Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Hear ye this, O ye priests - God, with the solemn threefold summons, arraigns anew all classes in Israel before Him, not now to repentance but to judgment. Neither the religious privileges of the priests, nor the multitude of the people, nor the civil dignity of the king, should exempt any from God's judgment. The priests are, probably, the true but corrupted priests of God, who had fallen away to the idolatries with which they were surrounded, and, by their apostasy, had strengthened them. The king, here first mentioned by Hosea, was probably the unhappy Zechariah, a weak, pliant, self-indulgent, drunken scoffer , who, after eleven years of anarchy, succeeded his father, only to be murdered.
For judgment is toward you - Literally, "the judgment." The kings and the priests had hitherto been the judges; now they were summoned before Him, who is the Judge of judges, and the King of kings. To teach the law was part of the priest's office; to enforce it, belonged to the king. The guilt of both was enhanced, in that they, being so entrusted with it, had corrupted it. They had the greatest sin, as being the seducers of the people, and therefore have the severest sentence. The prophet, dropping for the time the mention of the people, pronounces the judgment on the seducers.
Because ye have been a snare on Mizpah - Mizpah, the scene of the solemn covenant of Jacob with Laban, and of his signal protection by God, lay in the mountainous part of Gilead on the East of Jordan. Tabor was the well-known Mountain of the Transfiguration, which rises out of the midst of the plain of Jezreel or Esdraelon, one thousand feet high, in the form of a sugar-loaf. Of Mount Tabor it is related by Jerome, that birds were still snared upon it. But something more seems intended than the mere likeness of birds, taken in the snare of a fowler. This was to be seen everywhere; and so, had this been all, there hath no ground to mention these two historical spots. The prophets has selected places on both sides of Jordan, which were probably centers of corruption, or special scenes of wickedness. Mizpah, being a sacred place in the history of the patriarch Jacob Gen. 31:23-49, was probably, like Gilgal and other sacred places, desecrated by idolatry. Tabor was the scene of God's deliverance of Israel by Barak Judg. 4. There, by encouraging idolatries, they became hunters, not pastors, of souls Eze 13:18, Eze 13:20. There is an old Jewish tradition , that lyers-in-wait were set in these two places, to intercept and murder those Israelites, who would go up to worship at Jerusalem. And this tradition gains countenance from the mention of slaughter in the next verse.
And the revolters are profound to make slaughter - Literally, "They made the slaughter deep," as Isaiah says, "they deeply corupted themselves" Isa 31:6; and our old writers say "He smote deep." They willed also doubtless to "make it deep," hide it so deep, that God should never know it, as the Psalmist says of the ungodly, "that the inward self and heart of the worker's of iniquity is deep," whereon it follows, that God should "suddenly wound them," as here the prophet subjoins that God rebuked them. Actual and profuse murder has been already Hos 4:2 mentioned as one of the common sins of Israel, and it is afterward Hos 6:9 also charged upon the priests.
Though I have been a rebuker - Literally, "a rebuke," as the Psalmist says, "I am prayer" Psa 109:4, i. e., "I am all prayer." The Psalmist's whole being was turned into prayer. So here, all the attributes of God, His mercies, love, justice, were concentrated into one, and that one, rebuke. Rebuke was the one form, in which they were all seen. It is an aggravation of crime to do it in the place of judgment or in the presence of the judge. Israel was immersed in his sin and heeded not, although God rebuked him continually by His voice in the law, forbidding all idolatry, and was now all the while, both in word and deed, rebuking him.
I know Ephraim - There is much emphasis on the "I." It is like our, "I have known," or "I, I, have known." God had known him all along, if we may so speak. However deep they may have laid their plans of blood, however they would or do hide them from man, and think that no eye seeth them, and say, "Who seeth me? and who knoweth me? I, to whose eyes all things are naked and opened Heb 4:13, have all along known them, and nothing of them has been hid from Me. For, He adds, even now, now when, under a fair outward show, they are veiling the depth of their sin, now, when they think that their way is hid in darkness, I know their doings, that they are defiling themselves. Sin never wanted specious excuse. Now too unbelievers are mostly fond of precisely those characters in Holy Scripture, whom God condemns. Jeroboam doubtless was accounted a patriot, vindicating his country from oppressive taxation, which Rehoboam insolently threatened. Jerusalem, as lying in the Southernmost tribe, was represented, as ill-selected for the place of the assemblage of the tribes. Bethel, on the contrary, was hallowed by visions; it had been the abode, for a time, of the ark.
