Interpreters nearly all agree in this, that the Prophet threatens not the kingdom of Israel, but the kingdom of Judah, at the beginning of this chapter, because he names the house of God, which they take to be the temple. I indeed allow, that the Prophet has spoken already, in two places, of the kingdom of Judah, but as it were in passing. He has, it is true, introduced some reproofs and threatening, but so that the distinction was quite clear; and we see that he now goes to the kingdom of Judah, but in the second verse, he names Israel, and yet continues his discourse. To thy mouth, he says, the trumpet, etc. ; and afterwards he adds, To me shall they cry, My God; we know thee, Israel. Here, certainly, the discourse is addressed to the ten tribes. I am therefore by no means induced to explain the beginning of the chapter by applying it to the kingdom of Judah: and I certainly do wonder that interpreters have mistaken in a matter so trifling; for the house of God means not only the temple, but also the whole people. As Israel retained this boast, that they were a people holy to God, and that they were his family, he says, “Put or set the trumpet to thy mouth, and proclaim the war, which is now nigh at hand; for the enemy hastens, who is to attack the house of God, that is, this holy people, who cover themselves with the name of God, and who, trusting in their election and adoption, think that they shall be free from all evils; war shall come as an eagle against this house of God.”
Had the Prophet added any thing which could be referred peculiarly to the kingdom of Judah, I should willingly accede to their opinion, who think that the house of God is the sanctuary. But let the whole context be read, and any one may easily perceive, that the Prophet speaks of Israel no less in the first verse than in the second and third. For, as it has been said, he lays down no difference, but pursues throughout his teaching or discourse in the same strain.
He says first, A trumpet to thy mouth, or, “Set to thy mouth the trumpet.” It is an exhibition, (hypotyposis;) for we know that God, in order to affect more powerfully the people, clothes his Prophets with various characters. The Prophet then is introduced here as a herald who proclaims war, or a messenger, or by whatever name you may be pleased to call him. Here then the Prophet is commanded, not to speak with his mouth, but to show by the trumpet that war was nigh, as though God himself by his trumpet declared war against Israel, which was to be carried on soon after by earthly enemies. The enemies were soon after to come, and the herald was to come in the usual manner to declare war. The Greeks call them κηρρυκες, proclaimers, we say, “Les heraux “. As these earthly kings have their proclaimers, or κηρυκες, or heralds, or messengers, who proclaim war; so the Lord sends his Prophet with the usual charge to declare war: “Go then, and let the Israelites know, not now by thy mouth, but even by thy throat, by the sound of the trumpet, that I am an enemy to them, and that I am present with a strong army to destroy them.” It is indeed certain that the Prophet did not use a trumpet; but the Lord by this representations as I have already said increased the reality of what was taught that the Israelites might perceive, that it was not in sport or in play that the Prophet threatened them, but that it was done seriously, as though they now saw the heralds who was to proclaim war; for this was not usually done except when the army is already prepared for battle.
He then says, As an eagle against the house of Jehovah We have already said what the Prophet means by the house of Jehovah, even that people who thought that they would be exempt from every evil, because they had been adopted by the Lord. Hence the Israelites called themselves God’s household; and though under this cover, they impiously and profanely abandoned themselves to every kind of turpitude, yet they thought that they were on the best of terms with God himself. “There shall come,” he says, “a common ruin to you all; this boasting shall not prevent me from taking vengeance at last on your sins.” But he adds As an eagle, that the Israelites might not think that there was to be a long delay; for the impious procrastinate, when they see any danger at hand. Hence, that the Israelites might not continue torpid in their vices, the Prophet says, that the destruction of which he spoke would be like the eagle; for in a moment the eagle goes over an immense distance, and we wonder when we see it over our heads, though a little before it did not appear. So also the Prophet says, that destruction, though not yet seen, was however nigh at hand, that being smitten with terror, though now late, yet as the Lord was thus urging them, they might return to him.
The exclamation in this verse, A trumpet to thy mouth, supersedes the necessity of supplying a verb. The alarm of war or of hostile invasion is to be sounded by the prophet at the command of Jehovah. The
(1) trumpet is at once to be employed for the purpose. The rendering of both the Targum and Syriac
(2) expresses the same idea, though under a different form; the former has, “Cry with thy throat, as if it were a trumpet;” and the latter, “Let thy mouth be as a trumpet.” According to this view, the Prophet Hoses expresses here very briefly what Isaiah has done more fully in the words, “Cry aloud [Hebrew, ‘with the throat’] spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
(3) The LXX. here deviates considerably from the Maseoretic Hebrew text, translating εἰς κόλπον (תֵיקְךָ) αὐτῶν, ὡς γῆ, of the meaning of which Jerome acknowledges his ignorance, though he attempts to explain it. Cyril connects the words with the concluding part of the preceding chapter, thus: “This their setting at naught (of me) in the land of Egypt shall come into their own bosom. As the land, as the eagle against the house of the Lord;” while his explanation is as follows: “Since, though I preserved them and instructed them, and gave them victory over their enemies (for I strengthened them), they have impiously set me at naught, worshipping demons for gods, and have trusted to the land of the Egyptians, and have fancied that their help shall be sufficient for their prosperity, therefore their attempt shall return unto their own besom, and they shall find no good reward of their temerity; but they shall receive, as it were, into their bosom the deserved punishment. For he shall come, he shall come who shall lay them waste—the King of Assyria, with an innumerable multitude of warriors, and he shall come to them as the whole land and region and country, that one might think that the whole region of the Persians and Medes had wholly migrated and had come into Samaria. This is the meaning of the whole land (ὡς γῆ). He shall likewise come as an eagle into the house of the Lord.” (He shall come) as an eagle against the house of the Lord. These words cannot mean,
(1) as Hitzig thinks, the rapidity with which the prophet is directed to convey his tidings of alarm, as if it were, “Fly [דאה imperfect being supplied], thou prophet, as an eagle;” nor yet, with others, the loudness of the alarm he was to sound. The meaning abruptly though vividly expressed refers
(2) to the approaching invasion of the enemy, though there is no need to supply ידאה, or יבא, It is the substance of the prophet’s alarm. As an eagle the enemy (as is evident flora verse
3) shall come against the house of the Lord. The enemy was, in all probability, the Assyrian, in whose symbolism the eagle bulks largely; while the griffin vulture, scenting from afar, and coming down with rapid and terrific swoop upon its prey, is an appropriate image of the sudden and impetuous character of his invasion. The house of the Lord is neither the temple at Jerusalem, for the prophecy relates to the northern kingdom; nor the temple at Samaria, which could not be called Beta Yehovah, but Bethbamoth; nor the land of Israel, which could not with any propriety be called a house; but the people of Israel, which, owing to God’s covenant relation to that people, is called his house, as in Num_12:7, “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.” The figure seems an echo of Deu_28:49, “The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth;” while it has a parallel in Mat_24:28, “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” Because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my Law. These words exhibit the cause of Israel’s being exposed to the sudden hostile attack which the prophet was commissioned to proclaim. The provocations of Israel consisted in violating the covenant which God had been pleased to make with them, and in proving unfaithful to that Law, obedience to which was the condition of the covenant. The explanation of the whole verse thus given is confirmed by the Hebrew commentators; thus Rashi says, “The Shechinah (or Divine Majesty)says to the prophet, ‘Let the voice of thy palate be heard and sound the trumpet and say, The enemies fly hither as the eagle flieth and come unto the house of the Lord.'” Abeu Ezra more concisely conveys the same sense: “It is the words of Jehovah to the prophet, ‘ Set the cornet to thy palate, for the enemy flieth as the eagle against the house of the Lord.'” Kimchi differs in two respects from his brethren, understanding the address to be not that of Jehovah to the prophet, but of the prophet to the people; and the house of the Lord to include the whole laud of Israel and temple at Jerusalem: “The cornet to thy palate, as he said above, ‘Sound the trumpet in Gibeah.’ Many a time the prophet speaks to the people in the singular and many a time in the plural. He says, ‘Put the trumpet to thy mouth, for behold! the enemy flies hither like the eagle over the house of Jehovah; ‘he means to say,’ Over the whole land and also over the house of Jehovah, in order to destroy it.’ And he joins the trumpet to the palate (and yet man sets the trumpet to the mouth) because the voice passes over the way of the palate after it comes out of the throat.”
The trumpet to thy mouth! – So God bids the prophet Isaiah, “Cry aloud, spare not, llft up thy voice like a trumpet” Isa_58:1. The prophets, as watchmen, were set by God to give notice of His coming judgments Eze_33:3; Amo_3:6. As the sound of a war-trumpet would startle a sleeping people, so would God have the prophet’s warning burst upon their sleep of sin. The ministers of the Church are called to be “watchmen” . “They too are forbidden to keep a cowardly silence, when “the house of the Lord” is imperilled by the breach of the covenant or violation of the law. If fear of the wicked or false respect for the great silences the voice of those whose office it is to “cry aloud,” how shall such cowardice be excused?”
He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord – The words “he shall come” are inserted for clearness. The prophet beholds the enemy speeding with the swiftness of an eagle, as it darts down upon its prey. “The house of the Lord” is, most strictly, the temple, as being “the place which God had chosen to place His name there.” Next, it is used, of the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem, among whom the temple was; from where God says, “I have forsaken My house, I have left Mine heritage; I have given the dearly-beloved of My soul into the hands of her enemies” Jer_12:7, and, “What hath My beloved to do in Mine house, seeing she hath wrought lewdness with many?” Jer_11:15. Yet the title of “God’s house” is older than the temple, for God Himself uses it of His whole people, saying of Moses, “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house” Num_12:7. And even the ten tribes, separated as they were from the Temple-worship, and apostates from the true faith of God, were not, as yet, counted by Him as wholly excluded from the “house of God.” For God, below, threatens that removal, as something still to come; “for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of My house” Hos_9:15. The eagle, then coming down “against or upon” the house of the Lord, is primarily Shalmaneser, who came down and carried off the ten tribes. Yet since Hosea, in these prophecies, includes Judah, also, “the house of the Lord” is most probably to be taken in its fullest sense, as including the whole people of God, among whom He dwelt, and the temple where His Name was placed. The “eagle” includes then Nebuchadnezzar also, whom other prophets so call Eze_17:3, Eze_17:12; Jer_48:40; Hab_1:8; and (since, all through, the principle of sin is the same and the punishment the same) it includes the Roman eagle, the ensign of their armies.
Because they have transgressed My covenant – “God, whose justice is always unquestionable, useth to make clear to people its reasonableness.” Israel had broken the covenant which God had made with their fathers, that He would be to them a God, and they to Him a people. The “covenant” they had broken chiefly by idolatry and apostasy; the “law,” by sins against their neighbor. In both ways they had rejected God; therefore God rejected them.
By the Prophet saying, To me shall they cry, some understand that the Israelites are blamed for not fleeing to God; and they thus explain the Prophet’s words, “They ought to have cried to me.” It seems to others to be an exhortation, “Let the Israelites now cry to me.” But I take the words simply as they are, that is that God here again touches the dissimulation of the Israelites, They will cry to me, We know thee; and to this the ready answer is Israel has cast away good far from himself; the enemy shall pursue him I thus join together the two verses; for in the former the Lord relates what they would do, and what the Israelites had already begun to do; and in the latter verse he shows that their labour would be in vain, because they ever cherished wickedness in their hearts, and falsely pretended the name of God, as it has been previously observed, even in their prayers. Israel, then will cry to me, My God, we know thee. Thus hypocrites confidently profess the name of God, and with a lofty air affirm that they are God’s people; but God laughs to scorn all this boasting, as it is vain, and worthy of derision. They will then cry to me; and then he imitates their cries, My God, we know thee When hypocrites, as if they were the friends of God, cover themselves with his shadow, and profess to act under his guardianship, and also boast at the same time of their knowledge of true doctrine, and boast of faith and of the worship of God; be it so, he says, that these cries are uttered by their mouths, yet facts speak differently, and reprove and expose their hypocrisy. We now then see how these two verses are connected together, and what is the Prophet’s object.
Israel shall cry unto me, My God, we know thee. The more literal as well as more exact rendering is, to me wilt they cry, My God, we know thee, we Israel! Notwithstanding their provocation, their unfaithfulness to the covenant of God, and their disobedience to the Law, they appeal unitedly and severally to God in the day of their distress, and urge two pleas—their knowledge of God, or acknowledgment of him as the true God; and their high position as his people. Thus the Chaldee paraphrase has: “As often as calamity comes upon them they pray and say before me, Now we acknowledge that we have no God beside thee; deliver us, because we are thy people Israel.” As to the construction, either “Israel” is in apposition to anachnu, the subject of the verb, or there is a transposition. Thus Rashi: “We must transpose the words, and explain, ‘ To me, cries Israel, My God, we know thee; ‘” so also Kimchi and Aben Ezra. The former says, “‘ Israel ‘ which comes after, should be before, after לייו, and many inversions of this kind occur in Scripture, as Eze_39:11 and Psa_141:10.” The word “Israel” is omitted by the LXX. and Syriac, and in many manuscripts of Kennicott and De Rossi.
