The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind: he daily increaseth lies and desolation; and they do make a covenant with the Assyrians, and oil is carried into Egypt.Divine Criticism
Some of these chapters seem to be wholly out of our reach. It is difficult to understand what relation we can sustain to them: are they historical, symbolical, typical, imaginative, real, poetical,—dreams or facts? What difference is there between a fact and a dream? Coming to higher interpretations, and looking at wider issues, which is the fact? Probably we shall get at the meaning of this chapter best by trying to find in it a divine standpoint. It is God that talks much in this chapter: what is he talking about? The voice is the voice of judgment; the divine finger is used critically, pointing out flaw and blemish, and stain and sore, and deep wound and shameful traces of backsliding. How does God look upon the affairs of men? To listen to his voice will be to hear the voice of judgment, truth, wisdom, love. We do not get at the meaning of such chapters by merely grammatical exercises; they were written invisibly before grammar was conceived, and they abide in all the inner thinking, dreaming, and agony of life after language has told us its last word and given up the ghost. Except men have eyes that see within they are blind. All literalists are victims; they are clever within the four corners of the alphabet; they flutter, but never fly.
God shall pronounce judgment upon the ways of men. "Ephraim feedeth on wind, and followeth after the east wind," and thinketh all the time that he is making a great feast. There is nothing old, in the sense of exhaustion and obsoleteness in that delusion. The figure is that of Ephraim, who shall stand for mankind, seated at the table, and trying to fill himself not with wind only, but with the east wind, drying, scorching, withering, and all the while seeming to enjoy himself, and to be supplying his necessities with abundance. There is a satirical tone in the criticism; as if it said, Ephraim has so outlived himself, so divested himself of his soul, that he mistakes wind for solid food, and drinks up the east wind as if he were feasting on the wine of the vineyard of heaven. This is the most pitiable plight that man can be in; when he does not know that he is a sinner, when he is not aware that he is playing the fool, when he is so using life as to miss the genius of all its laws, and the benediction of all its divinest ministries, then has he succeeded in obliterating the divine signature and quenching the divine aspiration. This was the case with Ephraim; the wind was enough, the east wind blowing across the arid deserts was joy to him, and daily he became more eloquent in falsehood. If a man will feed upon the wind, and try to get behind the east wind, and find all his enjoyments in such frivolity, such criminal expenditure of human energy, the result will be a deeper and deeper alliance with all the black spirits of falsehood. The census of that black world has never been taken. The wind is full of spirits. The apostle indicated this marvellous element in human life and human experience when he exhorted the Ephesian Church to put on the whole armour of God; said he, You are not wrestling with flesh and blood, else then would wood or steel do; but ye wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, with the spirits that take the stars out of the night, and leave nothing but the blackness of darkness. Men graduate in the school of falsehood; the first lies they tell are not the cleverest they will tell. At first there may be a kind of unsophisticated infantile frankness about lying; a blush will come to say, I have told you a lie, and you seem to believe it. By-and-by the cheek will blush no longer, but will be as white in lying as in prayer. Ephraim "daily increaseth lies and desolation": one lie begets another. No lie can live alone; it must have some sponsor, or defender, or expositor. Lies are a progeny; they live in nests. Yet lies may be spoken of in the singular number. This is the mystery of depravity, that a man may tell so many lies that at last he himself shall be a lie. Beware the entrance not to a quarrel only, but to falsehood, dissimulation, tergiversation—aught that tampers with the integrity and flawlessness of truth that seamless chrysolite.
"The Lord hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him" (Hosea 12:2).