It lay in the tribe of Ephraim, which they might think to have been unjustly deprived of its privilege. Dan was a provision for the Northern tribes. Such was the exterior. God says in answer, "I know Ephraim." "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" Act 15:18. Although (in some way unknown to us) not interfering with our free-will, known unto God are our thoughts and words and deeds, before they are framed, while they are framed, while they are being spoken and done; known to Him is all which we do, and all which, under any circumstances, we should do. This he knows with a knowledge, before the things were. : "All His creatures, corporeal or spiritual, He doth not therefore know, because they are; but they therefore are, because He knoweth them. For He was not ignorant, what He was about to create; nor did He know them, after He had created them, in any other way than before. For no accession to His knowledge came from them; but, they existing when and as was meet, that knowledge remained as it was." How strange then to think of hiding from God a secret sin, when He knew, before He created thee, that He created thee liable to this very temptation, and to be assisted amidst it with just that grace which thou art resisting! God had known Israel, but it was not with the knowledge of love, of which He says, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous" Psa 1:6, and, "if any man love God, the same is known of Him, but with the knowledge of condemnation, whereby He, the Searcher of hearts, knows the sin which He judges" Co1 8:3.
They will not frame their doings ... - They were possessed by an evil spirit, impelling and driving them to sin; "the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them," i. e., in their very inward self, their center, so to speak; in their souls, where reside the will, the reason, the judgment; and so long as they did not, by the strength of God, dislodge him, they would and could not frame their acts, so as to repent and turn to God. For a mightier impulse mastered them and drove them into sin, as the evil spirit drove the swine into the deep.
The rendering of the margin, although less agreeable to the Hebrew, also gives a striking sense. "Their doings will not suffer them to turn unto their God." Not so much that their habits of sin had got an absolute mastery over them, so as to render repentance impossible; but rather, that it was impossible that they should turn inwardly, while they did not turn outwardly. Their evil doings, so long as they persevered in doing them, took away all heart, whereby to turn to God with a solid conversion.
And yet He was "their God;" this made their sin the more grievous. He, whom they would not turn to, still owned them, was still ready to receive them as "their God." For the prophet continues, "and they have not known the Lord." Him, "their God," they knew not. For the spirit which possessed them hindered them from thought, from memory, from conception of spiritual things. They did not turn to God,
(1) because the evil spirit held them, and so long as they allowed his hold, they were filled with carnal thoughts which kept them back from God.
(2) they did not know God; so that, not knowing how good and how great a good He is in Himself, and how good to us, they had not even the desire to turn to Him, for love of Himself, yea even for love of themselves. They saw not, that they lost a loving God.
And the pride of Israel - Pride was from the first the leading sin of Ephraim. Together with Manasseh, (with whom they made, in some respects, one whole, as "the children of Joseph, Jos 16:4; Jos 17:14), they were nearly equal in number to Judah. When numbered in the wilderness, Judah had 74,600 fighting men, Ephraim and Manasseh together 72,700. They speak of themselves as a "great people, forasmuch as the Lord has blessed me hitherto" Jos 17:14. God having chosen, out of them, the leader under whom He brought Israel into the land of promise, they resented, in the following time of the Judges, any deliverance of the land, in which they were not called to take a part. They rebuked Gideon (Jdg 8:1 ff), and suffered very severely for insolence (Jdg 12:1 ff) to Jephthah and the Gileadites. When Gideon, who had refused to be king, was dead, Abimelech, his son by a concubine out of Ephraim, induced the Ephraimites to make Him king over Israel, as being their "bone and their flesh" Jdg 8:31; Jdg 9:1-3, Jdg 9:22.
