The strain of this chapter differs from that of the foregoing
chapters. Those were generally made up of reproofs for sin and threatenings of
wrath; but this is made up of exhortations to repentance and promises of mercy,
and with these the prophet closes; for all the foregoing convictions and terrors
he had spoken were designed to prepare and make way for these. He wounds that he
may heal. The Spirit convinces that he may comfort. This chapter is a lesson for
penitents; and some such there were in Israel at this day, bad as things were.
We have here, I. Directions in repenting, what to do and what to say (v. 1-3).
II. Encouragements to repent taken from God's readiness to receive returning
sinners (v. 4, 8) and the comforts he has treasured up for them (v. 5-7). III. A
solemn recommendation of these things to our serious thoughts (v. 9).
Here we have,
I. A kind invitation given to sinners to repent, v. 1. It is
directed to Israel, God's professing people. They are called to return.
Note, Conversion must be preached even to those that are within the pale of the
church as well as to heathen. "Thou are Israel, and therefore art bound to
thy God in duty, gratitude, and interest; thy revolt from him is so much the
more heinous, and thy return to him so much the more necessary." Let Israel
see, 1. What work he has made for repentance: "Thou has fallen by thy
iniquity." Thou has stumbled; so some read it. Their idols were their stumbling-blocks.
"Thou has fallen from God into sin, fallen off from all good, fallen down
under the load of guilt and the curse." Note, Sin is a fall; and it
concerns those that have fallen by sin to get up again by repentance. 2. What
work he has to do in his repentance: "Return to the Lord thy God;
return to him as the Lord whom thou has a dependence upon, as thy God,
thine in covenant, whom thou has an interest in." Note, It is the great
concern of those that have revolted from God to return to God, and so to
do their first works. "Return to him from whom thou has fallen, and
who alone is able to raise thee up. Return even to the Lord, or quite
home to the Lord; do not only look to him, or take some steps towards him,
but make thorough work of it." The ancient Jews had a saying grounded on
this, Repentance is a great thing, for it brings men quite up to the throne
II. Necessary instructions given them how to repent. 1. They
must bethink themselves what to say to God when they come to him: Take with
you words. They are required to bring, not sacrifices and offerings, but
penitential prayers and supplications, the fruit of thy lips, yet not of
the lips only, but of the heart, else words are but wind. One of the rabbin
says, They must be such words as proceed from what is spoken first in the
inner man; the heart must dictate to the tongue. We must take good words
with us, by taking good thoughts and good affections with us. Verbaque
praevisam rem non invita sequenturThose who master a subject are seldom at a
loss for language. Note, When we come to God we should consider what we have
to say to him; for, if we come without an errand, we are likely to go without an
answer. Ezra 9:10, What shall we say? We must take with us words from the
scripture, take them from the Spirit of grace and supplication, who teaches us
to cry, Abba, Father, and makes intercession in us. 2. They must bethink
themselves what to do. They must not only take with them words, but must turn
to the Lord; inwardly in their hearts, outwardly in their lives.
III. For their assistance herein, and encouragement, God is
pleased to put words into their mouths, to teach them what they shall say.
Surely we may hope to speed with God, when he himself has ordered our address to
be drawn up ready to our hands, and his own Spirit has indited it for us; and no
doubt we shall speed if the workings of our souls agree with the words here
recommended to us. They are,
1. Petitioning words. Two things we are here directed to
petition for:(1.) To be acquitted from guilt. When we return to the Lord we
must say to him, Lord, take away all iniquity. They were now smarting for
sin, under the load of affliction, but are taught to pray, not as Pharaoh, Take
away this death, but, Take away this sin. Note, When we are in
affliction we should be more concerned for the forgiveness of our sins than for
the removal of our trouble. "Take away iniquity, lift it off as a burden
we are ready to sink under or as the stumbling-block which we have often fallen
over. Lord, take it away, that it may not appear against us, to our confusion
and condemnation. Take it all away by a free and full remission, for we cannot
pretend to strike any of it off by a satisfaction of our own." When God
pardons sin he pardons all, that great debt; and when we pray
against sin we must pray against it all and not except any. (2.) To be accepted
as righteous in God's sight: "Receive us graciously. Let us have
thy favour and love, and have thou respect to us and to our performances.
