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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Hosea 8

 

 

Verse 1

Hosea 8:1

Set thy trumpet to thy mouth.

The Gospel trumpet

1. By sounding the Gospel trumpet the mind of God can alone be communicated to man. The voice of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost must be heard from the Scriptures. To the whole Christian priesthood the command is given, “Preach the Word.”

2. It is the purpose that all shall hear and obey the Gospel trumpet. The silver trumpet of the wilderness was for the entire encampment. “Preach the Gospel to every creature.”

3. In setting the trumpet to the mouth, we must give no uncertain sound. In the ordinance of the silver trumpet the greatest care was taken to instruct the sons of Aaron in its proper use. What is the Gospel? Is it not this?

As an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against My law.

The conventional Church

These words are singularly abrupt, and indicate the suddenness of the threatened invader. By “the house of the Lord” we are to understand Israel as a section of the professed people of God.

I. As endangered. How comes the eagle? Ravenously, suddenly, and swiftly. A conventional Church is in greater danger than any secular community, because--

1. Its guilt is greater.

2. Its influence is more pernicious.

Whose influence on society is the most baneful--the man who denies God, the man who ignores Him, or the man who misrepresents Him? The conventional Church gives society a mal-representation of God and His religion.

II. As warned. Blow a blast that shall thrill every heart in the vast congregation of Israel. Why sound the warning?

1. Because the danger is tremendous.

2. Because the danger is at hand.

3. Because the danger may be avoided.

What is wanted now is a ministry of warning to conventional Churches.

III. As repentant. “Israel shall cry unto Me, My God, we know Thee.” Oh hasten the day when all conventional Churches shall be brought to a deep and experimental knowledge of God and His Son! when this transpires the dense cloud that has concealed the sun of Christianity shall be swept away, and the quickening beam shall fall on every heart. (Homilist.)

God coming in judgment

whatever be the local and particular references as to the eagle, the great principle remains from age to age that God comes to judgment in various forms, always definitely, and always, as we shall see, intelligibly, not only inflicting vengeance as a Sovereign whose covenants have been outraged, but condescending to explain the reasons upon which His most destructive judgments are based. Thus we read, “Because they have transgressed My covenant, and trespassed against My law”: the covenant had been broken by idolatry, and the law had been violated by social sins. It is needful to mark this distinction with great particularity, because it shows the breadth of the Divine commandment. God is not speaking about a merely metaphysical law,--a law which can only be interpreted by the greatest minds, and put into operation on the sublimest occasions of life; He is speaking about a law which had indeed its lofty religious aspects, but which had also its social, practical, tender phases, in whose preservation every man, woman, and child in the kingdom ought to be interested. God has made it clear that sin is always a crime. Whoever sins against God sins against his own soul. Once let God’s beneficent laws be violated, and the man does not only suffer metaphysically, or go down in some practical quantity or quality, but he actually suffers in body and estate, sometimes apparently, always really. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)


Verses 1-3

Verses 1-14

Verse 2

Hosea 8:2

My God, we know Thee.

Agnosticism

An agnostic is not one who knows nothing, for some men who are embraced by this term are men of unusual mental attainments and ability. He is one who neither denies nor affirms. The term is applied to those who hold that there are matters pertaining to religion which we not only do not know, but have no means of knowing. An agnostic does not simply assert the incompleteness of human knowledge upon things Divine, but that real knowledge concerning such things is an impossibility to man. An agnostic is not an atheist. He does not deny the existence of a God. He is not a sceptic or doubter. He is positive in affirming that we neither have nor.can get any knowledge of God, or of the unseen world. Mr. Herbert Spencer’s views have been thus summarised:

“1. The proper object of religion is a Something which can never be known, or conceived, or understood; to which we cannot apply the terms emotion, will, intelligence; of which we cannot either affirm or deny that it is either a person, or being, or mind, or matter, or, indeed, anything else.

2. All that we can say of it is that it is an inscrutable existence, or an unknowable cause; we can neither know nor conceive what it is, nor how it came about, nor how it operates. It is notwithstanding the ultimate cause, the all-being, the creative power.

3. The essential business of a religion so understood is to keep alive the consciousness of a mystery that cannot be fathomed.

4. We are not concerned with the question what effect this religion will have as a moral agent, or whether it will make good men and women. Religion has to do with mystery, not with morals.” Agnostics reverence the phenomenal and the Great Unknown above and behind it; but, holding that the senses are the only source of knowledge, they do not know, and say we never can know, that the eternal energy behind all phenomena can think, feel, will, and contrive. Agnosticism is open to three objections.

I. It is presumptive. The agnostic begins by a confession of human ignorance, and then proceeds to make a universal assertion which implies the possession of universal knowledge. To assert that the unknown cause “can never be known, or conceived, or understood” is to assume that the speaker is acquainted with the constitution and calibre of all mind in all ages. To say that the inscrutable existence will never be known by man is to say we know what will be the extent of all men’s knowledge in the future. We cannot measure all possible knowledge with our finite minds. He who says that God is “unknowable,” takes a self-contradictory attitude, and assumes such knowledge as can be attributed only to a Divine Being.

