Here, I. All orders and degrees of men are cited to appear and answer to such things as shall be laid to their charge (Hos. 5:1): Hear you this, O priests! whether in holy orders (as those in Judah, and perhaps many in Israel too, for in the ten tribes there were divers cities of priests and Levites, who, it is probable, staid in their own lot after the revolt of the ten tribes and did so much of their office as might be done at a distance from the temple) or pretending holy orders, as the priests of the calves, who, some think, are included here. “Hearken, you house of Israel, the common people, and give ear, O house of the king!” let them all take notice, for they have all contributed to the national guilt, and they shall all share in the national judgments. Note, If neither the sanctity of the priesthood nor the dignity of the royal family will prevail to keep out sin, it cannot be expected that they should avail to keep out wrath. If the priests, and the house of the king, though they bear such noble characters, sin like others, their noble characters will not excuse them, but they must smart like others. Nor shall it be any plea for the house of Israel that they were misled by their priests and princes, but they shall receive their doom with them, and neither their meanness nor their multitude shall be their exemption.
II. Witness is produced against them, one instead of a thousand; it is God’s omniscience (Hos. 5:3): I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me. They have not known the Lord (Hos. 5:4), but the Lord has known them, knows their true character however disguised, knows their secret wickedness however concealed. Note, Men’s rejecting the knowledge of God will not secure them from his knowledge of them; and when he contends with them he will prove their sins upon them by his own knowledge, so that is will be in vain to plead Not guilty.
III. Very bad things are laid to their charge. 1. They had been very ingenious and very industrious to draw people either into sin or into trouble: You have been a snare on Mizpah, and a net spread upon Tabor (Hos. 5:1), that is, such snares and nets as the huntsmen used to lay upon those mountains in pursuit of their game. When the worship of the calves was set up in Israel the patrons of that idolatry, and sticklers for it, contrived by all possible arts and wiles to draw men into it and reconcile those to it that at first had a dread of it. Note, Those that allure and entice men to sin, however they may pretend friendship and good-will, are to be looked upon as snares and nets to them, and their hands as bands, Eccl. 7:26. But to those whom they could not seduce into sin they were as a net and a snare to bring them into trouble. Some think it was their practice to set spies in the road, and particularly upon the mountains of Mizpah and Tabor, at the times of the solemn feasts at Jerusalem, to watch if any of their people who were piously affected went thither, and to inform against them, that they might be prosecuted for it, thus doing the devil’s work, who disquiets those whom he cannot debauch. 2. They had been both very crafty and very cruel in carrying on their designs (Hos. 5:2): The revolters are profound to make slaughter. Note, Those who have themselves apostatized from the truths of God are often the most subtle and barbarous persecutors of those who still adhere to them. Nothing will serve them but to make slaughter (it is the blood of the saints that they thirst after): and with the serpent’s sting they have his head; they are profound to do it. O the depth of the depths of Satan, of the wickedness of his agents, of those that have deeply revolted! Isa. 31:6. Now that which aggravated this was the many reproofs and warnings that had been given them: Though I have been a rebuker of them all. The prophet had been so, a reprover by office. He had many a time told them of the evil of their ways and doings, had dealt plainly with them all, and had not spared either the priests or the house of the king. God himself had been a rebuker of them all by their own consciences and by his providences. Note, Sins against reproof are doubly sinful, Prov. 29:1. 3. They had committed whoredom, had defiled their own bodies with fleshly lusts, had defiled their own souls with the worship of idols, Hos. 5:3. This God was a witness to, though secretly committed and artfully palliated. Nay, the piercing eye of God saw the spirit of whoredom that was in the midst of them, their secret inclination and disposition to those sins, the love they had to their sins, and the dominion their sins had over them, how much they were under the power of a spirit of whoredom, that root of bitterness which bore all this gall and wormwood, that corrupt and poisoned fountain. 4. They had no disposition at all to come into acquaintance and communion with God. The spirit of whoredoms, having caused them to err from him, keeps them wandering endlessly, Hos. 5:4. (1.) They have not known the Lord, nor desire to know him, but have rather declined, nay dreaded, the knowledge of him, for that would disturb them in their sinful ways. (2.) Therefore they will not frame their doings to turn to their God, by which it appeared that they did not know him aright. This intimates their obstinate persistence in their apostasy from God; they would not turn to God, though he was their God, theirs in covenant, by whose name they had been called, and whom they were bound to serve. They would not return to the worship of him, from which they had turned aside. Nay, they would not frame their doings to turn to God. They would not consider their ways, nor dispose themselves into a serious temper, nor apply their minds to think of those things that would bring them to God. It is true we cannot by our own power, without the special grace of God, turn to him; but we may by the due improvement of our faculties, and the common aids of his Spirit, frame our doings to turn to him. Those that will not do this, that prepare not their hearts to seek the Lord (2 Chron. 