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Exiles regretting their lost Home
drawn away from her true love by the fascinations of the world. She prospers outwardly, becomes wise and experienced. She thanks her luck, or friends, or her own capacities. She forgets Him in Whom we live and move, nay, Who has bought us afresh by His
od. Lord, give me, instead of this intoxicating joy, a sober and quiet mind that discerns Thy Hand in all that comes, and thanks Thee always. Let me say with the Psalmist (Ps. lxxiii. 24) :
"With Thee conversing, nought to me
Is dear that earth can give.'
2. The floor and the winepress shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail in her. 3. They shall not dwell in the Lord's land; but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean things in Assyria. 4. They shall not offer wine offerings to the Lord, neither shall they be pleasing unto him: their sacrifices shall be unto them as the bread of mourners; all that eat thereof shall be polluted : for their bread for their soul shall not come into the house of the Lord. Instead of festival sacrifices, libations poured at God's Altar, a holy
meal eaten in His gates with joy, there shall be exile from all that Israel holds dear. Here is reversed the promise of the Fifth Commandment, 'that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.' With what tenderness the Prophet views the people! It grieves him to think of their holidays extinguished, their holy places desecrated, their offerings cut off
. He bids them use festivals and sacred opportunities rightly, while they have them.
5. What will ye do in the solemn day, and in the day of the feast of the Lord? 6. For, lo, they are gone because of destruction: Egypt shall gather them up, Memphis shall bury them : the pleasant places for their silver, nettles shall possess them : thorns shall be in their tabernacles. Festivals turned into mourning; an exile's grave in unholy ground ;
rank grass and weeds growing over ruined shrine and desolate home. These sad visions filled the Prophet's mind when he thought on the future of his country. How different had been God's design for them (Ps. lxxxi. 13): 'O that my people had hearkened unto Me: and that Israel had walked in My ways !' Then all victory, blessing, comfort, had been theirs.
Old Sins visited
7. The days of visitation are come, the days of recompence are come ; Israel shall know it: the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, for the multitude of thine iniquity, and the great hatred. 8. The watchman of Ephraim was with my God: but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. 9. They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah : therefore he will remember their iniquity, he will visit their sins. The Prophet, brooding over sad visions, or sharply denouncing cor
ruption, seemed a fool and madman in the eyes of great people. They hated him. They beset his ways. They preferred to live in vice and idolatry unreproved. Patience! The end will show who are wise and who are foolish. Christ the Lord was treated before Herod as a detected impostor, and His servants have frequently had the same estimate made of them. As to verse nine, I see that the memory and shame of the viciousness of Benjamin (Judges xix.) lasted on. It was a token how soon Israel had declined from God's holy law. It was a sad reproach upon those who had been set apart as 'a holy nation.' I, too, have reason to say, “Remember not the sins and offences of my youth.' Wipe out, O Lord, so much that has been amiss.
10. I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness ; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved. God was refreshed by the devotion of His people in the early days
when He called them. Here were fruits of grace, bright tokens of good. Alas, how soon all this turned into heathen orgies ! They found no satisfaction in serving the true God, but loved to devote themselves to His enemy. Choosing evil, they sank to a lower level and became like the foul god they worshipped. They said at last, ‘Evil, be thou my good.
11. As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception. 12. Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them! 13. Ephraim, as I saw Tyrus, is planted in a pleasant place: but Ephraim shall bring forth his children to the murderer. 14. Give them, O
Wanderers and Fugitives
Lord: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Here is the woe foretold by Moses (Deut. xxviii. 62): 'Ye shall be
left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude : because thou wouldst not obey the voice of the Lord thy God.' Here is the sad gratulation which Jesus spoke of as He walked along the Way of Sorrows: ' Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.' Ephraim's name means 'fruitful.' His blessing was, that his seed should become a multitude of nations. But now all this was reversed, and sterility or speedy loss of offspring was to be his sad reproach. Of spiritual, as well as of natural paternity, it is true that it is God's blessing that makes fruitful. To awaken another heart to new life, to feed it with heavenly nourishment, to lead it gently along the right path-what a privilege, what a glory is this ! But those pastors who seek their own glory, and rely on their own power, will never enjoy it.