II. Agnosticism is paralysing. The great mainspring of human activity and basis of human happiness is faith. The three steps taken by every man who has achieved ought worthy of remembrance have been these--conception, conviction, and action. The conviction was the faith which stimulated to and sustained the action. United to faith, but distinct from it, is hope, that vigorous principle which enlists in its service both head and heart. Agnosticism bows these two fair angels out of human society. It tells us that we know only the phenomenal; we have no spiritual insight. If every man in society were a consistent agnostic there would be a speedy and inglorious termination to all scientific, social, political, and ecclesiastical enterprises.

III. Agnosticism is positively pernicious. It disposes of all true religion. For religion is the linking of a soul to a personal God. Agnosticism defines religion as “devotion to that which is believed to be best.” It has no personal God. Dispensing with religion--

1. Agnosticism strikes away one of the chief supports of society.

2. Begets despair.

There is nothing left for the heart of man but to settle down into a stony state of utter desolation and despair. Agnosticism encourages pessimism. But we affirm that God is known, though our knowledge is incomplete. We have sufficient knowledge to justify and demand our worship of God, our trust in, and love for, and obedience to Him. That God is known is proved by the Scriptures, by the manifestation of Christ, and by the testimony of Christian experience. (J. Hiles Hitchens, D. D.)

The knowledge of God

Israel pretended to know God, but in works denied Him. They would cry and say, We know Thee; when in truth they knew Him not, and were only speaking lies in hypocrisy.

I. Observe the time when they would make this profession. In a season of great affliction and distress, when God would contend with them, when their enemies should be let loose upon them, and everything around them look dark and distressing. When they begin to feel God’s wrath they will begin to humble themselves, and profess themselves to be His people. Troubles will often make those pray who never prayed before. But if they leave off prayer when the trouble is over, this shews that it came out of feigned lips. Conviction is often the fruit of correction, but does not always lead to conversion.

II. The manner in which this profession would be made, They would not only speak, but speak vehemently, and “cry” with earnestness and confidence. But they called God their God, though they had no interest in Him, and claimed an acquaintance with Him while they were ignorant of His true character.

III. The importance of a right knowledge of God.

1. It is a great thing truly to know the Lord. A perfect knowledge of God is unattainable by us. But a true knowledge of God is vital and efficacious, and has a transforming influence. It is the effect of Divine illumination, so that none have it until it is communicated from above.

2. A profession of this knowledge is of great importance. It is no light matter to be able to say on good ground, “My God, I know Thee.” With the mouth confession is made unto salvation, but there must first be a believing with the heart unto righteousness. True faith will produce a good confession. Let us see that our acknowledgment of God be accompanied with corresponding affections and dispositions towards Him, going to the grounds of our religion, and tracing it up to its source and origin.

IV. Some of the evidences of a true knowledge of God.

1. All saving knowledge proceeds from God only. All the knowledge we have of Him by the unassisted efforts of reason will come to nothing.

2. Saving knowledge will produce a humble confidence in God. Humility is one of the first fruits of a good understanding.

3. A spiritual acquaintance with God will be accompanied with a conformity of soul to Him. There will be a resemblance of His holy nature, and a subjection to His holy will.

The claim to know God

In the Hebrew the order of the words is, “To Me they shall cry, My God, we know Thee; Israel.” This order hints some observations that would hardly arise from our version. In our Bible it is only a speech of God to them. In the Hebrew they seem to remind God who they wore; as if they said, “We are Israel, who know Thee, remember we are not strangers to Thee.” Observe--

1. In affliction men see their need of God.

2. Even hypocrites and the vilest wretches in the time of their distress will claim interest in God and cry to Him.

3. Knowledge and acknowledgment of God in an outward and formal way hypocrites think will commend them much to God in time of affliction. They expect favour from God because they have made some profession of Him. “We know Thee,” as if they said, “Lord, we were not as others who forsook Thee; we continued Israel still; we did not turn to the heathens.” It is very difficult to take away men’s spirits from trusting in formality in outward worship. (Jeremiah Burroughs.)


Verse 3

Hosea 8:3

Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him.

The chastening of them that forsake God

In this short sentence we have at once the sin of Israel and his punishment. Consider the various ways in which Israel may be said to have “cast off the thing that is good.”

I. By their murmurings. So long as they trusted God’s Word, they continued to walk safely. When they began to murmur, Amalek came upon them.

II. By their idolatries. When God was arranging for their worship, they made and worshipped the golden calves.

III. By their rebellion. As in their response to the message of the returned spies. Referring to Israel in their later history, we may say--

IV. By their rejection of Christ. Because, when Messiah did come, He did not suit their expectations, they despised and rejected Him. And the enemy was not slow in pursuing them. Their city was destroyed, and they were scattered over the earth. This threat is not confined to Israel. It is equally applicable to nations and to individuals now. (N. Ashby.)

Good rejected

Him who is good, That which is good. The word tob includes both. They rejected good in rejecting God, who is simply, supremely, wholly, universally good, and good to all, the Author and Fountain of all good, so that there is nothing simply good but God, nothing worthy of that title, except in respect of its relation to him who is good and doing good. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

The abandonment of good, and consequent pursuit of evil

I. The abandonment of good. “Israel hath rejected what is good.” The good here is the true worship of the true God.

1. True, Worship is “the good thing” for man. It is good not only because God requires it, but because it is the necessary condition of spiritual life, growth, harmony, and blessedness.