12:14), owe it to themselves that they are not turned; they die because they will die; and to those that will do this further grace shall not be wanting. (5.) They were guilty of notorious arrogancy, and insolence in sin (Hos. 5:5): The pride of Israel doth testify to his face, doth witness against him that he is a rebel to God and his government. The spirit of whoredoms which was in the midst of them showed itself in the gaiety and gaudiness of their worship, as a harlot is known by her attire, Prov. 7:10. The wantonness of her dress testifies to her face that she is not a modest woman. Or their pride in confronting the prophets God sent them and the message they brought (Jer. 43:2), or a haughty scornful conduct towards their brethren and those that were under them, witnessed against them that they were not God’s people and justified God in all the humbling judgments he brought upon them. His pride testifies in his face; so some read it, agreeing with Isa. 3:9; The show of their countenance doth witness against them. They have that proud look which the Lord hates. (6.) They departed from God to idols, and bred up their children in idolatry (Hos. 5:7): They have dealt treacherously against the Lord, as a wife, who, in contempt of the marriage covenant, forsakes her husband, and lives in adultery with another. Thus those who are guilty of spiritual idolatry, whose god is their money, whose god is their belly, deal treacherously against the Lord; they violate their engagements to him and frustrate his expectations from them. Note, Wilful sinners are treacherous dealers. They have begotten strange children, that is, their children which they have begotten are estranged from God, and trained up in a false way of worship; they are a spurious brood, as children of fornication (John 8:41), whom God will disown. Note, Those deal treacherously with God indeed who not only turn from following him themselves but train up their children in wicked ways.
IV. Very sad things are made to be their doom. In general (Hos. 5:1), “Judgment is towards you. God is coming forth to contend with you, and to testify his displeasure against you for your sins.” It is time to hearken when judgment is towards us. In particular,
1. They shall fall in their iniquity. This follows upon their pride testifying to their face (Hos. 5:5) Therefore shall Israel and Ephraim fall in their iniquity. Note, Pride will have a fall; it is the certain presage and forerunner of it. Those that exalt themselves shall be abased. The face in which pride testifies shall be filled with confusion. They shall not only fall, but fall in their iniquity, the saddest fall of any. Their pride kept them from repenting of their iniquity, and therefore they shall fall in it. Note, Those that are not humbled for their sins are likely to perish for ever in their sins. It is added, Judah also shall fall with them in her iniquity. As the ten tribes were carried captive into Assyria, for their idolatry, so the two tribes, in process of time, were carried into Babylon for following their bad example; but the former fell and were utterly cast down, the latter fell and were raised up again. Judah had the temple and priesthood, and yet these shall not secure them, but, if they sin with Israel and Ephraim, with them they shall fall.
2. They shall fall short of God’s favour when they profess to seek it (Hos. 5:6): They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord, but in vain; they shall not find him. This seems to be spoken principally of Judah, when they fell into their iniquity, and when they fell in their iniquity. (1.) When they fell into their iniquity they sought the Lord; but they did not seek him only, and therefore he was not found of them. When they worshipped strange gods, yet they kept up the show and shadow of the worship of the true God; they went as usual, at the solemn feasts, with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord; but their hearts were not upright with him, because they were not entire for him, and therefore he would not accept them; for then only shall we find him when we seek him with our whole heart, not divided between God and Baal, Ezek. 14:3. (2.) When they fell in their iniquity, or found themselves falling by it, they sought the Lord; but they did not seek him early, and therefore he will not be found of them. They shall see ruin coming upon them, and shall then, in their distress, flee to God, and think to make him their friend with burnt-offerings and sacrifices; but it will be too late then to turn away his wrath when the decree has gone forth. Even Josiah’s reformation did not prevail to turn away the wrath of God, 2 Kgs. 23:25, 26. Those that go with their flocks and their herds only to seek the Lord, and not with their hearts and souls, cannot expect to find him, for his favour is not to be purchased with thousands of rams. Nor shall those speed who do not seek the Lord while he may be found, for there is a time when he will not be found. They shall not find him, for he has withdrawn himself; he will not be enquired of by them, but will turn a deaf ear to their sacrifices. See how much it is our concern to seek God early, now while the accepted time is, and the day of salvation.
3. They and their portions shall all be swallowed up. They have dealt treacherously against the Lord, and have thought to strengthen themselves in it by their alliances with strange children; but now shall a month devour them with their portions, that is, their estates and inheritances, all those things which they have taken, and taken up with, as their portion; or by their portions is meant their idols, whom they chose for their portion instead of God. Note, Those that make an idol of the world, by taking it for their portion, will themselves perish with it. A month shall devour them, or eat them up—a certain time prefixed, and a short time. When God’s judgments begin with them they shall soon make an end; one month will do their business. How much may a body be weakened by one month’s sickness, or a kingdom wasted by one month’s war! Three shepherds (says God) I cut off in one month, Zech. 11:8. Note, The judgments of God sometimes make quick work with a sinful people. A month devours more, and more portions, than many years can repair.