Lying in the midst of the tribes to the North of Judah, they appear, in antagonism to Judah, to have gathered round them the other tribes, and to have taken, with them, the name of Israel, in contrast with Judah Sa2 2:9-10; Sa2 3:17. Shiloh, where the ark was, until taken by the Philistines, belonged to them. Samuel, the last judge, was raised up out of them Sa1 1:1. Their political dignity was not aggrieved, when God gave Saul, out of "little Benjamin," as king over His people. They could afford to own a king out of the least tribe. Their present political eminence was endangered, when God chose David out of their great rival, the tribe of Judah; their hope for the future was cut off by His promise to the posterity of David. They accordingly upheld, for seven years Sa2 5:5, the house of Saul, knowing that they were acting against the will of God Sa2 3:9. Their religious importance was aggrieved by the removal of the ark to Zion, instead of its being restored to Shiloh Psa 78:60, Psa 78:67-69.
Absalom won them by flattery Sa2 15:2, Sa2 15:5, Sa2 15:10, Sa2 15:12-13; and the rebellion against David was a struggle of Israel against Judah Sa2 16:15; Sa2 17:15; Sa2 18:6. When Absalom was dead, they had scarcely aided in bringing David back, when they fell away again, because their advice had not been first had in bringing him back Sa2 19:41-43; Sa2 20:1-2. Rehoboam was already king over Judah Kg1 11:43, when he came to Shechem to be made king over Israel Kg1 12:1. Then the ten tribes sent for Jeroboam of Ephraim Kg1 11:26, to make him their spokesman, and, in the end, their king. The rival worship of Bethel provided, not only for the indolence, but for the pride of his tribe. He made a state-worship at Bethel, over-against the worship ordained by God at Jerusalem. Just before the time of Hosea, the political strength of Ephraim was so much superior to that of Judah, that Jehoash, in his pride, compared himself to the cedar of Lebanon, Amaziah king of Judah to the thistle Kg2 14:9. Isaiah speaks of "jealousy" Isa 11:13 or "envy," as the characteristic sin of Israel, which perpetuated that division, which, he foretold, should be healed in Christ. Yet although such was the power and pride of Israel, God foretold that he should first go into captivity, and so it was.
This pride, as it was the origin of the schism of the ten tribes, so it was the means of its continuance. In whatever degree any one of the kings of Israel was better than the rest, still "he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, who made Israel to sin." The giving up of any other sin only showed, how deeply rooted this sin was, which even then they would not give up. As is the way of unregenerate man, they would not give themselves up without reserve to God, to do all His will. They could not give up this sin of Jeroboam, without endangering their separate existence as Israel, and owning the superiority of Judah. From this complete self-surrender to God, their pride shrank and held them back.
The pride, which Israel thus showed in refusing to turn to God, and in preferring their sin to "their God," itself, he says, witnessed against them, and condemned them. In the presence of God, there needeth no other witness against the sinner than his own conscience. "it shall witness to his face," "openly, publicly, themselves and all others seeing, acknowledging, and approving the just judgment of God and the recompense of their sin." Pride and carnal sin are here remarkably united.
: "The prophet having said, the spirit of fornication is in the midst of them, assigns as its ground, the pride of Israel will testify to his face, i. e., the sin which, through pride of mind, lurked in secret, bore open witness through sin of the flesh. Wherefore the cleanness of chastity is to be preserved by guarding humility. For if the spirit is piously humbled before God, the flesh is not raised unlawfully above the spirit. For the spirit holds the dominion over the flesh, committed to it, if it acknowledges the claims of lawful servitude to the Lord. For if, through pride, it despises its Author, it justly incurs a contest with its subject, the flesh."
Therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in - (or by) their iniquity Ephraim, the chief of the ten tribes, is distinguished from the whole, of which it was a part, because it was the rival of Judah, the royal tribe, out of which Jeroboam had sprung, who had formed the kingdom of Israel by the schism from Judah. All Israel, even its royal tribe, where was Samaria, its capital and strength, should fall, their iniquity being the stumbling-block, on which they should fall.