2. This “good thing” man sometimes abandons. Moral mind has the power of abandoning the highest good.

3. The abandonment of this “good thing” imperils the soul. Moral good is the only effective safeguard of the spirit; when this is given up, or “cast off,” all the gates of the soul are thrown open to tormenting fiends.

II. The consequent pursuit of evil. “Set up kings, but not by Me.” Reference is to Jeroboam and his successors. From kings of their own making came the setting up of the idolatrous calf-worship. So they went wrong in their politics and in their religion. Let a man go wrong in his relations to God, and he will go wrong in all his relations, secular and spiritual, There is nothing in connection with the human race of such transcendent importance as worship. The religious element is the strongest of all elements, and men must have a god of some sort, and their god will fashion their character and determine their destiny. (Homilist.)


Verses 4-13

Verse 5

Hosea 8:5

Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cut thee off; or, Thy calf, O Samaria, hath kicked thee off.

Kicking calves

The words of the text have a quaint sound. They suggest a ludicrous figure. There is something ludicrous in the notion of a boy trying to drive a calf, and getting kicked by it. When you understand what the words mean, you will soon grow grave enough. Samaria was the centre and capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, as Jerusalem was the centre and capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. Each city was a sacred city, a centre of worship, as well as of business and government. There was a temple in each of them, and in the temple certain symbols of the Divine presence and activity. At Mount Gerizim they had only the golden calf and the emblems of its worship. At first this calf was intended to be a nature-symbol of Jehovah. But it too closely resembled the animal forms in the heathen temples--especially in Egypt--and these animal forms were very apt to breed a kind of worship which gave free play to animal lusts. At best, moreover, the calf was a “graven image,” and was therefore a standing and flagrant violation of the law which God had given to Israel. Soon the Ten Tribes sunk into the idolatries of the nations around them, with their degradation of God and man. And they put no more restraint on their carnal passions and lusts than the beasts whose forms they placed in their temples. Men grow like the gods they worship, The animal part of their nature soon prevailed over the spiritual. As soon as a man suffers the beast in him to prevail, he grows worse than the beasts, and sinks below their level. What they do by the law of their nature, he does against the taw of his nature. Hosea paints a dreadful picture of the impotence and degradation into which the Israelites had sunk through their false worship. They were consequently so weakened by their strifes and divisions, their loss of manliness and patriotism, as to be unable to resist the foreign invader when he came. And so their calf had kicked them. If they did not speedily return to the God of their fathers, their calf would soon “kick them off.” They would find themselves abandoned by their god, in whose foul service they had sacrificed their manhood, their unity, their strength. They would fall before the sword of the foe, or be led captive by him into a strange land. So there is a principle in Hosea’s quaint words. It is this--every sin carries in itself its own retribution, and is sure to avenge itself upon us if we fall into it. Punishment is only the other half of sin. Or every calf we worship is sure to kick us, or even to kick us off. Whatever we love best and pursue most heartily, that, for the time at least, is our god, our “calf.” For the moment we look to it for the happiness or the gratification we most crave, and serve and follow it with our supreme affection or desire. Look at some of these calf worshippers, and mark how their god treats them. There is the greedy boy, who puts no restraint upon his appetite. To gratify his appetite he will do things which are mean, selfish, wrong. What follows? The calf which Little Glutton worshipped has kicked him, and kicked him in his tenderest part, just where he feels it most. Take the case of a vain, foolish girl, who gives herself great airs when she goes to a new school. When she is found out, her fibs detected, or her foolish self-complacency resented and exposed, may we not say that her calf has kicked her, humbled her in the dust, so that she who wanted to be admired is despised. Her sin has wrought its own punishment. But in the mercy of God her punishment is intended to help her to recover herself. And men have made idols of their very sins--drunkenness and licentiousness. They have sacrificed their all to them. And not only our base passions, but even our best affections, our plainest duties, may be exalted into the place of God, and thus be turned into calves which will only too surely kick us, or kick us off, before they have done with us. Young men may be tempted to snatch at business success by taking some mean advantage of their fellows, so straining their integrity and defiling the clear honour of their soul, violating the allegiance they owe to principles, conscience, and God. Or men may suffer mere success in business to absorb all their energies, so that they neglect the culture of the mind, and the purest and best affections of the heart and home. In either case, if you yield to these temptations, you will have turned what was once a clear duty into an idol, into a calf such as that which of old men worshipped in Samaria. And your calf will kick you as it kicked them. Your want of integrity, your meanness and baseness will be detected and exposed. Your punishment will grow out of your sin. And young women need to be told that even love, if it be made an idol, will prove to be but a calf. If in the sacred name of love, you cast away prudence, principle, parental control, and marry a man who has not yet learned to earn his own livelihood, or whose character is dubious, or whose life is bad, you may be sure your calf will kick you for your pains. All these foolish and hurtful idolatries of ours spring from our false conceptions of God, and of what He requires of us. The true ends of life do not lie in mere worldly success, or even in gratified affection. Hosea teaches us to think of God as a wise and loving Father who is ever seeking to make us good. In this light we may see how poor and paltry are many of the aims which men pursue, and how inevitable it is that they should be frustrated of these poor aims in order that they may learn to set the true end of life before them. Our well-deserved falls and failures are parts of the process by which our Heavenly Father is teaching us to walk, and to walk with Him. (S. Cox, D. D.)

