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The Saving Power of Love
The opening sentences of Isaiah and Hosea clearly indicate the reason for the division of the Major and Minor Prophets. "The vision of Isaiah, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." "The word of the Lord that came unto Hosea in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel," to "take . . . a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord." Isaiah and Hosea both belong to the same period. They thus represent two sides of advanced states of mind which have come to the surface for judgment. In the first instance we are shocked by the vision of the astounding foolishness of thoughts used to justify perfectly patent violations of the first and great commandment. In the second instance we are prostrated by the consciousness of our consequent unworthiness of the Lord’s love. We have so grossly adulterated it. He sought us for His own, but we have consorted with other gods to our utter degradation.
Making Amends for an Adulterous Love
Chapter 1. We have often talked and sung about the surpassing love of God in visiting his children when at their very worst, and taking their vile nature upon Him, for their salvation. But we fail to catch the inwardness of Incarnation, until we see where we stand in relation to it. We have long been accustomed to hide the evil in ourselves from the eyes of man, to curry favor with the fortunate, to keep aloof from the unfortunate, and to make life as comfortable for ourselves as possible. This state of mind alienates us from those who stand in greatest need of our sympathy and understanding, and possible help. It is an adulterous state of mind, requiring a change of heart such as is involved in avenging "the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu," that is, making reparation for the unlawful seizure of Naboth’s vineyard. Sorrow, at last, breaks the heart that will not permit us to associate with "sinners" (Jezreel), a heart that is merciless toward them (Lo-ruhamah), a heart that denies them the right to be called God’s people (Lo-ammi). Look at the thoughts born of these feelings squarely and honestly, and they will appear in the light. The judgment that restores unity, mercy and equality is not effected through intellectualism, or reasoning, but through love. "I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by Jehovah their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen."
2. Every man is redeemable. "Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi (my people), and to your sisters, Ruhamah" (mercy be upon you). But our proclivity to evil has not yet been uprooted. Mother Church is not yet wedded to the Lord. She returns to her former lovers, though not without some restrictions. We undergo further temptation; we register protest after protest against evil in the heart, and renew our covenant with the Lord, until the old antagonisms and prejudices cease to have the attraction and claim which they formerly had upon us. "And I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God."
3. They were still an adulterous generation, yet He came to save them out of love for them. And so Hosea bought back his erring wife like a slave, and withheld from her certain marital irregularities, to whet her love for him. This works for good to those who love God. "Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days."
Lust Infects Our Principles,
Beliefs, and Thoughts
4. The love of evil is stronger than we are prepared to admit. "Like people, like priest. . . . Whoredom and new wine take away the heart." Lust is tantamount to whoredom. Wandering lusts and conceit in self-intelligence are frightfully damaging to character. Irreligion in any form is essential adultery, although it does not appear in this light until recognized as destructive of marital love. "Hell as a whole is called adultery, and heaven as a whole is called a marriage" (Marital Love #520). They who are in evil are blind to this, but they who are imbued with love to the Lord perceive the greater degradation inherent in the least evil in the thought of the heart.
5. Priest, king and people alike "will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord." They seek the Lord, and cannot find Him: for they have dealt treacherously against Him. They persist in mistaking falsity for the truth. The love of corruption and impurity is still a prevailing influence in their lives. They cannot escape a judgment. Their increasing unhappiness and distress on account of the sufferings of others awaken conscience. "I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early."
Repentance Is Short-lived
6. We listen to the voice of love, which tells us what the Lord requires of us, and cry out, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord, and he will revive us." But our constancy is short-lived. "O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away." Even so are the rapid fluctuations from evil to good, and good to evil, that go on in the mind when tried and tempted. How well we recognize our inclinations to accept and reject the truth by turns. "The Lord desires loving kindness and not sacrifice (mere external worship); and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." We pass through many transitions before we are prepared to lose our own life bit by bit, to find a different life in the Lord.
The Lust Is Deep and Intractable
7. "When I would have healed Israel," outside interests interfered, and spoiled the prospect. How often this happens! Old interpretations of Scripture (Ephraim), and worldly ambitions (Samaria), break down our morale. "They do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him for all this. Ephraim is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria." Instead of being steadfast for the right, like a dove flying aimlessly, we appeal to reason and knowledge in support of our weaknesses. "Yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not." The signs of senility and decrepitude are there, and we are oblivious to it. "They have not cried unto me with their heart. . . . Their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue: this shall be their derision in the land of Egypt." As a matter of fact according to the testimony of history (Egypt), war is the world’s greatest folly. No one wins; everyone loses: and yet, they fight to gain power that never lasts. What a terrible illusion!
