O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.O Israel, return - (now, quite) unto the Lord your God The heavy and scarcely interrupted tide of denunciation is now past. Billow upon billow have rolled over Ephraim and the last wave discharged itself in the overwhelming, indiscriminating destruction of the seat of its strength. As a nation, it was to cease to be. its separate existence was a curse, not a blessing; the offspring of rivalry, matured by apostasy; the parent, in its turn, of jealousy, hatred, and mutual vexation.
But while the kingdom was past and gone, the children still remained heirs of the promises made to their fathers. As then, before, Hosea declared that Israel, after having long remained solitary, should in the end "seek the Lord and David their king" Hosea 3:5, so now, after these manifold denunciations of their temporal destruction, God not only invites them to repentance, but foretells that they should be wholly converted.
Every word is full of mercy. God calls them by the name of acceptance, which he had given to their forefather, Jacob; "O Israel." He deigns to beseech them to return; "return now;" and that not "toward" but "quite up to" Himself, the unchangeable God, whose mercies and promises were as immutable as His Being. To Himself, the Unchangeable, God invites them to return; trod that, as being still their God. They had cast off their God; God had "not cast off His people whom He foreknew" Romans 11:2.
: "He entreats them not only to turn back and look toward the Lord with a partial and imperfect repentance, but not to leave off until they were come quite home to Him by a total and sincere repentance and amendment." He bids them "return quite to" Himself, the Unchangeable God, and their God. "Great is repentance," is a Jewish saying , "which maketh men to reach quite up to the Throne of glory."
For thou hast fallen by thine iniquity - "This is the first ray of divine light on the sinner. God begins by discovering to him the abyss into which he has fallen," and the way by which he fell. Their own iniquity it was, on which they had stumbled and so had fallen, powerless to rise, except through "His" call, whose "voice is with power" Psalm 29:4, and "Who giveth what He commandeth." : "Ascribe not thy calamity," He would say, "to thine own weakness, to civil dissension, to the disuse of miltary discipline, to want of wisdom in thy rulers, to the ambition and cruelty of the enemy, to reverse of fortune. These things had not gone against thee, hadst not thou gone to war with the law of thy God. Thou inflictest the deadly wound on thyself; thou destroyedst thyself. Not as fools vaunt, by fate, or fortune of war, but 'by thine iniquity hast thou fallen.' Thy remedy then is in thine own hand. 'Return to thy God. '"
: "In these words, 'by thine iniquity," he briefly conveys, that each is to ascribe to himself the iniquity of all sin, of whatsoever he has been guilty, not defending himself, as Adam did, in whom we all, Jews and Gentiles, have sinned and fallen, as the Apostle says, 'For we were by nature the children of wrath, even as others' Ephesians 2:3. By adding actual, to that original, sin, Israel and every other nation falleth. He would say then, O Israel, be thou first converted, for thou hast need of conversion; 'for thou hast fallen;" and confess this very thing, that 'thou hast fallen by thine iniquity;' for such confession is the beginning of conversion."
But wherewith should he return?
Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.Take with you words - He bills them not bring costly offerings, that they might regain His favor; not whole burnt-offerings of bullocks, goats or rams; with which, and with which alone, they had before gone to seek Him (see the note above at Hosea 5:6); not the silver and gold which they had lavished on their idols; but what seems the cheapest of all, which any may have, without cost to their substance; "words;" worthless, as mere words; precious when from the heart; words of confession and prayer, blending humility, repentance, confession, entreaty and praise of God. God seems to assign to them a form, with which they should approach Him. But with these words, they were also to turn inwardly "and turn unto the Lord," with your whole heart, and not your lips alone. "After ye shall be converted, confess before Him."
Take away all iniquity - (Literally and pleadingly, "Thou will take away all iniquity".) They had "fallen by their iniquities;" before they can rise again, the stumbling-blocks must be taken out of their way. They then, unable themselves to do it, must turn to God, with whom alone is power and mercy to do it, and say to Him, "Take away all iniquity," acknowledging that they had manifold iniquities, and praying Him to forgive all, "take away all. All iniquities!" "not only then the past, but what we tear for the future. Cleanse us from the past, keep us from the future. Give us righteousness, and preserve it to the end."
