_ _ Some take away the last words of the foregoing chapter, and make them the beginning of this: “When I returned, or would have returned, the captivity of my people, when I was about to come towards them in ways of mercy, even when I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim (the country and common people) was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria, the court and the chief city.” Now, in these verses, we may observe,
_ _ I. A general idea given of the present state of Israel, Hosea 7:1, Hosea 7:2. See how the case now stood with them.
_ _ 1. God graciously designed to do well for them: I would have healed Israel. Israel were sick and wounded; their disease was dangerous and malignant, and likely to be fatal, Isaiah 1:6. But God offered to be their physician, to undertake the cure, and there was balm in Gilead sufficient to recover the health of the daughter of his people; their case was bad, but it was not desperate, nay, it was hopeful, when God would have healed Israel. (1.) He would have reformed them, would have separated between them and their sins, would have purged out the corruptions that were among them, by his laws and prophets. (2.) He would have delivered them out of their troubles, and restored to them their peace and prosperity. Several healing attempts were made, and their declining state seemed sometimes to be in a hopeful way of recovery; but their own folly put them back again. Note, If sinful miserable souls be not healed and helped, but perish in their sin and misery, they cannot lay the blame on God, for he both could and would have healed them; he offered to take the ruin under his hand. And there are some special seasons when God manifests his readiness to heal a distempered church and nation, now and then a hopeful crisis, which, if carefully watched and improved, might, even when the case is very bad, turn the scale for life and health.
_ _ 2. They stood in their own light and put a bar in their own door. When God would have healed them, when they bade fair for reformation and peace, then their iniquity was discovered and their wickedness, which stopped that current of God's favours, and undid all again. (1.) Then, when their case came to be examined and enquired into, in order to their cure, that wickedness which had been concealed and palliated was found out; not that it was ever hid from God, but he speaks after the manner of men; as a surgeon, when he probes a wound in order to the cure of it and finds that it touches the vitals and is incurable, goes no further in his endeavour to cure it, so, when God came down to see the case of Israel (as the expression is, Genesis 18:21), with kind intentions towards them, he found their wickedness so very flagrant, and them so hardened in it, so impudent and impenitent, that he could not in honour show them the favour he designed them. Note, Sinners are not healed because they would not be healed. Christ would have gathered them, and they would not. (2.) Then, when some endeavours were used to reform and reclaim them, that wickedness which had been restrained and kept under broke out; and from God's steps towards the healing of them they took occasion to be so much the more provoking. When endeavours were used to reform them vice grew more impetuous, more outrageous, and swelled so much the higher, as a stream when it is damned up. When they began to prosper they grew more proud, wanton, and secure, and so stopped the progress of their cure. Note, It is sin that turns away good things from us when they are coming towards us; and it is the folly and ruin of multitudes that, when God would do well for them, they do ill for themselves. And what was it that did them this mischief? In one word, they commit falsehood; they worship idols (so some), defraud one another (so others), or, rather, they dissemble with God in their professions of repentance and regard to him. They say that they are desirous to be healed by him, and, in order to that, willing to be ruled by him; but they lie unto him with their mouth and flatter him with their tongue.
_ _ 3. A practical disbelief of God's omniscience and government was at the bottom of all their wickedness (Hosea 7:2): “They consider not in their hearts, they never say it to their own hearts, never think of this, that I remember all their wickedness.” As if God could not see it, though he is all eye, or did not heed it, though his name is Jealous, or had forgotten it, though he is an eternal mind that can never be unmindful, or would not reckon for it, though he is the Judge of heaven and earth. This is the sinner's atheism; as good say that there is no God as say that he is either ignorant or forgetful, that there is none that judges in the earth as that he remembers not the things he is to give judgment upon. It is a high affront they put upon God; it is a damning cheat they put upon themselves; they say, The Lord shall not see, Psalms 94:7. They cannot but know that God remembers all their works; they have been told it many a time; nay, if you ask them, they cannot but own it, and yet they do not consider it; they do not think of it when they should, and with application to themselves and their own works, else they would not, they durst not, do as they do. But the time will come when those who thus deceive themselves shall be undeceived: “Now their own doings have beset them about, that is, they have come at length to such a pitch of wickedness that their sins appear on every side of them; all their neighbours see how bad they are, and can they think that God does not see it?” Or, rather, “The punishment of their doings besets them about; they are surrounded and embarrassed with troubles, so that they cannot get out, by which it appears that the sins they smart for are before my face, not only that I have seen them, but that I am displeased at them;” for, till God by pardoning our sins has cast them behind his back, they are still before his face. Note, Sooner or later, God will convince those who do not now consider it that he remembers all their works.
