The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.Morning Cloud and Early Dew
Hosea 13 "When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died" (
"When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died" (Hosea 13:1).
It would be pleasant to read these words in the obvious sense which they bear, but that sense is not the right one. Ephraim never "spake trembling," in any sense that indicated upon his part humility, diffidence, unworthiness. Ephraim was always proud, and therefore always cowardly; always boastful, and therefore never better than a bully. What blessing he had Was given to him through heredity, and not through any personal desert. "When Ephraim spake trembling,"—when he gave Israel a sense of his awe, his military grandeur, his personal pomp, his wonderful influence, "he exalted himself in Israel;" that is to say, he made almost a god of himself; he lifted himself up to his full stature, he rose amongst his brethren, as it were, toweringly, and cast upon them a very long and very sobering shadow. It is the portrait of one who does not know the measure of human strength, how little it is; it is the action of one who has not sounded the little depths of human wisdom and human power and human dignity. Ephraim altogether played the fool in Israel. There is another sense in which the passage has been mistakenly regarded that is full of suggestion, and pregnant with real encouragement and comfort. Annotators have not hesitated to collect around this verse others which they have thought to be of kindred import, such as, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." "When thou wast little in thine own sight... the Lord anointed thee king." "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." These citations have been thought to be worthy company for these historical incidents; they need not be dismissed from the incident, but they must not be regarded as still further elaborating and expressing its intent. Let them remain as a foil. So regarded, they are of infinite importance. No man who exalts himself in any mean way shall ever rise to enduring influence; but there is an exaltation that is heroic, sublime, made necessary by all the fitness of things—a declaration of power and a claim to attention, arising out of ministries numerous and unnameable that seem to constitute a definite and inevitable divine election. It is always difficult for some minds to distinguish between vanity and greatness, conceit and divinely-given consciousness of power. If a man should say he has no power when he knows he is able, he is not humble, he is false; when a man says he cannot contribute when all his treasury is full, he is not representing the spirit of poverty, he is representing the spirit of falsehood and ingratitude.
"And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen" (Hosea 13:2).
The emphasis there is where you would not expect it to be; it is upon the words "all of it." There is not one sacred spot in any idol; there is not one faint signature of the living God upon anything that man has made with his own hands to worship; it is as if eyes of fire had searched the idols through and through, and as if the hands of critics had written their record and reported in these words: The idol is all base, all dross, all material; all of it is the work of the hands of craftsmen. Men cannot step from the finite to the infinite. A finite creature cannot make an infinite idol. Whatever is made is less than the maker. If a man has made a god, he is greater than the god he has made. To have genius and power to make it is to have another genius and power equal to condemn it. Men get tired of what they have made. Ambition may arise and say, Make a better; then comes the displacement of the former god, amid every sign and token of contempt. These words should be cried out poignantly, bitterly, sarcastically. A man is standing before the idol, and he has gone through it atom by atom, so to speak, lineament by lineament, and he says at the end—"all of it": There is not one speck of heavenly gold in all this handful of earthly rubbish. "They say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves." It was said in Israel concerning the calves, "These be thy gods, O Israel." To kiss was in the ancient times a sign of homage either human or divine. Men kissed their gods. When they could not kiss their gods, as, for example, in the instance of the heavenly bodies, they kissed their fingers, and waved their kissed hands to the objects of worship. The divine Being does not hesitate to accept this action, and give it its highest meaning; hence in the second Psalm there is one who says, "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way." That man should have descended to kiss a god of his own making is the consummation of weakness, and the very climax of ignorance and blasphemy. All this happened in ancient times. That is true, but all this happens letter for letter to-day. Man cannot get beyond the tether of his race. It is man that is tethered; not a man, some man, a particular and dying man, but humanity. We are all in one condemnation; the act of homage has not ceased, the object of desire may have changed. Men live in circumstances, and are lost in details, and therefore it is probable that they may imagine if they have substituted some other object for the calves of Israel therefore they have left the old idolatry. That is not so. If a man be trusting to his own right arm he is as great an idolater as any that ever lived in Israel. Whoso says he has money enough to keep out the difficulties of time, the slaves of want, and therefore he need not concern himself with providence in any spiritual and metaphysical sense, is as much an idolater as he who in uncivilised lands bows down to stock or stone, or lifts eyes of wondering ignorance to the blue heavens that he may fix them upon something of which he will make the image of a god.