And receive us graciously - (Literally, "and receive good" ). When God has forgiven and taken away iniquity, He has removed all hindrance to the influx of His grace. There is no vacuum in His spiritual, anymore than in His natural, creation. When God's good Spirit is chased away, the evil spirits enter the house, which is "empty, swept, and garnished" Matthew 12:44, for them. When God has forgiven and taken away man's evil, He pours into him grace and all good. When then Israel and, in him, the penitent soul, is taught to say, "receive good," it can mean only, the good which Thou Thyself hast given; as David says, "of Thine own we have given Thee" 1 Chronicles 29:14. As God is said to "crown in us His own gifts;" ("His own gifts," but "in us" ;) so these pray to God to receive from them His own good, which they had from Him. For even the good, which God giveth to be in us, He accepteth in condescension and forgiving mercy, "Who crowneth thee in mercy and lovingkindness" Psalm 103:4.
They pray God to accept their service, forgiving their imperfection, and mercifully considering their frailty. For since "our righteousnesses are filthy rags," we ought ever humbly to entreat God, not to despise our dutifulness, for the imperfections, wanderings, and negligences mingled therewith. For exceedingly imperfect is it, especially if we consider the majesty of the Divine Nature, which should be served, were it possible, with infinite reverence." They plead to God, then, to accept what, although from Him they have it, yet through their imperfection, were, but for His goodness, unworthy of His acceptance. Still, since the glory of God is the end of all creation, by asking Him to accept it, they plead to Him, that this is the end for which He made and remade them, and placed the good in them, that it might redound to His glory. As, on the other hand, the Psalmist says, "What profit is there in my blood, if I go down into the pit" Psalm 30:9, as though his own perishing were a loss to God, his Creator, since thus there were one creature the less to praise Him. : "'Take from us all iniquity,' leave in us no weakness, none of our former decay, lest the evil root should send forth a new growth of evil; 'and receive good;' for unless Thou take away our evil, we can have no good to offer Thee, according to that, 'depart from evil, and do good.' Psalm 37:27."
So will we render the calves of our lips - Literally, "and we would fain repay, calves, our lips;" i. e., when God shall have "forgiven us all our iniquity," and "received" at our hands what, through His gift, we have to offer, the "good" which through His good Spirit we can do, then would we "offer" a perpetual thankoffering, "our lips." This should be the substitute for the thank-offerings of the law. As the Psalmist says, "I will praise the Name of God with a song, and magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord, better than a bullock that hath horns and hoofs" Psalm 69:30-31. They are to bind themselves to perpetual thanksgiving. As the morning and evening sacrifice were continual so was their new offering to be continual. But more. The material sacrifice, "the bullock," was offered, consumed, and passed away. Their "lips" were offered, and remained; a perpetual thank-offering, even a "living sacrifice," living on like the mercies for which they thanked; giving forth their "endless song" for never-ending mercies.
This too looks on to the Gospel, in which, here on earth, our unending thanksgiving is beginning, in which also it was the purpose of God to restore those of Ephraim who would return to Him. : "Here we see law extinguished, the Gospel established. For we see other rites, other gifts. So then the priesthood is also changed. For three sorts of sacrifices Were of old ordained by the law, with great state. Some signified the expiation of sin; some expressed the ardor of piety; some, thanksgiving. To those ancient signs and images, the truth of the Gospel, without figure corresponds. Prayer to God, 'to take away all iniquity,' contains a confession of sin, and expresses our faith, that we place our whole hope of recovering our lost purity and of obtaining salvation in the mercy of Christ. 'Receive good.' What other good can we offer, than detestation of our past sin, with burning desire of holiness? This is the burnt-offering. Lastly, 'we will repay the calves of our lips,' is the promise of that solemn vow, most acceptable to God, whereby we bind ourselves to keep in continual remembrance all the benefits of God, and to render ceaseless praise to the Lord who has bestowed on us such priceless gifts. For 'the calves of' the 'lips' are orisons well-pleasing unto God. Of which David says, 'Then shalt Thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings; then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.' (Psalm 51 ult.)."
Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.Asshur shall not save us - After prayer for pardon and for acceptance of themselves, and thanksgiving for acceptance, comes the promise not to fall back into their former sins. Trust in man, in their own strength, in their idols, had been their besetting sins. Now, one by one, they disavow them.
First, they disclaim trust in man, and making "flesh their arm" Jeremiah 17:5. Their disclaimer of the help of the Assyrian, to whom they had so often betaken themselves against the will of God, contains, at once, that best earnest of true repentance, the renewal of the confession of past sins, and the promise to rely no more on any princes of this world, of whom he was then chief. The horse, in like way, is the symbol of any warlike strength of their own. As the Psalmist says, "Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" Psalm 20:7; and, "a horse is a vain thing for safety, neither shall he deliver any by his great strength" Psalm 33:17; and Solomon, "The horse is prepared for the day of battle but salvation is of the Lord" Proverbs 21:31. War was almost the only end for which the horse was used among the Jews. If otherwise, it was a matter of great and royal pomp. It was part of a standing army. Their kings were especially forbidden to "multiply horses" Deuteronomy 17:16 to themselves. Solomon, indeed, in his prosperity, broke this, as well as other commands of God. The pious king Hezekiah, although possessed at one time of large treasure, so kept that command as to furnish matter of mockery to Rabshakeh, the blaspheming envoy of Assyria, that he had neither horses nor horsemen 2 Kings 18:23. The horses being procured from Egypt 1 Kings 10:28, the commerce gave fresh occasion for idolatry.
Neither will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ye are our gods - This is the third disavowal. Since it was folly and sin to trust in the creatures which God had made, apart from God, how much more, to trust in things which they themselves had made, instead of God, and offensive to God!
For in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy - (or, O Thou, in whom). He is indeed fatherless who hath not God for his Father. They confess then, that they were and deserved to be thus "fatherless" and helpless, a prey to every oppressor; but they appeal to God by the title which He had taken, "the Father of the fatherless" Psalm 68:5, that He would have mercy on them, who had no help but in Him. : "We promise this, they say, hoping in the help of Thy mercy, since it belongeth to Thee and is for Thy Glory to have mercy on the people which believeth in Thee, and to stretch forth Thine Hand, that they may be able to leave their wonted ills and amend their former ways."
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.I will heal their backsliding - God, in answer, promises to "heal" that wound of their souls, from where every other evil came, their fickleness and unsteadfastness. Hitherto, this had been the characteristic of Israel. "Within a while they forgat His works, and would not abide His counsels" Psalm 106:13. "They forgat what He had done. Their heart was not whole with Him; neither continued they steadfast in His covenant. They turned back and tempted God. They kept not His testimonies, but turned back and fell way like their forefathers, starting aside like a broken bow" Psalm 78:12, Psalm 78:37, Psalm 78:42, Psalm 78:57-58. Steadfastness to the end is the special gift of the Gospel. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it" Matthew 28:20; Matthew 16:18. And to individuals, "Jesus, having loved His own, loved them unto the end" John 13:1. In healing that disease of unsteadfastness, God healed all besides. This He did to all, wheresoever or howsoever dispersed, who received the Gospel; this He doth still; and this He will do completely in the end, when "all Israel shall be saved."
I will love them freely - that is, as the word means, "impelled" thereto by Himself alone, and so, (as used of God) moved by His own Essential Bountifulness, the exceedling greatness of His Goodness, largely, bountifully. God "loves" us "freely" in loving us against our deserts, because He "is love;" He "loves" us "freely" in that He freely became Man, and, having become Man freely shed His Blood for the remission of our sins, freely forgave our sins; He "loves" us "freely," in "giving us grace, according to the good pleasure of His will" Ephesians 1:5, to become pleasing to Him, and causing all good in us; He "loves" us "freely," in rewarding infinitely the good which we have from "Him." : "More manifestly here speaketh the Person of the Saviour Himself, promising His own Coming to the salvation of penitents, with sweetly sounding promise, with sweetness full of grace."
For Mine anger is turned away from him - As He says, "In My wrath I smote thee; but in My favor have I had mercy on thee" Isaiah 60:10. He doth not withhold only, or suspend His anger, but He taketh it away wholly. So the Psalmist saith, "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of Thy people; Thou hast covered all their sin; Thou hast taken away all Thy wrath; Thou hast turned from the fierceness of Thine anger" Psalm 85:2-3.
