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,
II. Encouragements to repent taken from God's readiness to receive
and the comforts he has treasured up for them,
III. A solemn recommendation of these things to our serious thoughts,
||B. C. 720.|
1 O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen
by thine iniquity.
2 Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take
away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render
the calves of our lips.
3 Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses:
neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are
our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.
Here we have,
I. A kind invitation given to sinners to repent,
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 of glory.
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 prævisam rem non invita sequentur--Those 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.
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
(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
(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 it--Give 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 prohibens--by 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
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
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 LXX.), a word they used for burnt-offerings, and so it
agrees with the Hebrew. The apostle quotes this phrase
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
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
lips--poor 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
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
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,
"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,"
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,
So he did in his law,
So he does in his providence,
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.
|Assurance of Mercy; Repentance of Ephraim.
||B. C. 720.|
4 I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for
mine anger is turned away from him.
5 I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily,
and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
6 His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the
olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
7 They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall
revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof
shall be as the wine of Lebanon.
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
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,
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
II. Do they pray for the taking away of iniquity? He assures
them that he will heal their backslidings; so he promised,
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
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,
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
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,
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,
They shall know more and more of him, for he will come to them as
He will refresh them with his comforts, so that their souls shall be as
a watered garden,
He will be to true penitents as the dew to Israel when they were
in the wilderness, dew that had manna in it,
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
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 grace distils,
(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
so grace is the comeliness of the soul,
It is the beauty of holiness that is produced by the dew of
[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,
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
[3.] They shall grow round about
His branches shall spread on all sides. And
he shall grow as the vine, whose branches extend furthest of any
tree. Joseph was to be a fruitful bough,
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,
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,
It is a promise to the trees of righteousness that their leaf shall not
[2.] To the smell: His smell shall be as Lebanon
and his scent as the wine of Lebanon,
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,
The church is compared to a garden of spices
(Song of Solomon 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
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
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
and leave their name to be remembered
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
Those that dwell under his shadow shall return--under God's
shadow (so some), under the shadow of the Messias, so the
Chaldee. Believers dwell under God's shadow
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.
We may apply it to particular believers; when a man is effectually
brought home to God all that dwell under his shadow--children,
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,
They shall revive as the corn, which, when it is sown, dies
first, and then revives, and brings forth much fruit,
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.
|Assurances of Mercy.
||B. C. 720.|
8 Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I
have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree.
From me is thy fruit found.
9 Who is wise, and he shall understand these things?
prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are
right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors
shall fall therein.
Let us now hear the conclusion of the whole matter.
I. Concerning Ephraim; he is spoken of and spoken to,
Here we have,
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
2 Corinthians 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
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
(1.) The power of divine grace. Ephraim had been joined to his
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,
(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
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
hearkens and hears,
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,
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,
Song of Solomon 2:3.
He will be so all weathers,
(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 us--from 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
II. Concerning every one that hears and reads the words of the prophecy
of this book
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,
The secret of the Lord is with those that fear him,
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 so--Who 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
recipientis--What 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.