Yet all these heathen practices admit of the highest applications. Let no man reject nature, it is God's handiwork; no craftsman made the sun; no hireling servant set the stars in their places. If any poor heart, ill at ease, should pick out some fair-faced star and say, Be thou god to me, it might be the beginning of the higher religion, the nobler and truer faith. These are mysteries, and are not to be spoken about scornfully. He does not know the human heart who says to men who know no better, that idolatry is a sin. It was a sin in Israel, because it involved backsliding from the true God; but find a man in a savage land who has never heard of God or Christ, and to whom the words father, mother, brother, sister, carry no dew of blessing, no colour of poetry, no suggestion of wider and eternal fellowships,—find a man there clinging to but a handful of mud in the expectation that there is something in it that can help him, and it is no sin: it should be the business of those who know better to teach him better; let what he has seized be the alphabet out of which to make words and music and wisdom. Sometimes men are prone to say that a Christian country is no better than a heathen land because the Christians of the country have abandoned their Christianity. That is not fair to heathen lands. Any man who has been a Christian, and has left his Christianity, or defiled his faith, is infinitely worse than any pagan who never heard of the Cross. No pagan can be so bad as an apostate Christian.
The prophet proceeds to poetry, and yet under his poetry there is a line of practical wisdom and monition:—
"Therefore they shall be as the morning cloud, and as the early dew that passeth away" (Hosea 13:3).
That is beautiful,—"morning cloud": why, that may be a robe of glory; it may be a treasure-house into which the sun has transferred all manner of rich colour and tender suggestion of brighter mornings than ever dawned upon the earth. "Early dew,"—jewels from the womb of the morning, benisons from heaven's smile, gifts of God, liquid flowers. Oh, who shall tell what early dew means? This is the divine aspect of the symbolism. There is nothing wrong in morning cloud, or in early dew, but if the flowers do not receive immediate benefit from that dew they cannot receive permanent advantage; the dew will go as soon as it sees the sun. The dew is as one waiting for the morning to come out in full smile, and then it will claim kindred, and pass away to be merged into cloud and rainbow and wizardry of summer skies. So upon our youth there may have been signs of beauty; yet because we did not turn those signs to spiritual utility, they have passed away, and that which was once baptised with dew is as arid and barren sand. But there are two sets of figures in this verse; here is a quartette of symbolism: morning cloud and early dew on the one side; on the other, chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney. Let these figures stand in mutual illustration, in forcible solemn contrast: on the one side morning cloud, early dew; on the other chaff, and smoke out of the chimney. Is the smoke out of the chimney to be described as a morning cloud? See, it becomes blacker and blacker; there is no suggestion of beauty in it, there is no fragrance in that incense; it is smoke only, worthless, without beauty, without utility; let it be blown away by the wind. And the chaff, who will run after it? Who is miserly enough to rise early that he may save the chaff from the contempt of the wind? In this poetry there is stern reason; in this imagery there is highest righteousness. God will distinguish between the morning cloud and the smoke out of the chimney, the early dew which no hand but his own could mould, and the chaff out of which the wheat has been taken, and that the wind, yea, the whirlwind, may play with as it pleases, for it can lose nothing. These are indications of character, these are etchings of life. There is infinitely more in these figures than mere symbolism. Who has not seen the morning cloud in a child? It was a cloud, but a morning cloud, edged with light, filled with possible glory; quite an evanescent thing, yet suggestive of real beauty, of vital worthfulness. Who has not seen the early dew in the young life, all beauty, all tenderness, all hopefulness? And who could distinguish between the flower and the dew—which was the dew, which was the flower? How beautiful they both are, and how they belong to one another! And who can tell what is coming out of that sacred union? And yet the morning cloud has disappointed the parent, and the early dew has not left any blessed memory for the pastor. Who does not know the chaff, and who has not seen the smoke? The chaff cannot long pass as wheat; its true quality will soon be discovered. Smoke is not to be mistaken for incense of the true and acceptable kind. How many men there are who have no substance, no reality. What beauty they may have is a borrowed beauty; it is shed upon them, it does not flash out of them; it is an accident, not an expression of nature: "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."