Yet Jacob did not know it; Judah was not aware of it. Men often lose the key. The lock is always there, but the key has been mislaid. A man may so use his brain as to forget his name, his residence, the broadest distinctions of tone and colour and personality; then he will begin to wonder how it is that things happen so. He has done nothing to account for them; he considers himself an object of commiseration; he has lost what he had in his hands, and he knows not where he set it down or let it fall. Some thief must have robbed him in his sleep. When will man be honest with himself, and speak the truth to himself, and say, Judah, thou art a liar; Jacob, thou art a hypocrite: the reason is in thee, not out of thee? If the kingdom of God is in a man, so is the kingdom of the devil. Look within for the lost key; look within for the reason of the unexpected and tormenting flagellation. That would kill us; this would put an end to all festivity and joy and satisfaction; this would turn life into a daily torment. Better so than that we should continue to feast upon the wind and follow the east wind, and daily increase in lies and desolation. A crisis must occur now or then. Blessed is he who says, It shall occur now; this moment shall self-examination begin; this instant I will find out the cause of this disease: I will not let the light go until I have exposed the secret of this torment and suffering, this pain and loss and inward hell. How gratifying it is to our little vanity, and our many-sided and insidious selfishness, to think that God is chastening us, when he is in reality auditing our accounts, and asking for the rectification of them. There is a chastening providence, there is a process into which men are passed without traceable reason on their own account as to conscious iniquity: but there is also a judgment that has reasons on every side of it, there is a judgment that explains itself to the heart; that says, ere it bring the blow down upon the quivering life, You provoked this, you deserve this, you need this; to say you deserve it may be the beginning of penitence and restoration. Yet how difficult it is for God to be only judge. He gives way in the middle of his judgment. It would seem as if he could scarcely carry a judgment right through to the very end; his tears get the better of him; he cries when he pronounces sentence; yea, the sentence seems to be pronounced upon himself; in judgment and in wrath he remembers mercy.
Hear this tone in the midst of all the thunder: "The Lord will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him." The punishment shall not be in excess of the way; it shall be a measured visitation. God will not load all his thunder upon some poor insect of a moment; the Lord's hand is not lifted up in anger divorced from reason, and torn away from the grasp of mercy. So we come to a new rule of the interpretation of human conduct and divine judgment Whatever punishment has befallen us, it is measured by our sin. If the pain has been great, it is because the sin has been proportionate; if the darkness has been without one starry smile, one glint of nocturnal light, it is because in some hour of base apostasy we have outdone Iscariot. So spare not the knife. This is not murder, it is surgery; every thrust of the knife has healing in it. Let a man examine himself, pierce himself, criticise himself, find out the secret of himself, and carefully look at himself in the noontide of divine illumination. Any man taking this course will have no difficulty about the doctrine of depravity. It is when a man shall wash himself, and put on his best garments, and sit down to some smoking feast, that he begins to doubt the foolish theologians who discourse upon human depravity. We would not take that man's opinion upon any subject in heaven or on earth until he is changed by his environment. Some night when he skulks home under the shelter of the friendly darkness, having nothing in his throat but a sob, and nothing in his heart but a fatal wound; some night when he tries to say with livid lips, God be merciful to me! we may take his opinion upon the doctrine of human apostasy.
"He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him" (Hosea 12:3-4).
This was Jacob; but Jacob was unconscious of it all. We make a mistake when we think of Jacob as a unit, a man amongst men, when all these symbolical representations are made of him. We cannot get away from the letter; we go into the alphabet and shut the door behind us, and cannot get out again, and there we construct all manner of incoherent philosophy and theology. "Jacob" was not a personality only, a unit; he was a symbol, he was a figure in the algebra of God's mysterious equation of providence and spiritual action and redeeming interposition. Enlarge the field of vision; enlarge the personality into the multitudinousness of its significations: then we shall get rid of small elections and neatly appointed predestinations and shocking and detestable partialities on the part of the divine Father, who loved us all, and made us all; and did that right hand ever shape anything that was hideous, worthless, beneath the condescending look of its maker? We cannot tell what we are doing; we do not see whose heel we are pulling; with what angel we are wrestling; and specially we do not know what battles we are winning by our weakness. The Pentateuch did not see the tears, but the tears were shed, and Hosea made record of them: "He wept, and made supplication unto him." We first read the words as so vigorous as to be almost defiant, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." These words might be so read as to have within them a ringing challenge, as of one who will try strength with strength, and who operates upon the limited consciousness that he is able to overthrow his antagonist in the close wrestle. It was not so; he "wept" and "prevailed"; he was weak, and therefore almost almighty; he was taught if not in words, yet in consciousness to say, "When I am weak then am I strong." The Lord will not withhold any blessing from the tears of the heart. If a man pray with tears he will get what he wants, if it is meant to enlarge his being, ennoble his spirit, and shape him to diviner uses. We do not receive things by uncivil asking, amounting almost to a note of demand. The Lord is not to be called upon as a collector calls upon a reluctant taxpayer. The Lord will answer the looks that have agony in them, tears that express all the heart, prayers tender as love. When the prodigal was brokenhearted he became a son again. So long as he had plentiful abundance, and could spread his own table, he was in a "far country" not only in a topographical, but in a sympathetic sense; but in want and pain and helplessness, and in that cry for the father and the home he found the beginning of a blessed eternity. Oh, soul of mine, what mightest thou have had hadst thou but wept in prayer; hadst thou resorted to the eloquence of contrition; hadst thou halted in thy petitions, because the throb of thy broken-heartedness prevented the utterance of words!