Idols worshipped

The gross and debasing idolatry of Israel soon brought upon them the judgments of heaven; and when in their deep distress they discovered their folly, they found that, having cast off Jehovah, they “had no god to go to.” It is to this course of wickedness the text refers. The prophet addresses the people of Samaria in tones of withering irony. Two important lessons.

I. That every false and worldly confidence is sure in the end to cheat and disappoint us. Speak to those who are worshipping some other object than the one true God--drink, business.

II. The Lord himself, and He alone, will never fail or cast off those that trust in Him. Why should He taunt Israel upon the faithlessness and vanity of their earthly idols, if to trust Himself might prove equally vain? Wherefore should He remind you that the golden calves of worldly pleasure, pelf, and pride will all cast you off, if perchance He will cast you off Himself? It is a curious fact that just as foolish and worldly people generally cherish unfounded hopes, so Christian persons often indulge unfounded fears. The one never imagine that their calf, their idol, will cast them off: the other are constantly doubting and dreading that their God will forsake them. If there is anything that God makes quite plain, it is that this can never be; He never fails nor forsakes. The truth is that God draws nearer and closer to His people in their trouble. (J. Thain Davidson, D. D.)

The world a lie

The story of Jeroboam the son of Nebat affords a perpetual warning. Other things besides consumption, and lunacy, and various maladies our flesh is heir to are hereditary. Jeroboam’s sin descended to his children; and was transmitted like an entail from sire to son. More than that, it struck like a malaria of a virulent disease to the very walls of his palace; it infected all his successors, and from the throne spread its deadly influence to the poorest and most distant cottages of the land.

I. The sin of Jeroboam. He was hardly seated on the throne, when a political difficulty arose,--and that a very serious one. The Mosaic law required every male to go up three times each year to Jerusalem. An astute and sagacious politician, Jeroboam foresaw how this custom might be attended with dangerous results. But he was not the man to meet the difficulty aright. He did what, no doubt, the world had thought a clever thing. Setting up one calf in Bethel and another in Dan, in imitation of the cherubim in the temple, he sent forth this edict, “Let him that sacrificeth, kiss the calves,”--go and worship these. Jeroboam succeeded, but his success brought down ruin on his house and government. It was followed by results which should teach our statesmen that no policy in the end shall thrive which traverses the Word of God. That can never be politically right, which is morally and religiously wrong. What the “calf” did to the monarch, it did to the people--here called Samaria. Following the steps of their king, they apostatised from God, and turned their backs on His temple. Then judgment succeeded judgment, and one trouble breaking on the back of another, the land had no rest. The commonwealth sank under the weight of its idolatry. The voice of God in providence might have been heard saying, “Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off.”

II. Warning from the sin and sorrow of Samaria. The sentiment of the text is illustrated--

1. By the case of those who put riches in the place of God. The thirst for gold, like the drunkard’s, is insatiable. The more it is indulged, the more the flame is fed, it burns the fiercer.

2. The sentiment of the text is illustrated by the case of those who live for fame--for the favour, not of God, but of men. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

The sinner betrayed by his sin

s:--Jeroboam’s calf symboled not only his casting off the true faith, but also his preference for the secular and sensual culture of Egypt, instead of the simplicity and purity of life which God had prescribed for His people. For a while the rebellious people seemed to prosper. At length the thunderbolt of Divine wrath fell. The godless land was ravaged, and the people carried away captive by the Assyrians. Egypt turned a deaf ear to their appeals. This, Hosea predicted in words of withering sarcasm: “Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off.” (The calf was a copy of the Egyptian Mnevis.)

I. The calf stands in general for sin. No sin ever, in the long-run, meets the promise it makes to the imagination. In the end the soul has to pay for its guilty pleasures out of its own pains. True of fleshly lusts. Their glow is that of a fever rising; soon they will burn. Nature does not put enough strength in the human frame to endure more than a temperate, lawful supply of the appetites. This fuel gone, the indulgence has become a necessity, and consumes the life itself. Selfishness cannot enjoy its accumulations beyond a limited amount; beyond this they feed impatience and ennui. “Pride,” as Bulwer says, “is a garment all stiff brocade outside, and all grating sackcloth on the side next the skin.”

II. The calf stands for a peculiar class of sins. The Samaritans did not regard their worship as degrading. The calf represented life, productiveness; a far nobler object of worship than that set up by many heathen nations. It represented especially polite sins, and those lines of conduct whose evil consists chiefly in that they are not obedience to God. For instance, such as meet our ideas of expediency, but are not according to strict conscience. Young men generally begin with such sins. Thus the standard is gradually lowered.

1. They will do nothing disreputable in religious or even secular society.

2. Nothing disreputable in club life.

3. Nothing that they (now blinded by indulgence) think will hurt them.

4. At last, their own passion has become their standard, and they are socially a wreck before they are fully aware of their danger.