Receive our prayer graciously; be well pleased with that good which by thy grace
we are enabled to do." Take good (so the word is); take it to bestow
upon us, so the margin reads itGive good. This follows upon the
petition for the taking away of iniquity; for, till iniquity is taken away, we
have no reason to expect any good from God, but the taking away of iniquity
makes way for the conferring of good removendo prohibensby taking that out
of the way which hindered. Give good; they do not say what good, but refer
themselves to God; it is not good of the world's showing (Ps. 4:6), but good
of God's giving. "Give good, that good which we have forfeited,
and which thou has promised, and which the necessity of our case calls for."
Note, God's gracious acceptance, and the blessed fruits and tokens of that
acceptance, are to be earnestly desired and prayed for by us in our returning to
God. "Give good, that good which will make us good and keep us from
returning to iniquity again."
2. Promising words. These also are put into their mouths, not to
move God, or to oblige him to show them mercy, but to move themselves, and
oblige themselves to returns of duty. Note, Our prayers for pardon and
acceptance with God should be always accompanied with sincere purposes and vows
of new obedience. Two things they are to promise and vow:(1.) Thanksgiving.
"Pardon our sins, and accept of us, so will we render the calves of our
lips." The fruit of our lips (so the Septuagint), a word they
used for burnt-offerings, and so it agrees with the Hebrew. The apostle
quotes this phrase (Heb. 13:15), and by the fruit of our lips understands
the sacrifice of praise to God, giving thanks to his name. Note, Praise
and thanksgiving are our spiritual sacrifice, and, if they come from an upright
heart, shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock, Ps. 69:30, 32.
And the sense of our pardon and acceptance with God will enlarge our hearts in
praise and thankfulness. Those that are received graciously may, and
must, render the calves of their lipspoor returns for rich receivings,
yet, if sincere, more acceptable than the calves of the stall. (2.) Amendment of
life. They are taught to promise, not only verbal acknowledgements, but a real
reformation. And we are taught here, [1.] In our returns to God to covenant
against sin. We cannot expect that God should take it away by forgiving it if we
do not put it away by forsaking it. [2.] To be particular in our covenants and
resolutions against sin, as we ought to be in our confession, because deceit
lies in generals. [3.] To covenant especially and expressly against those sins
which we have been most subject to, which have most easily beset us, and which
we have been most frequently overcome by. We must keep ourselves from, and
therefore must thus fortify ourselves against, our own iniquity, Ps.
18:23. The sin they here covenant against, owning thereby that they had been
guilty of it, is giving that glory to another which is due to God only; this
they promise they will never do, First, By putting that confidence in
creatures which should be put in God only. They will not trust to their
alliances abroad: Asshur (that is, Assyria) shall not save us.
"We will not court the help of the Assyrians when we are in distress, as we
have done (ch. 5:13; 7:11; 8:9); we will not contract for it, nor will we
confide in it, or depend upon it. Having a God to go to, a God all-sufficient to
trust to, we scorn to be beholden to the Assyrians for help." They will not
trust to their warlike preparations at home, especially not those which they
were forbidden to multiply: "We will not ride upon horses, that is,
we will not make court to Egypt," for thence they fetched their horses, Deu.
17:16; Isa. 30:16; 31:1, 3. "When our enemies invade us we will depend upon
our God to succour our infantry, and will be in no care to remount our cavalry."
Or, "We will not post on horseback, for haste, from one creature to
another, to seek relief, but will take the nearest way, and the only sure way,
by addressing ourselves to God," Isa. 20:5. Note, True repentance takes us
off from trusting to an arm of flesh, and brings us to rely on God only for all
the good we stand in need of. Secondly, Nor will they do it by paying
that homage to creatures which is due to God only. We will not say any more
to the works of our hands, You are our gods. They must promise never to
worship idols again, and for a good reason, because it is the most absurd and
senseless thing in the world to pray to that as a god which is the work of our
hands. We must promise that we will not set our hearts upon the gains of this
world, nor pride ourselves in our external performances in religion, for that
is, in effect, to say to the work of our hands, You are our gods.
