The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Book Overview - Hosea
by Joseph Parker
Father in heaven, take not thy Holy Spirit from us. Take what thou wilt, but take not thy Holy Spirit from the human soul. We live and move and have our being in God; thou wilt not willingly cut us off. As thou livest, thou hast no pleasure in death; there is no death in God, there is no graveyard in heaven. God is life, God is light; in him is no death, in him is no darkness at all. We would therefore receive God into our hearts, and say, Abide with us, for without thee we cannot live. We know thee through Jesus Christ thy Son; he revealed the Father; from the bosom of the Father he came; he proceeded forth and came from God. We heard the eternity of God in his voice. It was no voice of man; it was no voice of earth; never man spake like this Man. He made even our words divine by using them. Now we call thee Father; thou art in heaven, and we are upon the earth, yet there is no distance between us; thy heaven holds our little earth. Thou earnest all things, thou Creator of all. Watch over our life, we pray thee, in the name of thy dear Song of Solomon, and make it precious in thy sight; make us good men, sound of heart, bright of mind, obedient of will. Teach us that obedience is greatness; show us that only true suffering truly borne is heroic; teach us that not to have our own way is the best way. Thus by loss, or pain, or trial, or sevenfold night, bring us into obedience. We pray for those who are sorely afflicted. How great is the darkness of God; how terrible are thy judgments when they come near to us! We pray for those whose house is desolated, whose firstborn lie dead. Thou knowest all the pain, the heartache, the blinding tear, the overwhelming sorrow, the sense of loss unutterable; now let them find the balm that is in Gilead, and fall upon the Physician that is there with all the trust of their love. Thou dost trouble this little world with great sorrows; sometimes the grief seems larger than the life itself, sometimes it is an overflowing water. The grace of God is sufficient for us all, but we cannot always seize it and apply it as we might do. Thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust; thou wilt not plead against us with thy great power. But having shown us great and sore distresses, thou wilt comfort us again with unexpected solaces. Guide us during the few remaining days; for our days are but a handful at the best; give us the spirit of consideration; give us the sound large judgment that weighs things in the right scales; save us from making fools of ourselves by wasting what little daylight there is. Keep us steadfast in the faith of the Cross of Christ. We need that Cross when our grief is keen, when our eyes are blind with tears, and when our choicest friend says he can do no more for us: then, Jesus, Refuge of my soul, may I find thee indeed an eternal Sanctuary! Hear the poor soul that says this, and give it answers from the Cross and replies from heaven. Amen.
Some persons were afraid that the Revision Companies would take the Bible away. A Bible that can be taken away is not worth keeping. A God that can be stolen is a poor Lord to have dominion over any human soul. Take the Book of Hosea after the Revisers have had it under careful revision. Many passages are altered verbally; yet the alteration has only been like making an opening for a larger window. A house is none the worse for having more light in it. What we should ask for about every book is the truth. We do not want words we have been accustomed to if they are not true. We may be sorry to surrender them; they have come to be part of our very breathing; yet if they are not true they must go. Always draw a vital line between superstition and religion; between prejudice and true judgment. The conservatism that would keep an error is a blasphemy against the spirit of truth and progress. In the Book of Hosea we may see some striking instances of change in the word without seeing any real change in the inner and divine thought. Let us proceed to illustrate this:—
"And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel" ( Hosea 2:21-22).
What does that mean? It means nothing as it stands. He is doing a useless work who tries to force it into meaning. Better confess that we are bewildered by these bold personifications. The image is graphic; but who can interpret the speech? The Revisers change the word "hear" into the word "answer"; then the prosopopœia runs thus: And it shall come to pass in that day, that the heavens will ask me to give their rain to the earth, and I will answer the heavens; and the earth will ask the heavens to give it rain, and the heavens will answer the earth; and the things that are in the earth will ask the earth to grow them to give them power such as it may possess of reproductiveness; and the earth shall hear every praying root that is hid in its heart, and thus there shall be a great process or ministry of request and reply, prayer and answer. Has the passage been destroyed by the revision? The passage has simply been illuminated.
"For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer" ( Hosea 4:16).
What is a backsliding heifer? We do not know; there is no such creature. But read: "Israel acts stubbornly like a heifer," and the meaning is clear. The heifer will not go as its owner wants it to go. The heifer stands back when it ought to go forward; turns aside when it ought to move straight on; wriggles and twists and, as it were, protests; and only by greater strength, or by the infliction of suffering, can the heifer be made to go to its destined place. The prophet, looking upon that heifer, now on the right, now on the left, now stooping, now throwing up its head in defiance, says, Such is Israel, such is Ephraim. We lose nothing by the change; we gain very much.
"Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth" ( Hosea 6:3).