III. The calf stands for a current form of unbelief. The calf-worship was mixed with some features of the true worship of Israel. It had a line of priests. Its chief sites were places already sacred in the religious history of God’s people. The altars were dedicated at the time of a true religious festival--the Feast of Tabernacles. A current form of infidelity is a blending of human conceits with some scriptural teaching. It uses Sabbaths, sanctuaries, ministries. It admires Jesus, and praises His precepts. But it denies supernaturalism. Not God’s Word, but the human reason, is supreme. (L.)

Cast off by the god of worldliness

The great Wolsey, after he had climbed the highest round of ambition’s ladder, in the evening of life bitterly exclaimed, “Would that I had served my God as faithfully as I have served my king. He would not have abandoned me in my old age.” The illustrious statesman, William Pitt, the favourite of king and people, “died,” says Wilberforce, his friend, “of a broken heart. On his dying bed he is stated to have said, I fear I have neglected prayer too much to make it available on a death-bed.” Still more distressing was the closing scene of Sheridan’s career. He who had stood on the pinnacle of glory, and gained the most flattering distinctions, writes in old age to one of his friends, “I am absolutely undone and broken-hearted.” Misfortunes crowded on him, and his last moments were haunted by fears of a prison. Forsaken by his gay associates, dispirited, and world-weary, he closed his eyes in gloom and sorrow. Campbell, the author of “The Pleasures of Hope,” in his old age wrote “I am alone in the world. My wife and child of my hopes are dead; my surviving child is consigned to a living tomb (a lunatic asylum); my old friends, brothers, sisters, are dead, all but one, and she too is dying; my last hopes are blighted. As for fame, it is a bubble that must soon burst.”

How long will it be ere they attain to innocency?--

Attainment hindered

I. An attainment spoken of. “How long will it be ere they attain unto innocency?” “Innocency” is here put for “true and saving religion.” And this is a most desirable attainment, more so than all besides.

1. It is important because without it there can be no fellowship with God. Without fellowship with God there can be no peace; without peace there can be no happiness.

2. It is important because without it man cannot live well. A guilty man lives according to his thoughts.

3. It is important because without it man cannot die well. There is nothing before a sinner but death, darkness, and despair.

II. A hindrance suggested. The calves were the idols set up to prevent the Israelites from worshipping Jehovah. The hindrances to attaining innocency (that is, satisfying the natural cravings of religion in worshipping God) are the idols which are set up in the human heart. These idols may be--

1. The gratification of self. Self is one of the most favoured of idols, it is worshipped by all, and the man who worships self cannot worship God.

2. The vanities of the world. The idolatry of the present day, if not so bold in its rebellion, is not so religious as in the days of old. The idolatrous Jews and heathen were essentially religious. It was death to any one to speak against the gods. It is pleasure now men worship, and a god of any sort is forgotten.

3. The blandishments of science. This is another idol men fall down before. These are the calves which keep men from God, calves set up by themselves at the instigation of Satan. No man can ever “attain unto innocency” so long as they remain.

III. The consequences inferred. A time is coming when true religion will be the only thing worth possessing. The day of sifting will arrive. God’s anger will be kindled against the persistently ungodly. Then what avail will the false gods which men have served so long be to afford them shelter? The calf will cast thee off. There are two penalties, then, to the guilty. They lose both earth and heaven. They are cast off--

1. By the devil whom they serve. The world cannot offer them help. Satan’s object is only to effect their ruin.

2. By the God whom they have neglected. How can He who has been scorned and forsaken be the succour of those who have despised His love and rejected His rule? (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)


Verse 6

Hosea 8:6

The workman made it; therefore it is not God.

