WHY are the people of Israel outside the land of their national home (in 1946)? Ten of the tribes are hidden; the remaining two tribes, numbering several millions, are dispersed throughout the world. They are not colonists helping to build an empire, but exiles without a home, yet they remain distinct, and have kept the race pare. Palestine, the country from which they were driven is a bone of contention for many peoples, and none feel happy in having to do with it. Placed strategically between Europe and Asia and at the door of Africa, holding a position within short-reach of Europe's gateway to the Far East and southern Pacific seas; Palestine holds the key to many political problems. More and more the attention of the great nations is being riveted on Israel's ancient land. While it was held by Turkey there was little interest taken in the undeveloped country, other than that aroused by religious sentiment; but when the Turks were driven out, and a vigorous-minded people such as the Jews began once again to press their claims, Palestine assumed first-class importance.
But neither politics nor controlled and organized settlement, nor even giving back the land to the Jews will solve the problems which Palestine presents. The return of the Jews has necessarily a definite connection with their departure. The answer to the question also bears directly on the manner of their return.
Why was Israel exiled? Why do they still remain in exile? Will they always be a nation homeless and down-trodden? No mere human mind could answer these questions.
History records many facts, and historians add their explanations; but those who learn the ways of God from His inspired Word have an infallible guide to history, and a perfect explanation of the ways of men. The Word of God explains history as no human commentary can. History written by the hand of man without divine inspiration, is little more than the human mind making a system of the actions of men and groups, without a reason for the beginning, and blind as to the end. God, in the moral history of man which He has given and preserved in the written record, discovers the motives which prompt the actions of men and guides the activities of nations, showing the principles that are at work in the conduct of men everywhere and at all times. He has also told in the prophetic Word the reasons for the changes that have taken place in the government of the world, as well as the principles of the government itself. He is God, so knows the end from the beginning, and in gracious kindness He adds what the end of all things will be; that end must glorify His ways. By the revelation of that which is coming He warns those who have ears to hear, and where there is faith to respond, the soul is encouraged in hope to look to God and wait on Him, while the world, which has departed from the knowledge of God, is sunk in moral- darkness. The hope of faith is in God's intervention in power according to His revealed counsels of grace. The faithful in Israel were taught to wait for the day of deliverance when grace would triumph over their guilt.
The Old Testament tells of a long period of trial in which individuals and governments ran their course of history, but ending always in a collapse of government, and the death of the individual, save in two notable instances. Each trial was complete in itself, and on the occasion of every failure God brought out some new resource of His wisdom and grace, but men grew only more guilty.
God called Abraham out from idolatrous surroundings to walk by faith before Him. A nation sprang from Abraham, and in it, for a time, God made known His ways of government to the world. But all was over-shadowed from the beginning by the failure and sin of the people.
When those favoured people had corrupted their ways, and had so far forgotten God that they sought to identify His holy Name with every kind of evil into which they had fallen, God brought out the means He would use to maintain relationship with His people. In grace He raised up a prophet, and identified Himself with the faithful heart of His messenger, who felt the burden of the unfaithful conduct of His people: God expressed through the medium of a human heart His abhorrence of their sin. The prophet gives voice to the true sentiments which the state of the people would awaken in a heart which enters into it with God. He reproaches the people, but brings before their minds the loving-kindness of the LORD, going back over their happier days to appeal to their hearts, and pleads His goodness and care.
Jehovah had taken the children of Israel into the most intimate relationship with himself; they were His elect people; He had chosen them, redeemed them, brought them to Himself, and married them (Jeremiah 3:4). He had entered into a contract of mutual trust with them; they were to be His and His alone. He would care for them, feed them, protect them and advance them. They were to know no other. He would be their Lord, King, and Husband. (See Isaiah 41:8, 13, 14; 43:15; 1 Samuel 12:12; Jeremiah 3:20; 31:32.). He would bless them with every earthly benefit if they remained true to Him; but they were unfaithful to their relationship, arousing His jealousy, and bringing all those with whom they consorted into judgment.
Outward enemies may be the cause of intense distress of spirit, but nothing brings such suffering to the soul as the treachery of a friend. The unfaithfulness of one bound in the closest relationship which nature knows, casts the heart into the deepest distress. When confidence is betrayed the wound is deep; where can the heart turn? But love cannot forsake its object, though hurt beyond endurance; vengeance does not bring a remedy. The evil must be denounced in terms dictated by the depth of the wound; but love finds its resource in its own strength, and by its very vehemence carries the thoughts beyond the guilt, into channels of blessing for its beloved object.