Judah also shall fall with them - "Judah also, being partaker with them in their idolatry and their wickedness, shall partake with them in the like punishment. Sin shall have the like effect in both." Literally, he saith, "Judah hath fallen," denoting, as do other prophets, the certainty of the future event, by speaking of it, as having taken place already; as it had, in the Mind of God.
They shall go with their flocks - "They had let slip the day of grace, wherein God had called them to repentance, and promised to be found of them and to accept them. When then the decree was gone forth and judgment determined against them, all their outward shew of worship and late repentance shall not prevail to gain admittance for them to Him. He will not be found of them, hear them, nor accept them. They stopped their ears obstinately against Him calling on them, and proffering mercy in the day of mercy: He will now stop His ear against them, crying for it in the Day of Judgment." Repenting thus late, (as is the case with most who repent, or think that they repent, at the close of life) they did not repent out of the love of God, but out of slavish fear, on account of the calamity which was coming upon them. But the main truth, contained in this and other passages of Holy Scripture which speak of a time when it is too late to turn to God, is this: that "it shall be too late to knock when the door shall be shut, and too late to cry for mercy when it is the time of justice."
God waits long for sinners; He threatens long before He strikes; He strikes and pierces in lesser degrees, and with increasing severity, before the final blow comes. In this life, He places man in a new state of trial, even after His first judgments have fallen on the sinner. But the general rule of His dealings is this; that, when the time of each judgment is actually come, then, as to "that" judgment, it is too late to pray. It is "not" too late for other mercy, or for final forgiveness, so long as man's state of probation lasts; but it is too late as to this one. And thus, each judgment in time is a picture of the eternal judgment, when the day of mercy is past forever, to those who have finally, in this life, hardened themselves against it. But temporal mercies correspond with temporal judgments; eternal mercy with eternal judgment. In time, it may be too late to turn away temporal judgments; it is not too late, while God continues grace, to flee from eternal; and the desire not to lose God, is a proof to the soul that it is not forsaken by God, by whom alone the longing for Himself is kept alive or re-awakened in His creature.
They shall not find Him - This befell the Jews in the time of Josiah. Josiah himself "turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses" Kg2 23:25-27. He put away idolatry thoroughly; and the people so tier followed his example. He held such a Passover, as had not been held since the time of the judges. "Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of this great wrath, wherewith His anger was kindled against Judah because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked Him withal. And the Lord said, I will remove Judah out of My sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem, which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there."
The prophet describes the people, as complying with God's commands; "they shall go," i. e., to the place which God had chosen and commanded, "with their flocks and their herds," i. e., with the most costly sacrifices, "the flocks" supplying the sheep and goats prescribed by the law; the "herds" supplying the bullocks, calves and heifers offered. They seem to have come, so far, sincerely. Yet perhaps it is not without further meaning, that the prophet speaks of those outward sacrifices only, not of the heart; and the reformation under Josiah may therefore have failed, because the people were too ingrained with sin under Manasseh, and returned outwardly only under Josiah, as they fell back again after his death. And so God speaketh here, as He does by David, "I will take no bullock out of thine house, nor he-goat out of thy fold. Thinkest thou, that I will eat bulls' flesh, or drink the blood of goats?" Psa 50:9, Psa 50:13, and by Isaiah, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts" Isa 1:11.
He hath withdrawn Himself from them - Perhaps he would say, that God, as it were "freed Himself" from them, as He saith in Isaiah, "I am weary to bear them" Isa 1:14, the union of sacrifices and of sin.
They have dealt treacherously - Literally, "have cloaked," and so, acted deceitfully. The word is used of treachery of friend toward his friend, of the husband to his wife, or the wife husband. "Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord" Jer 3:20. God, even in His upbraiding, speaks very tenderly to them, as having been in the closest, dearest relation to Himself.
For they have begotten strange children - God had made it a ground of the future blessing of Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment" Gen 18:19. But these, contrariwise, themselves being idolaters and estranged from God, had children, who fell away like themselves, strangers to God, and looked upon as strangers by Him. The children too of the forbidden marriages with the pagan were, by their birth, strange or foreign children, even before they became so in act; and they became so the more in act, because they were so by birth. The next generation then growing up more estranged from God than themselves, what hope of amendment was there?