15. All their wickedness is in Gilgal : for there I hated them : for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more: all their princes are revolters. Gilgal, which was known by mercies of old, had become a scene of
foul idol-worship. There God's host had mustered when they came up out of Jordan and prepared to conquer the land. There they had renewed their covenant. It was to kings and prophets a sacred shrine. But now what was done there provoked God to utterly abhor His people. Remember always that places are venerable or holy on account of souls. Where God has manifested His power in enlightening, converting, sanctifying, there the place speaks of good. But it is possible for our sins to profane holy ground and undo sacred memories.
16. Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. 17. My God will cast them away, because they did not hearken unto him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations. The Prophet beholds a withered tree, an exterminated family,
fugitives instead of inhabitants. He hears again Cain's sentence pronounced (Gen. iv. 14): 'A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be on the earth. All this meant, in the literal sense, speedy retribution on Israel. The northern tribes are now about to quit for ever Jehovah's beautiful land, and become a herd of exiles scattered here and there over the earth, rest of national hopes and 26
A divided Heart
glories. Yet those among them who truly turned to God amidst their sufferings found Him 'a sanctuary' wheresoever they wandered. He had for them 'thoughts of peace and not of evil' (Jerem. xxix. 11). He turned at their woes into profitable lessons. Those who returned to Him in their exile felt
'We cannot lose ourselves where all is home,
Nor drift away from Thee.'
SRAEL is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto
himself: according to the multitude of his fruit he hath increased the altars ; according to the goodness of his land they have made goodly images. Here is the goodly vine of which Psalm 1xxx. speaks : 'Thou hast
brought a vine out of Egypt : Thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river' (vv. 8-11). Here is the vineyard which the householder planted, hedged, prepared, let out, and of which he expected to receive the fruit (S. Matt. xxi. 33, 34). To what purpose are these luxuriant shoots and mighty branches but to bear fruit for the owner's use? Will God be content that gods of stone should usurp the love and reverence of His people? Such worship is but wild grapes,' not the produce He requires.
2. Their heart is divided ; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images. 3. For now they shall say, We have no king, because we feared not the Lord; what then should a king do to us? 4. They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field. They despise the heavenly King, and find the earthly king is no help
to them. They put their trust in boastful words and fancied friends. From all this policy of shams only disaster springs up, like a rank weed. Lord, let me find Thee my constant Helper, my lifelong Friend. Let me look to none in heaven or earth but to Thee Who art my proved and tried Friend.
The Fortunes of the golden Calf
5. The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of Beth-aven : for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests thereof that rejoiced on it, for the glory thereof, because it is departed from it. 6. It shall be also carried unto Assyria for a present to king Jareb: Ephraim shall receive shame, and Israel shall be ashamed of his own counsel. What, had the golden calf of Bethel to be carried off by the spoiler?
His worshippers were very anxious for his safety. They sent tributes and presents, if only they might keep their precious god. But no, he had to go. If this prediction really came true, and was not meant as a mere expression of contempt for the helpless image, then King Josiah, when he came on his mission of vengeance long afterwards (2 Kings xxiii. 15), found and destroyed only a substitute; the original calf of gold had been carried off. I certainly despise the folly of idolatry. What profit can a graven image be to the poor deluded worshippers ? But, putting my reliance, as I do, on my own ability, character, and power to influence, I am perhaps as silly; and the result shows it.
7. As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water. 8. The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed : 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. Human aid is like the foam or straw floating by on the swift current.
It passes and leaves no trace. The guilty find themselves alone in prospect of God's vengeance. The eighth verse was in our Saviour's memory as He went to His death (S. Luke xxiii. 30); it gave Him words to express terrors to come. If there is indeed to be such a day of retribution, and if the Face of the offended Judge will be so dreadful to meet, have I not need, by multiplied deeds of mercy, to secure the prevailing intercessions of the poor? Those will intercept God's lightnings more effectually than interposing mountains.
9. O Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah : there they stood : the battle in Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them. 10. It is in my desire that I should chastise them; and the people shall be gathered against them, when they shall bind themselves in their two furrows. Wickedness is sure to bring punishment, though it seems to triumph
for a while. So it was with the Benjamites of Gibeah (Judges