3. Pleading words are here put into their mouths: For in thee
the fatherless find mercy. We must take our encouragement in prayer, not
from any merit God finds in us, but purely from the mercy we hope to find in
God. This contains in itself a great truth, that God takes special care of
fatherless children, Ps. 68:4, 5. So he did in his law, Ex. 22:22. So he does in
his providence, Ps. 27:10. It is God's prerogative to help the helpless. In
him there is mercy for such, for they are proper objects of mercy. In him they
find it; there it is laid up for them, and there they must seek it; seek and
you shall find. It comes in here as a good plea for mercy and grace and an
encouraging one to their faith. (1.) They plead the distress of their state and
condition: "We are fatherless orphans, destitute of help." Those may
expect to find help in God that are truly sensible of their helplessness in
themselves and are willing to acknowledge it. This is a good step towards
comfort. "If we have not yet boldness to call God Father, yet we
look upon ourselves as fatherless without him, and therefore lay ourselves at
his feet, to be looked upon by him with compassion." (2.) They plead God's
wonted lovingkindness to such as were in that condition: With thee the
fatherless not only may find, but does find, and shall find, mercy.
It is a great encouragement to our faith and hope, in returning to God, that it
is his glory to father the fatherless and help the helpless.
We have here an answer of peace to the prayers of returning
Israel. They seek God's face, and they shall not seek in vain. God will
be sure to meet those in a way of mercy who return to him in a way of duty. If
we speak to God in good prayers, God will speak to us in good promises, as he answered
the angel with good words and comfortable words, Zec. 1:13. If we take with
us the foregoing words in our coming to God, we may take home with us these
following words for our faith to feast upon; and see how these answer those.
I. Do they dread and deprecate God's displeasure, and
therefore return to him? He assures them that, upon their submission, his anger
is turned away from them. This is laid as the ground of all the other
favours here promised. I will do so and so, for my anger is turned away,
and thereby a door is opened for all good to flow to them, Isa. 12:1. Note,
Though God is justly and greatly angry with sinners, yet he is not implacable in
his anger; it may be turned away; it shall be turned away, from those that turn
away from their iniquity. God will be reconciled to those that are reconciled to
him and to his whole will.
II. Do they pray for the taking away of iniquity? He
assures them that he will heal their backslidings; so he promised, Jer.
3:22. Note, Though backslidings from God are the dangerous diseases and wounds
of the soul, yet they are not incurable, for God has graciously promised that if
backsliding sinners will apply to him as their physician, and comply with his
methods, he will heal their backslidings. He will heal the guilt of their
backslidings by pardoning mercy and their bent to backslide by renewing
grace. Their iniquity shall not be their ruin.
III. Do they pray that God will receive them graciously? In
answer to that, behold, it is promised, I will love them freely. God had
hated them while they went on sin (ch. 9:15); but now that they return and
repent he loves them, not only ceases to be angry with them, but takes
complacency in them and designs their good. He loves them freely, with an
absolute entire love (so some), so that there are no remains of his
former displeasure, with a liberal bountiful love (so others); he will be
open-handed in his love to them, and will think nothing too much to bestow upon
them or to do for them. Or with a cheerful willing love; he will love
them without reluctancy or renitency. He will not say in the day of thy
repentance, How shall I receive thee again? as he said in the day of thy
apostasy, How shall I give thee up? Or with an unmerited preventing
love. Whom God loves he loves freely, not because they deserve it, but of
his own good pleasure. He loves because he will love, Deut, 7:7, 8.
IV. Do they pray that God will give good, will make them
good? In answer to that, behold, it is promised, I will be as the dew unto
Israel, v. 5. Observe,
1. What shall be the favour God will bestow upon them. It is the
blessing of their father Jacob, God give thee the dew of heaven, Gen.
