Here is, I. A loud alarm sounded, giving notice of judgments coming (Hos. 5:8): Blow you the cornet in Gibeah and in Ramah, two cities near together in the confines of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, Gibeah a frontier-town of the kingdom of Judah, Ramah of Israel; so that the warning is hereby sent into both kingdoms. “Cry aloud at Beth-aven, or Bethel, which place seems to be already seized upon by the enemy, and therefore the trumpet is not sounded there, but you hear the outcries of those that shout for mastery, mixed with theirs that are overcome.” Let them cry aloud, “After thee, O Benjamin! comes the enemy. The tribe of Ephraim is already vanquished, and the enemy will be upon thy back, O Benjamin! in a little time; thy turn comes next. The cup of trembling shall go round.” The prophet had described God’s controversy with them as a trial at law (Hos. 4:1); here he describes it as a trial by battle; and here also when he judges he will overcome. Let all therefore prepare to meet their God. He had before spoken of the judgments as certain; here he speaks of them as near; and, when they are apprehended as just at the door, they are very startling and awakening. The blowing of this cornet is explained, Hos. 5:9. Among the tribes of Israel have I made known that which shall surely be, that which is true or certain, so the word is. Note, The destruction of impenitent sinners is a thing which shall surely be; it is not mere talk, to frighten them, but it is an irrevocable sentence. And it is a mercy to us that it is made known to us, that we have timely warning given us of it, that we may flee from the wrath to come. It is the privilege of the tribes of Israel that, as they are told their duty, so they are told their danger, by the oracles of God committed to them.
II. The ground of God’s controversy with them. 1. He has a quarrel with the princes of Judah, because they were daring leaders in sin, Hos. 5:10. They are like those that remove the bound, or the ancient land-marks. God has given them his law, to be a fence about his own property; but they have sacrilegiously broken through it, and set it aside; they have encroached even upon God’s rights, have trampled upon the distinctions between good and evil, and the most sacred obligations of reason and equity, thinking, because they were princes, that they might do any thing, Quicquid libet, licet—Their will was a law. Or it may be understood of their invading the liberty and property of the subject for the advancing of the prerogative, which was like removing the ancient land-marks. Some have observed that the princes of Judah were more absolute, and assumed a more arbitrary power, than the princes of Israel did; now, for this, God has a controversy with them: I will pour out my wrath upon them like water, in great abundance, like the waters of the flood, which were poured upon the giants of the old world, for the violence which the earth was filled with through them, Gen. 6:13. Note, There are bounds which even princes themselves must not remove, bounds both of religion and justice, which they are limited by, and, if they break through them, they must know that there is a God above them that will call them to account for it. 2. He has a quarrel with the people of Ephraim, because they were sneaking followers in sin (Hos. 5:11): He willingly walked after the commandment, that is, the commandment of Jeroboam and the succeeding kings of Israel, who obliged all their subjects by a law to worship the calves at Dan and Bethel, and never to go up to Jerusalem to worship. This was the commandment; it was the law of the land, and backed with reasons of state; and the people not only walked after it in a blind implicit obedience to authority, but they willingly walked after it, from a secret antipathy they had to the worship of idols. Note, An easy compliance with the commandments of men that thwart the commandments of God ripens a people for ruin as much as any thing. And the punishment of the sequacious disobedience (if I may so call it) answers to the sin; for it is for this that Ephraim is oppressed and broken in judgment, has all his civil rights and liberties broken in upon and trodden down; and, (1.) It is just with God that it should be so, that those who betray God’s property should lose their own, that those who subject their consciences to an infallible judge, and an arbitrary power, should have enough of both. (2.) There is a natural tendency in the thing itself towards it. Those that willingly walk after the commandment, even when it walks contrary to the command of God, will find the commandment an encroaching thing, and that the more power is given it the more it will claim. Note, Nothing gives greater advantage to a mastiff-like tyranny, that is fierce and furious, than a spaniel-like submission, that is fawning and flattering. Thus is Ephraim oppressed and broken in judgment, that is, he is wronged under a face and colour of right. Note, It is a sad and sore judgment upon any people to be oppressed under pretence of having justice done them. This explains the threatening Hos. 5:9; Ephraim shall be desolate in the day of rebuke. Note, Daring sinners must expect that a day of rebuke will come, and such a day of rebuke as will make them desolate, will deprive them of the comfort of all they have and all they hope for.
III. The different methods that God would take both with Judah and Ephraim, sometimes one method and sometimes the other, and sometimes both together, or rather by which, first the one and then the other, he would advance towards their complete ruin.
1. He would begin with less judgments, which should sometimes work silently and insensibly (Hos. 5:12): I will be (that is, my providences shall be) unto Ephraim as a moth; nay (as it might better be supplied), they are unto Ephraim as a moth, for it is such a sickness as Ephraim now sees, Hos. 5:13. Note, The judgments of God are sometimes to a sinful people as a moth, and as rottenness, or as a worm. The former signifies the little animals that breed in clothes, the latter those that breed in wood; as these consume the clothes and the wood, so shall the judgments of God consume them. (1.) Silently, so as not to make any noise in the world, nay, so as they themselves shall not be sensible of it; they shall think themselves safe and thriving, but, when they come to look more narrowly into their state, shall find themselves wasting and decaying. (2.) Slowly, and with long delays and intervals, that he may give them space to repent. Many a nation, as well as many a person, in the prime of its time, dies of a consumption. (3.) Gradually. God comes upon sinners with less judgments, so to prevent greater, if they will be wise and take warning; he comes upon them step by step, to show he is not willing that they should perish. (4.) The moth breeds in the clothes, and the worm or rottenness in the wood; thus sinners are consumed by a fire of their own kindling.