Now shall a month devour - The word now denotes the nearness and suddenness of God's judgments; the term "month," their rapidity. A "month" is not only a brief time, but is almost visibly passing away; the moon, which measures it, is never at one stay, waxing until it is full, then waning until it disappears. Night by night bears witness to the month's decay. The iniquity was full; the harvest was ripe; "now," suddenly, rapidly, completely, the end should come. One month should "devour them with their portions." God willed to be the Portion of His people; He had said, "the Lord's portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance" Deu 32:9. To Himself He had given the title, "the protion of Jacob" Jer 10:16. Israel had chosen to himself "other portions" out of God, for these, he had forsaken his God; therefore he should be consumed with them. "All that they had, all that they possessed, enjoyed, trusted in, all, at once, shall that short space, suddenly and certainly to come; devour, deprive and bereave them of; none of them shall remain with them or profit them in the day of wrath."
Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah - The evil day and destruction, denounced, is now vividly pictured, as actually come. All is in confusion, hurry, alarm, because the enemy was in the midst of them. The "cornet," an instrument made of horn, was to be blown as the alarm, when the enemy was at hand. The "trumpet" was especially used for the worship of God. "Gibeah and Ramah" were cities of Benjamin, on the borders of Ephraim, where the enemy, who had possessed himself of Israel, would burst in upon Judah. From Bethaven or Bethel, the seat of Ephraim's idolatry, on the border of Benjamin, was to break forth the outcry of destruction, "after thee, O Benjamin;" the enemy is upon thee, just behind thee, pursuing thee. God had promised His people, if they would serve Him, "I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee" Exo 23:27, and had threatened the contrary, if they should "walk contrary to Him." Now that threat was to be fulfilled to the uttermost. The ten tribes are spoken of, as already in possession of the enemy, and he was "upon Benjamin" fleeing before them.
Ephraim shall be desolate - It shall not be lightly rebuked, nor even more grievously chastened; it shall not simply be wasted by famine, pestilence, and the sword; it shall be not simply desolate, but a desolation, one waste, in the day of rebuke, when God brings home to it its sin and punishment. Ephraim was not taken away for a time; it was never restored.
I have made known that which shall surely be - o: "Doubt not that this which I say shall come upon thee, for it is a sure saying which I have made known;" literally, one well-grounded, as it was, in the mind, the justice, the holiness, the truth of God. All God's threatenings or promises are grounded in past experience. So it may also be, as though God said, "Whatever I have hitherto promised or threatened to Israel, has come to pass. In all I have proved Myself true. Let no one then flatter himself, as though this were uncertain, for in this, as in the rest, I shall be found to be God, faithful and true."
The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound - All avaricious encroachment on the paternal inheritance of others, was strictly forbidden by God in the law, under the penalty of His curse. "Cursed is he that removeth his neighbor's landmark" Deu 27:17. "The princes of Judah," i. e., those who were the king's counselors and chief in the civil polity, had committed sin, like to this. Since the prophet had just pronounced the desolation of Israel, perhaps that sin was, that instead of taking warning from the threatened destruction, and turning to God, they thought only how the removal of Ephraim would benefit them, by the enlargement of their borders. They might hope also to increase their private estates out of the desolate lands of Ephraim, their brother. The unregenerate heart, instead of being awed by God's judgment on others, looks out to see, what advantages it may gain from them. Times of calamity are also times of greediness. Israel had been a continual sore to Judah. The princes of Judah rejoiced in the prospect of their removal, instead of mourning their sin and fearing for themselves. More widely yet, the words may mean, that the "princes of Judah" "burst all bounds, set to them by the law of God, to which nothing was to be added, from which nothing was to be diminished," transferring to idols or devils, to sun, moon and stars, or to the beings supposed to preside over them, the love, honor, and worship, due to God Alone.