Here comes a majestic picture of a divine memorial; a divine presence, a holy vision:—
"Even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is his memorial" (Hosea 12:5).
The sacred name, the unique name, the incommunicable name. Thus we have always been trained in mystery; God will have nothing that is merely superficial. We have lost everything by walking on the surface; we were made to walk, to dip, to fly, to outrun all language, and take to the wings of fancy. Men will not have it so, and therefore they call themselves practical, sober-minded, rational, and far removed from phantasy and all things of the nature of haze and mirage. They never lead the world; they are the heavy load that somebody else must carry, or they will never know that they have been born. The religious mind rules all. Sometimes there are interruptions of the sovereignty, but they do not impair the royalty and everlastingness of the throne. Science is now running errands for religion. Science does not know it, else it would not run. Why should we know all we are doing? We are of yesterday, and know nothing; tomorrow we have never seen. Presently science will make it clear that God has always been doing miracles and is always doing them, and that we ourselves are the greatest miracles of all. Do not be impatient or fretful; the Lord is building his own house; Bethel shall be the name of it, and its memorial shall be Jehovah. We enfeeble and impoverish ourselves by impatience. All men will come to pray. There shall one morning be such a family prayer as the world never uttered and heaven never heard; for all men, old, young, rich, poor, grey with many days, young because just born, shall clasp their hands, and say with one consent, "Our Father, which art in heaven." This is the vision of God; this is the prediction not of fancy, but of reason; and the first witness to be called in proof of its reasonableness is none other than lightning-eyed science itself. The Lord is still looking down upon the ways of Ephraim, and criticising the action of Jacob and Judah—by which names we mean, in this exposition, all men everywhere.
The next aspect brings us flat down to the earth:—
"He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress" (Hosea 12:7).
That is the record written in heaven of our merchants. It is well to see ourselves as others see us on the lower and more familiar levels of life; but to know ourselves as God knows us should be an education of the amplest and most profitable kind. The world is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress; he loveth to make a bargain. Watch him how he beats the seller down; hear him as he chaffers with the poor man who has to part with his gold and silver; watch him how he goes into the house to tell his unsophisticated wife how clever he is. He hath bought a pound's worth for half a pound. To-night he will be civil in the house; the children will think he has been born again to them—a new, radiant, joyous father. "I bought a pound for half a pound!" As for the beggar he cheated, let him find a gutter where he can—it is not his business. He cannot both buy and sell. He has a record on high, he has an account to face; he cannot pay it, he cannot liquidate it; if God can do anything for him it is because he is God.
And what saith Ephraim?
"And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin" (Hosea 12:8).
Literally: I am simply rich; in all my labours they shall find none iniquity that is sin. It was the custom of the trade; that is how it is. In forty pounds weight of calico put sixteen pounds weight of china clay—it is the custom of the trade: a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Sell for ten yards of cloth nine yards and seven-eighths. A man likes an eighth of a lie; a little fraction of falsehood is a kind of condiment in his supper; it is the custom of the trade. And especially if a man, after doing this, can take the chair at a missionary meeting, and speak lugubriously and tediously about the condition of the heathen he has never seen, but often cheated, he feels that there is none iniquity in him that is sin; he says, Business is business. He always says that when he wins. When he loses he says, There ought to be some morality in business after all. There is a point, you see, at which even Judas Iscariot wants an iron hand to hold some coin; it is so hot, so penetrating, so bloodsucking.
So the chapter rolls on in eloquent symbolism. We pause at a point that is satirical, yet most tragical and melancholy:
"Is there iniquity in Gilead? surely they are vanity: they sacrifice bullocks in Gilgal; yea, their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the fields" (Hosea 12:11).