It is the story of Israel's unfaithfulness in the most sacred bonds of marriage by which Jehovah had bound her to himself that the prophet Hosea acts in parable. Amongst the minor prophets he is the one who most fully exposes the moral conditions of Israel which led to their rejection by Jehovah, and unfolds the connection between the moral dealings of God and His unchangeable counsels of grace, which bring Israel to repentance and enjoyment of those counsels.
The prophecy of Hosea is divided into two parts. Chapters 1-3 set out the moral condition of the people which led to their rejection, and the revelation of God's purpose for their ultimate blessing. In the rest of the book the prophet addresses the people in the name of Jehovah, distinguishing Israel from Judah, but remonstrating with the whole people together for their ingratitude, and indifference to Jehovah's love for them.
Hosea appears on the scene near the close of the history of Israel, in the reign of Jeroboam, and the prophecy extends over a period which began in the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, and ended in the reign of Hezekiah, a period of more than fifty years. His name signifies "help" or ''salvation'', an appropriate name for the messenger of the LORD who is sent to pronounce judgment on the moral state of the people, and at the same time declare the unchangeable counsels of God, who is the Saviour of His people.
Israel is considered as rebellious right from the beginning of the prophecy. The prophet is told to take a wife, a woman who would prove unfaithful to him, for he must taste the bitterness in his own soul of that which he had to say to Israel. ''The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master" (Luke 6:40). The corrupt woman would serve as a prophetic type of Israel who had defiled all her ways. The betrayal of the confidence of his love would rend his heart, and the conflict of feelings within would cause him to be out-spoken with righteous indignation; yet as he spoke for God, who acts according to His nature of love, a way of blessing must be found.
The offspring from such a union tell the sorry story of Israel's moral history. A son is born, and he is named Jezreel. The name was to call to the mind of Israel the judgment of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 9:30-37; 10:11), Israel would know the same judgment. Later a daughter is born to the woman, and she is given the name Lo-ruhamah, meaning, "not having obtained mercy". The judgment upon Israel would be final, the time of path e was over. For a little longer the Kingdom of Judah would go on, kept by the power of God, but all was over for Israel, until sovereign grace in the last days gathers a repentant people. Another son is born, to bear the name Lo-amrai, "not my people". If the withdrawal of the mercy of God from Israel brought the captivity and loss of the ten tribes, His judgment of Judah would plunge the whole nation under the terrible sentence, "not my people"; and Jehovah, would no longer be their God.
Without hesitation, but as clearly as He pronounces the judgment of the people, God proclaims the counsels of His sovereign grace; for God does not see with the eyes of men. He loves, He sees the evil and condemns it, He has purposed to bless the object of His love, and only by the exercise of His sovereign grace can He bring blessing to His people— He will do it. They shall yet be called His people as fully blessed, and, such is His grace, the door is left open for others besides the Jew. "Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God" (verse 10). The Holy Spirit who inspired these words left the door open to the Gentiles who would receive the gospel before Israel awakens to repentance, and Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, uses the verse in this way (Romans 9:24-26). But more is added in the prophecy; the children of Judah and the ten tribes will be gathered together under one head, in the great day of Jezreel, the day of God's sowing, for that is what the name signifies.
The connection between the counsels of God in grace and His affection must now be developed in the unfolding of His ways with Israel. The prophet is to make a distinction between the children, who entered into the truth of their position as they heard it from the prophet, and the mother who represented Israel as a whole. Instructed by God, the prophet could do it; and to those whom he owned as his brethren, Ammi (my people), and his sisters, Ruhamah (received mercy), he could attach the effect of all that God had given to Israel in the promise of old. His brethren were recognized by their submission to the word of God as delivered by the prophet, a sure guide for faith. The Lord Jesus Christ said when here, "For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother" (Matthew 12:50). But when looking at Israel as a nation, God had to plead with her as the unfaithful mother. He would not own her as married to Him or call Himself her Husband. Surely she would repent when shamed; unless she turned from her false lovers, who could never satisfy her, Jehovah would punish her without pity before the world, and the children she had borne while following a false religion would find no mercy.
