When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
This is an extremely beautiful passage. It recalls, in a few most touching expressions, Jehovah's love and condescension and tenderness towards his ancient people. But, alas! the very record of God's kindness becomes the means of throwing into deeper relief the blackness of Israel's sin.
I. GOD'S KINDLY DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL. These had been manifested continually - in the infancy of the nation, during its childhood, and throughout its youth and manhood. Jehovah had been to the Hebrew people:
1. A loving Father. (Ver. 1.) He loved them, and chose them to be his own inheritance, He spoke of Israel as his "son," even during the bondage in Egypt (Exodus 4:22). He showed his fatherly love by accomplishing for his people the grand deliverance of the Exodus. And the Lord is the same still to the spiritual Israel. Those blessings which were shadowed forth in the theocratic adoption belong now to Christians. We are "predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself" (Ephesians 1:5) The believer receives the nature of God. He bears his Name. He enjoys free access to him. He obtains needed protection and provision. He is subjected to suitable training and discipline. And he has an eternal inheritance in reversion (1 John 3:1, 2).
2. A careful Nurse. (Ver. 3.) Jehovah had himself tended his son Israel during the forty years of childhood in the Arabian desert. He "bare him" (Deuteronomy 1:31), "took hint by the hand" (Jeremiah 31:32), and tenderly supported him. As a nursing father, he had used soft and kindly leading-strings, he knew his people's needs. He was "touched with the feeling of their infirmities." He took upon himself the entire charge of the nation. For their schooling he gave them object-lessons - setting up the tabernacle and its ritual as a spiritual "kindergarten." When they wandered from him he brought them back, and patiently "healed them" from those distresses which their apostasy had entailed. And God is the same careful Nurse to his spiritual children. He bears the believer, and bears with him. The Holy Spirit teaches the child of God "to go," and "leads him in the way everlasting." He raises him when he falls, heals his bruises, and is "a very present Help in trouble." The path of duty may lead the believer into slippery places, but "underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27).
3. A kindly Monitor. (Ver. 4, first part.) If ver. 1 refers to the Exodus, and ver. 3 to the forty years in the wilderness, ver. 4: may be applied to Jehovah's dealings with Israel throughout his entire history as a nation. All along the Lord treated his people, not as prisoners or slaves, but as sons. He "drew them with cords of a man;" i.e. his methods of government were humane, and had their seat in reason. He drew them" with bands of love;" i.e. his arguments or influences were tender and persuasive. The mercies showered upon Israel were countless. The Divine forbearance with the people was wonderful. One special mark of God's favor was his raising up the prophets, one after another, to "call them" (ver. 2) from their idols, and to "draw them" back to himself. And does not the Lord deal just thus with men still? His methods of touching the heart are humane and affectionate. We see the "gentleness" of God in his kindly providence, in his wonderful redemption, and in the means and motives towards holiness which he employs. He calls to the sinner, "Come now, and let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). He tells the believer that a consecrated life is "your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).
4. A considerate Master. (Ver. 4, second part.) The Lord did not act towards Israel as brute beasts are often treated by ungentle drivers. A kind farmer treats his ox humanely, both when it is treading out the corn and when it is feeding in the stall; he withdraws the muzzle, or loosens the yoke-strap, that the animal may cat with comfort. Now, God had always acted so towards the Hebrews. In the innumerable blessings which he sent them, in the means of grace which he maintained amongst them, and in the immunities which they enjoyed as his chosen people, God said to them, "My yoke is easy." So, in like manner, does the Lord still deal with his redeemed people. He "removes their shoulder from the burden," taking off the yoke of guilt, the yoke of sin, the yoke of the Law, the yoke of unrest, the yoke of fear. And he "lays meat unto them" - "the hidden manna" of his grace, and "the fatness of his house."
II. ISRAEL'S VILE TREATMENT OF GOD. (Vers. 2, 3.) The nation had proved altogether unworthy of its sunny and glorious past. The people had been:
1. Ungrateful. They persistently forgot both the fact of their redemption and the continued presence of their Redeemer. The prophets "called them," but in vain. God "healed them," but they ascribed their deliverances to others.
2. Unfaithful. Israel requited the tender love of Jehovah with base apostasy. They opposed and rejected him. "They turned their back unto him, and not their face" (Jeremiah 2:27). They shamefully denied him by their sacrifices to Baal.
3. Obstinate in their wickedness. The career of the northern kingdom especially had been one of universal and continuous desertion. People and priests, princes and kings, had alike conspired to return hatred for Jehovah's love. And now, at length, Ephraim's hour of gracious opportunity seemed past. Only by a miracle could the avalanche of judgment be arrested. What a lesson to ourselves is unfolded in this representation of the outrageous guilt of Israel! We must beware of trusting in our national advantages or our spiritual privileges. How often have we, too, acted ungratefully and unfaithfully I God's wonderful tender mercies are a sore aggravation of our sin.
"Lord, with what care hast thou begirt us round!
Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws. They send us bound
To rules of reason. Holy messengers;
Pulpits and Sundays; sorrow dogging sin;
Afflictions sorted; anguish of all sizes;
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in!
Bibles laid open: millions of surprises;
Blessings beforehand; ties of gratefulness;
The sounds of glory ringing in our ears;
Without, our shame; within, our consciences;
Angels and grace; eternal hopes and fears I
Yet all these fences, and their whole array,
One cunning bosom sin blows quite away."
(George Herbert.) C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.