I will pour out My wrath like water - So long as those bounds were not broken through, the justice of God, although manifoldly provoked, was yet stayed. When Judah should break them, they would, as it were, make a way for the chastisement of God, which should burst in like a flood upon them, over-spreading the whole land, yet bringing, not renewed life, but death. Like a flood, it overwhelmed the land; but it was a flood, not of water, but of the wrath of God. They had burst the bounds which divided them from Israel, and had let in upon themselves its chastisements.
Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment - Literally, "crushed in judgment." Holy Scripture, elsewhere also, "combines" these same two words, rendered "oppressed" and "crushed," in speaking of man's oppression by man. Ephraim preferred man's commands and laws to God's; they obeyed man and set God at nought; therefore they should suffer at man's hands, who, while he equally neglected God's will, enforced his own. The "commandment," which "Ephraim willingly went after," was doubtless that of Jeroboam; "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought you out of the land of Egypt; and Jeroboam ordained a feast unto the children of Israel" Kg1 12:28, Kg1 12:32-33. Through this "commandment," Jeroboam earned the dreadful title, "who made Israel to sin." And Israel "went willingly after it," for it is said; "This thing became a sin; and the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan:" i. e., while they readily accepted Jeroboam's plea. It "is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem," they "went willingly" to the Northernmost point of Palestine, "even to Dan." For this sin, God judged them justly, even through the unjust judgment of man. God mostly punishes, through their own choice, those who choose against His. The Jews said, "we have no king but Caesar," and Caesar destroyed them.
Therefore I will be unto Ephraim a moth - Literally, "and I as a moth." This form of speaking expresses what God was doing, while Ephraim was "willingly following" sin. "And I" was all the while "as a moth." The moth in a garment, and the decay in wood, corrode and prey upon the substance, in which they lie hid, slowly, imperceptibly, but, at the last, effectually. Such were God's first judgments on Israel and Judah; such are they now commonly upon sinners. He tried, and now too tries at first, gentle measures and mild chastisements, uneasy indeed and troublesome and painful; yet slow in their working; each stage of loss and decay, a little beyond that which preceded it; but leaving long respite and time for repentance, before they finally wear out and destroy the impenitent. The two images, which He uses, may describe different kinds of decay, both slow, yet the one slower than the other, as Judah was, in fact, destroyed more slowly than Ephraim. For the "rottenness," or caries in wood, preys more slowly upon wood, which is hard, than the moth on the wool.
So God visits the soul with different distresses, bodily or spiritual. He impairs, little by little, health of body, or fineness of understanding; or He withdraws grace or spiritual strength; or allows lukewarmness and distaste for the things of God to creep over the soul. These are the gnawing of the moth, overlooked by the sinner, if he persevere in carelessness as to his conscience, yet in the end, bringing entire decay of health, of understanding, of heart, of mind, unless God interfere by the mightier mercy of some heavy chastisement, to awaken him. : "A moth does mischief, and makes no sound. So the minds of the wicked, in that they neglect to take account of their losses, lose their soundness, as it were, without knowing it. For they lose innocency from the heart, truth from the lips, continency from the flesh, and, as time holds on, life from their age." To Israel and Judah the moth and rottenness denoted the slow decay, by which they were gradually weakened, until they were carried away captive.
When Ephraim saw his sickness - Literally, "And Ephraim saw," i. e., perceived it. God proceeds to tell them, how they acted when they felt those lighter afflictions, the decline and wasting of their power. The "sickness" may further mean the gradual inward decay; the "wound," blows received from without.
And sent to king Jareb - Or, as in the English margin "a king who should plead, or, an avenging king." The "hostile king" is, probably, the same Assyrian Monarch, whom both Israel and Judah courted, who was the destruction of Israel and who weakened Judah. Ahaz king of Judah did send to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria to come and save him, when "the Lord brought Judah low; and Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came unto him and distressed him, but strengthened him not" Ch2 28:19-20. He who held his throne from God sent to a pagan king, "I am thy servant and thy son; come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me" Kg2 16:7-8. He emptied his own treasures, and pillaged the house of God, in order to buy the help of the Assyrian, and he taught him an evil lesson against himself, of his wealth and his weakness. God had said that, if they were faithful, "five shall chase an hundred, and an hundred put ten thousand to flight" Lev 26:8. He had pronounced him cursed, who trusted in man, and made flesh his arm, and whose heart departed from the Lord" Jer 17:5. But Judah sought man's help, not only apart from God, but against God. God was bringing them down, and they, by man's aid, would lift themselves up. "The king" became an "avenger," for , "whoso, when God is angry, striveth to gain man as his helper, findeth him God's avenger, who leadeth into captivity God's deserters, as though he were sworn to avenge God."