Finding no satisfaction with strangers, and her path made too difficult to follow, she would be forced to return to Jehovah (verse 7). For long she had been worshipping Baal, and preparing love-feasts for a strange god, without knowing that all her benefits were the gift of God (verse 8). Jehovah would return and take away her benefits, then she would learn in bitterness the futility of seeking happiness with strangers. Her dwelling-place would be a wilderness, but she would not realize that it was Jehovah who had allured her into such a place where she would have no distractions. He would separate her from others, and make her home a wilderness, so that He might speak to her heart, and bring her to realize the grace which gives all that His love desires her to have. God alone could act like this towards one so guilty. He only has the right and is able to find the grace to forgive so freely without being indifferent to her sin.
The valley of Achor, where judgment first fell on Israel for unfaithfulness when they entered Canaan, will become a door of hope. Israel will learn how the grace of God triumphs over guilt and judgment.
Israel had not known the nearness of her relationship with Jehovah, she only thought of herself as a servant, and called Him "Master"; she will yet learn the relationship and will call Jehovah "Husband". Her enemies will be subdued, and a new existence will begin for her, and she will walk faithfully in the knowledge of the LORD. A chain of blessing reaching from Jehovah in heaven above down to Israel on earth, will be secured to bring all the blessings of God to Jezreel. Those who are of His sowing (Jezreel), will find mercy (Ruhamah), and be known as His people (Ammi). Israel, will say, "Thou art my God".
The chapter began with the prophet's recognition of a remnant in Israel, and the rejection of the nation as a whole; those known are called the brethren of the prophet, they enter into his mind and heart. It closes with the acceptance and blessing of a repentant nation, after God in His wisdom has stripped Israel bare and forced her to turn to the only source of comfort, even to Jehovah, her first Husband. He is ready to receive her, and it is on the grounds of His grace and faithfulness alone that she may return. He will perform His promises, and grace alone will give Israel part in them, for they have forfeited every right to partake in them.
Again the prophet is told to act a part which would show Israel's past, present, and future history. He is to take one beloved of her friend, but faithless, and place her in the position into which Israel had now brought herself. She belonged to another, yet was set apart as though friendless. Jehovah loved Israel, who took to other gods (verse 1), He had to set her aside; and Israel would be without a religion, true or false; with no knowledge of God; having neither a king, a prince, a priest, or a sacrifice, nor even an idol. But after many years they would return and seek Jehovah their God, and David their king, in the fear of Jehovah. They would honour the royal line begun in David, reaching its perfect fulfilment in Christ, whose kingdom is everlasting; none can change it when set up in power.
Already, in these three chapters we have the answer to the questions raised. The people of Israel are in exile because they forsook Jehovah, and have forgotten the love of their espousals (Jeremiah 2:2.). No pleading proved of any avail (2 Chronicles 36:14-16). They remain in exile, for they do not yet believe the prophets, neither do they know the LORD in the revelation He has made of Himself. They will not always be homeless, but will return and seek the LORD, when, in seeking to gain a place for themselves they are weary of trying to please others. The world will be made a wilderness to them; then with repentant hearts they will hope in the mercy of Jehovah. God is faithful who has promised, and He will in fulness of grace establish all His promises.
He is no true friend of the Jew who encourages him to build on false grounds. Politics will not solve the problem, but grace working in the hearts of an erring people, in power by the Spirit of God, will open their eyes in the day of their extremities. God has not entirely cast off His people, He knows them in the secret of His counsels; because of their sin, He has had to withdraw Himself from them and leave them to the will of their enemies, until they are ready to acknowledge the LORD, and their Messiah— King David's greater Son, which they will do when they see Him.
The prophet continues on God's behalf to appeal to the consciences of the people, opening up in detail the cause of His governmental rejection of them. Before they can enter into lasting blessing, Israel must learn the guiltiness of the natural heart (Jeremiah 17:9). and that mere natural tendencies of the human heart lead into a false position, away from God. Blessings can only be fully enjoyed when they are realized as coming from God, and then praise is the fruit for God.
There was ''no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land". The people had failed, so had the prophets. The knowledge of God had been rejected; there was no true religion, so the priests were rejected by God; they had grown like the people.
They had built high-places which were centres of idol-worship; the groves provided an excellent shadow to cover their abominations. All was wrong, and the jealousy of the heart of God is reflected in the figures the prophet uses, too clear to require comment. Israel had been loose with her affections; but Judah was still kept by the power of God a little longer.
