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Hosea 12:1-6 -

Reproof, retrospect, and exhortation.

Ephraim is reproved for the pursuit of empty and vain courses, and courses detrimental to their best and real interests. Judah is included in the threatening which follows. They are exhorted to follow the example of the patriarch which is proposed for their imitation, with implied promise of similar success. The unchangeableness of God, who not only accepted Jacob, but blessed and prospered him, is held out to the descendants of Jacob as a guarantee of like blessings in case of their turning to God and bringing forth fruits meet for repentance.

I. THE NATURAL AVERSENESS OF THE HEART TO GOD . This feature of the natural heart is patent in the case of Ephraim. The people of the northern kingdom spared neither pains nor expense to obtain human help rather than seek help from God.

1. We notice the expensive nature of their proceeding. They made a covenant with the Assyrians, and that was an expensive compact; for Menahem King of Israel had to pay Pul the Assyrian monarch a thousand talents of silver for the desired help, and Hoshea became tributary to Shalmaneser, and gave him costly presents; while the national exchequer was drained in another direction, valuable exports of oil being sent into Egypt.

2. The energetic pursuit of their purpose. They are represented as "following after," and "daily increasing." They imposed more toil on themselves to get away from God than they would have required to turn to God. They had "no less pains by going out of God's way than if they had kept in it; but God's way, as it is undoubtedly the surest, so in many respects it is even the easiest, course."

3. The empty consequences of this course. Their hopes were doomed to bitterest disappointment, and their human helps proved hurtful in the extreme. The presents which they had lavished on the Egyptians had no other effect than to compromise them with the Assyrians; while the issue was the imprisonment of this prince and the captivity of the people. So is it still; men's carnal confidences deceive them, like wind which may fill but cannot feed them; and not only deceive, but draw down on them greater calamities than those they hoped to escape from. Thus they prove not only profitless as the wind but pernicious as the east wind. The outcome of all is not only lying vanities but desolation.

II. THE APOSTASY OF GOD 'S OWN PEOPLE , HOWEVER PARTIAL AND TEMPORARY , IS JUSTLY PUNISHABLE . God does not connive at sin in his saints that serve him, any more than in sinners that have never sought him; neither do men's ordinary good deeds atone for their occasional misdeeds. Sin in the people of God is sure to bring chastisement in some form. At first sight it might seem strange, or even contradictory, that the Lord should have a controversy with Judah, of whom it had been asserted a few verses before that "Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints." But a ready and right solution of the apparent difficulty is found in those striking statements of the Apocalypse, in which God, after bestowing deserved commendation on certain Churches for this or that course of conduct, immediately adds, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee." Their goodness, of whatever kind it was, did not cause their ill deserts to be overlooked. "Some there are," says an old writer," who, if there be any evil in men, can see no good in them; this is wicked, But there are others that, if there be any good in them, can see no evil; this is too much indulgence. They err in both extremes."

III. THE IMPARTIALITY OF THE DIVINE DEALINGS .

1. It is not a little strange how men sometimes try to screen themselves by the sins of others, or to palliate their wrongdoing by the yet greater wrong-doing of others. It might have been so with Ephraim; they might have pleaded the sins of Judah in extenuation of their own, or even charged the Most High with uneven dealing with them in punishing their sin, when Judah's sins were condoned. They might have said, "We are not so very much worse than Judah; there are sins in Judah as well as in Israel; why, then, should Judah escape?" So with many still; they are ready to say, "We are not worse than others; we have our faults, so have our neighbors; if we deserve punishment, so do others as well." God shows us that his ways are equal, that he will not punish Ephraim and allow Judah to escape, but that he will render to every man as his works shall be.

2. But their plea might be easily turned against them to their great discomfiture. If Judah is admittedly superior to Israel, and retains the true worship of Jehovah though with certain drawbacks, and if Israel has renounced that worship, and is in other matters in a worse ease, might it not be asked in words similar to a New Testament Scripture, If even with Judah God has a controversy, how can Israel expect to escape? "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?"

3. Though every sin deserves the severest judgment, being an infinite offence against the infinitely Holy One, yet he proportions his chastisements to the degree and aggravation of each offence, and the obstinacy of the offender.

IV. THREE HISTORICAL SKETCHES OUT OF THE LIFE OF JACOB AND THEIR LESSONS , These histories record the three great struggles of the patriarch's life.

1. His birth, when he takes his brother by the heel, gives evidence of a Divine instinct or a divinely directed inclination to struggle for the birthright and its blessings.

2. The wrestling with the angel and prevailing formed the next great epoch in Jacob's life. This which is recorded in Genesis 32:1-32 ; was a season of great terror and distress, as well as of no little danger from his brother Esau. But he did not give way before the dangers that threatened him, nor succumb under the difficulties of his position; he bravely faced the discouragements that surrounded him—not, however, in his own strength. By the strength which God gave he had power with God; in the vigor of his strength he wrestled with the Angel of the covenant and prevailed. He saw the providence of God in all that betided him, and wrestled for the Divine favor and succor, The wrestling symbolized the intense earnestness and energy which he put forth; the object for which he strove so earnestly and energetically was the blessing of his God; the means employed were prayers and tears and fervent supplications; the persistence with which he prayed and pied is expressed in the words, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Thus as a prince he had power with God and with men, and prevailed.

3. The third era in Jacob ' s history was marked by his finding God at Bethel.

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