"I did know thee in the wilderness, in the land of great drought" (Hosea 13:5).
God knows his people where nobody else will take any notice of them. You do not know a man until you know him in the wilderness. There is but little revelation of character in laughter. So long as a man is living in rioting and wantonness, in great abundance and prosperity, having only to lift his hand to command a regiment of servants, you cannot really tell what his true quality is. Men show themselves in the darkness; men cry out of their hearts when they are in distress; it is in the night time of life's bitter sorrows that men's true quality is revealed. God never forsakes his people in wildernesses and in desert places; he is more God and Father to them there than ever. No man knows God who only knows him theologically. It is impossible to read much about God; you must read the writing in your own heart. The world is within you; you carry the universe in your own bosom. Unless you have the faculty and the genius of introspection, and the power to read the small print that is being daily typed upon your inmost life, you can never be scholars in the sanctuary of Christ, you can never attain to high degrees of wisdom in the school of heaven. Men seek God in the wilderness. The wilderness is the school of discipline. In the Bible there lies one great desert land, and it is called "that great and terrible wilderness." There could not be two such in any globe; there could not be a duplicate experience in any life. Some things can be done only once; no man can be twice in Gethsemane; no man can be twice crucified. There are acts in life which, having been accomplished, enable the sufferer to say, The bitterness of death is passed; come what will now, it is but a day's march into heaven.
Now comes a stroke of satire, tremendous in its urgency and awful in the whole range of its suggestion:—
"According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me" (Hosea 13:6).
The emphasis is upon the words "their pasture." The figure is that of a man who has sown a field, and now must reap what he has sown—he has sown to the flesh, now he must put his sickle into corruption, for they that sow unto the flesh must of the flesh reap corruption. "Their pasture": their way of doing things, their invented joys, their fabricated fortunes and delights and prospects; their weaving, their sowing, their mechanism; their pasture through and through—what does it amount to? To hunger. The more they eat of their pasture the keener and larger their necessity. For a time they are filled as a man might fill himself with chaff; for a time they are filled as with foam; for a time they are filled, but it is with the exhilaration of swiftly coming madness; for that time they forget God; they say they can do without him. God simply leaves them to their pasture, and when they have gone into every corner of it, and eaten up every particle of chaff they can find, he simply waits and looks on. The cry of hunger will soon announce the result of grubbing in a pasture that is not rooted in the sun.
Then across all this complaining there come voices that are charged with gospel music:—
"O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help" (Hosea 13:9).
There is a whole evangelical revelation: self-destruction, divine redemption; man the sinner, God the Saviour; man lost, and God in search of him—what more is there in Gethsemane, on Calvary?
Then comes another phase of the Gospel before the time, Paul's great argument on resurrection sketched by the strong hand of Hosea:—
"I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction" (Hosea 13:14).
How much higher did Paul rise? Not one step higher did apostolic genius, divinely-inspired, ascend. Here are lives ransomed, bought, paid for,—bought with blood, the price paid; here is redemption from death, a power confronted with death, and that power tearing out its teeth, extracting its sting, blinding its hideous eyes, and triumphing over it as a silent and humiliated and dishonoured opponent; and here is the old grave, the old worrying, all-devouring, all-concealing grave, torn asunder, and its victims liberated, and made into sons of light. I will be thy destruction, O grave; I will be thy plagues, O death. Put it in Christian language: O grave, where is thy sting? O death, where is thy victory? Thus the Testaments hail one another on resurrection morning. The Old Testament could not have been written but for the resurrection that is revealed in all the fulness of its meaning in the New Testament. There be those who say, Is there aught about the resurrection in the Old Testament? And there have been those who have said, Nay, it is not so much as named there, unless we take a passage in Job and one or two hints elsewhere, and amplify them into an argument. On the contrary, I find in "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" the resurrection; I find in "And God created man in his own image and likeness" the resurrection; I find in "The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent the death of death, and the filling up of the grave.