects and sovereigns are both involved in guilt, they must expect to have their respective share in punishment. When God has a controversy with a people, and his judgments are approaching, it is a time for serious consideration and solemn reflection. Hence we have a triple call to attention in this first verse: "Hear ye this, hearken ye, give ye ear." It was an earnest time and an emphatic call; for God "will at last force audience and attention from the most stubborn."

III. ALL CLASSES HAD PERVERTED THE WAY . The revolters seem to have belonged to all ranks and to have comprehended all classes. If the "slaughter" which they made refers to the slaying of sacrifices, it is spoken of with contempt, because those sacrifices, whether from defects in their own nature, or imperfection in the manner in which they were offered, or the wrongness of the motive with which they were presented, were unacceptable to God. Accordingly he speaks of them disparagingly; for "though the prophet spake of sacrifices, he no doubt called sacrificing in contempt killing; as though we should call the temple the shambles, and the killing of victims slaughtering." If, on the other hand, the slaughter referred to be understood literally of actual murder, the criminality is still greater, and they bear the brand of red-handed assassins. In either case, the idiom employed is a very energetic mode of expression "The slaughter they have made deep," or, "they have gone deep in slaughtering," conveys the idea of the great length to which they had gone, either in sacrifices to idols and contrary to legal appointment, or in murderously shedding blood, or even in the more modified sense of causing destruction. They had gone to an extreme in the direction indicated, whichever sense is assigned to slaughtering. It is not so much that they hid their doings deep, as that they went deeply into their works, or sunk deeply in their sin. Further, the aggravation of their sin consisted in its being without excuse. They could not plead ignorance, for they had had line upon line, and precept upon precept. They could not say that they had been left to themselves without let or hindrance, for had they not enjoyed the instructions and admonitions of those prophets of God whose sphere of labor lay in the northern kingdom? Warnings they had had from Ahijah, Elijah, Elisha, and others; corrections moderate in measure and salutary in design they had, no doubt, been favored with. Yet all had been to no purpose; they sunk deeper and deeper in the slough of sin, so that their sin had become exceeding sinful.

IV. ALL DISGUISES OF SINNERS ARE TRANSPARENT TO THE EYE OF OMNISCIENCE . Many are the pretences men make to cover their sins, and artful the pretexts by which they seek to hide them. But however men may strive to conceal their sins from their fellow-men, however they may gloss them over so as to deceive their own souls, and however they may cloak them, as though it were possible to cheat the Almighty; yet all such artifices, by which they try to deceive their neighbors, or blind themselves, or even escape the eye of Omniscience, will prove miserable evasions, leaving them at last—even the inmost thoughts and intents of their hearts—open and naked before the eyes of him with whom they have to do. "The Lord seeth not as man seeth: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." The sin of Ephraim, the premier tribe of Israel, was known to God, and he pronounced it whoredom, spiritual whoredom, that is, idolatry. The effect of that sin, which, originating with Ephraim, infected all the other tribes of Israel, was not hid, and could not be hid, from the omniscient One, and he denounced it as defilement—pollution loathsome as sinful. Many a specious excuse had been offered, we cannot doubt, for the worship of the calves. Did it not originate with Jeroboam, that patriot king who came to the rescue of the people, and delivered them from unjust and grinding taxation? Was not Jerusalem too far distant from the center of the country to be the gathering-place of the tribes? Was not Bethel a consecrated place—a holy spot from that early time when Jacob had his wondrous vision of the ladder connecting earth with heaven? Was not Dan conveniently situated for the northern and remoter tribes? These, and such arguments as these, might serve to palliate the will-worship of Ephraim and the idolatry of Israel. But no; the eye of God saw through it all; for now , whatever excuse might be alleged; now , whatever plausibilities might be employed; now , whatever veil might be thrown over their procedure;—it stood out in its true colors, and in the sight of Heaven, idolatry, defilement—sin in inception and sin in execution, sin in act and sin in effect. Thus Omniscience is proof against all the plausible pretexts with which men surround their sins by way of excuse, apology, or palliation.

V. SINS , LIKE SORROWS , LOVE A TRAIN . How often one sin leads to another, and that, again, to many more! Sins not infrequently are linked together. Israel by this time was bound by the chain of their own sins; and the links of that chain were many. Beginning our enumeration with idolatry, we find in its wake impenitence, ignorance, insolence, and iniquity in general.

1. It is bad enough when men fall into sin, but worse when they persist in it; nor is there any real repentance unless there are fruits meet for repentance. But when men will not have recourse to any of those outward means that might tend toward repentance, the obduracy of their heart is extreme and their condition desperate. Thus was it with Israel when they would not" frame their doings to turn unto their God."

2. The alternative rendering of these words shows us the slavery of sin. Never was there a more cruel bondage than that of iniquity. "Their doings will not suffer them to turn;" they have put the yoke on their neck, and having worn it long they are loath to part with it; and if they would they could not. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." So in Peter we read of persons "having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin."