All that should have been sacred to Israel could not now be mentioned. Gilgal, the place where the reproach of Egypt was rolled away (Joshua 5:9), and where the angel of the LORD had dwelt (Jude 2:1) for power in Israel, was no more to be regarded. The house of God (Beth-el) had become a house of iniquity (Beth-aven). The LORD did not want to hear His name from their lips.
Ephraim (the chief of the ten tribes) had gone beyond remonstrances; joined to his idols, he must taste the sourness of his false joy, and the sorrow of his shameless pleasures. The figures used are too plain to be misunderstood. Love is sensitive, and no language is too strong to condemn illicit love; everything is shattered when the sweetest ties are shamelessly flouted; though grace may be found for repentance.
Does Christendom know nothing of this? The Church is warned against things that are an abomination to the Lord (Revelation 2 and 3). Are there no high-places? Places of worship where sacrifices are offered, but not to a known God in spirit and in truth? Only the pleading of the love of Christ, in grace drawing the heart after Him, will keep the affections right in an evil day. The Holy Spirit is the power in the Church to give the knowledge of Christ and of that which is dear to His heart. But Christians may, through the self-will of the flesh, quench the Spirit, to their sorrow and deep hurt.
Priests, people, and the house of the king are addressed: all alike are guilty, and ignore the rebuke. The prophet speaks of places which should have reminded Israel of past interventions of God for their good, but now God would interfere in judgment. Israel and Ephraim were proud and wicked; Judah was following their example and would fall with them.
Israel's moral state (verse 8) was no better than in the clays of the judges when Benjamin was .smitten in Gibeah for his frightful sin (Judges 20). Ephraim, the largest tribe, would be made desolate; he walked after the commandment of men, not in the fear of Jehovah. Ephraim was sick through his sin; Judah was wounded, they both turned to the Assyrian for help. Vain is the help of man; nothing could save them from the judgment of Jehovah, God would be to them as a lion that tears its prey: then He would return and wait till they acknowledge their offence and seek Him. Again we see that it is through trial and sorrow Israel is made aware that only Jehovah can save them.
The poor heart of man does not know its own weakness. Not afraid to offend God— yet in its misery, the result of its folly, it turns to God. Though it finds itself under the chastening hand of God it knows grace and mercy belong to Him. But it is faith that counts on His healing when there is nothing in sight on which to rest, Jehovah will receive Israel, revive and raise them up.
The prophet is the vessel of faith, and in him the Spirit of God appeals to the people to come just as they are. Jehovah knows His own love for them, and by the mouth of the prophet reveals the grace in which He is ready to receive them. The Spirit of Christ spoke by the prophet, and in Christ the raising on the third day was to be perfectly fulfilled. Israel will be revived in a future day.
The words of Hosea are not always easy to follow, but the Spirit of the words is unmistakable. When Jehovah raises up Israel according to His power and grace they shall be healed indeed, and they will follow on to know Him more and more.
The going forth of His nature is love in perfect light, and it is as sure as the morning dawn. The grace that Israel will know is as the latter rain which fills out the grain. In contrast, the goodness of Ephraim and Judah is as a vapour which quickly vanishes.
The words of the prophet have been severe, but they have not been spoken without affection. The judgments of the LORD are as light to the soul which does not harden itself against Him.
Jehovah delights in reality, desiring true piety, not the mere forms of religion. Sacrifices for sin and burnt-offerings give Him no pleasure; but the knowledge of God which bows the heart in obedience to His word, and counts on His favour, gives Him delight. Israel had not kept the covenant, but like Adam they had disobeyed the commandment of God; and the enjoyment of the blessings of God depended on their obedience.
The rapid transition from a burst of indignation against the treachery of Israel and Ephraim, to the consolation of the promised harvest for Judah when Jehovah ends their captivity, reveals the love of Jehovah which cannot rest until His grace is fully active towards His people for their blessing. The very vileness of their sin will cause Him to act in judgment, and in mercy, if they are to be saved.
Continuing with the tale of Israel's many sins, the prophet says the people made the king and princes glad with their wickedness; instead of fulfilling the responsibilities of God's ordained authority, the king took pleasure in the iniquities of the people. Evil was working in all classes and had leavened the whole nation; the rulers rested while the leaven worked in the hearts of the people.