What does that mean? Nobody knows; that is to say, no one who confines attention simply to the English tongue. How has the Revision put it? Thus: "Let us know, let us follow on to know the Lord; his going forth is sure as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth." How much simpler, how perfectly obvious the meaning!" Let us follow on to know the Lord." Will he come? Yes, as sure as the morning. After what manner will he bless us if we follow on? Why, he will bless you as the rain blesses the earth; yea, as the former and the latter rain come down to quench the thirst of the arid soil. Thus all difficulty is taken away, and the beauteous truth stands out in fullest figure.
The sixth chapter is remarkable for changes.
"Your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away" ( Hosea 6:4).
What is the "early dew"? Is there a late dew? No. Then why speak of an early dew? The prophet did not speak of it. All dew is early. How then should we read it?—"like the dew that goeth early away." It is not the dew itself that is early, but the dew that goeth early up into the sun, for the formation of clouds and the elaboration of rainbows. Is anything lost by this change? Much is gained.
A very striking change is made in the seventh verse of the same chapter:—"But they like men have transgressed the covenant" In the Revision a name occurs to which the Bible seems to have paid very small attention; instead of "like men" we read "like Adam." How remarkable it is that so little mention is ever made of the first man in the English translation! Of course in the original Scriptures "Adam" occurs again and again under various forms, as, "Thou son of Prayer of Manasseh," or, "Son of Adam"; but hardly any reference of a personal and specific kind is ever made to the first man. Everybody seems to have been only too glad to forget him. If he cannot forget himself, what a life he must have been leading these countless centuries! He is restored, however, in this verse: "But they like Adam have transgressed the covenant."
Can anything be more mysterious and bewildering than ( Hosea 7:4):
"As an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened"?
No man can explain these words as they stand in the English Bible; but alter them, as the Revision does, into "He ceaseth to stir the fire from the kneading of the dough," and you have a picture of men whose passions are so hot that it is needless to stir the fire, or add additional fuel. The lust burns like hell, that the baker can do no more.
"I have written to him the great things of my law" ( Hosea 8:12).
How beautiful is the change into, "Though I write for him my law in ten thousand precepts"! Not "great things of my law," but my law split up into ten thousand little laws or precepts that a child might commit to heart. If I say to him, Thou shalt not have all the law at once, for that might overpower thee, but thou shalt have the law little by little—now an infantile precept, now a larger statute, now a broader ordinance; and if I am proceeding too quickly for thee, then I will stop on thy account, and what is a thousand shall be ten thousand, so that little by little thou mayest be educated into wisdom and into obedience, and into the truly spiritual purpose of God, is anything lost by such a change as that? Much is gained by it.
"He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God" ( Hosea 12:3).
Where? When? We cannot understand these words, and yet their meaning is perfectly evident when they are thus translated: "In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he had power with God." Thus the man is taken at two different points in his history: he began by an exhibition of power, his little hand was strong even at the first—destiny can hardly be hidden even in protoplasm; and this man who began thus early grew into larger power, yea, in his manhood he wrestled with God. A wondrous page in the development of human strength; a marvellous page in the illustration of divine condescension.
How many sermons have been preached from ( Hosea 13:9)
"O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help."
All that is true; great discourses may be preached upon this interpreted text. Sometimes the discourse may be true, but not true to the passage upon which it is founded; sometimes there is an absolute divorce between the sermon and the text, both being good, but neither related to the other. It is better as it stands in the Revision: "It is thy destruction, O Israel, that thou art against me, against thy help,"—the supreme madness, the ineffable and all but incurable insanity.
One more, as illustrative of the Revision in this minor prophet:—
"So will we render the calves of our lips" ( Hosea 14:2).
An expression absolutely without meaning. We read it respectfully because it is in the English Bible; it must be right, because it is there. What, then, is the meaning? The signification is brought out beautifully by the Revision: "So will we render thee the thankful praise of our lips instead of bullocks" blood." Thus up to this time men have been offering bullock, and heifer, and lamb, and goat; but the time has now come when our lips shall be calves, our praise shall be the offered bullock. No longer shall there be blood-letting in thy Church, but there shall be praise instead of blood. We will render thee the calves of our lips, the calves of our praise; we will give thee hymns of adoration, because we know that this was the meaning of every sacrifice of blood that thou ever didst command. Thus we grow from the material to the spiritual, from the visible to the invisible, from things rough, coarse, elementary, to things refined, exquisite, final. The great end of the creation of man is that at last and for ever he should sing, the song being the highest expression of service; not the service itself, but the delight which man takes in doing all that God has told him to do.