I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.I will be as the dew unto Israel - Before, He had said, "his spring shall become dry and his fountain shall be dried up" Hosea 13:15. Now again He enlarges the blessing; their supply shall be unfailing, for it shall be from God; yea, God Himself shall be that blessing; "I will be the dew; descending on the mown grass" Psalm 72:6, to quicken and refresh it; descending, Himself, into the dried and parched and sere hearts of men, as He saith, "We will come unto him and make Our abode in him" John 14:23. The grace of God, like the dew, is not given once for all, but is, day by day, waited for, and, day by day, renewed. Yet doth it not pass away, like the fitful goodness John 6:4 of God's former people, but turns into the growth and spiritual substance of those on whom it descends.
He shall grow as the lily - No one image can exhibit the manifold grace of God in those who are His own, or the fruits of that grace. So the prophet adds one image to another, each supplying a distinct likeness of a distinct grace or excellence. The "lily" is the emblem of the beauty and purity of the soul in grace; the "cedar" of Lebanon, of its strength and deep-rootedness, its immovableness and uprightness; the evergreen "olive tree" which "remaineth in its beauty both winter and summer," of the unvarying presence of Divine Grace, continually, supplying an eversustained freshness, and issuing in fruit; and the fragrance of the aromatic plants with which the lower parts of Mount Lebanon are decked, of its loveliness and sweetness; as a native explains this , "he takes a second comparison from Mount Lebanon for the abundance of aromatic things and odoriferous flowers."
Such are the myrtles and lavender and the odoriferous reed; from which "as you enter the valley" (between Lebanon and Anti-lebanon) "straightway the scent meets you." All these natural things are established and well-known symbols of things spiritual. The lily, so called in Hebrew from its dazzling whiteness, is, in the Canticles Sol 2:1-2, the emblem of souls in which Christ takes delight. The lily multiplies exceedingly : yet hath it a weak root and soon fadeth. The prophet, then, uniteth with these, plants of unfading green, and deep root. The seed which "had no root," our Lord says, "withered away" Matthew 13:6, as contrariwise, Paul speaks of these, who are "rooted and grounded in love" Ephesians 3:17, and of being "rooted and built up in Christ" Colossians 2:7. The widespreading branches are an emblem of the gradual growth and enlargement of the Church, as our Lord says, "It becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof" Matthew 13:32.
The symmetry of the tree and its outstretched arms express, at once, grace and protection. Of the "olive" the Psalmist says, "I am like a green olive tree in the house Of God" Psalm 52:8; and Jeremiah says, "The Lord called thy name a green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit" Jeremiah 11:16; and of "fragrance" the spouse says in the Canticles, "because of the savor of Thy good ointments, Thy name is as ointment poured forth" Sol 1:3; and the Apostle says, "thanks be to God, which maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place" 2 Corinthians 2:14. Deeds of charity also are "an odor of good smell" Philippians 4:18; the prayers of the saints also are "sweet odors" Revelation 5:8. All these are the fruits of the Spirit of God who says, "I will be as the dew unto Israel." Such reunion of qualities, being beyond nature, suggests the more, that, that, wherein they are all combined, the future Israel, the Church, shall flourish with graces beyond nature, in their manifoldness, completeness, unfadingness.
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.They that dwell under his shadow - that is, the shadow of the restored Israel, who had just been described under the image of a magnificent tree uniting in itself all perfections. : "They that are under the shadow of the Church are together under the shadow of Christ the Head thereof, and also of God the Father." The Jews, of old, explained it , "they shall dwell under the shadow of their Messias." These, he says, "shall return," i. e., they shall turn to be quite other than they had been, even back to Him, to whom they belonged, whose creatures they were, God. "They shall revive as the corn." The words may be differently rendered, in the same general meaning. The simple words, "They shall revive" (literally, "give life" to, or "preserve in life,") "corn," have been filled up differently. Some of old, (from where ours has been taken) understood it, "they shall revive" themselves, and so, "shall live" , and that either "as corn," (as it is said, "shall grow as the vine"); or "by corn" which is also very natural, since "bread is the staff of life," and our spiritual Bread is the support of our spiritual life.