Ephraim was growing old in his sin, and was overtaken by it, without knowing he had lost his strength to turn from it (verse 9). They called to Egypt and Assyria for help (verse 11), but Jehovah would chasten them (verse 12), for He had redeemed them, and they had no regard for Him but spoke lies against Him (verse 13).
In their distress they howled on their beds, but they did not cry unto God. They sought relief, but not from Jehovah. Could they have been more deceived by the folly of sin?
Jehovah had bound them to Himself by bonds of affection, yet they treated Him as a stranger. He wanted reality from them, not mere forms of religion.
The blowing of the trumpet was to proclaim publicly God's rights in His people; He would now come quickly in judgment. The house of the LORD had been defiled, the people had made altars of their own. Though Israel cry ''My God, we know thee'', it did not come from their heart. The golden calf, brought from Egypt, was still with them; it would not deliver them, God would punish them severely. Having sown the wind, they should reap the whirlwind.
The ten tribes are chiefly in view for they openly forsook the worship of Jehovah, and turned to idolatry. Judah was still outwardly owned, but their hearts were astray.
The whole chapter discloses the impiety of the people, and pronounces the judgment of God. The law of the LORD had become strange to them, and they had forgotten their Maker; judgment would descend on them.
God would withhold their joy, and Israel would not be allowed to dwell in Jehovah's land. It is His land, and He will say who is to live in it.
Again God speaks to Ephraim; they would find themselves in other lands, even return to Egypt, and go away to Assyria as captives, for God cannot allow impiety to pollute His land indefinitely, nor remain in His house, though He shows great patience.
The links which God had formed to maintain His relations with Israel, were made useless by the enormity of the evil; the prophet appeared a fool, and the spiritual man spoke incoherently—who would understand? (verse 7).
Ephraim looked to others besides God; the prophet, God's watchman, would be no help, only a hindrance to his soul; all would be in confusion through the greatness of Ephraim's sins. Gibeah (Judges 19) is again brought to the mind of the prophet, the place where unbridled passion cost all Israel so much; Ephraim would be decimated for his sin even as Benjamin was.
The judgment of Ephraim would be fearful, because he turned from God who had blessed him abundantly, and sought after Baal-peor even before they entered Canaan; their old transgression remained with them. Ephraim would be driven away and he would wander amongst the nations; a sentence he suffers under to this day.
The Spirit of God, who searches the hearts of men and discovers the motives for all their actions, reproaches Israel for the sins first seen amongst them. The golden calves brought with them out of Egypt, and the altars set up after the pattern of the heathen altars, were the development of the idolatry learned in Egypt, and caused the rejection of Israel as God's witness on earth. God would destroy their statues and break down their altars; the people themselves would go into captivity to those on whom they leaned—Assyria—and their images be given to the king of Jareb as a present.
The terrible sin of Gibeah which so characterized Israel's behaviour with the gods of strangers, was part of their early history in the land; it followed soon after the death of Joshua. How quickly Israel fell into sin when Joshua was dead! All had now ripened, and the LORD by the prophet tells the whole story of that which had been working for hundreds of years; the fruit was bitter.
There was not a sacred place or memory in Israel— everything connected with the ways of God had been perverted. Their sin merited their destruction.
God again speaks of the love He bore to Israel, and reminds them of their early days when He first made His name great amongst them. When He called them they went after Him, but soon they fell into the ways of their neighbours. The nations around worshipped nature and all the attributes of God, but excluded God Himself. The works of God may become objects of adoration and Himself be forgotten.
Israel has not yet learned the full meaning of the first verse of this chapter. They will forget their old history so full of wickedness, and begin afresh under a new covenant. Their old history began when they were called and redeemed out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses. All that history is closed as far as blessing is concerned; they will get no blessing merely as law-keepers. Blessing depending on Israel's responsibility to keep the terms of the first covenant made at Sinai is lost forever. Moses, the lawgiver, could not lead them into the land; Joshua, the saviour, led them into Canaan, though still under law. But the children of Israel failed to keep the law; and refused the warning of the prophets. God began Israel's history anew in the true Servant—Christ. [In Isaiah 49 Israel was Jehovah's servant (verse 3), but all the work came to nothing (verse 4). Then Messiah takes the place of Israel (verse 5) and begins completely anew, finding a more glorious inheritance in Israel's place. At the close of the chapter Israel is recognized in the faithful remnant, who are owned as the people of God, for He is their Saviour and their Redeemer in a new way, through their Messiah.] Christ fulfilled the first verses of this prophecy in the days of His flesh; Israel's history was beginning afresh and they did not know it.