Is the Bible, then, taken away from us by these changes? What is it that you worship? If you only worship a book in a certain form, then you are as much idolaters as any savage tribe ever found on the face of the globe. You must seek for the inner truth, the spiritual meaning; and let go whatever forms you may, you must never let go the divine thought, the divine purpose. We must not be given to bibliolatry; we must know that the Bible is within the Bible; we must more and more feel that no man can touch the Scriptures of God injuriously, fatally; the revelation abides. There may be persons who have deluded themselves with the thought that the very translation was inspired. The thing that is inspired is the truth; and all language is growing towards its larger and clearer expression. That there is a truth to be unfolded, illuminated, and applied, the conscience of man continually proclaims. We should ask for that truth, and if we have to pay down for it the price of many an old custom and many an old prejudice, we must pay the price more or less willingly, that we may possess the pearl of great price, the truth of God. Nothing necessary to salvation has been touched by all the revisions that have ever taken place, personal or official. The Christ has never been other than a Christ. The Son of God has never been modified as to his personality or function. All that has been changed is of the nature of grammar, history, incident God"s love has never been lessened; God"s grace has never been contracted into smaller channels by any grammatical changes. All the changes that have been made have only lifted Christ to a higher elevation, and invested the idea of God with a supremer royalty, a more subduing pathos.
Almighty God, thou art the great Shepherd. Thy flock is dear unto thee; if one has gone astray thou wilt come after it and seek it until thou dost find it. This is our hope, as it is our joy; in thy patient love we find the reason of our song. All we like sheep had gone astray, we had turned every one to his own way; now we have returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, now thou hast fed us with promises; we shall be gathered upon the high mountains of Israel, we shall be within reach of showers of blessings; thou wilt make us thine own by a seal which cannot be broken. Having then these promises of thine, may we accept them as inspirations; may we not rest upon them slothfully, may we accept them as impulses towards nobler service, that we may glorify our Father which is in heaven. Jesus Christ said, I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. He laid down his life for men; he said he had power to lay it down, and power to take it again. Having been saved by his death, how much more shall we be saved by his life. We have passed his Cross, we are under the dominion of his crown. Rule in us, Jesus, Son of Prayer of Manasseh, Son of God. Once we would not have thee to reign over us, now we have no king but Jesus. We bless God for the King-Shepherd, the royal and final David, the Shepherd of redeemed souls. Lord, Shepherd, hear us, keep us, watch us; we are prone to wander, we love to stray: keep us by the mighty tenderness of thy grace. We rejoice that we have heard of the Shepherd, and that we are in the fold by his grace and love: may we prove ourselves to be of the flock of the Redeemer, not by our pride and vanity, but by our obedience and discipline, and love of others, by our broad and ever-broadening charity; may we in our turn be shepherds of the weak, taking care of those who are helpless, and leading back those who have gone a little astray. Lord, hear us whilst we thank thee for thy shepherdly care, for thy tender, loving, daily oversight. We thank thee for life, though it is full of pain, as we bless thee for the sky, though it is so often dark with clouds. One day thou hast promised we shall be rid of all things evil and distressing; in our language there shall be no word but that which is musical. In that higher land, in that brighter, larger time, men shall not say one to another, I am sick: out of the language of men thou wilt drive every unwelcome and distressful word. In the prepared place there shall be no sin, no pain, no death, no night: these will be forgotten words; thou wilt teach us another speech and a purer language, and we shall speak of light, and love, and truth, and growth, and all things beautiful. Towards that high point thou art drawing us day by day, through wildernesses weird and desolate, through disappointments stinging and fiery, and through all the trouble of the earth. Thou hast not forsaken the flock: no man shall pluck any out of the Father"s hand. Give us to feel the comfort of thy hand; may we know that we are not keeping ourselves; hold thou us up, and we shall be safe. We pray for our loved ones, part of ourselves, not with us in this act of worship,—for the father, the husband, the traveller; the man who is sick; the woman who is at home making it brighter for us; the child at school. We pray thee for those who are unhappily further away, men who never pray for themselves, men whose lives are blasphemies; may our prayer be heard at the Cross when we say again, God be merciful unto all sinners. Thou knowest where special comfort is needed, where lives are sad, where there is no strength, no hope; thou knowest the homes in which there has been no song these seven years; all our disappointments thou dost know: the letter brings no answer, the appeal elicits no response; pain brings forth no tear of sympathy. Thou knowest the misery of solitude and of being misunderstood by men; thou knowest how irregular some of us are in make, and thought, and practice, so that we plunge ourselves into misunderstanding, and are made the victims of our own folly. Yet thou wilt pity us, thou wilt make us over again, thou wilt not forsake thy flock. Shepherd of Israel, Christ of the universe, enfold us within thine arms! Amen.
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18