Israel shall cry unto Me, My God, we know Thee – Or, according to the order in the Hebrew, “To Me shall they cry, we know Thee, Israel,” i. e., “we, Israel,” Thy people, “know Thee.” It is the same plea which our Lord says that He shall reject in the Day of Judgment. “Many shall say unto Me, in that Day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy Name, and in Thy Name cast out devils, and in Thy Name done many wonderful works” Mat_7:22. In like way, when our Lord came in the flesh, they said of God the Father, He is our God. But our Lord appealed to their own consciences; “It is My Father who honoreth Me, of whom ye say, He is our God, but ye have not known Him” Joh_8:54. So Isaiah, when speaking of his own times, prophesied of those of our Lord also; “This people draweth nigh unto Me, with their mouth and honoreth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me” Mat_15:8; Isa_29:13. “God says, that they shall urge this as a proof, that they know God, and as an argument to move God to have respect unto them, namely, that they are the seed of Jacob, who was called Israel, because he prevailed with God, and they were called by his name.” As though they said, “we, Thy Israel, know thee.” It was all hypocrisy, the cry of mere fear, not of love; from where God, using their own name of Israel which they had pleaded, answers the plea, declaring what “Israel” had become.
The verb זנח, zanech, means “to remove far off,” and “to throw to a distance;” and sometimes, as some think, “to detest.” There is here, I doubt not, an implied contrast between the rejection of good and the pursuing of which the Prophet speaks afterwards, Israel has driven good far from himself; some expound טוב, thub, of God himself, as if it was of the masculine gender: but the Prophet, I have no doubt, simply accuses the Israelites of having receded from all justice and uprightness; yea, of having driven far off every thing right and just. Israel, then, has repelled good; the enemy, he says, will pursue him There is a contrast between repelling and pursuing, as though the prophet said, that the Israelites had by their defection obtained this, that the enemy would now seize them. There is then no better defense for us against all harms than attention to piety and justice; but when integrity is banished from us, then we are exposed to all evils, for we are deprived of the aid of God. We then see how beautifully the Prophet compares these two things — the rejection of good by Israel — and their pursuit by their enemies. He then adds —
Keil and Delitzsch
But this knowledge of God, regarded simply as a historical acquaintance with Him, cannot possibly bring salvation. Hos_8:3. “Israel dislikes good; let the enemy pursue it.” This is the answer that God will give to those who cry to Him. טֹוב denotes neither “Jehovah as the highest good” (Jerome) or as “the good One” (Sims.), nor “the good law of God” (Schmieder), but the good or salvation which Jehovah has guaranteed to the nation through His covenant of grace, and which He bestowed upon those who kept His covenant. Because Israel has despised this good, let the enemy pursue it.
Israel has cast off the thing that is good – Or (since the word means “to cast off with abhorrence” “Israel hath east off and abhorred Good,” both “Him who is Good” and “that which is good.” The word “tob” includes both. They rejected good in rejecting God , “Who is simply, supremely, wholly, universally good, and good to all, the Author and Fountain of all good, so that there is nothing simply good but God; nothing worthy of that title, except in respect of its relation to Him who is “good and doining good” Psa_119:68. So then whatsoever any man hath or enjoys of good, is from his relation to Him, his nearness to Him, his congruity with Him. “The drawing near to God is good to me” Psa_73:28. All that any man hath of good, is from his being near to God, and his being, as far as human condition is capable of, like unto Him. So that they who are far from Him, and put Him far from them, necessarily “cast off” all that is “good.”
The enemy shall pursue him – “Forsaking God, and forsaken by Him, they must needs be laid open to all evils.” The “enemy,” i. e., the Assyrian, “shall pursue him.” This is according to the curse, denounced against them in the law, if they should forsake the Lord, and break His covenant, and “not hearken to His voice to observe to do His commandments” Deu_28:15-25.
The Prophet here shows by another figure how unprofitably the Israelites exercised themselves in their perverted worship, and then how vainly they excused their superstitions. And this reproof is very necessary also in the present day. For we see that hypocrites, a hundred times convicted, will not yet cease to clamour something: in short, they cannot bear to be conquered; even when their conscience reproves them, they will still dare to vomit forth their virulence against God. They will also dare to bring forward vain pretences: hence the Prophet says, that they have sown the wind, and that they shall reap the whirlwind. It is an appropriate metaphor; for they shall receive a harvest suitable to the sowing. The seed is cast on the earth, and afterwards the harvest is gathered: They have sown, he says, the wind, they shall then gather the whirlwind, or, the tempest. To sow the wind is nothing else than to put on some appearance to dazzle the eyes of the simple, and by craft and guise of words to cover their own impiety. When one then casts his hand, he seems to throw seed on the earth, but yet he sows the wind. So also hypocrites have their displays, and set themselves in order, that they may appear wholly like the pious worshipers of God.
We hence see that the design of the Prophet’s metaphor, when he says that they sow the wind, is to show this, that though they differ nothing from the true worshippers of God in outward appearance, they yet sow nothing but wind; for when the Israelites offered their sacrifices in the temple, they no doubt conformed to the rule of the law, but at the same time came short of obedience to God. There was no faith in their services: it was then wind; that is, they had nothing but a windy and an empty show, though the outward aspect of their service differed nothing from the true and legitimate worship of God. They then sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. But we cannot finish to-day.
Keil and Delitzsch
This will Israel reap from its ungodly conduct. Hos_8:7. “For they sow wind, and reap tempest: it has no stalks; shoot brings no fruit; and even if it brought it, foreigners would devour it.” With this figure, which is so frequently and so variously used (cf. Hos_10:13; Hos_12:2; Job_4:8; Pro_22:8), the threat is accounted for by a general thought taken from life. The harvest answers to the sowing (cf. Gal_6:7-8). Out of the wind comes tempest. Wind is a figurative representation of human exertions; the tempest, of destruction. Instead of rūăch we have אָוןֶ, עָמָל, עַוְלָה (nothingness, weariness, wickedness) in Hos_10:13; Job_4:8, and Pro_22:8. In the second hemistich the figure is carried out still further. קָמָה, “seed standing upon the stalk,” is not to it (viz., that which has been sowed). Tsemach brings no qemach, – a play upon the words, answering to our shoot and fruit. Qemach: generally meal, here probably the grain-bearing ear, from which the meal is obtained. But even if the shoot, when grown, should yield some meal, strangers, i.e., foreigners, would consume it. In these words not only are the people threatened with failure of the crop; but the failure and worthlessness of all that they do are here predicted. Not only the corn of Israel, but Israel itself, will be swallowed up.
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The harvest corresponds to the seed-time; their foolish and vain idolatries shall have corresponding results. This proverbial expression imports more than merely labor in vain; it denotes labor that has an injurious and destructive result. It has more than a negative significancy of lost labor; it conveys the idea of positive detriment. “The prophet,” says Kimchi, “means to say that they will weary themselves in vain in this service (of idols), just as if a man who sows the wind, in which there is nothing substantial, shall only reap the wind, or even still less; as if he had said, ‘ Ye shall not obtain the least enjoyment, but only injury.'” If, then, the wind denote the vanity and nothingness of human effort, the whirlwind is the image of destruction and annihilation, viz. a storm or hurricane remorselessly tearing all away with it. Suphah itself intensifies the notion included in ruach, while the paragogic הintensifies still more, so as to denote a storm of greatest violence. The double feminine ending is regarded by most as strengthening the sense in this word suphathah, עֶזְרָתָה אֵימָהָה, etc.
It hath no stalk (margin, standing corn): the bud shall yield no meal; better, shoot brings no fruit. This is a further development of the figure. When wind is the seed sown, destruction represented by tempest is the harvest reaped. The seed sown produces no stalk, or at least no stall= with grain in it—no standing corn. If the seed shoot up at all, tile shoot has no fruit. Here the play on words, of which the Hebrews were so fond, is obvious—the tsemach has no yemach; the halm has no malm; the Spross no Schoss; the corn no kern.
If so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up. When, or if, any fruit is attained, the invasion of rapacious foreigners swallows it up. First, then, when the wind of vain human efforts is the sowing, destruction is the harvest. If the seed spring up at all, the ear does not fill; or if the ear should fill, there is no substance in it; or if it fill and have substance, the rapacity of hostile invaders consumes it. Thus a blight falls on all they do. Kimchi explains the verse fully as follows: “Because the prophet compares their works to one who sows the wind, he adds further to the same image, and says, ‘It has no stalk, it reaches not the time when it shall be stalk’ (or ‘standing corn’). Now קמה is the name of the corn when it stands ready for the harvest, from which the husbandmen (literally, ‘sowers’) soon expect enjoyment, i.e. after harvest, when they shall make it into meal. Yea, even at the time they expect profit from their works, they shall have none. And he says further, ‘The shoot shall not produce fruit or meal,’ as if he said, ‘ Even should the seed spring up after the sowing.’ He thus represents in a figure that should they prosper a little in their works after they have begun to do evil, yet that prosperity will not last, and it will not come to perfect enjoyment (beauty) like corn which comes to harvest and to grinding. And if it should yield, strangers devour it. Perhaps for a time it may produce so as to come to meal, as if he said that, should they prosper in their possessions so that a little enjoyment should be accorded to them at the first, then strangers shall come and devour it, and their enjoyment will not be complete.”
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – “They shall reap,” not merely as “they have sown,” but with an awful increase. They sowed folly and vanity, and shall reap, not merely emptiness and disappointment, but sudden, irresistible destruction. “They sowed the wind,” and, as one seed bringeth forth many, so the wind, “penn’d up,” as it were, in this destructive tillage, should “burst forth again, reinforced in strength, in mightier store and with great violence.” Thus they “reaped the whirlwind,” yea, (as the word means) “a mighty whirlwind”. But the whirlwind which they reap doth not belong to “them;” rather they belong to it, blown away by it, like chaff, the sport and mockery of its restless violence.
It hath no stalk – If their design should for the time seem to prosper, all should be but empty show, disappointing the more, the more it should seem to promise. He speaks of three stages of progress. First, the seed should not send forth the grain with the ear; “it hath no stalk or standing corn;” even if it advanced thus far, still the ear should yield no meat; or should it perchance yield this, the enemy should devour it. Since the yielding fruit denotes doing works, the fruit of God’s grace, the absence of the “standing corn” represents the absence of good works altogether; the absence of the “meal,” that nothing is brought to ripeness; the “devouring” by “the enemy,” that what would otherwise be good, is, through faulty intentions or want of purity of purpose, given to Satan and the world, not to God. : “When hypocrites make a shew of good works, they gratify therewith the longings of the evil spirits. For they who do not seek to please God therewith, minister not to the Lord of the field, but to “strangers.” The hypocrite, then, like a fruitful but neglected “ear,” cannot retain his fruit, because the “ear” of good works lieth on the ground. And yet he is fed by this very folly, because for his good works he is honored by all, eminent above the rest; people’s minds are subject to him; he is raised to high places; nurtured by favors. But “then” will he understand that he has done foolishly, when, for the delight of praise, he shall receive the sentence of the rebuke of God.”
He uses the same word as before when he spake of the meal, and says, that not only the provision of Israel shall be devoured, but also the people themselves; and he upbraids the Israelites with their miseries, that they might at length acknowledge God to be adverse to them. For the Prophet’s object was this — to make them feel their evils, that they might at length humble themselves and learn suppliantly to pray for pardon. For it is a great wisdom, when we so far profit under God’s scourges, that our sins come before our eyes.
He therefore says, Israel is devoured and is like a cast off vessel, even among the Gentiles, when yet that people excelled the rest of the world, as the Lord had chosen them for himself. As they were a peculiar people, they were superior to other nations; and then they were set apart for this end, that they might have nothing in common with the Gentiles. But he says now that this people is dispersed, and everywhere despised and cast off. This could not have been, except God had taken away his protection. We hence see that the Prophet had this one thing in view — to make the Israelites feel that God was angry with them. It now follows
Israel is swallowed up. Not only shall the productions of their land be swallowed up, but the persons of the Israelites shall be consumed; nor is the event far off in the distant future, though the Hebrew commentators translate the past as prophetic future; already has the process beam. Such is the extension of the punishment.
Now shall they be (rather, are then become) among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure. The prosperity, population, property, and even nationality, are swallowed up—engulfed as in some abyss, so as to be undiscoverable to the present time; while their reputation has suffered so sorely that they are despised as a worthless household vessel—a vessel unto dishonor, never of much worth, but now cast away as entirely unfit for use.
