Idolatry was the sin that did most easily beset the Jewish nation till after the captivity; the ten tribes from the first were guilty of it, but especially after the days of Ahab; and this is the sin which, in these verses, they are charged with. Observe,
I. The provision that God made to prevent their falling into idolatry. This we have, Hos. 14:4. God did what was fit to be done to keep them close to himself; what could have been done more? 1. He made known himself to them as the Lord their God, and took them to be his people in a peculiar manner. Both by his word and by his works all along from the land of Egypt he declared, I am the Lord thy God; he told them so from heaven at Mount Sinai, that he was the Lord and their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt. This he continued both to declare and to prove to them by his prophets and by his providences. 2. He gave them a law forbidding them to worship any other: “Thou shalt know no God but me; not only shalt not own and worship any other, but shalt not acquaint thyself with any other, nor make the rites and usages of the Gentiles familiar to thee.” Note, It is a happy ignorance not to know that which we ought not to meddle with. We find those commended who have not known the depths of Satan. 3. He gave them a good reason for it: There is no saviour besides me. Whatever we take for our God we expect to have for our saviour, to make us happy here and hereafter; as, where we have protection, we owe allegiance, so where we have salvation, and hope for it, we owe adoration.
II. The honour that Ephraim had, while he kept himself clear from idolatry (Hos. 14:1): While Ephraim spoke trembling, or with trembling (that is, as Dr. Pocock understands it, while he behaved himself towards God as his father Jacob did, with weeping and supplications, and spoke not proudly and insolently against God and his prophets, while he kept up a holy fear of God, and worshipped him in that fear) so long he exalted himself in Israel, that is, he was very considerable among the tribes and made a figure. Jeroboam, who was of that tribe, exalted himself and his family. When he spoke there was trembling, that is, all about him stood in awe of him; so some understand it. Note, Those that humble themselves, especially that humble themselves before God, shall be exalted. When people speak with modesty and jealousy of themselves, with a diffidence of their own judgment and a deference to others, they exalt themselves, they gain a reputation. But as for Ephraim he soon lost himself: When he offended in Baal he died, that is, he lost his reputation, his honour soon dwindled and sunk, and was laid in the dust. Baal is here put for all idolatry; when Ephraim forsook God, and took to worship images, the state received its death’s wound and was never good for any thing afterwards. Note, Deserting God is the death of any person or persons.
III. The lamentable growth of idolatry among them (Hos. 14:2): Now they sin more and more. When once he began to offend in Baal the ice was broken, and he grew worse and worse, coveted more idols, doted more upon those he had, and grew more ridiculous in the worship of them. Note, The way of idolatry, as of other sins, is down-hill, and men cannot easily stop themselves. It is the sad case of all those who have forsaken God that they sin yet more and more. Let us trace them in their apostasy. 1. They made themselves molten images, proud to have gods that they could cast into what mould they pleased; probably these were the calves in miniature like the silver shrines for Diana; the zealots for the calf-worship carried about with them, it may be, images of the gods they worshipped, made on purpose for themselves. 2. They made them of their silver, and then doubted not of their property in them, when they purchased them with their own money or made them of their own plate melted down for that purpose. See what cost they put themselves to in the service of their idols, which they honoured with the best they had, and therefore made their molten images of silver. 3. They made them according to their own understanding, according to their own fancy. They consulted with themselves what shape they should make their idol in, and made it accordingly, a god according to the best of their judgment. Or according to their own likeness, in the form of a man. And, when they made their idols men like themselves in shape, they made themselves stocks and stones like them in reality; for those that make them are like unto them, and so is every one that trusts in them. 4. It was all the work of the craftsmen. Their images did not pretend, like that of Diana, to have come down from Jupiter (Acts 19:35); no, perhaps the workmen stamped their names upon them, such an idol was such a man’s work. See Hos. 8:6; Isa. 44:9 5. Though they were thus the work of their hands, yet they were the beloved of their souls; for they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves. Either the priests called upon the people thus to pay their homage, or the people, who were not allowed to come so near themselves, called upon the men that sacrificed, the priests that attended for them, to kiss the calves in their name and stead, because they could not reach to do it, so very fond were they of paying their utmost respects to such an idol as they were taught to have a veneration for. Though they were calves, yet, if they were gods, the worshippers, by themselves or their proxies, thus made their honours to them. They kissed the calves, in token of the adoration of them, affection for them, and allegiance to them, as theirs. Thus we are directed to kiss the Son, to take him for our Lord and our God.
IV. Threatenings of wrath for their idolatry. The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God, and will not give his glory to another; and therefore all those that worship images shall be confounded, especially if Ephraim do it, Ps. 97:7. Because they are so fond of kissing their calves, therefore God will give them sensible convictions of their folly, Hos. 14:3. They promise themselves a great deal of safety and satisfaction in the worship of their idols, and that their prosperity will thereby be established; but God tells them that they shall be disappointed, and driven away in their wickedness. This is illustrated by four similitudes:—They shall be, 1. As the morning cloud, which promises showers of rain to the parched ground. 2. As the early dew, which seems to be an earnest of such showers. But both pass away, and the day proves as dry and hot as ever; so fleet and transitory their profession of piety was (Hos. 6:4), and so had they disappointed God’s expectation from them, and therefore it is just that so their prosperity should be, and so their expectations from their idols should be disappointed, and so will all theirs be that make an idol of this world. 3. They are as the chaff, light and worthless; and they shall be driven as the chaff is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, Ps. 1:4; 25:5; Job 21:18. Nay, 4. They are as the smoke, noisome and offensive (see Isa. 65:5), and they shall be driven away as the smoke out of the chimneys, that is soon dissipated and disappears, Ps. 68:2. Note, No solid lasting comfort is to be expected any where but in God.