27:28. Nay, what they need God will not only give them, but he will himself be that
to them, all that which they need: I will be as the dew unto Israel. This
ensures spiritual blessings in heavenly things; and it follows upon the
healing of their backslidings, for pardoning mercy is always accompanied with
renewing grace. Note, To Israelites indeed God himself will be as the dew.
He will instruct them; his doctrine shall drop upon them as the dew, Deu. 32:2.
They shall know more and more of him, for he will come to them as the rain,
Hos. 6:3. He will refresh them with his comforts, so that their souls shall be
as a watered garden, Isa. 58:11. He will be to true penitents as the
dew to Israel when they were in the wilderness, dew that had manna in it,
Ex. 16:14; Num. 11:9. The graces of the Spirit are the hidden manna, hidden in
the dew; God will give them bread from heaven, as he did to Israel in the dew in
abundance, Jn. 1:16.
2. What shall be the fruit of that favour which shall be
produced in them. The grace thus freely bestowed on them shall not be in
vain. Those souls, those Israelites, to whom God is as the dew, on whom his
(1.) Shall be growing. The bad being by the grace of God made
good, they shall by the same grace be made better; for grace, wherever it is
true, is growing. [1.] They shall grow upwards, and be more flourishing, shall
grow as the lily, or (as some read it) shall blossom as the rose. The
growth of the lily, as that of all bulbous roots, is very quick and speedy. The
root of the lily seems lost in the ground all winter, but, when it is refreshed
with the dews of the spring, it starts up in a little time; so the grace of God
improves young converts sometimes very fast. The lily, when it has come to its
height, is a lovely flower (Mt. 6:29), so grace is the comeliness of the soul,
Eze. 16:14. it is the beauty of holiness that is produced by the dew
of the morning, Ps. 110:3. [2.] They shall grow downwards, and be more firm.
The lily indeed grows fast, and grows fine, but it soon fades and is easily
plucked up; and therefore it is here promised to Israel that with the flower of
the lily he shall have the root of the cedar: He shall cast forth his roots
as Lebanon, as the trees of Lebanon, which, having taken deep root,
cannot be plucked up, Amos 9:15. Note, Spiritual growth consists most in the
growth of the root, which is out of sight. The more we depend upon Christ and
draw sap and virtue from him, the more we act in religion from a principle and
the more steadfast and resolved we are in it, the more we cast forth our
roots. [3.] They shall grow round about (v. 6): His branches shall spread
on all sides. And (v. 7) he shall grow as the vine, whose branches extend
furthest of any tree. Joseph was to be a fruitful bough, Gen. 49:22. When
many are added to the church from without, when a hopeful generation rises up,
then Israel's branches spread. When particular believers abound in good works,
and increase in the knowledge of God and in every good gift, then their branches
may be said to spread. The inward man is renewed day by day.
(2.) They shall be graceful and acceptable both to God and man.
Grace is the amiable thing, and makes those that have it truly amiable. They are
here compared to such trees as are pleasant, [1.] To the sight: His beauty
shall be as the olive-tree, which is always green. The Lord called thy
name a green olive-tree, Jer. 11:16. Ordinances are the beauty of the
church, and in them it is, and shall be, ever green. Holiness is the beauty of a
soul; when those that believe with the heart make profession with the mouth, and
justify and adorn that profession with an agreeable conversation, then their
beauty is as the olive-tree, Ps. 52:8. It is a promise to the trees of
righteousness that their leaf shall not wither. [2.] To the smell: His smell
shall be as Lebanon (v. 6) and his scent as the wine of Lebanon,
v. 7. This was the praise of their father Jacob, The smell of my son is as
the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed, Gen. 27:27. The church is
compared to a garden of spices (Cant. 4:12, 14), which all her
garments smell of. True believers are acceptable to God and approved
of men. God smells a sweet savour from their spiritual sacrifices
(Gen. 8:21), and they are accepted of the multitude of the brethren.
Grace is the perfume of the soul, the perfume of the name, makes it like a
precious ointment, Eccl. 7:1. The memorial thereof shall be as the wine of
Lebanon (so the margin reads it), not only their reviving comforts now, but
their surviving honours when they are gone, shall be as the wine of Lebanon,
that has a delicate flavour. Flourishing churches have their faith spoken of
throughout the world (Rom. 1:8) and leave their name to be remembered
(Ps. 45:17); and the memory of flourishing saints is blessed, and
shall be so, as theirs who by faith obtained a good report.