Israel is swallowed up – Not only shall all which they have, be swallowed up by the enemy, but themselves also; and this, not at any distant time, but “now.” “Now,” at a time all but present, “they shall be among the Gentiles, as a vessel wherein is no pleasure,” or, quite strictly, “Now they have become, among the Gentiles.” He speaks of what should certainly be, as though it already were. “A vessel wherein is no pleasure,” is what Paul calls “a vessel to dishonor” 2Ti_2:20, as opposed to “vessels to honor” or honorable uses. It is then some vessel put to vile uses, such as people turn away from with disgust. Such has been the history of the ten tribes ever since: “swallowed up,” not destroyed; “among” the nations, yet not of them; despised and mingled among them, yet not united with them; having an existence, yet among that large whole, “the nations,” in whom their national existence has been at once preserved and lost; everywhere had in dishonor; the Pagan and the Muslim have alike despised, outraged, insulted them; avenging upon them, unconsciously, the dishonor which they did to God. The Jews were treated by the Romans of old as offensive to the smell, and are so by the Muslims of North Africa still. “Never,” says a writer of the fifth century , “has Israel been put to any honorable office, so as, after losing the marks of freedom and power, at least to have the rank of honorable servitude; but, like a vessel made for dishonorable offices, so they have been filled with revolting contumelies.” “The most despised of those in servitude” was the title given by the Roman historian to the Jews, while yet in their own land.
Wealth, otherwise so coveted, for the most part has not exempted them from dishonor, but exposed them to outrage. individuals have risen to eminence in philosophy, medicine, finance; but the race has not gained through the credit of its members; rather, these have, for the most part, risen to reputation for intellect, amid the wreck of their own faith. When Hosea wrote this, two centuries had passed, since the fame of Solomon’s wisdom (which still is venerated in the East) spread far and wide; Israel was hated and envied by its neighbors, not despised; no token of contempt yet attached to them; yet Hosea foretold that it should shortly be; and, for two thousand years, it has, in the main, been the characteristic of their nation.
Here again the Prophet derides all the labour the people had undertaken to exempt themselves from punishment. For though hypocrites dare not openly and avowedly to fight against God, yet they seek vain subterfuges, by which they may elude him. So the Israelites ceased not to weary themselves to escape the judgment of God; and this folly, or rather madness, the Prophet exposes to scorn.
They have gone up to Assyria, he says, as a wild ass alone; Ephraim had hired lovers In the first clause he indirectly reprobates the brutish wildness of the people, as though he said, “They are like the wild animals of the wood, which can by no means be tamed.” And Jeremiah uses this very same similitude, when he complains of the people as being led away by their own indomitable lust, being like the wild ass, who, snuffing the wind, betakes himself, in his usual manner, to a precipitant course, (Jer_2:24.) Probably he touches also, in an indirect way, on the unbelief of the people in having despised the protection of God; for the people ought not to have thus hastened to Assyria, as if they were destitute of every help, because they knew that they were protected by the hand of God. And the Prophet here reproves them for regarding as nothing that help which the Lord had promised, and which he was really prepared to afford, had not the Israelites betaken themselves elsewhere. Hence he says, Ephraim, as a wild ass, has gone up to Assyria; he perceived not that he would be secure and safe, provided he sheltered himself under the shadow of the hand of his God; but as if God could do nothing, he retook himself to the Assyrians: this was ingratitude.
And then he again takes up the similitude which we have before noticed, that the people of Israel had shamefully and wickedly departed from the marriage-covenant which God had made with them: for God, we know, was to the Israelites in the place of a husband, and had pledged his faith to them; but when they transferred themselves to another, they were like unchaste women, who prostitute themselves to adulterers, and desert their own husbands. Hence the Prophet again reproves the Israelites for having violated their faith pledged to God, and for being like adulterous women. He indeed goes farther, and says, that they hired adulterers for wages. Unchaste women are usually enticed by the charms of gain; for when adulterers wish to corrupt a woman, they offer gifts, they offer money. He says that this practice was inverted; and the same thing is expressed by the Prophet Ezekiel; who, after having stated that women are usually corrupted by having some gain or some advantage proposed to them, adds, ‘But thou wastest thine own property, and settest not thyself to hire, but on the contrary thou hirest wantons,’ (Eze_16:31.) So the Prophet speaks here, though more briefly, Ephraim, he says, has hired lovers
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
gone … to Assyria — referring to Menahem’s application for Pul’s aid in establishing him on the throne (compare Hos_5:13; Hos_7:11). Menahem’s name is read in the inscriptions in the southwest palace of Nimrod, as a tributary to the Assyrian king in his eighth year. The dynasty of Pul, or Phalluka, was supplanted at Nineveh by that of Tiglath-pileser, about 768 (or 760) b.c. Semiramis seems to have been Pul’s wife, and to have withdrawn to Babylon in 768; and her son, Nabonassar, succeeding after a period of confusion, originated “the era of Nabonassar,” 747 b.c. [G. V. Smith]. Usually foreigners coming to Israel’s land were said to “go up”; here it is the reverse, to intimate Israel’s sunken state, and Assyria’s superiority.
wild ass — a figure of Israel’s headstrong perversity in following her own bent (Jer_2:24).
alone by himself — characteristic of Israel in all ages: “lo, the people shall dwell alone” (Num_23:9; compare Job_39:5-8).
hired lovers — reversing the ordinary way, namely, that lovers should hire her (Eze_16:33, Eze_16:34).
For they are gone up to Assyria, a wild ass alone by himself: Ephraim hath hired lovers. All their misery and misfortune they have brought upon themselves. They have prepared this fate for themselves, and made themselves meet for their fate. The second clause is correctly rendered, a wild ass goes alone by itself; and this clause is an independent statement—not connected by n- of comparison either with the clause preceding nor with the succeeding one. Instead of saying that Epraim, that is, Israel, went up to Assyria like a stubborn wild ass alone by itself, or that like a wild ass going alone Ephraim hired (sued for) lovers, the statement stands independent and in a measure detached, the meaning being that even a wild ass, stupid and stubborn as that animal is, keeps by itself to secure its independence. The conduct of Israel, however, appears to disadvantage in contrast with that of a stupid wild ass; it is more stupid and senseless; their folly is seen by the comparison: it maintained its independence by going alone, Ephraim lost independence by soliciting help from heathen allies. What, then, was the object to the attainment of which this foolish conduct was directed? In other words, why did Israel go on this stupid mission to Assyria? What did they seek to gain by it? The third clause contains the answer: they sought help and succor from the Assyrians. Thus the first clause, giving a reason for their calamity, shows it was self-procured by Ephraim going up to Assyria; the second clause exposes the folly of such conduct in seeking prohibited and pernicious foreign alliances; the third clause specifies the precise object of Ephraim’s sinful and foolish mission, namely, the procuring of succor from Assyria. The above explanation,
(1) which is in substance Keil’s, and which is a contrast between the independence of the wild ass and Ephraim’s servile suing for foreign help, is, we think, simpler and more correct than
(2) the common one, which is a comparison of the willfulness, waywardness, and wantonness of the wild ass roaming solitarily by itself with Ephraim’s willful waywardness in going up to Assyria for succor, and wantonness in suing for idolatrous alliances. The expression, “going up,” alludes to going to the interior of the country, or to the capital of the monarch Assyria now owned as sovereign, or to a place of refuge. The hiring of lovers, or lover, by Ephraim stigmatizes their shameful conduct as that of a shameless harlot, who, instead of receiving, bestows presents on lovers, or as the reward of endearments.
For they are gone up to Assyria – The ground of this their captivity is that wherein they placed their hope of safety. They shall be presently swallowed up; “for” they went to Asshur. The holy land being then honored by the spectral presence of God, all nations are said to “go up” to it. Now, since Israel forgetting God, their strength and their glory, went to the Assyrian for help, he is said to “go up” there, where he went as a suppliant.
A wild donkey alone by himself – As “the ox” which “knoweth its owner, and the donkey its Master’s crib,” represents each believer, of Jew or Gentile; Israel, who would not know Him, is called the “wild ass.” The “pere,” or “wild ass” of the East , is “heady, unruly, undisciplinable” , “obstinate, running with swiftness far outstripping the swiftest horse” , whither his lust, hunger, thirst, draw him without rule or direction, hardly to be turned aside from his intended course.” Although often found in bands, one often breaks away by himself, exposing itself for a prey to lions, from where it is said, “the wild donkey is the lion’s prey in the wilderness” (Ecclus. 13:19). Wild as the Arab was, a “wild ass’ colt by himself” , is to him a proverb for one , “singular, obstinate, pertinacious in his purpose.” Such is man by nature Job_11:12; such, it was foretold to Abraham, Ishmael would be Gen_16:12; such Israel again became; “stuborn, heady, selfwilled, refusing to be ruled by God’s law and His counsel, in which he might find safety, and, of his own mind, running to the Assyrian,” there to perish.
Ephraim hath hired lovers or loves – The plural, in itself, shows that they were sinful loves, since God had said, “a man shall cleave unto his wife and they twain shall be one flesh.” These sinful “loves” or “lovers” she was not tempted by, but she herself invited them (see Eze_16:33-34). It is a special and unwonted sin, when woman, forsaking the modesty which God gives her as a defense, becomes the temptress. “Like such a bad woman, luring others to love her, they, forsaking God, to whom, as by covenant of marriage, they ought to have cleaved, and on Him alone to have depended, sought to make friends of the Assyrian, to help them in their rebellions against Him, and so put themselves to that charge (as sinners usually do) in the service of sin, which in God’s service they need not to have been at.”
And yet that which God pictures under colors so offensive, what was it in human eyes? The “hire” was presents of gold to powerful nations, whose aid, humanly speaking, Israel needed. But wherever it abandoned its trust in God, it adopted their idols. “Whoever has recourse to human means, without consulting God, or consulting whether He will, or will not bless them, is guilty of unfaithfulness which often leads to many others. He becomes accustomed to the tone of mind of those whose protection he seeks, comes insensibly to approve even their errors, loses purity of heart and conscience, sacrifices his light and talents to the service of the powers, under whose shadow he wishes to live under repose.”
But it follows, Though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them. This place may be variously expounded. The commonly received explanation is, that God would gather the hired nations against Israel; but I would rather refer it to the people themselves. But it admits of a twofold sense: the first is, that the great forces which the people has on every side acquired for themselves, would not prevent God from destroying them; for the verb קבף, kobets, which they render, “to gather,” often means in Hebrew to throw by a slaughter into an heap, as we say in French, Trousser , (to bundle.) And this meaning would be very suitable — that though they extended themselves far and wide, by gathering forces on every side, they would yet be collected in another way, for they would be brought together into a heap. The second sense is this — that when Israel should be drawn away to the Gentiles, the Lord would gather him; as though he said, “Israel burns with mad lusts, and runs here and there among the Gentiles; this heat is nothing else than dispersion; it is the same as if he designedly wished to destroy the unity in which his safety consists; but I will yet gather him against his will; that is, preserve him for a time.”
It then follows, They shall grieve a little for the burden of the king and princes. The word which the Prophet uses interpreters expound in two ways. Some derive יחלו, ichelu, from the verb חל, chel, and others from חלל, chelal, which means, “to begin;” and therefore give this rendering, “They shall begin with the burden of the king and princes;” that is, They shall begin to be burdened by the king and princes. Others offer this version, “They shall grieve a little for the burden of the king and princes;” that is, They shall be tributaries before the enemies shall bring them into exile; and this will be a moderate grief.
If the first interpretation which I have mentioned be approved, then there is here a comparison between the scourges with which God at first gently chastised the people, and the last punishment which he was at length constrained to inflict on them; as though he said, “They complain of being burdened by tributes; it is nothing, or at least it is nothing so grievous, in comparison with the dire future grief which their last destruction will bring with it.”
But this clause may well be joined with that mitigation which I have briefly explained, and that is, that when the people had willingly dispersed themselves, they had been preserved beyond expectation, so that they did not immediately perish; for they would have run headlong into destruction, had not God interposed an hindrance. Thus the two verses are to be read conjointly, They ascended into Assyria as a wild ass; that is, “They showed their unnameable and wild disposition, when thus unrestrainedly carried away; and then they offer me a grievous insult; for as if they were destitute of my help, they run to the profane Gentiles, and esteem as nothing my power, which would have been ready to help them, had they depended on me, and placed their salvation in my hand.” He then reproaches their perfidy, that they were like unchaste women, who leave their husbands, and abandon themselves to lewdness. Then it follows, Though they do this, that is, “Though having despised my aid, they seek deliverance from the profane Gentiles, and though they despise me, and choose to submit themselves to adulterers rather than to keep their conjugal faith with me, I will yet gather them, when thus dispersed.” The Lord here enhances the sin of the people; for he did not immediately punish their ingratitude and wickedness, but deferred doing so for a time; and in his kindness he would have led them to repentance, had not their madness been wholly incurable: though then they thus hire among the Gentiles, I will yet gather them, that is, “preserve them;” and for what purpose? That they may grieve a little, and that is, that they may not wholly perish, as persons running headlong into utter ruin; for they seemed designedly to seek their last destruction, when they were thus wilfully and violently carried away to profane nations. That is indeed a most dreadful tearing of the body, which cannot be otherwise than fatal. They shall, however, grieve a little; that is, “I will so act, that they may by degrees return to me, even by the means of moderate grief.”
