It was the honour and happiness of Israel that they had but one God to trust to and he all-sufficient in every strait, and but one God to serve, and he well worthy of all their devotions. But it was their sin, and folly, and shame, that they knew not when they were well off, that they forsook their own mercies for lying vanities; for,
I. They multiplied their alliances (Hos. 8:9): They have hired lovers, or (as the margin reads it) they have hired loves. They were at great expense to purchase the friendship of the nations about them, that otherwise had no value nor affection at all for them, nor cared for having any thing to do with them but only upon the Shechemites’ principles—Shall not their cattle and their substance be ours? Gen. 34:23. Had Israel maintained the honour of their peculiarity, the surrounding nations would have continued to admire them as a wise and understanding people; but, when they profaned their own crown, their neighbours despised them, and they had no interest in them further than they paid dearly for it. But those surely have behaved ill among their neighbours who have no loves, no lovers, but what they hire. See here, 1. The contempt that Israel lay under among the nations (Hos. 8:8): Israel is swallowed up, devoured by strangers, their land eaten up (Hos. 8:7), and themselves too, and, being impoverished, they have quite lost their credit and reputation, like a merchant that has become a bankrupt, so that they are among the Gentiles as a vessel wherein is no pleasure, a vessel of dishonour (2 Tim. 2:20), a despised broken vessel, Jer. 22:28. None of their neighbours have any value for them, nor care to have any thing to do with them. Note, Those that have professed religion, if they degenerate and grow profane, are of all men the most contemptible. If the salt have lost its savour, it is fit for nothing but to be trodden under foot of men. Or it denotes their dispersion and captivity among the Gentiles; they shall be among them poor and prisoners; and who has pleasure in such? 2. The court that Israel made to the nations notwithstanding (Hos. 8:9): They have gone to Assyria, to engage the king of Assyria to help them; and herein they are as a wild ass alone by himself, foolish, headstrong, and unruly; they will have their way, and nothing shall hold them in, no, not the bridle of God’s laws, nothing shall turn them back, no, not the sword of God’s wrath. They take a course by themselves, and the effect will be that, like a wild ass by himself, they will be the easier and surer prey to the lion. See Job 11:12; Jer. 2:24. Note, Man is in nothing more like the wild ass’s colt than in seeking for that succour and that satisfaction in the creature which are to be had in God only. 3. The crosses that they were likely to meet with in their alliances with the neighbouring nations (Hos. 8:10): Though they have hired among the nations, and hoped thereby to prevent their own ruin, yet now will I gather them, as the sheaves in the floor (Mic. 4:12); so that what they provided for their own safety shall but make them the easier prey to their enemies. Note, There is no fence against the judgments of God, when they come with commission; nay, that which men hire for their own preservation often contributes to their own destruction. See Isa. 7:20. The king of Assyria, whose friendship they courted, called himself a king of princes, Isa. 10:8. Are not my princes altogether kings? He laid burdens upon Israel, levied taxes upon them, 2 Kgs. 15:19, 20. And for these they shall sorrow a little; this shall be but a little burden to them in comparison of what they may further expect; or they will be but little sensible of this grievance 2d03 , will not lay it to heart, and therefore may expect heavier judgments. They have begun to be diminished (so some read it), by the burden of the king of princes; but this is only the beginning of sorrows (Matt. 24:8), the beginning of revenges, Deut. 32:42. Note, God often comes gradually with his judgments upon a provoking people, that he may show how slow he is to wrath, and may awaken them to repentance; but those that are made to sorrow a little, if they are not thereby brought to sorrow after a godly sort, will, another day, be made to sorrow a great deal, to sorrow everlastingly.
II. They multiplied their altars and temples. Observe,
1. How they denied the power of godliness, and wholly cast that off (Hos. 8:12): I have written to him the great things of my law; this intimates the privilege they enjoyed, as having God’s statutes and judgments made known to them, and being entrusted with the lively oracles. Note, (1.) The things of God’s law are magnalia Dei—the great things of God. They are things that proclaim the greatness of the Law-maker, and things of great use and great importance to us; they are our life, and our eternal welfare depends upon our observance of them and obedience to them; they will make us great if we make a right use of them; and they are things which God will magnify and make honourable. (2.) It is a great privilege to have the things of God’s law written; thus they are reduced to a greater certainty, spread the further, and last the longer, with much less danger of being embezzled and corrupted than if they were transmitted by word of mouth only. (3.) The things of God’s law are of his own writing; for Moses and the prophets were his amanuenses, and holy men wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (4.) It is the advantage of those that are members of the visible church that these great things are written to them, are intended for their direction, and so they must receive them; what things were written in former ages were written for our learning, and are profitable for us. And, if those were happy who had the great things of God’s law written to them, how much happier are we who have the gospel written to us! But see how this privilege was slighted; these great things of the law were counted as a strange thing, as unintelligible and unreasonable (which might therefore be slighted, because not to be fathomed, not to be accounted for), or as foreign, and things of no concernment to them, things that they had nothing to do with nor were to be governed by; they used those things as strangers, which they were shy of, and knew not how to bid welcome. We desire not the knowledge of thy ways. Note, [1.] God having written to us the great things of his law, we ought to make them familiar to us, as our nearest relations (Prov. 7:3, 4); for therefore we have them written, that they may talk with us, Prov. 6:22. [2.] We make nothing of the things of God’s law if we make strange of them, as if they did not affect us and therefore we need not be affected with them.