(3.) They shall be fruitful and useful. The church is compared
here to the vine and the olive, which brings forth useful fruits, to the honour
of God and man. Nay, the very shadow of the church shall be agreeable (v. 7): Those
that dwell under his shadow shall returnunder God's shadow (so
some), under the shadow of the Messias, so the Chaldee. Believers dwell under
God's shadow (Ps. 91:1), and there they are and may be safe and easy. But
it is rather under the shadow of Israel, under the shadow of the church.
Note, God's promises pertain to those, and those only, that dwell under the
church's shadow, that attend on God's ordinances and adhere to his people,
not those that flee to that shadow only for shelter in a hot gleam, but those
that dwell under it. Ps. 27:4. We may apply it to particular believers;
when a man is effectually brought home to God all that dwell under his shadowchildren,
servants, subjects, friends. This day has salvation come to this house.
Those that dwell under the shadow of the church shall return; their drooping
spirits shall return, and they shall be refreshed and comforted. He restores
my soul, Ps. 23:3. They shall revive as the corn, which, when it is
sown, dies first, and then revives, and brings forth much fruit, Jn.
12:24. It is promised that God's people shall be blessings to the world, as
corn and wine are. And a very great and valuable mercy it is to be serviceable
to our generation. Comfort and honour attend it.
Let us now hear the conclusion of the whole matter.
I. Concerning Ephraim; he is spoken of and spoken to, v. 8. Here
1. His repentance and reformation: Ephraim shall say, What
have I to do any more with idols? As some read it, God here reasons and
argues with him, why he should renounce idolatry: "O Ephraim! what to me
and idols? What concord or agreement can there be between me and idols?
What communion between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial? 2 Co.
6:14, 15. Therefore thou must break off thy league with them if thou wilt come
into covenant with me." As we read it, God promises to bring Ephraim and
keep him to this: Ephraim shall say, God will put it into his heart to
say it, What have I to do any more with idols? He has promised (v. 3) not
to say any more to the works of his hands, You are my gods. But God's
promises to us are much more our security and our strength for the mortifying of
sin than our promises to God; and therefore God himself is here surety for
his servant to good, will put in into his heart and into his mouth. And,
whatever good we say or do at any time, it is he that works it in us. Ephraim
had solemnly engaged not to call his idols his gods; but God here engages
further for him that he shall resolve to have no more to do with them. He
shall abolish them, he shall abandon them, and that with the utmost detestation;
for it is necessary not only that in our lives we be turned from sin, but that
in our hearts we be turned against sin. See here, (1.) The power of divine
grace. Ephraim had been joined to his idols (ch. 4:17), was so fond of
them that one would have thought he could never fall out with them; and yet God
will work such a change in him that he shall loathe them as much as ever he
loved them. (2.) See the benefit of sanctified afflictions. Ephraim had smarted
for his idolatry; it had brought one judgment after another upon him, and this
at length is the fruit, even the taking away of his sin, Isa. 27:9. (3.)
See the nature of repentance; it is a firm and fixed resolution to have no more
to do with sin. This is the language of the penitent: "I am ashamed that
ever I had to do with sin; but I have had enough of it; I hate it, and by the
grace of God I will never have any thing to do with it again, no, not with the
occasions of it." Thou shalt say to thy idol, Get thee hence (Isa.
30:22), shalt say to the tempter, Get thee behind me, Satan.
2. The gracious notice God is pleased to take of it: I have
heard him, and observed him. I have heard, and will look upon him; so some
read it. Note, The God of heaven takes cognizance of the penitent reflections
and resolutions of returning sinners. He expects and desires the repentance of
sinners, because he has no pleasure in their ruin. He looks upon men (Job
33:27), hearkens and hears, Jer. 8:6. And, if there be any disposition to
repent, he is well pleased with it. When Ephraim bemoans himself before
God, he is a dear son, he is a pleasant child, Jer. 31:20. He
meets penitents with mercy, as the father of the prodigal met his returning son.