We hence see more clearly why the Prophet said, that this grief would be small, which was to be from the burden of the king and princes. It was designed by the Israelites to excite the Assyrians immediately to war; and this would have turned out to their destruction, as it did at last; but the Lord suspended his vengeance, and at the same time mitigated their grief, when they were made tributaries. The king and his counsellors were constrained to exact great tributes; the people then grieved: but they had no other than a moderate grief, that they might consider their sins and return to the Lord; yet all this was without any fruit. Hence the less excusable was the obstinacy of the people. We now perceive what the Prophet meant. It now follows —
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
will I gather them — namely, the nations (Assyria, etc.) against Israel, instead of their assisting her as she had wished (Eze_16:37).
a little — rather, “in a little” [Henderson]. English Version gives good sense: They shall sorrow “a little” at the imposition of the tribute; God suspended yet the great judgment, namely, their deportation by Assyria.
the burden of the king of princes — the tribute imposed on Israel (under Menahem) by the Assyrian king Pul, (2Ki_15:19-22), who had many “princes” under his sway (Isa_10:8).
Yea, though they have hired among the nations, now will I gather them. Instead of “have hired,” “sue” would make the sense more obvious. But who are they of whom it is here said, “I will gather them”?
(1) The nations, among whom Ephraim has been suing for endearments from paramours, shall be gathered together to effect the hurt or ruin of Ephraim; while for this explanation Eze_16:37, is cited as parallel: “Behold, therefore, I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness.” But
(2) others maintain that the persons gathered are the Ephraimites whom the Lord will gather, that is to say,
(a) will bring them all together among the nations, leading them thither; and to this exposition Hos_9:6 is thought to furnish a parallel, at least as far as the meaning of the verb “to gather” is concerned: “Egypt shall gather them up, Memphis shall bury them.”
(b) Or the Ephraimites shall be gathered together to be led away in chains and dispersed among the nations;
(c) or shall be gathered for death and to perish by sword and famine; or
(d) to be gathered together unto Samaria and other fortified cities, in order to be taken to. gather and carried by their enemies away into captivity.
(3) Rashi understands the gathering together of Israel, but in the sense of a promise “Though they have sued for endearments among the nations, I will gather them out of the nations among which they have been dispersed, as the same verb, קבץ, is used in Isa_54:1-17. and Jer_31:10, viz. ‘I will not delay their deliverance.”‘ This exposition is not in harmony with the context, from which we expect a threat of punishment rather than a promise of reward. Both Kimchi and Aben Ezra favor exposition (1) “What benefit is it to them, asks the prophet, that they sue among the nations? For soon I will gather the nations against them to carry them into captivity.” Thus Kimchi and somewhat similarly Aben Ezra. Whether we take the verb as pointed with daghesh in the tav, and so from נחן, to give, that is, gifts to lovers, or without daghesh, and from חנה equivalent to נָחַן אֶחִנִח, to hire or bargain, makes little difference in the general sense of the clause. And they shall sorrow a little for the burden of the king of princes. This fixes with more definiteness the meaning of the foregoing member of the verse. According to
(1) this rendering of יַחֵלוּ (Qeri) Hiph. from הוּל, “a little” would require to be taken Ironically; it is better, therefore, to render it “in a little time.” The burden is not that of taxation or even deportation, but of oppression in exile. The oppressor is the monarch of Assyria, who asks boastingly. “Are not my princes altogether kings?” Another
(2) translation is, “They will begin to diminish on account of the burden of the king of princes.’ According to this the verb וַיָּהֵלוּ is future of Hiph. חֵחֵל from חלל, to begin, and מְעָט is either an infinitive for מַעט, or rather a verbal adjective: and the sense is that they begin to be or become fewer in consequence of the Assyrian’s oppression. But
(3) taking the verb from the same root חלל cognate with Greek χαλάω, loose, set free, Gesenius translates, “And they (the hostile nations) shall presently force them from the burden (i.e. the unpleasant dominion)of the king.” The Septuagint
(4) read מִמָּשַׁח instead of מִמַּשּׂא, and a copula between, i.e.” and princes;” and render, Καὶ κοπάσουσι μικρὸν τοῦ χρίειν βασιλέα καὶ ἄρχπντας, equivalent to “And they shall cease a little to anoint a king and princes.” Our choice must lie between (1) and (2) in interpreting this difficult clause; there is a modification of (1) worth mentioning; it is: “They shall in a little while sorrow for the burden which they pay (i.e. the tribute which they pay) kings and princes,” viz. all of them, the two concluding words being thus in apposition to the subject of the verb. On the whole, we prefer there rendering of the clause in the Authorized Version, as both grammatical and supplying a sense consistent with the context. The prophet foretells that Israel would ere long feel painfully the sorrowful consequences of their going to Assyria and suing there for help. Oppressed by a yearly tribute to the Assyrian king, they would smart under the yoke, and long to be free.
The Prophet, by saying that the days of visitation had come, intended to shake off from hypocrites that supine torpor of which we have often spoken; for as they were agitated by their own lusts, and were in a state of continual fervour, so they hardened themselves against God’s judgement, and, as it were, covered themselves over with hardness. It was then necessary to deal roughly with them in order to break down such stubbornness. This is the reason that the Prophet repeats so often and in so many forms what might be expressed in this one sentence — That God would be a just avenger. Hence he cries out here, that the days of visitation had come. For when the Lord spared them, as sacred history relates, and as we said at the beginning, (and under the king Jeroboam the second, the son of Joash, their affairs were prosperous,) their pride and contempt of God the more increased. Since then they thought themselves to be now beyond the reach of harm, the Prophet declares that the days had come. And there is here an implied contrast in reference to the time during which the Lord had borne with them; for as the Lord had not immediately visited their sins, they thought that they had escaped. But the Prophet here distinguishes between time and time: “You have hitherto thought,” he says, “that you are at peace with God; as if he, by conniving at the sins of men, denied himself, so as not to discharge any more the office of a judge: nay, there is another thing to be here considered, and that is, that God has certain days of visitation, which he has fixed for himself; and these days are now come.”
And he again teaches the same thing, The days of retribution have come He uses another word, that they might know that they could not go unpunished for having in so many ways provoked God. For as the Lord disappoints not the hope of his people, who honour him; so also there is a reward laid up for the ungodly, who regard as nothing his judgement. “God will then repay you what you have deserved, though for a time it may please him to suspend his judgement.”
Then he says, Israel shall know This is the wisdom of fools, as it is said even in an old proverb; and Homer has also said, παθων δε τε νήπιος εγνω, (Even the foolish knows when he suffers.) The foolish is not wise, except when he suffers. Hence the Prophet says, that Israel, when afflicted, would then perceive that instruction had been despised, and that all warnings had been trifled with, at least had not been regarded. Israel then shall know; that is, he shall at length, when too late, understand that he had to do with God, even when the time of repentance shall be no more. The meaning then is that as the ungodly reject the word of God, and obey not wise admonitions and counsels, they shall at length be taken to another school, where God teaches not by the mouth but by the hand. Whosoever then does not now willingly submit to his teaching, shall find God to be a judge, and shall not escape his hand.
They who join what follows elicit this meaning, Israel shall know the Prophet to be foolish, the man of the spirit to be mad; that is, Israel shall then understand that he was deluded by flatteries, when the false Prophets promised that all things would be prosperous. We indeed know that they catched at those prophecies which pleased their ears; for which Micah also reproves them; hence he calls those who gave hope of a better state of things, the Prophets of wine and oil and wheat, (Mic_2:11.) The world wishes to be ever thus deceived. Since then there were many in Israel, who by their impositions deceived the miserable, he says, Israel shall at last know that he has been deluded by his own teachers. If we receive this sense, there is then here a reproof to Israel for thinking that the vengeance of God was in some way restrained, when the false Prophets said that he was pacified, and that there was no danger to be feared. For do not men in this way stultify themselves? And how gross is their stupidity, when they think that God’s hands are tied, when men are silent, or when they perfidiously turn the truth into a lie? And yet even at this day this disease prevails in the world, as it has prevailed almost in all ages. For what do the ungodly seek, but to be let alone in their sins? When mouths are closed, they think that they have gained much. This madness the Prophet derides, intimating that those profane men, who have such delicate ears, that they can bear no words of reproof, shall at last know what they had gained by hiring prophets to flatter them. We hence see, in short, that the adulations, by which the ungodly harden themselves against God, will be to them the occasion of a twofold destruction; for such fallacies dementate them, so that they much more boldly provoke against themselves the wrath of God.
But if we read the two clauses apart, the rendering will be this, “The Prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad.” And as to the matter itself, there is not much difference. I will not then dwell on the subject; for when we are agreed as to the design of the Prophet and the truth remains the same, it is vain, at least it is of no benefit, to labour very anxiously about the form of the sentence. If then we begin a sentence with these words, אויל הנביא, avil enebia, the sense will be this, “I know that the Prophets promise impunity to you; but they who thus hide your sins, and cover them over as with plasters, are insane men, yea, they are wholly infatuated. There is then no reason why their flatteries should delight you; for the event will show that they are mere absurdities and idle ravings.” We now see that there is no great difference in the sense: for this remains still unaltered, that there were many flatterers among the people, who made it their business to lie, that they might thus procure the favour of the people; and this ambition has prevailed in all ages: and sometimes also cupidity or avarice takes such hold on men, that they use a meretricious tongue, and excuse all vices however grievous, and elude all threatening. This is what the Prophet shows in the first place; and then he shows, that men without any advantage indulge their vices, when there is no one severely to reprove them, or boldly to exhort them to repent; and that though all the Prophets should give them hope of safety they should yet perish: for men cannot by their silence restrain God from executing at last his judgement. Nay, we must remember this, that God spares men when he does not spare them; that is, when he chastises them, when he reproves their sins, and when he constrains them by terror, he then would spare them. And again, when God spares, he does not spare; that is, when he connives at their sins, and leaves men to their own will, to grow wanton at their pleasure, without any yoke or bridle, he then by no means spares them, for he destines them for destruction.
“The man of the spirit,” some render “the man of the wind;” and some “the fanatical man;” but they are in my judgement mistaken; for the Prophet, I doubt not, uses a respectful term, but yet by way of concession. He then calls those the men of the spirit who were by their office prophets, but who abused that title, as those who at this day call themselves pastors when they are really rapacious wolves. The Prophets, as we know, always declared that they did not speak from their own minds but what the Spirit of God dictated to them. Hence they were men of the Spirit, that is, spiritual men: for the genitive case, we know, was used by the Hebrews to express what we designate by an adjective. The Prophets then were the men of the Spirit. He concedes this name, in itself illustrious and honourable, to impostors; but in the same sense as when I speak generally of teachers; I then include the false as well as the true. This then is the real meaning of the expression, as we may gather from the context: for he says the same thing twice, אויל הנביא, avil enebia, Fool is the Prophet, and then, משגע איש הרוח, moshigo aish eruch, Mad is the man of the spirit As he spoke of a Prophet, so he now mentions the same by calling him a man of the spirit, or a spiritual man.
At the end of the verse he adds, For the multitude of thine iniquity, for great hatred, or, much hatred; for it may be rendered in these two ways. Here the Prophet shows, that though the false Prophets stultified by their fallacies the people, yet this could by no means avail for an excuse or for extenuating the fault of the people. How so? Because they suffered the punishment of their own impiety. For whence comes it, that the Lord takes away his light from us, that after having once shown to us the way of salvation, he turns suddenly his back on us, and suffers us to go astray to our perdition? How does this happen? Doubtless, because we are unworthy of that light, which was a witness to us of God’s favour. For as much then as men through their own fault procure such a judgement to themselves, the Lord neither blinds them nor gives to Satan the power of deluding them, except when they deserve such a treatment. Hence the Prophet says, For the multitude of thine iniquity, and for thy crimes, by which thou hast excited against thyself the wrath and hatred of God. We hence see how frivolous are the pretences by which men clear themselves, when they object and say that they have been deceived and that if their teachers had been faithful and honest, they would have willingly obeyed God. When therefore men make these objections, the ready answer is this, that they had been deprived of true and faithful teachers, because they had refused the favour offered to them, and extinguished the light, and as Paul says, preferred a lie to the truth; and that they had been deceived by false Prophets, because they willingly hastened to ruin when the Lord called them to salvation. We now then understand the import of what is here taught.
