Here we find,
I. God very gracious to Israel. They were a people for whom he had done more than for any people under heaven, and to whom he had given more, which they are here, I will not say upbraided with (for God gives, and upbraids not), but put in mind of, as an aggravation of their sin and an encouragement to repentance. 1. He had a kindness for them when they were young (Hos. 11:1): When Israel was a child then I loved him; when they first began to multiply into a nation in Egypt God then set his love upon them, and chose them because he loved them, because he would love them, Deut. 7:7, 8. When they were weak and helpless as children, foolish and froward as children, when they were outcasts, and children exposed, then God loved them; he pitied them, and testified his goodwill to them; he bore them as the nurse does the sucking child, nourished them, and suffered their manners. Note, Those that have grown up, nay, those that have grown old, ought often to reflect upon the goodness of God to them in their childhood. 2. He delivered them out of the house of bondage: I called my son out of Egypt, because a son, because a beloved son. When God demanded Israel’s discharge from Pharaoh he called them his son, his first-born. Note, Those whom God loves he calls out of the bondage of sin and Satan into the glorious liberty of his children. These words are said to have been fulfilled in Christ, when, upon the death of Herod, he and his parents were called out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15), so that the words have a double aspect, speaking historically of the calling of Israel out of Egypt and prophetically of the bringing of Christ thence; and the former was a type of the latter, and a pledge and earnest of the many and great favours God had in reserve for that people, especially the sending of his Son into the world, and the bringing him again into the land of Israel when they had unkindly driven him out, and he might justly never have returned. The calling of Christ out of Egypt was a figure of the calling of all that are his, through him, out of spiritual slavery. 3. He gave them a good education, took care of them, took pains with them, not only as a father or tutor, but, such is the condescension of divine grace, as a mother or nurse (Hos. 11:3): I taught Ephraim also to go, as a child in leading-strings is taught. When they were in the wilderness God led them by the pillar of cloud and fire, showed them the way in which they should go, and bore them up, taking them by the arms. He taught them to go in the way of his commandments, by the institutions of the ceremonial law, which were as tutors and governors to that people under age. He took them by the arms, to guide them, that they might not stray, and to hold them up, that they might not stumble and fall. God’s spiritual Israel are thus supported. Thou has holden me by my right hand, Ps. 73:23. 4. When any thing was amiss with them, or they were ever so little out of order, he was their physician: “I healed them; I not only took a tender care of them (a friend may do that), but wrought an effectual cure: it is a God only that can do that. I am the Lord that healeth thee (Exod. 15:26), that redresseth all thy grievances.” 5. He brought them into his service by mild and gentle methods (Hos. 11:4): I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love. Note, It is God’s work to draw poor souls to himself; and none can come to him except he draw them, John 6:44. He draws, (1.) With the cords of a man, with such cords as men draw with that have a principle of humanity, or such cords as men are drawn with; he dealt with them as men, in an equitable rational way, in an easy gentle way, with the cords of Adam. He dealt with them as with Adam in innocency, bringing them at once into a paradise, and into covenant with himself. (2.) With bands of love, or cartropes of love. This word signifies stronger cords than the former. He did not drive them by force into his service, whether they would or no, nor rule them with rigour, nor detain them by violence, but his attractives were all loving and endearing, all sweet and gentle, that he might overcome them with kindness. Moses, whom he made their guide, was the meekest man in the world. Kindnesses among men we commonly call obligations, or bonds, bonds of love. Thus God draws with the savour of his good ointments (Song 1:4), draws with lovingkindness, Jer. 31:3. Thus God deals with us, and we must deal in like manner with those that are under our instruction and government, deal rationally and mildly with them. 6. He eased them of the burdens they had been long groaning under: I was to them as those that take off the yoke on their jaws, alluding to the care of the good husbandman, who is merciful to his beast, and will not tire him with hard and constant labour. Probably, in those times, the yoke on the neck of the oxen was fastened with some bridle, or headstall, over the jaws, which muzzled the mouth of the ox. Israel in Egypt were thus restrained from the enjoyments of their comforts and constrained to hard labour; but God eased them, removed their shoulder from the burden, Ps. 81:6. Note, Liberty is a great mercy, especially out of bondage. 7. He supplied them with food convenient. In Egypt they fared hard, but, when God brought them out, he laid meat unto them, as the husbandman, when he has unyoked his cattle, fodders them. God rained manna about their camp, bread from heaven, angels’ food; other creatures seek their meat, but God laid meat to his own people, as we do to our children, was himself their caterer and carver, anticipated them with the blessings of goodness.
II. Here is Israel very ungrateful to God.
1. They were deaf and disobedient to his voice. He spoke to them by his messengers, Moses and his other prophets, called them from their sins, called them to himself, to their work and duty; but as they called them so they went from them; they rebelled in those particular instances wherein they were admonished; the more pressing and importunate the prophets were with them, to persuade them to that which was good, the more refractory they were, and the more resolute in their evil ways, disobeying for disobedience-sake. This foolishness is bound in the hearts of children, who, as soon as they are taught to go, will go from those that call them.
