I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.
Amidst Hosea's strong denunciations of sin, such a description as this of Divine tenderness to wayward men is sweet as a song amidst a storm. Both sternness and sweetness must of necessity appear before us in order to give a true apprehension of the method of God's dealing with human souls. That method is as varied as are the works of the same God in nature, where every flower and leaf, every wind and stream, has its own place and its own use. We cannot expect to find a uniform religious experience amongst men. We have no right to demand of others the agony of shame or the rapture of pardon we ourselves know, or to declare that their experience is unreal because it is different from our own. The metaphors of the Bible might teach us this. One series represents the Word as the hammer, that breaks the rock with resistless power; as the sword, which pierces the inmost soul and kills the old life; as the fire, that burns out the dross of character and fuses the whole nature in a glow of love to God. But there arc metaphors which represent the same Word as being like the sun, gradually diffusing light, slowly developing the flowers and fruits; as the attractive force, so subtle that it can only be known by its result; as the key which fits, and silently turns the lock, so that the door is opened and the heavenly guests come in to abide there in holy fellowship. It is in harmony with all we know of the variety of God's dealings with men, that the same prophet who speaks of the unwilling heifer dragged onward by ropes, should also speak of the little child who is lovingly upheld by his father when he takes his first tottering steps.
I. THE FIGURE THAT SETS FORTH THE TRUTH.
1. Its boldness. None but an inspired man, who was conscious of inspiration, would have dared thus to describe the God he humbly reverenced. Sometimes a painting represents the glories of sunset, or the swell of the sea after a storm, the colors of which are so vivid that the onlooker at first says, "That is unnatural." A second-rate artist might have shrunk from such a bold representation, but the great artist revels in the splendor of the scene; he feels that he must represent to others what was revealed to him; and so hands down to the future what had appeared at first a startling revelation of glory, even to himself. A people accustomed, like the Jews, to the signs of awful reverence with which Jehovah was approached would have been more surprised than we, who know God in Christ, to hear the prophet speak of him as a Father, or Mother, or Nurse, holding the child by the arms as he totters and trembles over his first footsteps.
2. Its beauty. Any natural figure drawn from a human home is beautiful. It is well that family life has so often been made the basis of religious teaching. There are few scenes more universally familiar than this. When we exercise care and forethought for our children, and our hearts go out in tenderness to them in their helplessness, we know what God is to us. When we remember the sense of rest and sympathy and help which was ours in childhood's home, we become more conscious of what we may find, yet so often fail to find, in our heavenly Father's love.
3. Its truthfulness. Israel had become a great nation because of the Divine care which overshadowed them in their feeble infancy. In Egypt they had no national life, but were degraded serfs for whom revolt was useless. Brought out by Divine power, they became conscious of new powers and possibilities. In the wilderness they were fed, not only with manna, but with the rudiments of piety, which were well adapted to their infancy. By penalties which immediately and visibly followed disobedience to Law, they learnt that God was King, that he was near, that he was wise; and imperfect though the revelation was, it was the most they could receive. God spake as they were able to bear it. He dealt with them as we deal with children. Nor is he less wise or less tender in our culture, but bears with us while we are feeble in thought and resolve, and blesses us in the first trembling steps we essay in the way of righteousness.
II. THE TRUTH SET FORTH BY THE FIGURE - namely, that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
1. In his condescension he does not despise us. Ezekiel describes a newly born child, taken up in its poverty and misery by tender hands, as a representation of what Israel had been to God. We have known such examples of human kindness: the foundling left to the stranger, whose motherly heart went out in pity, as she resolved that, in spite of all her own cares, the little one should not perish for want because of its parent's sin. Much more unworthy are we of the Divine regard, for each may say, "I am no more worthy to be called thy son." Even in earthly advantages we never won nor deserved, how many of us have been blessed! The home where no evil words are heard, where those who love us are daily witnesses for God, the heritage of a good name and wholesome habits, the tears and entreaties and prayers which win us to the love of righteousness, - all these are signs that God can say of many now in wisdom's way, "I taught you to walk, taking you by the arms."
2. In his wisdom he does not force us. We are not automatons. They may do wonderful things without noise, or disobedience, or wrangling; but God has not made us thus. We are, as the text suggests, children, who can make their own effort, but to it they must be prompted, in it they must be supported and helped. When the stirrings of a new life are felt in the soul, the question comes, "Who then is willing to consecrate himself to the Lord?" and it is only the self-consecrated servants God will have. It is a poor thing to employ the forced labor of those whose bodies are their owner's, but whose souls loathe him; but a blessed thing to have the loyal and loving service of the child, to whom a glance or a whisper means a command which it is his joy to obey.
3. In his graciousness he does not curse us. Children are weak and wayward; they forget what they are told, and do what is amiss; but their father says to himself, "They are but children," and he cannot be bitter or unjust. When Peter denied his Lord, falling through moral weakness, an angry curse might have driven him to despair; but "the Lord turned and looked on him," and as he went out, weeping bitterly, he yet could say, "The Lord loves me still." Christ drew him back with cords of love.
4. In his patience he does not demand of us instant perfection. Picture the scene suggested here. A child is about to take his first step. The mother is beside him, encouraging every step, or half-step, with a smile. Her eye does not wander from him for a moment; her hands are out to encourage, to support, to save, as she says, "Try, dear, try." When at last the effort is made, she catches him up in her arms and kisses him; and if you wondered at so much gladness and love being shown over such a feeble attempt, she would be annoyed at your dullness, because she sees in this the promise of the future. By such a homely illustration does Hoses set forth the Divine tenderness. God's "gentleness makes us great." Christ Jesus expected nothing wonderful from his disciples; but patiently lived with them and taught them, forgiving, encouraging, and upholding, till they became brave and stalwart heroes of the cross. Only let us keep near him, and as we recognize the difficulties of our way and the weakness of our nature, let the prayer of the psalmist be ours, "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." - A.R.
Parallel VersesKJV: I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them.