The religion of humanity

Humanitarianism has become the creed of the earnest and thoughtful who have found for themselves the awful truth regarding their fellow-men in the depths, and with that ever pressing upon them, have forsaken all else to grapple with that evil and right that wrong. It has become the home of loving, aching hearts that have lost their God. It has also become the mere fad of many who put on charity as they do a garment when it is fashionable, and are philanthropic when philanthropy is in vogue. But let these hangers-on of humanitarianism be distinguished from humanitarians. Humanitarians proper are large-souled enthusiasts. Humanitarianism has been elevated to the dignity of a religion, and the humanitarian god has been hailed as the God of humanity. When that is so, we have to look at the work in a new light, and study anew the claims which it puts forth. And, first of all, I think we may safely say that the first duty of any one who desires to elevate a cult to the rank of a religion is to demonstrate that it is applicable to humanity in general, that it is deep enough to find a common basis in characters the most widely diverse. For that only is really religious which can be shared by all. The beauty-lover, who is convinced that in the power of perceiving and appreciating the beauty and harmony of the universe lies the uplifting of his Kind, sets himself to show that that power is to be found, latent at least, in every one. The moralist, who thinks that a certain code of laws, if strictly adhered to, would meet all wants and settle all difficulties, has, for the first part of his task, to prove that an inherently moral nature is co-existent everywhere with human nature. And the humanitarian, too, must show that his religion may be a religion for humanity. To the enthusiasts who are fired to generous forgetfulness of self it may seem for a time to fulfil the purposes of religion. They find in it an aim, an inspiration, a faith. But what of the other side! Will it do for a religion to those who are to be uplifted to the passive element, which, in their scheme, is simply to permit itself to be raised to better conditions of life? Ah! that is where humanitarians err. They cling tenaciously to their theory that conditions make humanity. It is true, we grant it, but it must at the same time be admitted that humanity makes its own conditions. The conditions of man’s material life, ii they be evil, eat slowly but surely into his soul with corroding influence. But is the converse not also true? Does what a man is, down in the heart of him, not stamp itself upon his surroundings? Does not the likeness of a soul body itself out by slow degrees in the conditions amid which it exists? Conditions the most favourable for the growth of virtue, if round an ignoble soul, become a rich soil for vice to grow in. Beauty may be changed to ugliness by man’s vulgar breath, harmony to discord by his strident voice. Conditions make humanity, and humanity makes its conditions. But these two truths were never meant to be brought into violent opposition. A perfect humanity is the humanitarian’s dream, but a perfect humanity is an impossible thing. If humanitarians would study humanity more they would see the weakness of their claim for humanitarianism as a religion. There is a something in humanity, an unknown quality, which for ever evades the analyst. There is a wailing need for something greater than itself, the “something never seen but still desired,” there is a hidden strength totally unpresaged by the individual’s past life. Humanity is full of surprises; only the most careful student of it knows how small the circle is within which he may work, how great is the tract outside of it which must be allowed for unknown powers and their influences. Only those who know its waywardness, its uncertainty, its inherent weakness, its potential greatness, know how strong a hope, how Divine a thought, humanity needs for its deliverance. To serve is to obey, but do humanitarians ever dream of obeying the humanity which they deify? And to look to humanity as a paymaster, ah, what wages of sorrow they are earning, what disappointed hopes, what frustrated endeavours, what bitterness of heart that there is not sweetness enough in the world to sweeten! Oh, that they had given as unto God, and He would have repaid; that they had followed Christ’s example--to serve God and save humanity. Then God would have rewarded, and humanity would have been the recompense. And now the thought of Christ arrests us. What, after all, is the humanitarianism which we have been seriously considering as a new religion, but a branch of practical Christianity? The limitation, which is its weakness, is all that is new in it. Why, then, has it attained such great proportions, become so prominent that it has for the time overshadowed all other considerations? Simply because it was for so long overshadowed and neglected. And yet the Church, whatever it may have done, has seen and attempted the greater part. It has taught this part of Christ’s doctrine, that to be heroic and Christlike is better than to be comfortable. But the humanitarian flood answers back vehemently--“Your God is a God for the idealists, for those who in their visionary world delight themselves with thoughts of ideal beauty, and goodness, and truth, and never feel the burdened heart of the world of reality labouring beside them. Your creed is a creed for the comfortable, the well-to-do, the intellectual who study Christ’s marvellous philosophy, and forget that His practice gave it its power, and demonstrated its truth. Heroism is for the strength of the individual heart; the ideal is a home for the individual soul, but the attitude and practice of man towards his fellow-men should be that of pitying, helpful love. Christ was heroic. He stood majestic and unmoved in the midst of a scoffing, incensed mob. Yet He was the champion of the friendless woman taken in adultery. He lived the life of an idealist, and fed His soul on the beauty of heaven. Yet He was always ready to render practical help to those in trouble or adversity. The duty of the Church as an exponent of Christ is to expound Him fully and equally. The Founder of Christianity came to enlarge, and deepen, and exalt the sphere of every life. It is terrible to think how, instead of helping Christ in such a work, we spend so much time and energy in crushing the life and power out of men; out of the boy or girl who want sunshine and joy to brighten their growth; out of the young man or woman enthusiastic with a great purpose to do good;--how we crowd men and women out of their places and push them down and cause them to despond, when all the while we could have inspired hope and given them life. The mission of religion is to give true increase of life, and the Church of Christ exists to help on the work. And the members of Christ’s Church should each feel upon them the twofold chain that links them to God and their fellow-men. If our march were but from the cradle to the grave, then we could afford to leave such aids as the Church and religious communion out of account, and the creed and practice of the humanitarian might satisfy us. But are we only the creatures of the passing hour? Nay; verily the chords we strike here in the music of life are but the prelude to a never-ending song. When all our material wants are satisfied there is still a hunger of the soul which refuses to be allayed, because only God, the Infinite One, can satisfy it. We are infinite, spiritual beings, and no finite, material God, such as the humanitarian worships, can give lasting help and sarisfaction. Nothing but the Infinite can fulfil our infinite needs; nothing but the Highest can satisfy those who are made in the image of the Most High. We need a God wide as the universe and eternal as the life to which we belong. (A. H. M. Sime.)


Verse 7

Hosea 8:7

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

The consequences of sin

Misery is attached to sin as its inevitable consequence; but the connection does not always appear to a superficial observer. Transgression sometimes appears to be productive of happiness, and obedience to be a source of much affliction and trouble. But the wicked are not really happy now, and they have no reasonable expectation of happiness in the eternal world.

I. Who may be said to sow the wind? To “sow the wind” is a proverbial expression for labouring in vain. It may be applied to all who seek happiness in the way of sin.

1. To sensualists, who yield themselves up to the gratifications of sense. See confession of Solomon (Ecclesiastes 2:1; Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).

2. To worldlings. The lovers of this present world hope to obtain, not a momentary gratification, but solid and lasting benefits. But riches are proverbially uncertain. Our cares are generally multiplied by means of them.