_ _ 4. God had begun to contend with them by his judgments, in earnest of what was further coming: The thief comes in, and the troop of robbers spoils without. Some take this as an instance of their wickedness, that they robbed and spoiled one another. Nec hospes ab hospite tutus The host and the guest stand in fear of each other. It seems rather to be a punishment of their sin; they were infested with secret thieves among themselves, that robbed their houses and shops and picked their pockets, and troops of robbers, foreign invaders, that with open violence spoiled abroad; so far was Israel from being healed that they had fresh wounds given them daily by robbers and spoilers; and all this the effect of sin, all to punish them for robbing God, Isaiah 42:24; Malachi 3:8, Malachi 3:11.
_ _ II. A particular account of the sins of the court, of the king and princes, and those about them, and the tokens of God's displeasure that they were under for them.
_ _ 1. Their king and princes were pleased with the wickedness and profaneness of their subjects, who were emboldened thereby to be so much them ore wicked (Hosea 7:3): They make the king and princes glad with their wickedness. It pleased them to see the people conform to their wicked laws and examples, in the worship of their idols, and other instances of impiety and immorality, and to hear them flatter and applaud them in their wicked ways. When Herod saw that his wickedness pleased the people he proceeded further in it, much more will the people do so when they see that it pleases the prince, Acts 12:3. Particularly, they made them glad with their lies, with the lying praises with which they crowned the favourites of the prince and the lying calumnies and censures with which they blackened those whom they knew the princes had a dislike to. Those who show themselves pleased with slanders and ill-natured stories shall never want those about them who will fill their ears with such stories. Proverbs 29:12, If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked, and will make him glad with their lies.
_ _ 2. Drunkenness and revelling abound much at the court, Hosea 7:5. The day of our king was a merry day with them, either his birthday or his inauguration-day, of which it is probable that they had an anniversary observation, or perhaps it was some holiday of his appointing, which was therefore called his day; on that day the princes met to drink the king's health, and got him among them, to be merry, and made him sick with bottles of wine. It should seem the king did not ordinarily drink to excess, but he was not upon a high day brought to it by the artifices of the princes, tempted by the goodness of the wine, the gaiety of the company, or the healths they urged; and so little was he used to it that it made him sick; and it is justly charged as a crime, as crimen laesae majestatis treason, upon those who thus imposed upon him and made him sick; nor would it serve for an excuse that it was the day of their king, but was rather an aggravation of the crime, that, whey they pretended to do him honour, they dishonoured him to the highest degree. If it is a great affront and injury to a common person to make him drunk, and there is a woe to those that do it (Habakkuk 2:15), much more to a crowned head; for the greater any man's dignity is the greater disgrace it is to him to be drunk. It is not for kings, O Lemuel! it is not for kings, to drink wine, Proverbs 31:4, Proverbs 31:5. See what a prejudice the sin of drunkenness is to a man, to a king. (1.) In his health; it made him sick. It is a force upon nature; and strange it is by what charms men, otherwise rational enough, can be drawn to that which besides the offence it gives to God, and the damage it does to their spiritual and eternal welfare, is a present disorder and distemper to their own bodies. (2.) In his honour; for, when he was thus intoxicated, he stretched out his hand with scorners; then he that was entrusted with the government of a kingdom lost the government of himself, and so far forgot, [1.] The dignity of a king that he made himself familiar with players and buffoons, and those whose company was a scandal. [2.] The duty of a king that he joined in confederacy with atheists, and the profane scoffers at religion, whom he ought to have silenced and put to shame; he sat in the seat of the scornful, of those that had arrived at the highest pitch of impiety; he struck in with them, said as they said, did as they did, and exerted his power, and stretched forth the hand of his government, in concurrence with them. Goodness and good men are often made the song of the drunkards (Psalms 69:12; Psalms 35:16); but woe unto thee, O land! when thy king is such a child as to stretch forth his hand with those that make them so, Ecclesiastes 10:16.