For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion - He who would thus strengthen himself by Outward help against God's chastisements, challenges, as it were, the Almighty to a trial of strength. So then God, unwilling to abandon him to himself, changes His dealings, and , "He who had heretofore, in His judgments, seemed but as a tender moth or a weak worm," now shows forth His resistless power, imaged by His creatures in whom the quality of power is most seen. It may again be, that the fiercer animal (literally, the roaring) is associated with the name of Ephraim; that of the younger lion, fierce and eager for prey, yet not full-grown, with that of Judah.
I, I will tear - "It is a fearful thing, to fall into the Hands of the Living God" Heb 10:31. The Assyrian was but the rod of God's anger, and the staff, He says, in thine hand is His indignation" Isa 10:5. Whatever is done, is done or overruled by God, who gives to the evil his power to do, in an evil way, what He Himself overrules to the end of His wisdom or justice. God, Himself would tear them asunder, by giving the Assyrians power to carry them away. And since it was God who did it, there was no hope of escape. He who was faithful to His word would do it. There is great emphasis on the I, I. God and not man; He, the author of all good, would Himself be the cause of their evil. What hope then is there, when He, who is mercy, becomes the avenger?
I will go and return to My place - As the wild beast, when he has taken his prey, returns to his covert, so God, when He had fulfilled His will, would, for the time, withdraw all tokens of his presence. God, who is wholly everywhere, is said to dwell "there," relatively to us, where he manifests Himself, as of old, in the tabernacle, the temple, Zion, Jerusalem. He is said to "go and return," when He withdraws all tokens of His presence, His help, care, and providence. This is worse than any affliction on God's part , "a state like theirs who, in the lowest part of hell, are "delivered into chains of darkness," shut out from His presence, and so from all hope of comfort; and this must needs be their condition, so long as He shall be absent from them; and so perpetually, except there be a way for obtaining again His favorable presence."
Till they acknowledge their offence - o: "He who "hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live," withdraws Himself from them, not to cast them off altogether, but that they might know and acknowledge their folly and wickedness, and, seeing there is no comfort out of Him, prefer His presence to those vain things." which they had preferred to Him To say, that God would hide His Face from them, "until they should acknowledge their offence," holds out in itself a gleam of hope, that hereafter they would turn to Him, and would find Him.
And seek My Face - The first step in repentance is confession of sin; the second, turning to God. For to own sin without turning to God is the despair of Judas.
In their affliction they shall seek Me early - God does not only leave them hopes, that He would show forth his presence, when they sought him, but He promises that they shah seek Him, i. e. He would give them His grace whereby alone they could seek Him, and that grace should be effectual. Of itself affliction drives to despair and more obdurate rebellion and final impenitence. Through the grace of God, "evil brings forth good; fear, love; chastisement, repentance." "They shall seek Me early," originally, "in the morning," i. e., with all diligence and earnestness, as a man riseth early to do what he is very much set upon. So these shall "shake off the sleep of sin and the torpor of listlessness, when the light of repentance shall shine upon them."
This was fulfilled in the two tribes, toward the end of the seventy years, when many doubtless, together with Daniel, "set their face unto the Lord God to seek by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes" Dan 9:2-3; and again in, those "who waited for redemption in Jerusalem" Luk 2:25, Luk 2:38, when our Lord came; and it will be fulfillment in all at the end of the world. "The first flash of thought on the power and goodness of the true Deliverer, is like the morning streaks of a new day. At the sight of that light, Israel shall arise early to seek his God; he shall rise quickly like the Prodigal, out of his wanderings and his indigence."