Or lastly, (of which the grammar is easier, yet the idiom less natural) it as been rendered "they shall give life to corn," make corn to live, by cultivating it. In all ways the sense is perfect. If we render, "shall revive" as "corn," it means, being, as it were, dead, they shall net only live again with renewed life, but shall even increase. Corn first dies in its outward form, and so is multiplied; the fruit-bearing branches of the vine are pruned and cut, and so they bear richer fruit. So through suffering, chastisement, or the heavy hand of God or man, the Church, being purified, yields more abundant fruits of grace. Or if rendered, "shall make corn to grow," since the prophet, all around, is under figures of God's workings in nature, speaking of His workings of grace, then it is the same image, as when our Lord speaks of those "who receive the seed in an honest and true heart and bring forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" Matthew 13:23. Or if we were to render, "shall produce life through wheat," what were this, but that seed-corn, which, for us and for our salvation, was sown in the earth, and died, and "brought forth much fruit;" the Bread of life, of which our Lord says, "I am the Bread of life, whoso eateth of this bread shall live forever, and the bread which I will give is My Flesh, which I will give for the life of the world?" John 6:48, John 6:51.
The scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon - The grapes of Lebanon have been of the size of plums; its wine has been spoken of as the best in the East or even in the world . Formerly Israel was as a luxuriant, but empty, vine, bringing forth no fruit to God Hosea 10:1. God "looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes" Isaiah 5:2. Now its glory and luxuriance should not hinder its bearing fruit, and "that," the noblest of its kind. Rich and fragrant is the odor of graces, the inspiration of the Spirit of God, and not fleeting, but abiding.
Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.Ephraim shall say, what have I to do anymore with idols? - So Isaiah fortells, "The idols He shall utterly abolish" Isaiah 2:18. Aforetime Ephraim said obstinately, in the midst of God's chastisements; "I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink" Hosea 2:5. Now she shall renounce them wholly and forever. This is entire conversion, to part wholly with everything which would dispute the allegiance with God, to cease to look to any created thing or being, for what is the gift of the Creator alone. So the Apostle says, "what concord hath Christ with Belial?" 2 Corinthians 6:15. This verse exhibits in few, vivid, words, converted Ephraim speaking with God, and God answering; Ephraim renouncing his sins, and God accepting him; Ephraim glorying in God's goodness, and God reminding him that he holds all from Himself.
I have heard and observed him - God answers the profession and accepts it. I, (emphatic) "I Myself have heard and have answered," as He says, "Before they call I will answer" Isaiah 65:24. Whereas God, before, had hid His face from them, or had "observed" Hosea 13:7 them, only as the object of His displeasure, and as ripe for destruction, now He reverses this, and "observes" them, in order to forecome the wishes of their hearts before they are expressed, to watch over them and survey and provide for all their needs. To this, Ephraim exulting in God's goodness, answers, "I" am "like a green fir tree," i. e., ever-green, ever-fresh. The "berosh," (as Jerome, living in Palestine, thought) one of the large genus of the "pine" or "fir," or (as others translated) the cypress , was a tall stately tree Isaiah 55:13; in whose branches the stork could make its nest Psalm 104:17; its wood precious enough to be employed in the temple (1 Kings 5:22, 24 (1 Kings 5:8, 1 Kings 5:10, English); 6:15, 34); fine enough to be used in all sorts of musical instruments 2 Samuel 6:5; strong and pliant enough to be used for spears Nahum 2:3.
It was part of the glory of Lebanon Isaiah 37:24; Isaiah 60:13. A Greek historian says that Lebanon "was full of cedars and pines and cypresses, of wonderful beauty and size" . A modern traveler says, of "the cypress groves of Lebanon" ; "Each tree is in itself a study for the landscape painter - some, on account of their enormous stems and branches. Would you see trees in all their splendor and beauty, then enter these wild groves, that have never been touched by the pruning knife of art." This tree, in its majestic beauty, tenacity of life, and undying verdure, winter and summer, through the perpetual supply of sap, pictures the continual life of the soul through the unbroken supply of the grace of God. Created beauty must, at best, be but a faint image of the beauty of the soul in grace, for this is from the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.
