Verses 1–5

Here is, I. The court set, and both attendance and attention demanded: “Hear the word of the Lord, you children of Israel, for to you is the word of this conviction sent, whether you will hear or whether you will forbear.” Whom may God expect to give him a fair hearing, and take from him a fair warning, but the children of Israel, his own professing people? Yea, they will be ready enough to hear when God speaks comfortably to them; but are they willing to hear when he has a controversy with them? Yes, they must hear him when he pleads against them, when he has something to lay to their charge: The Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, of this land, of this holy land. Note, Sin is the great mischief-maker; it sows discord between God and Israel. God sees sin in his own people, and a good action he has against them for it. Some more particular actions lie against his own people, which do not lie against other sinners. He has a controversy with them for breaking covenant with him, for bringing a reproach upon him, and for an ungrateful return to him for his favours. God’s controversy will be pleaded, pleaded by the judgments of his mouth before they are pleaded by the judgments of his hand, that he may be justified in all he does and may make it appear that he desires not the death of sinners; and God’s pleadings ought to be attended to, for, sooner or later, they shall have a hearing.

II. The indictment read, by which the whole nation stands charged with crimes of a heinous nature, by which God is highly provoked. 1. They are charged with national omissions of the most important duties: There is no truth nor mercy, neither justice nor charity, these most weighty matters of the law, as our Saviour accounts them (Matt. 23:23), judgment, mercy, and faith. The generality of the people seemed to have no sense at all of the thing called honesty; they made no conscience of what they said and did, though ever so contrary to the truth and injurious to their neighbour. Much less had they any sense of mercy, or any obligation they were under to pity and help the poor. And it is not strange that there is no truth and mercy when there is no knowledge of God in the land. What good can be expected where there is no knowledge of God? It was the privilege of that land that in Israel God was made known, and his name was great, which was an aggravation of their sin, that they did not know him, Ps. 76:1. 2. Hence follows national commissions of the most enormous sins against both the first and second table, for they had no regard at all to either. Swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, against the third, ninth, sixth, eighth, and seventh commandments, were to be found in all corners of the land, and among all orders and degrees of men among them, Hos. 4:2. The corruption was universal; what good people there were among them were either lost or hid, or they hid themselves. By these they break out, that is, they transgress all bounds of reason and conscience, and the divine law; they have exceeded (Job 36:9); they have been overmuch wicked (Eccl. 7:17); they suffer their corruptions to break out; they themselves break over, and break through, all that stands in their way and would stop them in their sinful career, as water overflows the banks. Note, Sin is a violent thing and its power exorbitant; when men’s hearts are fully set in them to do evil (Eccl. 8:11) what will be restrained from them? Gen. 11:6. When they break out thus blood touches blood, that is, abundance of murders are committed in all parts of the country, and, as it were, in a constant series and succession. Caedes aliae aliis sunt contiguae—Murders touch murders; a stream of blood runs down among them, even royal blood. It was about this time that there was so much blood shed in grasping at the crown; Shallum slew Zechariah, and Menahem slew Shallum, Pekah slew Pekahiah, and Hoshea slew Pekah; and the like bloody work, it is likely, there was among other contenders, so that the land was polluted with blood (Ps. 106:38); it was filled with blood from one end to the other, 2 Kgs. 21:16.

III. Sentence passed upon this guilty and polluted land, Hos. 4:3. It shall be utterly destroyed and laid waste. The whole land is infected with sin, and therefore the whole land shall mourn under God’s sore judgments, shall sit in mourning, being stripped of all its wealth and beauty. As the valleys are said to shout for joy, and sing, when there are plenty and peace, so here they are said to mourn when by war and famine they are made desolate. The whole land shall be brimstone, and salt, and burning, was as threatened in the law, Deut. 29:23. They had broken all God’s commandments, and now God threatens to take away all their comforts. The land mourns when there is neither grass for the cattle nor herbs for the service of man; and then every one that dwells therein shall languish for want of nice food to support a wasting life, and fret for want of the usual dainties for delight. The beasts of the field will languish, Jer. 14:5, 6. Nay, the destruction of the fruits of the earth shall be so great that there shall not be picking for the fowls of the air, to keep them alive; they shall suffer with man, and their dying, or growing lean, will be a punishment to those who used to have their tables replenished with wild-fowl. Nay, the fishes of the sea shall be taken away, or gathered together, that they may go away in shoals to some other coast, and then the fishing trade will be worth nothing. This desolation shall be in that respect more general than that by Noah’s flood, for that did not affect the fishes of the sea, but this shall. It was part of one of the plagues of Egypt that he slew their fish (Ps. 105:29); when the waters are dried the fish die, Isa. 50:2; Zeph. 1:2, 3. Note, When man becomes disobedient to God, it is just that the inferior creatures should be made unserviceable to man. Oh what reason have we to admire God’s patience and mercy to our land, that though there is in it so much swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and adultery, yet there is plenty of flesh, and fish, and fowl, on our tables!