2. How they kept up the form of godliness notwithstanding, and to what little purpose they did so.
(1.) They multiplied their altars (Hos. 8:11): Ephraim made many altars to sin. God appointed that there should be but one altar for sacrifice (Deut. 12:3, 5); but the ten tribes, having forsaken that, would still be thought very devout, and zealous for the honour of God, and, as if they would make amends for the affront they put on God’s altar, they made many altars, dedicated to the God of Israel, whom hereby they intended, or at least pretended, to give glory to; but that would not justify their violation of God’s express command, nor would the example of the patriarchs, who before the law of Moses had many altars. No, they made many altars to sin (that is, they did that which turned into sin to them), and therefore these altars shall be unto them to sin, that is, God will charge it upon them as a heinous sin, and put that upon the score of their crimes which they designed to be for the expiation of their crimes. Or they shall be to them an occasion of further sin. Their multiplying of altars dedicated to the God of Israel would introduce altars dedicated to other gods. Note, It is a great sin to corrupt the worship of God, and it will be charged as sin upon those that do it, how plausible soever their pretensions may be. And the way of this, as other sins, is down-hill; those that once deviate from the fixed rule of God’s commands will wander endlessly.
(2.) They multiplied their sacrifices, Hos. 8:13. Their altars were smoking altars: They sacrificed flesh for the sacrifices of God’s offerings, and they celebrated their feasts upon their sacrifices; they were at a great expense upon their devotions, and (as those commonly are who set up their own inventions in the room of divine institutions) were very zealous in their way; as if they hoped by their impositions on themselves to atone for the contempt of the great atonement, and by their observing a ceremonial law of their own to excuse themselves from the obligation of all God’s moral precepts. But how did they speed? [1.] God makes no reckoning of their services: The Lord accepts them not. How should he, when they did not offer their sacrifice upon that altar which alone sanctified the gift, and when they only sacrificed flesh, but not the spiritual sacrifice of a penitent believing heart? Note, Those services only are acceptable to God which are performed according to the rule of his word, and through Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. 2:5. [2.] He takes that occasion to reckon with them for their sins; now will he, instead of pardoning their iniquity and blotting out their sins, as they expected, remember their iniquity and visit their sins. Such an abomination to the Lord are the sacrifices of the wicked that they provoke him to call them to an account for all their other abominations. When they think by their sacrifices to bribe the Judge of heaven and earth into a connivance at their wickedness he will resent that as the highest affront they can put upon him, and it shall be the measure-filling sin. Note, A petition for leave to sin amounts to an imprecation of the curse for sin, and so it shall be answered, according to the multitude of the idols. “I will punish their sins, for they shall return to Egypt;” they shall be carried captive into Assyria, which shall be to them a house of bondage, as Egypt was to their fathers. Or it refers to Deut. 28:68; where returning to Egypt is made to close and complete the miseries of that sinful nation.
(3.) They multiplied their temples, and these also in honour of the true God, as they pretended, but really in contempt of the choice he had made of Jerusalem to put his name there. Israel has forgotten his Maker, Hos. 8:14. They pretended to know him, and yet forgot him, for they liked not to retain God in their knowledge, when the remembrance of him would give check to their lusts. It was an aggravation of their sin in forgetting God that he was their Maker (Deut. 32:15, 18; Job 35:10), as nothing obliges us more to remember him than that he is our Creator, Eccl. 12:1. “He has forgotten his Maker, and builds temples; he seems by the temples he builds to me mindful of his Maker, and to be desirous still to keep him in mind, and yet really he has forgotten him, because he has cast off the fear of him.” Some by temples here understand palaces, for so the word sometimes signifies. “He has forgotten his Maker, and yet is so secure and haughty that he sets his judgments at defiance, as Nebuchadnezzar did when he said, Isa. not this great Babylon that I have built?” Judah is likewise charged with multiplying fenced cities, and trusting in them for safety, when the judgments of God were abroad. To fortify their cities in subjection and subordination to God was well enough; but to fortify them in opposition to God, and without any regard to him or his providence (Isa. 22:11), shows their hearts to be desperately hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. But none ever hardened his heart against God and prospered, nor shall they. God will send a fire upon his cities, upon the cities both of Judah and Israel, not only the head-cities of Jerusalem and Samaria, but all the other cities of those two kingdoms, and it shall devour not only the cottages, but the palaces thereof; though ever so strong, the fire shall master them; though ever so stately and sumptuous, the fire shall not spare them. This was fulfilled when all the cities of Israel were laid in ashes by the king of Assyria, and all the cities of Judah by the king of Babylon. The fires they both kindled were of his sending; and when he judges he will overcome.