From Me is thy fruit found - Neither the pine nor the cypress bear any fruit, useful for food. It is probable then that here too the prophet fills out one image by another and says that restored Israel, the Church of God, or the soul in grace, should not only have beauty and majesty, but what is not, in the way of nature, found united therewith, fruitfulness also. From Me is thy fruit found; as our Lord says, "I am the vine, ye are the branches" John 15:5. Human nature, by itself, can as little bear fruit well-pleasing to God, as the pine or cypress can bear fruit for human use. As it were a miracle in nature, were these trees to bring forth such fruit, so, for man to bring forth fruits of grace, is a miracle of grace. The presence of works of grace attests the immediate working of God the Holy Spirit, as much as any miracle in nature.
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.Who is wise and he shall understand these things? - The prophet says this, not of the words in which he had spoken, but of the substance. He does not mean that his style was obscure, or that he had delivered the message of God in a way difficult to be understood. This would have been to fail of his object. Nor does he mean that human acuteness is the key to the things of God. He means that those only of a certain character, those "wise," through God, unto God, will understand the things of God. So the Psalmist, having related some of God's varied chastenings, mercies and judgments, sums up, "Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord" Psalm 107:43. So Asaph says that God's dealings with the good and bad in this life were "too hard" for him to "understand, until" he "went into the sanctuary of God;" then "understood" he "their end" Psalm 73:16-17.
In like way Daniel, at the close of his prophecy, sums up the account of a sifting-time, "Many shall be purified and made white and tried, and the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand" Daniel 12:10. As these say that the wise alone understand the actual dealings of God with man, so Hosea says, that the wise alone would understand what he had set forth of the mercy and severity of God, of His love for man, His desire to pardon, His unwillingness that any should perish, His longing for our repentance, His store of mercies in Christ, His gifts of grace and His free eternal love, and yet His rejection of all half-service and His final rejection of the impenitent. "Who is wise?" "The word "who" is always taken, not for what is impossible, but for what is difficult." So Isaiah saith, "Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the Arm of the Lord revealed?" Isaiah 53:1.
Few are wise with "the wisdom which is from above;" few understand, because few wish to understand, or seek wisdom from Him who "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not" James 1:5. The question implies also, that God longs that people should understand to their salvation. He inquires for them, calls to them that they would meditate on His mercies and judgments. As Paul says, "Behold the goodness and severity of God; on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out" Romans 11:22, Romans 11:33. Unsearchable to intellect and theory; intelligible to faith and for acting on.
And he shall understand these things - (that is, that he may understand). The worldly-wise of that generation, too, doubtless, thought themselves too wise to need to understand them; as the wise after this world counted the Cross of Christ foolishness.
Prudent - Properly "gifted with understanding," the form of the word expressing, that he was "endowed with" this "understanding," as a gift from God. And He shall know them. While the wise of this world disbelieve, jeer, scoff at them, in the name of human reason, he who has not the natural quickness of man only, but who is endued with the true wisdom, shall "know" them. So our Lord says, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it is of God" John 7:17. The word, "wise," may especially mean him who contemplates these truths and understands them in themselves, yet plainly so as to act upon them; and the word "endued with prudence," may especially describe such as are gifted with readiness to apply that knowledge to practice, in judgment, discrimination, act . By uniting both, the prophet joins contemplative and practical wisdom, and intensifies the expression of God's desire that we should be endowed with them.
For the ways of the Lord are right - If in the word, "ways," the figure is still preserved, the prophet speaks of the "ways," as "direct and straight;" without a figure, as "just and upright."
The ways of the Lord - Are, what we, by a like figure, call "the 'course' of His providence;" of which Scripture says, "His ways are judgment" Deuteronomy 32:4; Daniel 4:37; "God, His ways are perfect" Psalm 18:30; "the Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works" Psalm 145:17; "Thy way is in the sea, and Thy paths in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known" Psalm 77:19; "lo, these are parts of His ways, but how little a portion is heard of Him, and the thunder of His power who can understand?" Job 26:14; "who hath enjoined Him His way, and who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?" Job 36:23. These "ways of God" include His ordering for us, in His eternal wisdom, that course of life, which leads most directly to Himself. They include, then, all God's commandments, precepts, counsels, His whole moral law, as well as His separate purpose for each of us. In the one way, they are God's ways toward us; in the other they are God's ways for us.