2. They were fond of idols, and worshipped them: They sacrificed to Baalim, first one Baal and then another, and burnt incense to graven images, though they were called to by the prophets of the Lord again and again not to do this abominable thing which he hated. Idolatry was the sin which from the beginning, and all along, had most easily beset them.
3. They were regardless of God, and of his favours to them: They knew not that I healed them. They looked only at Moses and Aaron, the instruments of their relief, and, when any thing was amiss, quarrelled with them, but looked not through them to God who employed them. Or, When God corrected them, and kept them under a severe discipline, they understood not that it was for their good, and that God thereby healed them, and it was necessary for the perfecting of their cure, else they would have been better reconciled to the methods God took. Note, Ignorance is at the bottom of ingratitude, Hos. 2:8.
4. They were strongly inclined to apostasy. This is the blackest article in the charge (Hos. 11:7): My people are bent to backsliding from me. Every word here is aggravating. (1.) They backslide. There is no hold of them, no stedfastness in them; they seem to come forward, towards God, but they quickly slide back again, and are as a deceitful bow. (2.) They backslide from me, from God, the chief good, the fountain of life and living waters, from their God who never turned from them, nor war as a wilderness to them. (3.) They are bent to backslide; they are ready to sin; there is in their natures a propensity to that which is evil; at the best they hang in suspense between God and the world, so that a little thing serves to draw them the wrong way; they are forward to close with every temptation. It also intimates that they are resolute in sin; their hearts are fully set in them to do evil the bias is strong that way; and they persist in their backslidings, whatever is said or done to stop them; and yet, (4.) “They are, in profession, my people. They are called by my name, and profess relation to me; they are mine, whom I have done much for and expect much from, whom I have nourished and brought up, as children, and yet they backslide from me.” Note, In our repentance we ought to lament not only our backslidings, but our bent to backslide, not only our actual transgressions, but our original corruption, the sin that dwells in us, the carnal mind.
5. They were strangely averse to repentance and reformation. Here are two expressions of their obstinacy:—(1.) They refused to return, Hos. 11:5. So much were they bent to backslide that, though they could not but find, upon trial, the folly of their backslidings, and that when they forsook God they changed for the worse, yet they went on frowardly. I have loved strangers, and after them I will go. They were commanded to return, were courted and entreated to return, were promised that if they would they should be kindly received, but they refused. (2.) Though they called them to the Most High. God’s prophets and ministers called them to return to the God from whom they had revolted, to the most high God, from whom they had sunk into this wretched degeneracy; they called them from the worship of the idols, which were so much below them, and the worship of which was therefore their disparagement, to the true God, who was so much above them, and the worship of whom was therefore their preferment; they called them from this earth to high and heavenly things; but they called in vain. None at all would exalt him. Though he is the most high God they would not acknowledge him to be so, would do nothing to honour him nor give him the glory due to his name. Or, They would not exalt themselves, would not rise out of that state of apostasy and misery into which they had precipitated themselves; but there they contentedly lay still, would not lift up their heads nor lift up their souls. Note, God’s faithful ministers have taken a great deal of pains, to no purpose, with backsliding children, have called them to the Most High; but none would stir, none at all would exalt him.
III. Here is God very angry, and justly so, with Israel; see what are the tokens of God’s displeasure with which they are here threatened. 1. God, who brought them out of Egypt, to take them for a people to himself, since they would not be faithful to him, shall bring them into a worse condition than he at first found them in (Hos. 11:5): “He shall not return into the land of Egypt, though that was a house of bondage grievous enough; but he shall go into a harder service, for the Assyrian shall be his king, who will use him worse than ever Pharaoh did.” They shall not return into Egypt, which lies near, where they may hear often from their own country, and whence they may hope shortly to return to it again; but they shall be carried into Assyria, which lies much more remote, and where they shall be cut off from all correspondence with their own land and from all hopes of returning to it, and justly, because they refused to return. Note, Those that will not return to the duties they have left cannot expect to return to the comforts they have lost. 2. God, who gave them Canaan, that good land, and a very safe and comfortable settlement in it, shall bring his judgments upon them there, which shall make their habitation unsafe and uncomfortable (Hos. 11:6): The sword shall come upon them, the sword of war, the sword of a foreign enemy, prevailing against them and triumphing over them. (1.) This judgment shall spread far. The sword shall fasten upon their cities, those nests of people and store-houses of wealth; it shall likewise reach to their branches, the country villages (so some), the citizens themselves (so others), or the bars (so the word signifies) and gates of their city, or all the branches of their revenue and wealth, or their children, the branches of their families. (2.) It shall last long: It shall abide on their cities. David thought three months flying before his enemies was the only judgment of the three that was to be excepted against; but this sword shall abide much longer than three months on the cities of Israel. They continued their rebellions against God, and therefore God continued his judgments on them. (3.) It shall make a full end: It shall consume their branches, and devour them, and lay all waste, and this because of their own counsels, that is, because they would have their own projects, which God therefore, in a way of righteous judgment, gave them up to. Note, The confusion of sinners is owing to their contrivance. God’s counsels would have saved them, but their own counsels ruined them.