The Prophet says, in the first place, that the day of vengeance was now at hand, because the Lord by forbearance could prevail nothing with the obstinate. He then adds, that as all threatenings were despised by the people, and as they were deaf to every instruction, they would at length know that God had not spoken in vain but would perceive that their were justly treated; for the Lord would not now teach them by his word, but by scourges. He adds, in the third place, that the Prophet was foolish and delirious, and also, that they who boasted themselves to be the men of the spirit were mad: by which expressions he meant that the flatteries, by which the people were lulled asleep were foolish; for God would not fail at last, when the time came, to execute his office. And, lastly he reminds them that this would happen through the fault of the people, that there was no reason for them to trace or to ascribe the cause of the evil to any thing else; for this blindness was their just punishment. The Lord would have never permitted Satan thus to prevail in his own inheritance, had not the people, by the immense filth of their sins, provoked God for a long time, and as it were with a determined purpose. It now follows —
These verses describe the season and source of punishment. The days of visitation are come, the days of recompense are come. Commentators have appropriately compared the Vergilian “Venit summa dies, et irreluctabile tempus,” equivalent to” The final day and inevitable hour is come.” Israel shall know (it): the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad. Here the prophet and the man of the spirit (margin) are
(1) the false prophets which pretended to inspiration, and flattered the people with false hopes and vain promises of safety and prosperity; and thus helped to confirm them in their sinful courses. The object of Israel’s knowledge, though not introduced by ki, is the folly of such false prophets, and the madness of such pretenders to prophetic inspiration. That ish ruach may be used of a false prophet as well as of a true one is proved from ish holekh ruach, a man walking in the spirit, applied by Mic_2:11 to one of these pretenders: “If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people.” Israel is doomed to know by bitter experience the folly and madness of those prophets who deceived and duped the people by lies soon detected, and their own folly and madness in giving ear to the delusive prospects they held forth. This explanation agrees with Kimchi’s comment: “Then shall they confess, and say to the prophets of lies, who had led them astray, and had said to them, Peace (in time of greatest peril)—then shall they say unto them, A fool the prophet, a madman the man of spirit.” The predicate precedes the subject for emphasis, and the article prefixed to the subject exhausts the class of those false prophets.
(2) Aben Ezra, Ewald, and many others understand the prophet and spiritual man to mean true prophets, which the people called fools and madmen, and treated is such, contemning and persecuting them. Thus Aben Ezra: “The days of recompense are come to you from God, who will recompense you who said to the prophet of God, He is a fool, and to the man in whom the spirit of God was, He is mad.” The word meshuggah is properly the participle Paul used as a substantive, and kindred in meaning to μάντις of the Greek, from μαίνομαι, to be frenzied.
In confirmation of
(1) setup. Eze_13:10 and Jer_28:15; and in favor of
(3) The Septuagint has καὶ κακωθήσεται, equivalent to “And shall be afflicted,” taking, according to Jerome, yod for vav, and daleth for resh; while Jerome himself translates scitote, as if reading דְעוּ. For the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred. The source of all was sin. The visitation threatened, which was retributive—a recompense—was for the greatness of their iniquity. The last clause is thus dependent on and closely connected with the first, עַל ruling the construction first as a preposition, then as a conjunction: “And because the enmity is great.” Ewald says, “If the first member states a reason (e.g. by using the preposition על, on account of, because of, and the following infinitive), the meaning requires that, whenever a finite verb follows, the conjunction ‘because’ shall be employed in forming the continuation.” The hatred was
(a) that of Israel against their fellow-men, and their God or his prophetic messengers; though others
(b) understand it of the hatred of God against transgressors who had provoked his just indignation.
The first exposition (a) suits the context, and is supported by the following verse. The watchman of Ephraim was with my God. This rendering is manifestly inaccurate, as the first noun is in the absolute, not in the construct state; the right rendering, therefore, is either, “A watchman is Ephraim with my God;” or, “The watchman, O Ephraim, is with my God.”
(1) If we adopt Aben Ezra’s explanation of the prophet and spiritual man as true prophets whom the people jeeringly and scornfully called fools, fanatics, and madmen, the meaning of this clause of the next verse presents little difficulty. The prophet makes common cause with these divided prophets: his God was their God, and, however men treated them, they were under Divine protection. The sense of the im, with, in this case is well given by Pusey as follows: “The true prophet was at all times with God. He was with God, as holden by God, watching or looking out and on into the future by the help of God. He was with God, as walking with God in a constant sense of his presence, and in continual communion with him. He was with God, as associated by God with himself in teaching, warning, correcting, exhorting his people, as the apostle says, We then are workers together with him. In the next clause the false prophet is described by way of contrast as a snare.
(2) The word צוֹפֶה is properly a participle, and Ephraim is thus exhibited by the prophet as on the outlook,
(a) not for counsel and help beside or apart from God, as Gesenius understands it; but
(b) as on the outlook for revelations and prophecies along with my God; i.e. Ephraim, not satisfied with the genuine prophets, had prophets of his own, which spake to the people according to their wish. This exposition is in the main supported by Rashi and Kimchi: the former says, “They appoint for themselves prophets of their own;” and Kimchi more fully thus, “Ephraim has appointed for himself a watchman (or seer) at the side of his God; and he is the false prophet who speaks his prophecy in the name of his God.” (But) the prophet is a snare of a fowler in (over) all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. Whether we adopt (1) or (2) as the explanation of the first clause, we may understand the prophet of this clause as
(1) the false prophet who—by way of contrast if we accept (1), or by way of continuation if we prefer (2)—is like the snare of a bird-catcher over all the people’s path, to entangle, entrap, and draw them into destruction
(a) He is, moreover, inspired with hostility—a man of rancorous spirit against God and his true prophets. “This prophet of lies,” says Aben Ezra, “is a snare of the bird-catcher.” Similarly Kimchi says in his exposition, “This prophet is for Ephraim on all his ways as the snare of the bird-catcher that catcheth the fowls; so they catch Ephraim in the words of their prophets.”
(2) Some understand “prophet” in the middle clause of the verse as the true prophet, and the snare as the hostility and traps which the people prepared for the messengers of God; so Rashi: “For the true prophets they lay snares to catch them.” According to this exposition we must render, “As for the prophet, the snare of the bird-catcher is over all his ways.”
(b) In the last clause, “house of his God,” may mean the temple of the true God, or the idol-temple; thus Aben Ezra: “Enmity is in the house of his god;” while Kimchi thinks either sense admissible: “We may understand ביה אי of the house of the calves, which were his god, and the false prophet acted there as prophet, and caused enmity between himself and God; or we may explain it of the house of the true God, that is, the house of the sanctuary.” Thus the hostility may refer to the prophet himself, of which he is the subject as (a) or the object according to Kimchi just cited, or the detestable idol-worship, or perhaps the Divine displeasure against the false prophet and the people led astray by him. They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah. The historical event here alluded to was the abominable and infamous treatment of the Levite’s concubine by the men of Gibeah. This was the foulest blot on Israel’s history during all the rule of the judges. For the loathsome particulars, Jdg_19:1-30. may be consulted. The construction is peculiar. The two verbs הי שׁי are coordinated appositionally; “The leading verb, which in meaning is the leading one, is subordinated more palpably by being placed alongside of the preceding verb without a joining and” (Ewald). The former verb is often constructed with an infinitive, and sometimes with a noun. Some trace the reference, as already stated, (1) to the enormity of the men of Gibeah in relation to the Levite’s concubine; others to the election of Saul, who was of Gibeah, to be king. Rashi mentions both: “Some say it was Gibeah of Benjamin in the matter of the concubine; but others say it was Gibeah of Saul, when they demanded for themselves a king and rebelled against the words of the prophet.” Therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins. The sin of Gibeah was fearfully avenged; its punishment re-suited in almost the total extinction of a tribe in Israel—that of Benjamin. And as Israel had paralleled that of the men of Gibeah, he gives them to understand first implicitly that like punishment would overtake them, then he explicitly denounces visitation for their iniquity and retribution for their sin. The clause thus closes, as it commenced, with the sad note of coming calamity.
The days of visitation are come – The false prophets had continually hood-winked the people, promising them that those days would never come. “They had put far away the evil day” Amo_6:3. Now it was not at hand only. In God’s purpose, those “days” were “come,” irresistible, inevitable, inextricable; days in which God would visit, what in His long-suffering, He seemed to overlook, and would “recompense each according to his works.”
Israel shall know it – Israel would not know by believing it; now it should “know,” by feeling it.
The prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad – The true prophet gives to the false the title which they claimed for themselves, “the prophet” and “the man of the spirit.” Only the event showed what spirit was in them, not the spirit of God but a lying spirit. The people of the world called the true prophets, “mad,” literally, maddened, “driven mad,” , as Festus thought of Paul; “Thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad” Act_26:24. Jehu’s captains called by the same name the young prophet whom Elisha sent to anoint him. “Wherefore came this mad fellow unto thee?” 2Ki_9:11. Shemaiah, the false prophet, who deposed God’s priest, set false priests to “be officers in the house of the Lord,” to have an oversight as to “every man who is mad and maketh himself a prophet,” calling Jeremiah both a false prophet and a “madman” (Jer_29:25-26. The word is the same).
The event was the test. Of our Lord Himself, the Jews blaspbemed, “He hath a devil and is mad” Joh_10:20. And long afterward, “madness,” “phrensy” were among the names which the pagan gave to the faith in Christ . As Paul says, that “Christ crucified” was “to the Greeks” and to “them that perish, foolishness,” and that the “things of the Spirit of God, are foolishness to the natural man, neither can he know” them, “because they are spiritually discerned” 1Co_1:18, 1Co_1:23; 1Co_2:14. The man of the world and the Christian judge of the same things by clean contrary rules, use them for quite contrary ends. The slave of pleasure counts him mad, who foregoes it; the wealthy trader counts him mad, who gives away profusely. In these days, profusion for the love of Christ has been counted a ground for depriving a man of the care of his property. One or the other is mad. And worldlings must count the Christian mad; else they must own themselves to be so most fearfully. In the Day of Judgment, Wisdom says, “They, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, shall say within themselves, This was he whom we had sometimes in derision and a proverb of reproach. We fools counted his life madness, and his end to be without honor. How is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints!” (Wisd. 5:3-6).
For the multitude of thine iniquity and the great hatred – The words stand at the close of the verse, as the reason of all which had gone before. Their “manifold iniquity” and their “great hatred” of God were the ground why the “days of visitation” and “recompense” should “come.” They were the ground also, why God allowed such prophets to delude them. The words, “the great hatred,” stand quite undefined, so that they may signify alike the hatred of Ephraim against God and good people and His true prophets, or God’s hatred of them. Yet it, most likely, means, “their” great hatred, since of them the prophet uses it again in the next verse. The sinner first neglects God; then, as the will of God is brought before him, he willfully disobeys Him; then, when, he finds God’s will irreconcilably at variance with his own, or when God chastens him, he hates Him, and (the prophet speaks out plainly) “hates” Him “greatly.”
Interpreters obscure this verse by their various opinions. Almost all suppose a verb to be understood that Ephraim “had set” a watchman. But I see no need to make any change in the words of the Prophet: I therefore take them simply as they are. Now some think that there is here a comparison between the old Prophets who had not turned aside from God’s command, and those flatterers who pretended the name of God, while they were the ministers of Satan to deceive. They therefore thus distinguish them, The watchman of Ephraim was with my God; that is, there was a time formerly when the watchmen of Ephraim were connected with God, and declared no strange doctrine, when they drew from the true fountain all that they taught; there was then a connection between God and the Prophets, for they depended on the mouth of God, and the Prophets delivered to the people, as from hand to hand, whatever God commanded; there was then nothing corrupt, or impure, or adventitious in their words. But now the Prophet is a snare of a fowler; that is, the dice is turned, a deplorable change has taken place; for now the Prophets lay snares to draw people by their disciples into destruction; and this abomination bears rule, that is, this monstrous wickedness prevails in the temple of God: these Prophets live not in caves nor traverse public roads, but they occupy a place in the temple of God; so that of the sacred temple of God they make a brothel for the impostures of Satan. Such is their view.