IV. An order of court that no pains should be taken with the condemned criminal to bring him to repentance, with the reason for that order. Observe, 1. The order itself (Hos. 4:4): Yet let no man strive nor reprove another; let no means be used to reduce and reclaim them; let their physicians give them up as desperate and past cure. It intimates that as long as there is any hope we ought to reprove sinners for their sins; it is a duty we owe to one another to give and to take reproofs; it was one of the laws of Moses (Lev. 19:17), Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour; it is an instance of brotherly love. Sometimes there is need to rebuke sharply, not only to reprove, but to strive, so loth are men to part with their sins. But it is a sign that persons and people are abandoned to ruin when God says, Let them not be reproved. Yet this is to be understood as God’s commands sometimes to the prophets not to pray for them, notwithstanding which they did pray for them; but the meaning is, They are so hardened in sin, and so ripened for ruin, that it will be to little purpose either to deal with them or to deal with God for them. Note, It bodes ill to a people when reprovers are silenced, and when those who should witness against the sins of the times, retire into a corner, and give up the cause. See 2 Chron. 25:16. 2. The reasons of this order. Let them not reprove one another; for, (1.) They are determined to go on in sin, and no reproofs will cure them of that: Thy people are as those that strive with the priests; they have grown so very impudent in sin, so very insolent, and impatient of reproof, that they will fly in the face even of a priest himself if he should but give them the least check, without any regard to his character and office; and how then can it be thought that they should take a reproof from a private person? Note, Those sinners have their hearts wickedly hardened who quarrel with their ministers for dealing faithfully with them; and those who rebel against ministerial reproof, which is an ordinance of God for their reformation, have forfeited the benefit of brotherly reproof too. Perhaps this may refer to the late wickedness of Joash king of Judah, and his people, who stoned Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, for delivering them a message from God, 2 Chron. 24:21. He was a priest; with him they strove when he was officiating between the temple and the altar; and Dr. Lightfoot thinks the prophet had an eye to his case when he spoke (Hos. 4:2) of blood touching blood; the blood of the sacrificer was mingled with the blood of the sacrifice, That, says he, was the apex of their wickedness—thence their ruin was to be dated (Matt. 23:35), as this is of their incorrigibleness, that they are as those who strive with the priest, therefore let no man reprove them; for, (2.) God also is determined to proceed in their ruin (Hos. 4:5): “Therefore, because thou wilt take no reproof, no advice, thou shalt fall, and it is in vain for any to think of preventing it, for the decree has gone forth. Thou shalt stumble and fall in the day, and the prophet, the false prophet that flattered and seduced thee, shall fall with thee in the night; both thou and thy prophet shall fall night and day, shall be continually falling into one calamity or other; the darkness of the night shall not help to cover thee from trouble nor the light of the day help thee to flee from it.” The prophets are blind leaders and the people blind followers; and to the blind day and night are alike, so that whether it be day or night both shall fall together into the ditch. “Thou shalt fall in the day, when thy fall is least feared by thyself and thou art very secure; and in the day, when it will be seen and observed by others, and turn most to thy shame; and the prophet shall fall in the night, when to himself it will be most terrible.” Note, The ruin of those who have helped to ruin others will, in a special manner, be intolerable. And did the children think that when they were in danger of falling their mother would help them? It shall be in vain to expect it, for I will destroy thy mother, Samaria, the mother-city, the whole state, or kingdom, which is as a mother to every part. It shall all be made silent. Note, When all are involved in guilt nothing less can be expected than that all should be involved in ruin.