The question is, "Is there iniquity in Gilead?" There should be balm there; there should be a physician there. Is there iniquity in fair Gilead? Is it possible that in the land of whiteness there is an infinite blackness as of great darkness? Is there iniquity in Gilead, in the fairest parts of life, in the loveliest fields of existence, in infantile hearts, in tender souls, in sacred homes, in churches high in reputation? Is there iniquity in Gilead? The answer is, There is nothing but iniquity. The question was asked that the answer might be made the more emphatic, the more tremendous.
Father of us all, thou hast in thy great mercy brought us back from the image and aspect of death, and given unto us the light and the beauty, the joy, the hope of another day. All the days are God's gifts; thou dost mean us to use them well, and bring them back to thee as talents that have been doubled. Thou hast not only given us the day, thou hast given us the strength and the grace needful to make the most of thy blessed treasure; help us to work out our calling, to do our duty, to fulfil all our task, and to go through all our work, not in a spirit of servility, but with the buoyancy and gladness and gratitude of love; then shall our work be light, our trials then shall not be without sweetness, the cross we have to bear will be borne from on high, and only the shadow of it will rest upon our shoulders. Make the day a new opportunity for doing good, for getting wisdom, for growing in grace, for helping those who need to be helped, and thus shall the day be one blessing, a door opening into heaven, and shall give us pledge and assurance of the life that shall never end. May we scorn all meanness, and lift up our heads unto the Lord as men who have a great expectation. Our hope is in the living God; thou wilt not allow our life to wander into darkness; if for a small moment we are forsaken we shall be gathered with ineffable and everlasting mercies. In the confidence of thy presence, in the assurance of thy sustaining grace, we look steadfastly to heaven, and then we look hopefully to earth, and we know that, having begun the day with prayer and praise and pious expectancy, its hours shall all be gladdened and its eventide shall be a benediction. Guide us with thine eye; sustain us by thy mighty power; keep us this day without sin. Our prayer we pray at the Cross, the eternal altar, the appointed mercy-seat; there no man can with the heart pray in vain. God be merciful unto us sinners; Christ redeem us day by day; Son of God, put forth towards us an arm that signifies the exercise of almightiness: then shall we be confident and joyous, and we shall enjoy the consciousness that our sin is pardoned. Thou delightest to forgive, thou dost abundantly pardon; thou dost not grudge thy forgiveness, but with infinite redundance of love thou dost grant us pardon as if in billow upon billow. For all thy care and love, thy light and blessing, thy nearness and tenderness, how shall the children of men praise thee? They want all the help of nature to lift their song to its right level; they would call upon thunder and sea and great wind to assist them in the uplifting of their praise to the Most High. Thou dost bless all men impartially; thou dost not forsake the work of thine own hands: old men and little children thou dost bless; the strong, the valorous, the sick, the timid thou dost not forget; thou rememberest our frame, and according to our strength or our weakness thou dost command thy blessing to rest upon us. Great is the Lord in goodness, great is the Lord in power, but greater in tenderness. Behold, the majesty of the Lord is not in omnipotence and thunder and lightning, but in love and pity and tears and redeeming compassion: herein is the divine majesty, herein the eternal royalty. Grant unto us such a view of life as shall enable us to seize every moment with eagerness, and make the most of the opportunity it affords; take away from us the spirit of indolence, the spirit of self-indulgence and of love of ease, and inspire all thy children with courage and determination and enthusiasm, that they may work while it is called day, and serve the Lord with the obedience and diligence of love. Have pity upon the sons of men; they are of yesterday and know nothing; they have filled up their moments with heart wandering, and with sins of thought and sins of deed; but where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound; over all the sea of our iniquity there arises the Cross of Christ. Help us to be better, and to do better; fill us with the Holy Spirit; may we be the living temples of the living God; and growing in heavenly wisdom, we shall handle the affairs of earth more capably and successfully; fixing our minds upon the heavenly life, we shall the better do the duties of the passing day. Our citizenship is in heaven, yet have we a task to do upon the earth this day. To the sick, the sorrowful, the weary, the brokenhearted, send messages of love; let all men see the Cross, understand the purpose of God in the Cross of Christ; then the night shall be full of stars, and the daybreak shall be the beginning of heaven. God's will be done; God's peace dwell in our hearts, the Spirit of the living God be within us—a great inspiration, a continual comfort, a blessing that the world cannot take away. Hear us now, and always hear us, in the Name that is above every name, without which no man can be saved. Amen.