3. To formalists. The performance of religious duties seems more calculated to make us happy. No one can be happy who disregards them. But a mere round of services can never satisfy the conscience. Some delude themselves with an idea that it will secure the Divine favour. Under that delusion they may be filled with self-complacency. A sight of sin will speedily dissipate these self-righteous hopes.

4. To false professors. There are many who wish to be thought religious when they are destitute of spiritual life. They may be jealous about doctrines and their own particular form of Church government, but they are not solicitous to live nigh to God in holy duties.

II. What they may expect to reap. A “whirlwind” is a figure to represent extraordinary calamities. Their calamities will be--

1. Sudden. They receive warnings, but are taken by surprise at last.

2. Irresistible. Illustrate by a whirlwind.

3. Tremendous. See desolation wrought by a whirlwind. Infers

Reaping the whirlwind

Said Napoleon to La Place, “I see no mention of God in your system of theology.” “No, sire,” was the answer, “we have no longer any need of that hypothesis.” A half-century of anarchy and social disorder in unhappy France was the result--the awful “reign of terror.” How much wiser was Montesquieu, who said: “God is as necessary as freedom to the welfare of France!”

Sowing the wind

This is a proverbial speech, signifying the taking a great deal of pains to little purpose; as if a man should go abroad in the fields, and spread his hands about with effort and yet grasp nothing but air. The wind is an empty creature in respect of things solid, therefore the Scripture often makes use of it to signify the vanity of the hopes and laborious endeavours of wicked men.

1. Many do nothing all their lifetime but sow the wind; they labour and toil, but what comes of it? It is no good account to give to God of our time, to say that we have taken a great deal of pains; we may take pains and yet “sow the wind.” Who are those that sow the wind?

The growth and power of habit

Notice the way in which the acts of daily life influence destiny.

I. We are continually forming habits.

II. The tendency of habits once formed is to increase in strength. “Wind--whirlwind.”

III. Habits increase in the direction of original tendency. Same in kind, though vastly different in intensity and force.

IV. The tendency of habits is to increase in strength till they pass beyond control. The whirlwind desolates the land and strews the sea with wrecks. Habit is something like appetite: we are led by it, just as a hungry man makes his way towards home. It cannot be explained how it is that actions become easier by being repeated, but that it is so everybody must admit. If we do anything a certain number of times, the doing has an effect upon us, and that effect we call “habit.” We should therefore be very careful what we accustom ourselves to do, lest we should acquire the appetite or habit of doing things that are hurtful and wrong. Habit is the result of repeated acts, and it is wonderful how soon a little child acquires a habit. The doing of a thing once or twice is sufficient to lead the child to do it again--

“All habits gather, by unseen degrees,

As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.”

(A. Hampden Lee.)


Verse 9

Hosea 8:9

A wild ass alone by himself.

The Scripture figure of the wild ass

What a figure of the untamed soul which refuses the easy yoke of the blessed Redeemer. Man’s untamed spirit spurns the adorable Lord’s love. You cannot conceive a truer picture of the altogether untractable than this. The wild ass will go its own way. But this is according to nature. What we are Called to contemplate is the fallen being man, described as a “wild ass alone by itself.” Ephraim and the Ten Tribes are compared to the wild ass for many reasons.

1. They refused Christ’s easy yoke; their hearts were untamed; they were stubborn in their rejection of God’s inviting grace; they were full of obdurate folly; they were headstrong and unruly, not consenting to any restraints; they chose their own course, running up and down after sin, mad upon their idols, as the wild ass traverses the desert only to gratify its own low nature.

2. The wild ass is excessively swift; and although numbers of them commonly herd together, yet it is usual for some one of them to break away and separate himself from his company, and run alone or at random by himself. It is when he thus breaks away that he is such an easy prey to the lion. Ephraim, in seeking to be all for himself, became the more sure prey of the devourer; and whenever the sinner breaks away by himself, thinking thereby to be masterless and free, he is in a fair way of being left to his own devices and given up by God.

3. The wild ass is the lion’s prey in the wilderness, and the soul faithless to Christ, seeking its own things, is as a wild ass alone by himself, or for himself, for his own gratification, his own pleasure, and the end of these things is death. (Alfred Clayton Thiselton.)


Verse 11

Hosea 8:11

Ephraim hath made many altars to sin.

Perversion of worship

Israel was to have only one altar. Ephraim had built a number of altars in different places. Men have perverted worship, not only by making false gods, but by making false altars for the true God.

I. False worship is a great sin.

1. It is a very propagative sin. Once admit a wrong thing in worship, and that one thing will multiply itself; superstition will give it fertility.

2. It is a self-punishing sin. This is the heavy judgment of God, to give men their heart’s desire in what is evil.

II. It is a sin against great light. Israel could not say it sinned in ignorance.

1. God has given us laws concerning worship.

2. These laws are oft repeated.

3. These oft-repeated laws leave false worshippers Without excuse. (Homilist.)


Verse 12

Hosea 8:12

I have written to him the great things of My law, but they were counted a strange thing.

A grave miscalculation

What God complains of is that whilst He has made known to Israel the loftiest truths of righteousness and grace, Israel has treated those truths as matters altogether foreign, with which he had the very least concern. And is not this matter of ignoring the law characteristic of our own day? How many live without attending to Divine revelation; they give it the go-by, they dismiss it with serene unconcern.