But I read the verse as connected together, The watchman of Ephraim, who ought to have been with God, even the Prophet, is a snare of a fowler on all his ways The former view would have indeed met my approbations did not the words appear to be forced; and I do not love strained meanings. This is the reason which prevents me from subscribing to an exposition which in itself I approve, as it embraces a useful doctrine. But this simple view is more correct, that the watchman of Ephraim, a Prophet, is a snare of a fowler: and he adds, with God; for it is the duty of teachers to have nothing unconnected with God. Hosea then shows what Prophets ought to do, not what they may do. A Prophet then is he who is a watchman of Israel; for this command, we know, is given in common to all Prophets — to be as it were on their watch-tower, and to be vigilant over the people of God. It is therefore no wonder that the Prophet dignifies with his own title all those who were then teachers among God’s people. But he thus doubles their crime, by saying that they were only keen and sharp-sighted to snare the people. Then the watchmen of Israel, the Prophet, who was placed on the watch-tower to watch or to exercise vigilance over the safety of the whole people — this Prophet was a snare of a fowler! But he triplicates the crime when he says, With my God: for as we have already observed, teachers could not faithfully discharge their office, except they were connected with God, and were able truly to testify that they brought forth nothing that was invented, but what the Lord himself had spoken, and that they were his organs. We now then apprehend the real meaning of the Prophet; and according to this view there is nothing strained in the words.
The Prophet also thus confirms what he had said before, that the Prophets were fools, that is, that their prophecies would at length appear empty and vain; for they could not prevent God from inflicting punishment on the wicked by their fallacious flatteries; he confirms this truth when he says, The watchmen of Ephraim is a snare of a fowler on all his ways: that is, he ought to have guided the people, and to have kept them safe from intrigues. But now the people could not move a foot without meeting with a snare; and whence came this snare but from false doctrine and impostures? What then was to be at last? Could the snares avail to make them cautious? By no means; but Satan thus hunts his prey, when he soothes the people by his false teachers, and keeps them, as it were, asleep, that they may not regard the hand of God. There was then no reason for the Israelites to think well of the fowlers by whom they were drawn into ruin.
This indignity is more emphatically expressed, when he says, that there was a detestable thing in the temple of God There was not, indeed, a temple of God in Bethel, as we have often said; but as the people were wont to pretend the name of God, the Prophet, conceding this point, says, that these abominations were covered over by this pretence. There is then no need anxiously to inquire here, whether it was the temple at Samaria or at Bethel, or the house and sanctuary of God; for a concession proves not a thing to be so, but it is to speak according to the general opinion. So then the Prophet does not without reason complain, that the place, on which was inscribed the name of God, was profaned, and that, instead of the teaching of salvation, there was fowling everywhere, which drew the people into apostasy, and finally into utter ruin. It follows —
The watchman of Ephraim was with my God – These words may well contrast the office of the true prophet with the false. For Israel had had many true prophets, and such was Hosea himself now. The true prophet was at all times with “God.” He was “with God,” as holpen by God, “watching” or looking out and on into the future by the help of God. He was “with God,” as walking with God in a constant sense of His presence, and in continual communion with Him. He was “with God,” as associated by God with Himself, in teaching, warning, correcting, exhorting His people, as the Apostle says, “we then as workers together with Him” 2Co_6:1.
It might also be rendered in nearly the same sense, “Ephraim was a watchman with my God,” and this is more according to the Hebrew words. As though the whole people of Israel had an office from God , “and God addressed it as a whole, ‘I made thee, as it were, a watchman and prophet of God to the neighboring nations, that through My providence concerning thee, and thy living according to the law, they too might receive the knowledge of Me. But thou hast acted altogether contrary to this, for thou hast become a snare to them. ‘“
Yet perhaps, if so construed, it would rather mean, “Ephraim is a watchman, beside my God,” as it is said, “There is none upon earth, that I desire with Thee” Psa_73:25, i. e., beside Thee. In God the Psalmist had all, and desired to have nothing “with,” i. e., beside God. Ephraim was not content with God’s revelations, but would himself be “a seer, an espier” of future events, the prophet says with indignation, “together with my God.” God, in fact, sufficed. Ephraim not. Ahab hated God’s prophet, “because he did not speak good concerning him but evil” 1Ki_22:8, 1Ki_22:18. And so the kings of Israel had court-prophets of their own, an establishment, as it would seem, of four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and four hundred prophets of Ashtaroth 1Ki_18:19, which was filled up again by new impostors 2Ki_3:13; 2Ki_10:19, when after the miracle of Mount Carmel, Elijah, according to the law Deu_13:5; Deu_17:5, put to death the prophets of Baal. These false prophets, as well as those of Judah in her evil days, flattered the kings who supported them, misled them, encouraged them in disbelieving the threatenings of God, and so led to their destruction. By these means, the bad priests maintained their hold over the people. They were the antichrists of the Old Testament, disputing the authority of God, in whose name they prophesied. Ephraim encouraged their sins, as God says of Judah by Jeremiah, “My people love to have it so” Jer_5:31. It willed to be deceived, and was so.
“On searching diligently ancient histories,” says Jerome, “I could not find that any divided the Church, or seduced people from the house of the Lord, except those who have been set by God as priests and prophets, i. e. watchmen. These then are turned into a snare, setting a stumbling-block everywhere, so that whosoever entereth on their ways, falls, and cannot stand in Christ, and is led away by various errors and crooked paths to a precipice.” : “No one,” says another great father, “doth wider injury than one who acteth perversely, while he hath a name or an order of holiness.” “God endureth no greater prejudice from any than from priests, when He seeth those whom He has set for the correction of others, give from themselves examples of perverseness, when “we” sin, who ought to restrain sin. What shall become of the flock, when the pastors become wolves?”
The false prophet is the snare of a fowler in – (literally, “upon”) all his ways i. e., whatever Ephraim would do, wherever the people, as a whole or any of them, would go, there the false prophet beset them, endeavoring to make each and everything a means of holding them back from their God. This they did, “being hatred in the house of his God.” As one says, “I am (all) prayer” Psa_109:4, because he was so given up to prayer that he seemed turned into prayer; his whole soul was concentrated in prayer; so of these it is said, “they” were “hatred.” They hated so intensely, that their whole soul was turned into hatred; they were as we say, hatred personified; hatred was embodied in them, and they ensouled with hate. They were also the source of hatred against God and man. And this each false prophet was “in the house of his God!” for God was still his God, although not owned by him as God. God is the sinners God to avenge, if he will not allow Him to be his God, to convert and pardon.
When God says that he desires to chastise the people, he intimates that this was his purpose, as when one greatly wishes for anything; and it may be an allowable change in the sentence, if the copulative was omitted, and it be rendered thus, — It is in my desire to chastise them But to depart from the words seems not to me necessary; I therefore take them apart as they stand, in this sense, — that God would follow his desire in chastising the people. The sentence seems indeed to be repugnant to many others, in which God declares his sorrow, when constrained to deal severely with his people, but the two statements are not discordant. Passions, we know, belong not to God; but in condescension to men’s capacities, he puts on this or that character. When he seems unwilling to indict punishment, he shows with how much love he regards his own people, or with what kind and tender affection he loves them. But yet, as he has to do with perverse and irreclaimable men, he says that he will take pleasure in their destruction; and for this reason also, it is said that God will take revenge. We now then understand the meaning of the Prophet: he intimates, that the purpose which God had formed of destroying the people of Israel could not now be revoked; for this punishment was to him his highest delight.
He further says, I will chastise them, and assembled shall peoples be against them By these words God shows that all people are in his hand, that he can arm them whenever he pleases; and this truth is everywhere taught in the Scriptures. God then so holds all people under his command, that by a hiss or a nod he can, whenever it pleases him, stir them up to war. Hence, as heedless Israel laughed at God’s judgement, he now shows how effectual will be his revenge, for he will assemble all people for their destruction.
And for the same purpose he adds, When they shall have bound themselves in two furrows By this clause the Prophet warns the Israelites, that nothing would avail them, though they fortified themselves against every danger, and though they gathered strength on every side; for all their efforts would not prevent God from executing his vengeance. When therefore they shall be bound in their two furrows, I will not on that account give over to assemble the people who shall dissipate all their fortresses. We now apprehend the design of the Prophet. He no doubt mentions two furrows, with reference to ploughing; for we shall see that the Prophet dwells on this metaphor. However much then the Israelites might join together and gather strength, it would yet be easy for God to gather people to destroy them.
Some refer this sentence to the whole body of the people; for they think that the compact between the kingdom of Judah and Israel is here pointed out: but this is a mere conjecture, for history gives it no countenance. Others have found out another comment, that the Lord would punish them all together, since Judah had joined the people of Israel in worshipping the calves: so they think that the common superstition was the bond of alliance between the two kingdoms. There are others who think that the Prophet alludes to the two calves, one of which, as it is well known, was worshipped in Dan, and the other at Bethel. But all these interpretations are too refined and strained. The Prophet, I doubt not, does here simply mention the two furrows, because the people, (as godless men are wont to do,) relying on their own power, boldly and proudly despised all threatening. “Howsoever,” he says, “they may join themselves together in two furrows, they shall yet effect nothing by their pride to prevent me from executing my vengeance.” Let us proceed —
It is in my desire that I should chastise them; and the people shall be gathered against them. This is better translated thus: When I desire it, then (vav of the apodosis) shall I chastise them; and the peoples shall be gathered against them. This expresses God’s determination to punish sin and vindicate his justice as the infinitely Holy One. It means, not only that his desire to punish them does exist, but that, this desire being taken for granted, there shall be no let nor hindrance; nothing can stay his hand. Then the mode and means of chastisement are indicated—peoples, foreign invaders, shall be gathered against them. The verb אָסֹר is future Qal of יסר irregularly, as if coming from נסד, the daghesh in samech compensating for the absorbed yod. When they shall bind themselves in their two furrows; margin, When I shall bind them for their two transgressions, or, in their two habitations.
(1) Gesenius, Ewald, and others, abiding by the Kethir or textual reading of the original, translate, “Jehovah will chastise them before with their eyes,” that is, not in secret, but openly before the world. They thus refer the word to עַיִן, eye, but עְינָוֹת is “fountains,” not “eyes.”
(2) The Hebrew commentators, Aben Ezra and Kimchi, explain the word in the sense of “two furrows” as in Authorized Version; and refer them to Judah and Ephraim. Thus Kimchi says, “The prophet compares Judah and Ephraim to two plowing oxen. I thought they would plough well, but they have ploughed ill, since they have bound themselves together one with the other and have allied themselves the one with the other to do evil in the eyes of Jehovah.” Similarly Rosenmüller: “To be bound to two furrows is said of oxen plowing when they are bound together in a common yoke, so that in two adjacent furrows they walk together and with equal pace.”
(3) The Septuagint rendering, based on the Qeri and followed by the Syriac and Arabic, gives a better and clearer sense than the preceding. It is, Ἐν ταῖς δυσὶν ἀδικίαις αὐτῶν, and is followed by Jerome in Super duas iniquitates suas, as also by the most judicious expositors of ancient and modern times. Yet there is great variety as to what those iniquities are. Some, like Jerome, refer to the double idolatry—that of Micah and that of Jeroboam; others, like Dathe, to the two golden calves set up at Dan and Bethel; Cyril and Theodoret to the apostasy of Israel from Jehovah, and devotion to idols; De Wette and Keil to the double unfaithfulness of Israel to Jehovah and the royal house of David. The exact rendering would, according to any of these views, be, “When I bind them to their two transgressions,” or, “When I allow the foreigners to bind them on account of their two transgressions;” that is to connect or yoke them to their two transgressions by the punishment, so that they, like beasts of burden, must drag them after them, whatever be the view we take of the nature of those transgressions.
It is in My desire that I should chastise them – God “doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men” Lam_3:33. Grievous then must be the cause of punishment, when God not only chastens people, but, so to speak, longs to chasten them, when He chastens them without any let or hindrance from His mercy. Yet so God had said; “It shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and to multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and to bring you to nought” Deu_28:63. God willed to enforce His justice, with no reserve whatever from His mercy. His whole mind, so to speak, is to punish them. God is “without passions.” Yet, in order to impress on us the truth, that one day there will, to some, be “judgment without mercy” Jam_2:13, He speaks as one, whose longing could not be satisfied, until the punishment were executed. So He says, “I will ease Me of Mine adversaries” Isa_1:24; “Mine anger shall be accomplished and I will cause My fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted” Eze_5:13.
And the people shall be gathered against him – “As all the other tribes were gathered against Benjamin at Gibeah to destroy it, so, although that war did not overtake them, now “against him,” i. e., against Ephraim or the ten tribes, “shall be gathered” divers “peoples” and nations, to destroy them.” The number gathered against them shall be as overwhelming, as that of all the tribes of Israel against the one small tribe of Benjamin. : “As of old, they ought to have bound themselves to extinguish this apostasy in its birth, as they bound themselves to avenge the horrible wickedness at Gibeah. But since they bound themselves not against sin, but to it, God says that He would gather Pagan nations against them, to punish their obstinate rebellion against Himself. They who will neither be drawn by piety, nor corrected by moderate chastisements, must needs be visited by sharper punishments, that some, who will not strive to the uttermost against the mercy of God, may be saved.”