3. When men continue long in a course of sin, hardening themselves against remonstrance and reproof, and holding out against all inducements and invitations to repent, God may, and sometimes does, give them up to judicial blindness of one kind or other. An evil spirit of idolatry or impunity, or both, had taken possession of the people's heart at this period. "A strong man armed keepeth his palace—his goods are in peace;" so the infatuation of a particular course of sin, like a Satanic spirit and with Satanic power, completely overmastered and dominated them.

4. Profession without practice is both hypocritical and vain. The Israelites at this time had a profession of religion, for God is called "their God," which could only be by their profession, or owing to the original covenant engagement, the conditions of which they had fallen away from, or by reason of his long-suffering mercy waiting for their return. It is, rather, the first of these that justified the use of the possessive in this case. And that being so, they claimed to possess knowledge of God; but "as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind," or, as the margin has it, "to a mind void of judgment." Continuance in sin proves men's ignorance of the true character of God, of the beauty of holiness, of the hatefulness of sin, and of the dreadful consequences of backsliding. The custom of sinning deprives men of whatever knowledge of such things they had or seemed to have, so that "he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath."

5. This ignorance was evidence of their ingratitude. "The prophet," says Calvin, "extenuates not the sin of the people, but, on the contrary, amplifies their ingratitude, because they had forgotten their God who had so indulgently treated them. As they had been redeemed by God's hand, as the teaching of the Law had continued among them, as they had been preserved to that day through God's constant kindness, it was truly an evidence of monstrous ignorance that they could in an instant adopt ungodly forms of worship, and embrace those corruptions which they knew were condemned in the Law."

VI. PROOFS AND CAUSES OF ISRAEL 'S PRIDE . Ephraim's pride and envy of Judah produced the disruption and perpetuated it. Two privileges of the birthright forfeited by Jacob's firstborn had been shared by these tribes. Joseph got the double portion in connection with Ephraim and Manasseh; and Judah gained the pre-eminence. Though Judah was superior both numerically and by largeness of territory in the land of promise, Ephraim enjoyed countervailing advantages. All along from the blessing of Jacob Ephraim was inspired with the hope of great things for himself and tribe. The Ephraimites had the choicest of the land, and a central position contributing to their influence over the other tribes. Joshua, the chosen chief who had led the people into the land of promise and settled them in it, sprang from Ephraim; Samuel, the last of the judges, was a native of Mount Ephraim; for three centuries and a hair' the national sanctuary remained at Shiloh, within the confines of the tribe of Ephraim; the men of that tribe had highly distinguished themselves in the war with Midian, securing the fords of Jordan and beheading the two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb, who had escaped at the head of fifteen thousand men. Igor were they slow to assert their claims; such was their pride, that they could not brook a subordinate position, but insisted on pre-eminence. Their self-assertion and even unreasonable petulance were severely chastised by Jephthah. For a time the superiority inclined or actually belonged to Ephraim; but the preponderance given to Judah by the elevation of David, and Solomon his son, completely turned the scale. Moreover, the transference to Jerusalem, both of the seat of ecclesiastical authority from Shiloh and of the civil capital from Shechem, deeply wounded the pride of Ephraim, and greatly increased the rivalry with Judah. To the slight thus put upon Ephraim there is a distinct reference in several verses of the seventy-eighth psalm; thus, "God was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel: so that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;" and again, "He refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved." For seven years they held out against David; they were the strength of the Absalomic rebellion; they abetted the usurpation of Jeroboam, and accepted the idolatrous worship which, for political purposes, he commended to them; and all from their pride and overweening estimate of themselves, and envy towards their brethren of Judah.

VII. THE HUMILIATION OF PRIDE , OR ITS TESTIMONY .

1. This overbearing spirit of Israel as a nation, and of Ephraim its kingly tribe, was sorely crushed, and the pride of both sadly humbled , when, as had been foretold, they first went into captivity.

2. The other rendering of testify is well explained by the following observations of Pusey: "They could not give up this sin of Jeroboam without endangering their separate existence as Israel, and owning the superiority of Judah. From this complete self-surrender to God their pride shrank and held them back. The pride which Israel thus showed in refusing to turn to God, and in preferring their sin to their God, itself, he says, witnessed against them, and condemned them."

3. It must have been an addition to Israel's calamity that they had been a snare to Judah, and helped to drag them down into the same slough of sin, and eventually into the same catastrophe with themselves.

4. But how are we to account for the seeming contradiction between the safety previously promised Judah and the calamity now denounced? Calvin's reply to a similar inquiry is pertinent and plain. "The prophet," he says, "speaks here not of those Jews who continued in true and pure religion, but of those who had with the Israelites alienated themselves from the only true God and joined in their superstitions. He thus refers here to the degenerate, and not to the faithful Jews; for to all who worshipped God aright salvation had been already promised."

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