The picture revealing the tenderness and care with which Jehovah taught Ephraim to walk and go on his way, is most affecting. A parent's interest and care could scarcely be more intimately described (verse 3, 4), everything had been done to ease the way for Ephraim. God would not allow Egypt to enslave him again, but the Assyrian would chasten him.
Love cries out against the judgment (verse 8). How could God in His love give them up to destruction such as Admah and Zeboim suffered (Deuteronomy 29: 23). God is not man; He pardons that He might be feared. He will rise up and "roar" to make all people know His presence; then shall the children of Israel come, trembling and submissive, to their houses, restored to them by Jehovah.
But the prophet, by the Spirit, must show what the real state of Ephraim and the house of Israel is, though Judah was still kept outwardly faithful. However great the sin, God cannot forsake His own.
Ephraim, Judah, and Jacob — the whole house of Jacob — come in for reproof. In doing so God goes back to His dealings with the man Jacob. There was a time when God spoke directly to Jacob in a most intimate way. Jacob sought the blessing of God; he prevailed over his brother to get it. From his birth he made every effort to gain the portion of the firstborn. When the angel of the LORD wrestled with him Jacob more than held his ground; after that he sought God at Bethel (the house of God), and there he learned His name. Surely the memory of these things ought to have had their effect, and awakened the house of Jacob to a sense of their relationship with God, and made His children seek to know His favour. Jacob turned away the anger of God by his persistence, but now Israel looked to others. Ephraim had grown rich by deceit, and would not confess his sin (verse 8).
Jehovah God who brought them out of Egypt was their Deliverer. He had spoken to them often by the mouth of prophets; but it was all in vain. Their sacrifices were not acceptable; though they had multiplied their altars, it only increased their sin.
Jacob had been a fugitive, and Israel had been a wanderer led by a prophet of the LORD. Every past relationship is pressed, but they were deaf to Jehovah's persuasion. Why were Ephraim's ears closed to the entreaties of the LORD? Why are they still closed?
In proportion as Ephraim was little in his own eyes, he was great in Jehovah his God, who was his strength. When he gave his strength to Baal, the chief god of the Phoenicians and Canaanites, he died.
Nothing but God, really known, will satisfy the heart; without Him the heart is restless, and multiplies its gods and builds many altars, which never meet its need. Where God is known He does not merely fill a void in the human heart; He is revealed to the heart, and the knowledge of what He has done takes the thoughts of man away from himself, where they have become centred. When the perfect certainty of the love of God is known then there is rest; the heart has found it in Him.
Again and again the grace in the pleading of the prophet triumphs over the expression of indignation and judgment aroused by Israel's iniquities. The deliverance from Egypt when God was their Deliverer, and the wilderness journey when God lived in a tent with Israel, proved His loving-kindness. But Israel grew fat on the pastures of Canaan, and forgot the God who provided for them in the day of need. Israel had made judgment morally necessary, but the counsels of grace made salvation imperative. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help found" (verse 9).
God had purposed every blessing for them, but in their impatience they sought their own way to obtain them. They would not wait for the king of God's choice—David—but they asked for one, to be like the nations. They were given a king—Saul—but he did not serve God with a whole heart, so he lost the kingdom. Still God gave them that which they desired (verse 11).
Grace displaces every thought of judgment in the prophet's pleading. We are not left in doubt why Lo-ruhumah (not having obtained mercy) was written over Israel.
The most striking note in the prophecy is that which reveals the unchangeable character of the goodness of God. Prophetically He opens the way for Israel to return to Him; He always desired to do them good, but Israel changed greatly. The patience of God was abused by those whose eyes sin had blinded to their shame.
If the expressions of judgment are severe it is because the wickedness demanded it; and the surpassing grace of God is more wonderful in its triumph.
A last appeal to Israel by the prophet who put words into their mouths, paves the way for their repentance and recovery. They learn to say prophetically that Assyria cannot save them, nor their gods bring them deliverance. The faithful remnant will, through the grace of God acting on their hearts, learn the language of Hosea; and Jehovah will heal their backsliding. What they have lost is all kept for them in the grace of Jehovah God, but at the moment there is a veil on their hearts.
“Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do with idols’?”, “Jehovah says, ‘I have heard him and observed him’.” Ephraim adds, ‘I am like a green fir tree’”. “Jehovah responds, ‘From me is thy fruit found’” (verse 8).
Nothing can alter the word of the LORD; all will be accomplished in wisdom and grace, and by the power of God. "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" (verse 9). The wise and understanding may go straight forward in the day when the power of the LORD is revealed, and in that day evil-doers will fall in their own wickedness.
The heart of the prophet wrestles in the toils of anger, anguish, and affection. He pleads on behalf of Jehovah as a jealous husband robbed of the affections of his wife whom he had won in the days of her youth, only to find a total indifference to the suffering she has caused.
Jehovah had given freely when Israel asked of Him, but the moral character of His relationship with Israel made it necessary for Him to take everything away when Israel had polluted herself. Israel cannot say anything has been unjustly withheld; they have only themselves to blame. The prophet Ezekiel says that they will think of the past with loathing (Ezekiel 20:41), when brought back in the mercy and goodness of God.
The heart of God entered into the state of the people, for He is not indifferent to their sufferings, though they have brought their sorrows on themselves. Until He again publicly acknowledges Israel they will not understand His ways.
Israel has to learn that their future blessing does not rest on the principle of law; for the law was given when the people were already transgressors, and the law gave no power to fulfil it. A broken law leaves no door 'open for recovery, it pronounces the sentence of death. Life eternal is the gift of God; it did not come by Adam, or Moses, it came by Jesus Christ, He is that life. His resurrection is the proof of its power, and it is not for the Jews only, but it is for all those who are brought into relationship with God, not on the principle of law, but on the principle of faith.
The reason for Israel's exile is plain; but God has not cast away Israel for ever, though the whole nation is now set aside. The Jews assert themselves with the persistence of Jacob, but God will wrestle with them. They will not know His name until He, by His overruling providence, brings them again to His land. The world-powers dispute the ownership of the land (1946), but God has never given up His rights: He reserves to Himself the right to settle in Palestine whom He will. God has sworn to give the land to the seed of Abraham; but He does not count them Abraham's children who have not the faith of Abraham. Ishmael has no inheritance in Canaan, though he was the son of Abraham. Jacob found the blessing of the firstborn, and Esau lost the place because he despised the inheritance as given of God. In the heart of Jacob there was faith resting on God's promise, in spite of his many failures. There was no faith in Esau, and both were the sons of Isaac and Rebecca.
Every understanding heart in Israel today knows that Palestine belonged to Israel only because God gave it to them, and if they are to return as a nation to their old home, they must do so believing in God, and reckoning on His mercy, otherwise they cannot hold it. If Zionists take the Bible as their mandate, they must believe what it says, not in part only but acknowledging it as the "Word of God. Not a word which they may judge, but a word which judges them. If they count on the promise of God made to Abraham, then they must have faith in God, or the promise means nothing. If they profess to hear God, they must hear His prophets, and believe their testimony. They will know whether the prophets speak the truth, by the word judging in their consciences, and because the things foretold come to pass. But for a prophecy to have Value, it must be believed in before fulfilment, and the word exercise its power in the heart, as the Word of God.
The word of prophecy is not a mere foretelling of coming events; the prophets are sent to awaken the people to a sense of their moral defection by exposing their state in the light of that which God first set up. The prediction of judgment is a necessary part of the prophet's mission, for God will have men know that He governs, and will bring about a known end which will be for His own glory where evil will find no place.
Gentiles stand in principle on the same ground. If they hear the testimony of God and believe, they have the hope of faith. But what promises have the Gentiles? No earthly promises have been made to them as to Israel. Does not their faith give them hope? The Gentiles were a people without hope and without God. They never had a law given them to see if by any means they could be accounted righteous. But through faith, believing as Abraham did, they are made partakers of the revealed righteousness of God, for they had no righteousness of their own, and without righteousness they, could have nothing to say to God. Their hope, through faith, is far different from the hope of Israel. By faith, through the present grace of God, they enter into the hope of glory in another sphere than the field of this world.
The Gentiles who were without the law died as sinners, for sin was already in the world before the law was given; the law only made sin more evident. The wages of sin is death. The Jews who had the law died under the curse of a broken law, and nationally they lie dead among the nations. But God took up the cause of man, Jew and Gentile; He sent His Son into the world to be a man amongst men; born of a woman (according to the prophecy), and as man is under condemnation, through law He put Himself under law; He was born under it. Without sin, the Son in grace took the place of man before God to meet the claims of God on man, Jew and Gentile alike; He was the only one able to do so.