The just shall walk in them - God reveals His ways to us, not that we may know them only, but that we may do them. "The end of moral science is not knowledge, but practice," said the Pagan philosopher . But the life of grace is a life of progress. The word, "way," implies not continuance only, but advance. He does not say," they shall "stand" in God's ways," but "they shall walk in them." They shall go on in them "upright, safe, and secure, in "great peace" and with "nothing whereat to stumble" . In God's ways there is no stumbling block, and they who walk in them, are free from those of which other ways are full. Whereas, out of God's ways, all paths are tangled, uneven, slippery, devious, full of snares and pitfalls, God maketh His "way straight," a royal highway, smooth, even, direct unto Himself.
But - (and) the transgressors shall fall therein - Literally, "shall stumble thereon" Psalm 119:165. Transgressors, i. e., those who rebel against the law of God, "stumble" in divers manners, not "in," but "at" the ways of God. They stumble at God Himself, at His All-Holy Being, Three and One; they stumble at His attributes; they stumble at His providence, they stumble at His acts; they stumble at His interference with them; they stumble at His requirements. They rebel against His commandments, as requiring what they like not; at His prohibitions, as refusing what they like. They stumble at His Wisdom, in ordering His own creation; at His Holiness, in punishing sin; but most of all, they stumble at His Goodness and condescension. They have a greater quarrel with His condescension than with all His other attributes. They have stumbled, and still stumble at God the Son, becoming Man, and taking our flesh in the Virgin's womb; they stumble at the humility of the Crucifixion; they stumble at His placing His Manhood at the Right Hand of God; they stumble at the simplicity, power and condescension, which He uses in the sacraments; they stumble at His giving us His Flesh to eat; they stumble at His forgiving sins freely, and again and again; they stumble at His making us members of Himself, without waiting for our own wills; they stumble at His condescension in using our own acts, to the attainment of our degree of everlasting glory.
Every attribute, or gift, or revelation of God, which is full of comfort to the believer, becomes in turn an occasion of stumbling to the rebellious. "The things which should have been for his wealth, become to him an occasion of falling. "They cannot attemper their own wishes and ways to the divine law, because, obeying what they themselves affect, "the law of their members," they stumble at that other law, which leadeth unto life" Psalm 69:22. : With this the prophet sums up all the teaching of the seventy years of his ministry. This is the end of all which he had said of the severity and mercy of God, of the Coming of Christ, and of our resurrection in Him. This is to us the end of all; this is thy choice, Christian soul, to walk in God's ways, or to stumble at them. As in the days when Christ came in the Flesh, so it is now; so it will be to the end. So holy Simeon prophesied, "'This Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel' Luke 2:34; and our Lord said of Himself, 'For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind' John 9:39. And Peter; 'Unto you which believe He is precious; but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling and rock of offence, to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient' 1 Peter 2:7-8. 'Christ crucified was unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God' 1 Corinthians 1:23-24. The commandment, which' was ordained 'to life,' Paul, when yet unregenerate, 'found' to be 'unto death' Romans 7:10. : "Pray we then the Eternal Wisdom, that we may be truly wise and understanding, and receive not in vain those many good things which Christ has brought to the race of man. Let us cleave to Him by that 'faith, which worketh by love;' let us seek the Good, seek the Just, 'seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near.' Whatever God doeth toward ourselves or others, let us account right; 'for the ways of the Lord are right,' and 'that' cannot be unjust, which pleaseth the Just. Whatever He teacheth, whatever He commandeth, let us believe without discussion, and embrace most firmly for "that" cannot be false, which the Truth hath taught. Let us walk in His ways;" for Christ Himself is "the Way" unto Himself, "the Life." : "Look up to heaven; look down to Hell; live for Eternity." "Weigh a thousand, yea thousands of years against eternity what dost thou, weighing a finite, how vast soever, against Infinity."