8. The enemy is on the way to desolate the land for their idolatry and disloyalty to God. It is not of the Lord that the throne of Israel was unstable. The people must look for the cause in the worship of the golden calf. "The workman made it; therefore it is not God." It shall be broken in pieces. "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." The use or reason and knowledge to win "a place in the sun" brings only sorrow and desolation. "For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities (illegitimate vested interests): but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof."
Lewdness Is a Chronic Condition
9. The prophet refers again and again to the lewdness of the people. The heart is at fault. And then it is no time for rejoicing. Evil sometimes prospers, while good is luckless. Our joy in life rings true only so far as we have set our hearts right with God. The falsification of the truth to excuse any lust or passion favors the worship of the world, and not of God. The days of visitation will follow. "Israel shall know it." We are depressed to some purpose when the Word enables us to analyze the cause, and brings relief with the Lord’s help. But frequently we need to meet the worst, before we seek the better. "My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto Him, and they shall be wanderers among the nations."
10. This chapter unveils a very subtle evil. "Israel is a luxuriant vine: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars. . . . The thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us. . . . Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy. . . . In a morning shall the king of Israel be cut off." We find it pays to be cooperative. The more we do for others, the more we look for approbation, and the more sensitive we are to criticism, until we wish for non-existence, when under the apprehension of a lashing, justly or unjustly. We are bereft of sound judgment! Where is our religion?
Ingratitude, Punishment and Mercy Follow
11. We all recognize the Lord’s mercy in the joy of learning during childhood, and the call to use our knowledge of right and wrong to good account. The more He required of us, however, the more we turned to idols. He opened our understanding of His Word, taught us to walk, and healed the bruises from hard knocks in a heartless world. "They knew not that I healed them. I drew them with hands of love . . . . My people are bent on backsliding from me . . . . How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I surrender thee, Israel? . . . Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger. . . . They shall walk after the Lord. . . . And I will place them in their houses, saith the Lord." With all this kindness, mercy and pity in mind, how can we ever prove false to Him? Yet, "Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God, and is faithful with the saints." The heart is right, and will set the house in order in time.
12. Ephraim represents the understanding of the Word which is falsified by "reasonings originating in the delights of the natural man," that is, the flesh. All through life the Lord strives to reach man through His Word, and lead him into a noble and free life. "Therefore turn thou unto thy God," pleads the prophet, "keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually." History, however, is not very encouraging. In the past, as we well know, the Church of God has prided herself in the possession of the Bible and imposing rituals in worship. She was under the guardianship of the Lord. Nevertheless, the people falsified and adulterated the Word, and substituted ritualism for life-worship. Is it any better with us today?
Harder Trials Are Just Growing Pains
13. To all appearances world conditions today are worse than they were last century. In reality, however, that "worse" is here on the surface as an evidence of still greater wrongs within. They are here for judgment. "Now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsman. . . . Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away. . . . Yet I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no savior beside me. . . . O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities. . . . I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes." All of this has no meaning for us, unless we see the situation in ourselves, and feel it too. We are not necessarily in a worse condition than formerly; but whereas we were blind to it before, now our eyes are opened to our low estate.
14. And so we turn to the Lord, confessing that human prudence is insufficient to direct our course through life (Asshur is untrustworthy), and that idolatry is spiritual suicide. We then open our hearts to be guided by the Lord through a right understanding of his Word. Ephraim has returned to the Lord, who gives the promise: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him" (Ephraim). The curse is in the false interpretation of the Word that justifies wrong feelings. The blessing that follows lies hidden within a pure understanding of the truth, as dew unto Israel, growing like a lily, beauteous as the olive tree, scented as Lebanon. When freed from idolatry Ephraim is like a green fir tree. "From me is thy fruit found." Our thoughts from the Lord are perennially fresh, and eminently fruitful. The name Ephraim means "fruitful." All intelligence and right-living are from the Lord. "Who is wise, and he shall understand these things; prudent, and he shall know them? For the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein."
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