When they shall bind themselves in their two furrows – They “bind themselves” and Satan “binds them” to their sin. In harmony and unity in nothing else, they will bind themselves, and plow like two oxen together, adding furrow to furrow, joining on line to line of sin. They who had thrown off the light and easy yoke of God, who were ever like a restive, untamed, heifer, starting aside from the yoke, would “bind” and band themselves steadily in their own ways of sin, cultivating sin, and in that sin should destruction overtake them. People who are unsteady and uneven in everything besides, will be steadfast in preening sin; they who will submit to no constraint, human or divine, will, in their slavery to their passions, submit to anything. No slavery is so heavy as that which is self-imposed.
This translation has followed an old Jewish tradition, expressed by the vowels of the text, and old Jewish authorities. With other vowels, it may be rendered, literally, “in their binding to their two transgressions,” which gives the same sense, “because they bound themselves to their two transgressions,” or, passively, “when they are bound, on account of their two transgressions.” The “two transgressions,” may designate the two calves, “the sin of Israel,” or the twofold guilt of fornication, spiritual, and in the body; the breach of both tables of God’s law; or as Jeremiah says, “My people hath committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, which can hold no water” Jer_2:13. : “This could not be said of any other nation, which knew not God. For if any such worshiped false gods, they committed only one transgression; but this nation, in which God was known, by declining to idolatry, is truly blamed as guilty of “two transgressions;” they left the true God, and for, or against, Him they worshiped other gods. For he hath twofold guilt, who, knowing good, rather chooseth evil; but “he” single, who, knowing no good, taketh evil for good. That nation then, both when, after seeing many wonderful works of God, it made and worshiped one calf in the wilderness; and when, forsaking the house of David and the temple of the Lord, it made itself two calves; yea, and so often as it worshiped those gods of the beathen; and yet more, when it asked that Barabbas should be released but that Christ should be crucified, committed two transgressions, rejecting the good, electing the evil; “setting sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet; setting darkness as light, and light as darkness” Isa_5:20.
Some read the two words, “taught,” and “loveth,” separately, מלמדה, melamde, and אהבתי, aebti; for they think that at the beginning of the verse a reproach is conveyed, as though the Prophet had said, that Ephraim was wholly unteachable: though God had from childhood brought him up under his discipline, he yet now showed so great stubbornness, that he even ceased not to rebel against God, and went on obstinately in his own wickedness. “Ephraim then is like a trained heifer.” But this meaning seems too far fetched: I therefore connect the whole together in one context, and follow what has been more approved, Ephraim is a heifer trained to love, or, that she may love, threshing; that is, Ephraim has been accustomed to love threshing.
There is here an implied comparison between ploughing and threshing. There is more labour and toil, we know, in ploughing than in threshing; for the oxen are coupled together, and then they are compelled to obey, and in vain do they draw here and there, when they are joined together. But when oxen thresh, they are loose, and the labour is less toilsome and heavy. The Prophet then means this, — that Ephraim pretended some obedience, and yet would not take the yoke, so as to be really and in everything submissive to God. Other nations did not understand what it was to obey God; but there was some appearance of religion in Israel; they indeed professed to worship the God of Israel, they had temples among them; but the Lord derides this hypocrisy, and says, — Ephraim is like a heifer, which will not submit her neck to the yoke, but will only, for recreation’s sake, pass through the threshing-floor and tread the corn, as hypocrites are wont to do; for they do not wholly repudiate every truth, but in part receive it; yet, when the Lord presses on them too much, they then fiercely resist, and show that they wish to do according to their own will. Almost the whole world exhibit, indeed, some appearance of obedience, I know not what; but they wish to make a compact with God, that he should not require more then what their pleasure may allow. When one is a slave to many vices, he desires a liberty for these to be allowed him; in other things, he will yield some obedience. We now understand the meaning of the Prophet, and see what he had in view. He then derides the hypocritical service which the Israelites rendered to God; for they were at the same time unwilling to bear the yoke, and were untameable. To the threshing they were not unwilling to come; for when God commanded anything that was easy, they either willingly performed it, or at least discharged their duty somehow in that particular; but they would not accustom themselves to plough.
Since it was so, I have passed over, he says, upon her beautiful neck God shows why he treated Ephraim with severity; for he was made to submit, because he was so obstinate. ‘I have passed over upon the goodness of her neck;’ that is, “When I saw that she had a fat neck, and that she refused the yoke, I tried, by afflictions, whether such stubbornness could be subdued.” Some refer this to the teaching of the law, and say, that God had passed over upon the beautiful neck of Israel, because he had delivered his law in common to all the posterity of Abraham. But this is foreign to the context. I therefore doubt not but that the mind of the Prophet was this, — that God here declares, that it was not without reason that he had been so severe in endeavouring to tame Israel, for he saw that he could not be otherwise brought to obedience. “Since, then, Ephraim only loved the treading, I wished to correct this delusion, and ought not to have spared him. If he had been a wearied ox, or an old one broken down and emaciated, and of no strength, some consideration for him ought to have been had: but as Israel had a thick and fat neck, as he was strong enough to bear the yoke, and as he yet loved his own pleasures and refused the yoke, it was needful that he should be tamed by afflictions. I have therefore passed over upon the goodness, or the beauty, of the neck of Ephraim.”
But as God effected nothing in mildly chastising Israel, he now subjoins, — I will make him to ride Some render it, “I will ride:” but as the verb is in Hiphel, (the causative mood,) it is necessary to explain it thus, that God will make Israel to ride. But what does this mean? They who render it, “I will ride,” saw that they departed from what grammar requires; but necessity forced them to this strained interpretation. Others will have על, ol, on, to be understood, “I will make to ride on Ephraim,” and they put in another word, “I will make the nations to ride on Ephraim.” But the sentence will accord best with the context, if we make no change in the words of the Prophet. Nay, they who adduce the comments I have mentioned, destroy the elegance of the expression and pervert the meaning. Thus, then, does God speak, — “Since Ephraim loves treading, and the moderate punishments by which I meant to subdue him avail nothing, I will hereafter deal with him in another way: I will make him,” he says, “to ride:” that is, “I will take him away, as it were, through the clouds.” The Prophet alludes to the lasciviousness and intemperance of Israel; for lust had so carried away that people, that they could not walk straight, or with a steady step, but staggered here and there; as also Jeremiah says, that they were untameable bullocks, (Jer_31:18.) What does God declare? ‘I will make them to ride;’ that is, I will deal with this people according to their disposition. There is a similar passage in Job (30:22) where the holy man complains that he was forcibly snatched away, that God made him to ride on the clouds. ‘God,’ he says, ‘made me to ride,’ (he uses there the same word.) What does it mean? Even that the Lord had forcibly carried him here and there. So also the Prophet says here, — “Israel is delicate, and, at the same time, I see so much voluptuousness in his nature, that he cannot take the yoke; nothing then remains for him but to ride on the clouds. But what sort of riding will this be? Such as that, when the people shall be carried away into exile; since they cannot rest quietly in the land of Canaan, since they cannot enjoy the blessings of God, they shall ride, that is, they shall quickly be taken away into a far country.” We now then see how God dealt with Israel, when he saw what his disposition required; for he could not be constrained to obedience in his own land; it was then necessary to remove him elsewhere, as it was done.
He afterwards subjoins, Judah shall plough, Jacob shall harrow for himself; that is, the remaining portion of the people shall remain in their afflictions. These punishments were indeed grievous, when considered in themselves; but it was far easier and more tolerable for Judah to plough and to harrow among his people, than if he had to ride. Judah then suffered grievous losses, and the Lord chastised him also with afflictions; but this punishment, as I have said, was much less than the other. It was the same as when an ox, drawn out of the stall, is led into the field, and is forced to endure his daily labour; his toil is indeed heavy and grievous; but the ox at least lives after his work, and refreshes himself by his rest during the night. He also undergoes some toil by harrowing, and grows weary; but he returns to the stall; and then his master is not so cruel, but that he grants his ox some indulgence. We hence see the purport of this comparison, that Judah shall plough, and that Jacob, that is, the remaining part of the people, shall harrow; which means, that the rest of the people shall break the clods, — for to harrow among the Latins is to break the clods — but that the Lord will make Ephraim to ride. This, I doubt not, is the genuine sense of the passage; but I leave to others their own free judgement. It now follows —
And Ephraim is as an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn. Ephraim is compared to a heifer trained. The work she was taught to do was treading cut the corn; by training and habit it had became a second nature, so that she took delight in it. The connecting vowel occurs seldom, and usually with an antique coloring in prose, according to Ewald; it is poetical besides, and used in the concourse of words somewhat closely connected, but not in the strict construct state. Thus is אֹהַבֵתִּי accounted for. This work was probably easier, at all events pleasanter, than plowing or harrowing. In treading out corn oxen were not yoked together, but worked singly, treading it with their feet, or drawing a threshing-sledge, or iron-armed cylinder, over it; they were unmuzzled also, so that they were free to snatch an occasional mouthful of the grain, and frequently fattened by such indulgence. Such had been the position of Ephraim in easy employment, comfortable circumstances like the heifer threshing and allowed to eat at pleasure, pleasantly situated prosperous, self-indulgent, and luxurious. The victories of Ephraim—threshing and treading down may perhaps be also hinted at. But I passed over upon her fair neck (margin, the beauty of her neck): I will make Ephraim to ride; Judak shall plough, and Jacob shall break his clods. Times have changed, as is here indicated a yoke, that of Assyria, is placed on the fair neck, a rider is set on the sleek back. Mere onerous and less pleasant labor is now imposed. Judah too is to share the toil, being put to the heavier work of plowing while Jacob—the ten tribes, or the twelve including both Judah and Israel—shall cross plough; and thus both alike shall be henceforth employed in the heaviest labors of the field and the severest toils of agriculture. Once victorious, Ephraim is now to be subdued; once free and intractable, it must now receive the yoke and engage in laborious service. The expression עבר, followed by על, is generally used in a bad sense; “to pass over,” says Jerome, “especially when it is said of God, always signifies inflictions and troubles.” The fatness of the neck is the ox’s ornament or beauty. That is now to be assaulted or invaded gently it may be, and softly, as men are wont to approach a young untamed animal in order to put the yoke upon it. This passing over, however tender, fixes the yoke on Ephraim’s neck all the same. A more difficult word is אדכיב, which Ewald
(1) renders, “I will set a rider” on Ephraim, of course to subdue and tame;
(2) Jerome has, “I will mount or ride,” thus representing Jehovah himself as the mediate rider on Ephraim. The first sense has a parallel in Psa_56:12, “Thou hast made men to ride over our head,” and thus ruling them at pleasure. Unwilling to bear the easy yoke of their Divine Ruler, they shall be subjected to the tyrant mastery of man. But
(3) Keil says the word here is “not” to mount or ride, ‘but’ to drive or use for drawing and driving,’ i.e. to harness,” as to the plough and harrow. This meaning is best reached by understanding the words thus: “I will make the yoke to ride on Ephraim’s neck;” as הרכב is used in 2Ki_13:16, for “put thine hand upon the bow,” margin, “make thine hand to ride upon the bow.” The remaining clauses of the verse is a further development of this expression, but extending to Judah; and thus including both Judah and Ephraim, or Jacob—both kingdoms. The Septuagint version of the last clause is peculiar; it is Παρασιωπήσομαι Ἰούδαν ἐνισχύσει αὐτῷ Ἰακώβ. That is, as explained by Jerome, “I shall leave Judah for the present and say nothing about him; but whoever, whether of Ephraim or Judah, shall observe my precepts, he shall acquire strength for himself and be called Jacob.”
Ephraim is an heifer that is taught and that loveth to tread out the corn – The object of the metaphor in these three verses seems to be, to picture, under operations of husbandry, what God willed and trained His people to do, how they took as much pains in evil, as He willed them to do for good. One thing only they did “which” He willed, but not because He willed it – what pleased themselves. Corn was threshed in the East chiefly by means of oxen, who were either driven round and round, so as to trample it out with their feet, or drew a cylinder armed with iron, or harrow-shaped planks, set with sharp stones which at the same time cut up the straw for provender. The treading out the grain was an easy and luxurious service, since God had forbidden to “muzzle the ox” Deu_25:4, while doing it. It pictures then the sweet gentle ways by which God wins us to His service. Israel would serve thus far, for she liked the service, “she was accustomed” to it, and “she loved it,” but she would do no more. “She waxed fat and kicked” Deu_32:15.