_ _ 3. Adultery and uncleanness prevailed much among the courtiers. This is spoken of Hosea 7:4, Hosea 7:6, Hosea 7:7, and the charge of drunkenness comes in in the midst of this article; for wine is oil to the fire of lust, Proverbs 23:33. Those that are inflamed with fleshly lusts, that are adulterers (Hosea 7:4), are here again and again compared to an oven heated by the baker (Hosea 7:4): They have made ready their heart like an oven (Hosea 7:6); they are all hot as an oven, Hosea 7:7. Note, [1.] An unclean heart is like an oven heated; and the unclean lusts and affections of it are as the fuel that makes it hot. It is an inward fire, it keeps the heat within itself; so adulterers and fornicators secretly burn in lust, as the expression is, Romans 1:27. The heat of the oven is an intense heat, especially as it is here described; he that heats it stirs up the fire, and ceases not from raising it up, till the bread is ready to be put in, being kneaded and leavened, all which only signifies that they are like an oven when it is at the hottest; nay, when it is too hot for the baker (so the learned Dr. Pocock), when it is hotter than he would have it, so that the raiser up of the fire ceases as long as while the dough that is kneaded is in the fermenting, that the heat may abate a little. Thus fiery hot are the lusts of an unclean heart. (2.) The unclean wait for an opportunity to compass their wicked desires; having made ready their heart like an oven, they lie in wait to catch their prey. The eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight, Job 24:15. Their baker sleeps all the night, but in the morning it burns as a flaming fire. As the baker, having kindled a fire in his oven and laid sufficient fuel to it, goes to bed, and sleeps all night, and in the morning finds his oven well heated, and ready for his purpose, so these wicked people, when they have laid some wicked plot, and formed a design for the gratifying of some covetous, ambitious, revengeful, or unclean lusts, have their hearts so fully set in them to do evil that, though they may stifle them for a while, yet the fire of corrupt affections is still glowing within, and, as soon as ever there is an opportunity for it, their purposes which they have compassed and imagined break out into overt acts, as a fire flames out when it has vent given it. Thus they are all hot as an oven. Note, Lust in the heart is like fire in an oven, puts it into a heat; but the day is coming when those who thus make themselves like a fiery oven with their own vile affections, if that fire be not extinguished by divine grace, shall be made as a fiery oven by divine wrath (Psalms 21:9), when the day comes that shall burn as an oven, Malachi 4:1.
_ _ 4. They resist the proper methods of reformation and redress: They have devoured their judges, those few good judges that were among them, that would have put out these fires with which they were heated; they fell foul upon them, and would not suffer them to do justice, but were ready to stone them, and perhaps did so; or, as some think, they provoked God to deprive them of the blessing of magistracy and to leave all in confusion: All their kings have fallen one after another, and their families with them, which could not but put the kingdom into confusion, crumble it into contending parties, and occasion a great deal of bloodshed. There are heart-burnings among them; they are hot as an oven with rage and malice at one another, and this occasions the devouring of their judges, the falling of their kings. For the transgressions of a land many are the princes thereof, Proverbs 28:2. But in the midst of all this trouble and disorder there is none among them that calls unto God, that sees his hand stretched out against them in these judgments, and deprecates the strokes of it, none, or next to none, that stir up themselves to take hold on God, Isaiah 64:7. Note, Those are not only heated with sin, but hardened in sin, that continue to live without prayer even when they are in trouble and distress.