2. When it appeared that those had not done their work he would come upon them with greater (Hos. 5:14): I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and to the house of Judah as a young lion, though Judah is himself, in Jacob’s blessing, a lion’s whelp. Lest any should think his power weakened, because he was said to be as a moth to them, he says that he will now be as a lion to them, not only to frighten them with his roaring, but to pull them to pieces. Note, If less judgments prevail not to do their work, it may be expected that God will send greater. Christ is sometimes a lion of the tribe of Judah, here he is a lion against that tribe. See what God will do to a people that are secure in sin: Even I will tear. He seems to glory in it, as his prerogative, to be able to destroy, as the alone lawgiver, Jas. 4:12. “I, even I, will take the work into my own hands; I say it that will do it.” There is a more immediate work of God in some judgments than in others. I will tear, and go away. He will go away, (1.) As not fearing them; he will go away in state, and with a majestic face, as the lion from his prey. (2.) As not helping them. If God tear by afflicting providences, and yet by his graces and comforts stays with us, it is well enough; but our condition is sad indeed if he tear and go away, if, when he deprives us of our creature comforts, he does himself depart 1c4c from us. When he goes away he will take away all that is valuable and dear, for, when God goes, all good goes along with him. He will take away, and none shall rescue him, as the prey cannot be rescued from the lion, Mic. 5:8. Note, None can be delivered out of the hands of God’s justice but those that are delivered into the hands of his grace. It is in vain for a man to strive with his Maker.
IV. The different effects of those different methods. 1. When God contended with them by less judgments they neglected him, and sought to creatures for relief, but sought in vain, Hos. 5:13. When God was to them as a moth, and as rottenness, they perceived their sickness and their wound; after a while they found themselves going down the hill, and that they were behind—hand in their affairs, their estate was sensibly decaying, and then they sent to the Assyrian, to come in to their assistance, made their court to king Jareb, which some think, was one of the names of Pul, or Tiglathpileser, kings of Assyria, to whom both Israel and Judah applied for relief in their distress, hoping by an alliance with them to repair and re-establish their declining interests. Note, Carnal hearts, in time of trouble, see their sickness and see their wound, but do not see the sin that is the cause of it, nor will be brought to acknowledge that, no, nor to acknowledge the hand of God, his mighty hand, much less his righteous hand, in their trouble; and therefore, instead of going the next way to the Creator, who could relieve them, they take a great deal of pains to go about to creatures, who can do them no service. Those who repent not that they have offended God by their sins are loth to be beholden to him in their afflictions, but would rather seek relief any where than with him. And what is the consequence? Yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound. Note, Those who neglect God, and seek to creatures for help, will certainly be disappointed; those who depend upon them for support will find them, not foundations, but broken reeds; those who depend upon them for supply will find them, not fountains, but broken cisterns; those who depend upon them for comfort and a cure will find them miserable comforters, and physicians of no value. The kings of Assyria, whom Judah and Israel sought unto, distressed them and helped them not, 2 Chron. 28:16, 20. Some make king Jareb to signify the great, potent, or magnificent king, for they built much upon his power; others the king that will plead, or should plead, for they built much upon his wisdom and eloquence, and in his interesting himself in their affairs. They had sent him a present (Hos. 10:6), a good fee, and, having so retained him of counsel for them, they doubted not of his fidelity to them; but he deceived them, as an arm of flesh does those that trust in it, Jer. 17:5, 6. 2. When, to convince them of their folly, God brought greater judgments upon them, then they would at length be forced to apply to him, Hos. 5:15. When he has torn as a lion, (1.) He will leave them: I will go and return to my place, to heaven, or to the mercy-seat, the throne of grace, which is his glory. When God punishes sinners he comes out of his place (Isa. 26:21); but, when he designs them favour, he returns to his place, where he waits to be gracious, upon their submission. Or he will return to his place when he has corrected them, as not regarding them, hiding his face from them, and not taking notice of their troubles or prayers; and this for their further humiliation, till they are qualified in some measure for the returns of his favour. (2.) He will at length work upon them, and bring them home to himself, by their afflictions, which is the thing he waits for; and then he will no longer withdraw from them. Two things are here mentioned as instances of their return:—[1.] Their penitent confession of sin: Till they acknowledge their offence; marg. Till they be guilty, that is, till they be sensible of their guilt, and be brought to own it, and humble themselves before God for it. Note, When men begin to complain more of their sins than of their afflictions then there begins to be some hope of them; and this is that which God requires of us, when we are under his correcting hand, that we own ourselves in a fault and justly corrected. [2.] Their humble petition for the favour of God: Till they seek my face, which, it may be expected, they will do when they are brought to the last extremity, and they have tried other helpers in vain. In their affliction they will seek me early, that is, diligently and earnestly, and with great importunity; and if they seek him thus, and be sincere in it, though it might be called seeking him late, because it was long ere they were brought to it, yet it is not too late, nay, he is pleased to call it seeking him early, so willing is he to make the best of true penitents in their return to him. Note, When we are under the convictions of sin, and the corrections of the rod, our business is to seek God’s face; we must desire the knowledge of him, and an acquaintance with him, that he may manifest himself to us, and for us, in token of his being at peace with us. And it may reasonably be expected that affliction will bring those to God that had long gone astray from him, and kept at a distance. Therefore God for a time turns away from us, that he may turn us to himself, and then return to us. Isa. any among you afflicted? Let him pray.