(Hosea 14:8). The whole of this precious chapter—a jewel among the Minor prophets—consists of a dialogue between a penitent and his God; and seems peculiarly suitable as a theme for thought and reflection, in the prospect of this day's solemn Ordinance. May I seek devoutly to commune now, alike with my own heart and with the great Heart-Searcher. Be it mine, with the docility of a little child, to say, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears!"
God Himself begins the conversation—He is the first to address overtures of mercy to backsliding Ephraim. We might have expected words of threatening, and upbraiding, and retribution. But there is no terror in His voice. They are rather the tender breathings of a fond father over his erring and wayward children. The marvelous entreaty and admonition break upon our ears—(v. 1, 2) "O Israel, return unto the Lord your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity. Take with you words, and return to the Lord—say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips."
The invitation is obeyed. Humbled and sin-stricken, yet overpowered by a sense of the divine forbearance, they pour out a full confession of their guilt. Hitherto, they had been trusting to an arm of flesh; but they now recognize where their true strength lies—(v. 3) "Assyria will not save us—we will not ride upon horses, neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, You are our gods; for in You the fatherless finds mercy." The Lord hearkens. He gives ear to the penitents' breaking of heart, and replies—(v. 4) "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel—he shall grow as the lily and cast forth his roots as Lebanon." Even Ephraim, the apostate and obdurate—we might have deemed irreclaimable—listens to the gracious pleadings. As the scales are falling from his eyes and the chains from his soul, he feels the desire rising within him to give himself to this God in whom compassions flow. As he awakes from his sleep of death, the past, with all its record of sins, passes before him. He gets a glimpse into the chambers of his spirit. He sees they are thronged with idols—usurpers of Jehovah's rights. Amazed that so long, in guilty unconcern, he should have surrendered himself to these, he exclaims, in words of unqualified renunciation—"What have I to do any more with idols?"
Taking this one verse for my present meditation, let me note, as an intending communicant, these three points—The Penitent's resolution. The Divine recognition. The added Promise.
(1.) Is this my vow and resolve, in the prospect of meeting God at His Holy Table—"What have I to do any more with idols?" In my case, as in that of Ephraim, it may well be a resolution evoked by the contemplation of God's wondrous, unmerited love. Guilt and unworthiness have been met with patience kindness. How often have I fainted and grown weary of Him; yet He has never fainted nor grown weary of me! What determination can be more fitting, when about to stand, so to speak, under the shadow of Calvary's Cross—contemplating alike the mightiest manifestation of God's mercy and the mightiest testimony against sin? With such affecting memorials and symbols before me of my own transgressions, and of the dreadful price demanded for their remission, may I be enabled firmly to resolve, that all which dishonors and displeases Him shall be dethroned, saying, 'O Lord my God, other lords beside You have had dominion over me. But this God shall be my God forever and ever.'—"What have I to do any more with idols?"
(2.) But the conference—the dialogue—does not end here. The verse admits us further into the secrets of the audience-chamber. We have, next, the Divine recognition—"I have heard him and observed him."
What can be more touching? No earthly auditor may have listened to Ephraim's breathings of self-reproach. The penitential sighings of his broken spirit may have fallen on no human ears except his own. But One eye, though not of earth, marked these tears. One ear listened to the groanings of the travailing soul. The Almighty Spectator and Hearer now discloses Himself—"I have heard him and observed him!" Beautiful picture, surely, of the interest God takes in His children! His concern for their peace and happiness; the delight, above all, with which He hears the still small voice of penitence—the wail of conscious yet sorrowing estrangement—longing through tears for restoration—"Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" He is watching these feeble pulsations. The tear wept in secret He has registered in His Book. The cry heaved in solitude has been borne to His Throne, and entered with acceptance into the ear of God Almighty. "I am poor and needy," said the Psalmist, when he was himself buffeting the waves in a midnight of gloom—but he adds the experience of Ephraim—"Yet the Lord thinks upon me" (Ps. 40:17).
(3.) This, however, is not enough. With my foot about to stand on holy ground, I cannot help forecasting, with trembling anxiety, the future. So it was with penitent Ephraim. He remembers how frail he is. Even with the consciousness of new love and fresh consecration, he recalls past backsliding and declension. He is filled with desponding fears for the days that are to come. Memory cannot obliterate the just upbraiding and reproach for former treachery and unfaithfulness—"O Ephraim, your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goes away" (Hosea 6:4). No strength in himself, the tender sapling dreads the hurricane. Help he needs; where is this help to be found?
God meets his case and mine, with a twofold promise of Protection and Grace. "I am like a green fir (or cypress) tree. From Me is your fruit found." The cypress-tree—alike so beautiful and so common in Eastern lands, with its long, tapering, graceful form and its dark clothing—was one of the precious woods employed in the Temple of old; and forests of them are still to be found in the less frequented parts of Lebanon. From its undying verdure, owing to a perpetual supply of sap, winter and summer—so dense, moreover, and strong in foliage, as to afford shelter and nesting-place even for the stork (Ps. 104:17)—it forms surely an appropriate type, in inanimate nature, of the sheltering protection, safety, and security, the believer has in God!
If I am now self-distrustful—troubled with misgivings for the days to come—let me be cheered with the assurance of Him who has promised to be a shelter from the storm and a covert from the tempest. He reveals Himself here to me as an Almighty Friend; who will fortify against all temptations; unravel all perplexities; and overrule all providences for my well-being. He will impart strength in the hour of weakness, and courage in the hour of despondency, and peace in the hour of trouble, and victory in the hour of death.—"I," says a protecting God, "am like a green fir-tree." "As your days, so shall your strength be."
May I not further think of that green fir-tree, as pre-eminently the emblem of my gracious Redeemer—the God-man Mediator—"the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden"—its roots struck in the soil of humanity; its top reaching to heaven—the "Brother-born," yet "mighty to save"? He makes known, elsewhere, the secret of continued support—"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat—but I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not" (Luke 22:31, 32). "I have prayed for you." A sinking disciple, a praying Master—Satan tempting, Christ upholding—"From Me is your fruit found!"
Let me, take, as the motto and watchword for an unknown future—"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,"—"By the grace of God I am what I am." By the aid of that promised grace, may I be enabled specially to keep close underneath this Heavenly Fir-tree—to live near to Jesus. The tribe of Ephraim, whose soliloquy I have been pondering, was selected and honored to follow immediately behind the Ark in its way through the wilderness. Let this be ever my coveted position—not on high Communion Seasons only, but all through the pilgrim-journey—to be close to Him whom that Ark symbolized, as my Protector and strength and salvation. Let the song of the many thousands of Israel be mine today; let it be mine from week to week and from year to year, until Grace is merged in Glory—"Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your strength, and come and save us!" (Ps. 80:2).