God observed Ephraim, to see whether he would bring forth fruits meet for
this profession of repentance that he made, and whether he would continue in
this good mind. He observed him to do him good, and comfort him, according to
the exigencies of his case.
3. The mercy of God designed for him, in order to his comfort
and perseverance in his resolutions; still God will be all in all to him.
Before, Israel was compared to a tree, now God compares himself to one. He will
be to his people, (1.) As the branches of a tree: "I am like a green
fir-tree, and will be so to thee." The fir-trees, in those countries,
were exceedingly large and thick, and a shelter against sun and rain. God will
be to all true converts both a delight and a defence; under his protection and
influence they shall both dwell in safety and dwell in ease. He with be either a
sun and a shield or a shade and a shield, according as their case
requires. They shall sit down under his shadow with delight, Cant. 2:3.
He will be so all weathers, Isa. 4:6. (2.) As the root of a tree: From me is
thy fruit found, which may be understood either of the fruit brought forth
to us (to him we owe all our comforts) or of the fruit brought forth by usfrom
him we receive grace and strength to enable us to do our duty. Whatever fruits
of righteousness we brought forth, all the praise of them is due to God; for he
works in us both to will and to do that which is good.
II. Concerning every one that hears and reads the words of the
prophecy of this book (v. 9): Who is wise? and he shall understand these
things. Perhaps the prophet was wont to conclude that sermons he preached
with these words, and now he closes with them the whole book, in which he has
committed to writing some fragments of the many sermons he had preached.
Observe, 1. The character of those that do profit by the truths he delivered: Who
is wise and prudent? He shall understand these things, he shall know
them. Those that set themselves to understand and know these things thereby
make it to appear that they are truly wise and prudent, and will thereby be made
more so; and, if any do not understand and know them, it is because they are
foolish and unwise. Those that are wise in the doing of their duty, that are
prudent in practical religion, are most likely to know and understand both the
truths and providences of God, which are a mystery to others, Jn. 7:17. The
secret of the Lord is with those that fear him, Ps. 25:14. Who is wise?
This intimates a desire that those who read and hear these things would
understand them (O that they were wise!) and a complaint that few were soWho
has believed our report? 2. The excellency of these things concerning which
we are here instructed: The ways of the Lord are right; and therefore it
is our wisdom and duty to know and understand them. The way of God's precepts,
in which he requires us to walk, is right, agreeing with the rules of eternal
reason and equity and having a direct tendency to our eternal felicity. The ways
of God's providence, in which he walks toward us, are all right; no fault is
to be found with any thing that God does, for it is all well done. His judgments
upon the impenitent, his favours to the penitent, are all right; however they
may be perverted and misinterpreted, God will at last be justified and glorified
in them all. His ways are equal. 3. The different use which men make of
them. (1.) The right ways of God to those that are good are, and will be, a
savour of life unto life: The just shall walk in them; they shall conform
to the will of God both in his precepts and in his providences, and shall have
the comfort of so doing. They shall well understand the mind of God both in his
word and in his works; they shall be well reconciled to both, and shall
accommodate themselves to God's intention in both. The just shall walk
in those ways towards their great end, and shall not come short of it.
(2.) The right ways of God will be to those that are wicked a savour of death
unto death: The transgressors shall fall not only in their own wrong
ways, but even in the right ways of the Lord. Christ, who is a foundation
stone to some, is to others a stone of stumbling and a rock of
offence. That which was ordained to life becomes through their abuse
of it, death to them. God's providences, being not duly improved by them,
harden them in sin and contribute to their ruin. God's discovery of himself
both in the judgments of his mouth and in the judgments of his hand is to us
according as we are affected under it. Recipitur ad modum recipientisWhat
is received influences according to the qualities of the receiver. The same
sun softens wax and hardens clay. But of all transgressors those certainly have
the most dangerous fatal falls that fall in the ways of God, that split
on the rock of ages, and suck poison out of the balm of Gilead. Let the
sinners in Zion be afraid of this.