The sentence of death is come on all men, Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned, without the law and under the law. If God were to act in righteousness alone all the world would be condemned. Righteousness deals with evil in proportion to the guilt; but God is above all, and has the right to act according to His own nature, which is love. When He does act in love towards men He reveals divine righteousness, for His acts are consistent with His nature. His righteousness is seen in Jesus Christ, in that God raised Him from among the dead, and set Him at His right hand. So that where sin reigned unto death, grace— superabounding grace— reigns through righteousness in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Israel will be nationally restored when their Deliverer comes out of Zion to turn away ungodliness from Jacob. They will be cast on the mercy of God for their deliverance, and will be brought by judgment to acknowledge His testimony as to their state. They will learn that in spite of all their guilt, God is faithful to His word. If they trust in the faithfulness of God in that day, and hope in His mercy, why do they not now look to Him for His present grace and enter into the hope of glory? Those who amongst the Gentiles have this faith before the day of earthly glory dawns, also have the hope of coming heavenly glory, where the object of their faith is at present enthroned, out of human sight but revealed to faith.
What has the Jew now without faith, while Israel awaits national restoration, which only those who have faith in God and believe His Word in that day will enjoy? He is no better off than the Gentile without faith. But if he believes God through the testimony He has given of Himself, in the Person of the Son of God, then he may rest in the hope of glory, and enter into the glory itself when it comes. The Jew cannot count on getting Palestine in his lifetime, but faith in God, who in infinite love has opened the way into the better and higher blessings than for which Israel can ever hope for, will give him a present peace of heart, and assurance in hope of the eternity to come. He will not be indifferent to God's earthly plans for the blessing of His earthly people.
It is infinite grace on God's part to open the door of heaven, and offer to Jew and Gentile alike the hope of heaven and unspeakable glory, while Israel is yet governmentally disowned, and the Gentiles are on trial under grace. The days will come when God will again govern on earth openly; but until the everlasting kingdom is set up in God's appointed Man—Christ—faith receives the testimony of an unseen God, and comes to Him before the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, to be received in all the value of the sacrifice which met every righteous claim of God, and glorified Him in His nature.
No Jew with understanding would dare to approach God without a sacrifice; but he is not now in the place where alone an earthly sacrifice may be offered. There is only one way of escape for the Jew, or the Gentile: that is, by coming to God with the sacrifice which He has provided, in his hand as it were, and proving its perfect acceptance according to the full value of the offering. The Gentile has no other way of approach. Can the Jew deny that many of them have received blessing through such faith? Neither has the Jew any other means to reach God, for he is "without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an ephod, and without teraphim" (Hosea 3:4).
Every soul brought to God has to realize the principles of God's dealings with Israel in their departure from Him and in the way of their recovery. The individual has nothing to plead but his sin, and nothing to expect but judgment. With God there is forgiveness, and He can pardon righteously. For faith, judgment is passed, a substitute has been found, a ransom paid, and full atonement made. The cross of Christ is the end of all trial for man. In it is seen the total alienation of man in his sin, but it is God's absolute pleading in love every blessing is now connected with a risen Christ; the resurrection of Christ is God's blessed answer in righteousness to the work Christ has done. The cross has cut off every means of approach of man to God under the old order. It is very significant that prophecy suddenly broke off with the rejection of Christ; it begins to be fulfilled as the time of His return draws near; and it finds its perfect fulfilment when He comes.
There is but one answer for Gentile and Jew, one solution to the difficult problems presenting themselves, and it is to be found in the knowledge of the sovereign grace of God perfectly revealed in Christ.
Blessing for man may have a higher or lower sphere for display, but wherever God acts He is always the same, and He gives the dignity of His majesty to all that He does. God is known, and that is the creature's blessing and glory.
Every true heart will seek to know Him more and more as, through grace, it is led onward through a world which is to the spiritual mind a wilderness. But the light of another creation brightens the way; even as the hope of Israel, in a lesser way, will be the light of the persecuted remnant awaiting the promised earthly blessing, which they will find in the return of the Messiah, and nowhere else.
Frederick Alexander Blair: Published 1946 (1891 – 1974)