: “The heifer when accustomed to the labor of treading out the corn, mostly, even unconstrained, returns to the same labor. So the mind of the ungodly, devoted to the slaveries of this world, and accustomed to the fatigues of temporal things, even if it may have leisure for itself, hastens to subject itself to earthly toils, and, inured to its miserable conversation, seeks the renewal of toil, and will not, though it may, cease from the yoke of this world’s slavery. This yoke our Lord would remove from the necks of His disciples, saying, “Take heed, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with cares of this life, and that day come upon you unawares” Luk_21:34. And again, “Come unto Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you.” : “Some, in order to appear somewhat in this world, overload themselves with earthly toils, and although, amid their labors, they feel their strength fail, yet, overcome by love of earthly things, they delight in their fatigue. To these it is said by the prophet, “Ephraim is a heifer taught and loving to tread out the corn.” They ask that they may be oppressed; in rest, they deem that they have lighted unto a great peril.”
And I passed over her fair neck – handling her gently and tenderly, as men put the yoke gently on a young untamed animal, and inure it softly to take the yoke upon it. Yet “to pass over” , especially when it is said of God, always signifies inflictions and troubles.” To pass over sins, is to remit them; to pass over the sinner, is to punish him. “I will make Ephraim to ride or I will make it,” i. e., the yoke, “to ride on Ephraim’s” neck, as the same word is used for “place the hand on the bow;” or, perhaps better, “I will set a rider on Ephraim,” who should tame and subdue him. Since he would not submit himself freely to the easy yoke of God, God would set a ruler upon him, who should be his master. Thus, the Psalmist complains, “Thou hast made men to ride on our head” Psa_66:12, directing us at their pleasure.
: “‘The beauty of the neck’ designates those who sin and take pleasure in their sins. That passing over or ascending, said both in the past and the future, ‘I passed, I will make to ride,’ signifies that what He purposes is most certain. It expresses that same vengeance as, ‘Ye are a stiffnecked people; I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and cosume thee’ Exo_33:5. The ‘beauty’ of the ‘neck’ here is the same as the ornament there, when the Lord says, ‘therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.’ As long as the sinner goes adorned, i. e., is proud in his sins, as long as he stiffens his fair neck, self-complacent, taking pleasure in the ills which he has done, God, in a measure, knows not what to do to him; mercy knows not how, apart from the severity of judgment, to approach him; and so after the sentence of the judge, ‘thou art a stiffnecked people, etc.’ He gives the counsel ‘put off thine ornaments etc.’ i. e., humble thyself in penitence, that I may have mercy upon thee.”
Judah shall plow, Jacob shall break his clods – In the will of God, Judah and Israel were to unite in His service, Judah first, Jacob, after him, breaking the clods, which would hinder the seed from shooting up. Judah being mentioned in the same incidental way, as elsewhere by Hosea, it may be, that he would speak of what should follow on Ephraim’s chastisement. : “When they shall see this, the two tribes shall no longer employ themselves in treading out the grain, but shall plow. To “tread out the corn” is to act “in hope of present gain; to “plow,” is to labor in that, which has no instant fruit, but promiseth it hereafter, i. e., the fulfillment of God’s commands.” “Jacob” will then be the remnant of the ten tribes, who, at Hezekiah’s invitation, out of Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Asher, and Zebulun, joined in celebrating the passover at Jerusalem, and subsequently in destroying idolatry 2 Chr. 30; 31. Hosea had already foretold that Judah and Israel shall be “gathered together,” under “one Head” Hos_1:11. Here, again, he unites them in one, preparing His way first in themselves, then, in others. Judah is placed first, for to him was the promise in his forefather, the patriarch, and then in David. Ephraim was to be partaker of his blessings, by being united to him. The image of the heifer has been dropped. He had spoken of them as farmers; as such he addresses them.
He exhorts here the Israelites to repentance; though it seems not a simple and bare exhortation, but rather a protestation; as though the Lord had said, that he had hitherto laboured in vain as to the people of Israel, because they had ever continued obstinate. For it immediately follows —
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy. These two verses contain a call to repentance and reformation of life, in figurative language borrowed from the same department of human industry, לצדי is “for righteousness;” that is, sow such seed as that righteousness may spring from it. לפי הי is “according to,” or “in proportion to, mercy.” When two imperatives are joined, is here, the latter indicates a promise, and may be expressed by a future, as, “Do this and live,” i.e. “ye shall live” (Gen_42:18). Kimchi explains it correctly, thus: “Sow to yourselves, etc; that is, do good in mine eyes, and the recompense from me shall be far greater than your good deeds, just as if one sows a measure (seah), and hopes to reap therefore two measures (seahs) or still more. Therefore, he uses in sowing righteousness, and in connection with reaping grace, in order to intimate that grace surpasses righteousness. Or that God rewards men’s actions, not according to merit, but according to grace. As men sew, they reap; accordingly Israel is directed to sow ac-eroding to righteousness—to act righteously in their dealings with their fellow-men; and their reaping or reward would be, not in proportion to what they had sown, not merely commensurate with their righteous actions or dealings, not proportionate to what justice would give; but in proportion to mercy—Divine mercy, and so far above their highest deserts. They are promised a reward far above their poor doings, and irrespective of their sad failings—a reward, not of debt, not of merit, but of grace. The seed-time of righteousness would be followed by a reaping-time proportionate to the boundless measure of the Divine mercy.
Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you. Here they are urged to turn over a new leaf, as we say; to begin a new life; to root out the weeds of sin; to eradicate those evil passions that checked and stifled any noble feelings, as the husbandman runs his plough through the fallow field, and breaks it up, clearing out the weeds and roots, that the ground may be pure and clean for the sowing of the seed in spring. The LXX; reading נוּרו, instead of נֵיר נירוּ for נִיר, and דָּעַח for וְעֵח translates accordingly by φωτίσατε ἑαυτοῖς φῶς γνώσεως. They are further reminded that it is high time to begin this process, laying aside their stiff-necked, perverse ways; expelling from their heart the noxious growth that had overspread it; and by every way and means working earnestly and zealously for a renewal of life and return to the long-neglected work and worship of Jehovah. Neither were they to relax their efforts till the blessed end was attained, עד, with imperfect, marking the goal to be reached; nor would their efforts be in vain.
The Lord would rain—bestow abundantly upon them, or touch (another and more frequent meaning of the word), their righteousness. Thus the ground that had long lain fallow must be broken up; its waste, wild state must cease and give place to cultivation; the ploughshare must be driven through it; its wild growths and weeds must be cut down and uprooted. A process of renewal must succeed; the vices of their natural state, the idolatrous and wicked practices that had sprung up, must be abandoned. Renewal and radical reform are imperatively demanded. Matters had remained too long in a miserable and unsatisfactory condition. A long night of sinful slumber had overcome them; it was high time to awake out of that sleep. Too long had they shamefully forgotten and forsaken God; it was more than time to wait upon him. Nor would such waiting, if persevered in, end in disappointment; notwithstanding their great and manifold provocations, he would come and rain righteousness in welcome, refreshing, and plenteous showers upon returning penitents; and with righteousness would be conjoined its reward of blessing and salvation, both temporal and spiritual.
Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy – Literally, “in the proportion of mercy,” not in proportion to what you have sown, nor what justice would give, but beyond all deserts, “in the proportion of mercy;” i. e., “according to the capacity and fullness of the mercy of God; what becometh the mercy of God, which is boundless,” which overlooketh man’s failings, and giveth an infinite reward for poor imperfect labor. As our Lord says, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together and running over, shall men give into your bosom” Luk_6:38. : “If the earth giveth thee larger fruits than it has received, how much more shall the requiting of mercy repay thee manifold more than thou gavest!” Sowing and reaping always stand over against each other, as labor and reward. “He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” 2Co_9:6.
And, “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. In due season we shall reap, if we faint not” Gal_6:7-9. We are bidden “to sow to ourselves,” for, “our goodness reacheth not to God” Psa_16:2; our’s is the gain, if we love God, the Fountain of all good. This reward, “according to mercy,” is in both worlds. it is in this world also. For “grace well used draws more grace.” God giveth “grace upon grace” Joh_1:16; so that each good deed, the fruit of grace, is the seed-corn of larger grace. “If thou humble thyself, it stimulates thee to humble thyself more. If thou prayest, thou longest to pray more. If thou givest alms, thou wishest to give more.” It is in the world to come. For, says a holy man , “our works do not pass away as it seems, but each thing done in time, is sown as the Seed of eternity. The simple will be amazed, when from this slight seed he shall see the copious harvest arise, good or evil, according as the seed was.” “Thou seekest two sheaves, rest and glory. They shall reap glory and rest, who have sown toil and self-abasement” .
Break up your fallow ground – This is not the order of husbandry. The ground was already plowed, harrowed, sown. Now he bids her anew, “Break up your fallow ground.” The Church breaks up her own fallow ground, when she stirs up anew the decaying piety of her own members; she breaks up fallow ground, when, by preaching the Gospel of Christ, she brings new people into His fold. And for us too, one sowing sufficeth not. It must be no surface-sowing. And “the soil of our hearts must ever be anew cleansed; for no one in this mortal life is so perfect, in piety, that noxious desires will not spring up again in the heart, us tares in the well-tilled field.”
For it is time to seek the Lord, until He come and rain righteousness upon you – Or better, “until he shall come and teach you righteousness.” To “rain righteousness” is the same image as Solomon uses of Christ; “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth” Psa_72:6, and Isaiah, “drop down ye heavens from above and let the skies pour down righteousness” Isa_45:8. It expresses in picture-language how He, who is “our Righteousness,” came down from heaven, to give life to us, who were dried and parched up and withered, when the whole face of our mortal nature was as dead. Yet there is nothing to indicate that the prophet is here using imagery. The Hebrew word is used very rarely in the meaning, to “rain;” in that of teaching, continually, and that, in exactly the same idiom as here . One office of our Lord was to teach. Nicodemus owned Him, “as a teacher sent from” God Joh_3:2. The Samaritans looked to the Messiah, as one who should “teach all things” Joh_4:25. The prophets foretold that He should “teach us His ways” Isa_2:3, that He should be a “witness unto the people” Isa_55:4.
The prophet bids them “seek diligently,” and perseveringly, “not leaving off or desisting,” if they should not at once find, but continuing the search, quite “up to” the time when they should find. His words imply the need of perseverance and patience, which should stop short of nothing but God’s own time for finding. The prophet, as is the way of the prophets, goes on to Christ, who was ever in the prophets’ hearts and hopes. The words could only be understood improperly of God the Father. God does not “come,” who is everywhere. He ever was among His people, nor did He will to be among them otherwise than heretofore. No coming of God, as God, was looked for, to “teach righteousness.” Rather, the time was coming, when He would be less visibly among them than before. Among the ten tribes, as a distinct people, He would shortly be no more, either by prophecy, or in worship, or by any perceptible token of His providence. From Judah also He was about, although at a later period, to withdraw the kingdom of David, and the Urim and Thummira, and the Shechinah, or visible presence. Soon after the captivity, prophecy itself was to cease. But “the coming of Christ the patriarchs and holy men all along desired to see: Abraham saw it and was glad Joh_8:56. Jacob longed for it Gen_49:18. The law and the prophets directed to it, so that there were always in Israel such as waited for it, as appears by the example of old Simeon and Joseph of Arimathaea, and those many prophets and righteous men whom our Saviour speaks of Luk_2:25; Mar_15:43; Mat_13:17. “He that should come” seems to have been a known title for Him; since John Baptist sent two of his disciples, to say unto Him, “Art thou He that shall come, or do we look for another?” Mat_11:3.
The prophet saith then, “Now is the time to seek the Lord, and prepare for the coming of Christ, for He, when He cometh, will teach you, yea, will give you true righteousness, whereby ye shall be righteous before God, and heirs of His kingdom.” : “So God speaketh through Isaiah, “keep ye judgment and do justice, for My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed.” In both places, people are warned, “to prepare the way” to receive Christ, which was the office assigned to the law. As Paul saith, “Whereunto was the law? It was added because of transgressions.” It was given to restrain the passions of people by fear of punishment, lest they should so defile themselves by sin, as to despise the mercy and office of Christ. It was given to prepare our souls by love of righteousness and mercy to receive Christ, that he might enrich them with the divine wealth of righteousness.” : “If Israel of old were so to order their ways in expectation of Him, and that they might be prepared for His coming; and if their neglecting to do this made them liable to such heavy judgments, how much severer judgments shall they be worthy of, who, after His Coming and raining upon them the plentiful showers of heavenly doctrine, and abundant measure of His grace and gifts of His Holy Spirit, do, for want of breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, suffer His holy word to be lost on them. The fearful doom of such unfruitful Christians is set down by Paul” Heb_6:4-8.
The present is ever the time to seek the Lord. “Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the Day of Salvation” 2Co_6:2. As Hosea says, “it is time to seek the Lord until He come,” so Paul saith, “unto them that look for Him, shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation” Heb_9:28.