I. The truths of revelation are of the highest concern, If the dilemma of life is that we cannot attend to everything, only to things of pre-eminent importance, then we must attend to the great doctrines of revelation; for they are hound up with our highest interests. Take the doctrine of righteousness from the Old Testament. The righteousness of the law is essential to our worldly interests, to our characters, to our happiness, and to our final salvation. Take the doctrine of grace from the New Testament. Is not this great doctrine essential? Many pride themselves upon neglecting religion. They attend to their business, and have no time for religion. Religion is a fancy, a fashion, a luxury, g thing to be brought in if possible, to be left out if necessary. But it is the one thing needful.

II. The truths of revelation are of abiding concern. In Hosea’s time the law had become irrevelant, obsolete. Many now regard the law of God in revelation as inadequate to the modern world. But do not these very objectors go back to the Greek for intellectual perfection; to Euclid to learn mathematics; to Demosthenes to learn eloquence; to Praxiteles to learn sculpture; to Homer for the ideal of poetry? As God gave the Hebrew the knowledge of righteousness, it is no reflection on us that we go back to Moses and Isaiah, to Job and Paul. Our text declares the abiding validity of the law. God keeps on writing the law; He is continually freshening it, and making it a living thing in the conscience of the world. Men speak of outgrowing Christianity when they have become dead to it through a life of materialism, worldliness, lust, selfishness. God’s Word is not a strange thing. It is written for our admonition and salvation, upon whom the ends of the world have come. We need the precious truths of this Holy Book as much as ever.

III. The truths of revelation are of universal concern. There is often in men the feeling that the truths of religion may concern others, but are not applicable to them. But the weighty things of the law concern us all. We all need the mercy Of God in Christ (W. L. Watkinson.)

The Scripture despised

It is in vain to imagine that the depravity of the Jews was peculiar to themselves. They were fair specimens of human nature. Under superior advantages, we are no better than they. With regard to the Scriptures consider--

I. Their author. If we consider Scripture to be a cunningly devised fable, we shall treat it as a delusion. If we believe it to be the word of mall, We shall receive it as a human production. If we are convinced that it is indeed the Word of God, we shall feel it to be Divine, and it will work powerfully in us, as it does in those who believe. In favour of these writings we advance a Divine claim. Whoever was the penman, God was the author. Evidence comes from the prophecies; from kinness with the Book of Creation; from adaptation to the wants of man.

II. Their contents. We naturally judge of an author by his work, but there are cases in which we judge of a work by the author. As soon as we learn that God Himself is the author of this Book, we may approach it confidently, expecting to find in it a greatness becoming His glorious: name. We find great things.

1. Great in number.

2. In profundity.

3. In importance.

4. In their efficacy.

The greatest thing we have upon earth is the Gospel.

III. The reception which this divine communication meets with. “They were counted as a strange thing.” That means a thing foreign to us; a matter of indifference. That men thus treat the Scriptures of truth is the charge here advanced.

1. It is a charge the most wonderful. We should naturally suppose that a book written by God Himself would engage attention. And people are naturally attracted to a work that regards themselves.

2. The most criminal. We often err in our estimate of things, especially those of a moral nature. We have frequently a wrong standard by which to judge of what is good; hence that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. In the same way we deceive ourselves with regard to what is evil. God takes into view the dishonour done to Himself. He weighs the state of the mind, the motives that determine us, the good we oppose and hinder;: the difficulties we have to overcome, the convictions we have to stifle, the reasons that render us inexcusable. By this rule, nothing can be more wicked than to treat with contempt or neglect the means God has provided for our everlasting welfare.

3. The most dreadful. Though God is most patient with you, His judgments must most surely fall.

4. The charge is very commonly deserved. Few pay a due regard to the blessed Word of God. Of those who hear the Word, how many are curious hearers, captious hearers, forgetful hearers, hearers only deceiving their own selves.

5. The charge is not universally true. There are many exceptions. Good men have always been attached to their Bibles. Let me urge upon you a still greater attention to the Word of God. (William Jay.)

Our duty to the Bible

What should be our attitude and action in relation to the Holy Volume?

1. We should accept the volume gratefully as the gift of God. It is the message of our Divine Father to us; designed to instruct us in all the multiform duties of life--to guide us in the intricacies of our pilgrimage--to solace us in the seasons of our sadness--to be a companion to us in our hours of loneliness. It is fully adapted to all the necessities of our nature, and to all the vicissitudes of our surroundings. Let us treat it as we treat no other volume. Let there be no cessation to our thankfulness to God for a treasure so precious, a comfort so profound, a guide so unerring, a weapon so unfailing, a light so transcendent.

2. Our duty is to circulate it. The Book of books should be placed in the hands of every man. It is addressed to all, intended for all, adapted to all, and should not be confined to any clime or any class.

3. We owe the duty to God and ourselves, to study the volume for our own consolation and guidance.

Did ever a nation, a family, or an individual regret adopting and following the inspired Book as their guide? Compare it with all the volumes in the public libraries of to-day. None originated in purer motives; none had a Diviner origin; none has had a more wonderful history; none has produced fruits of happiness and holiness so world wide; none has been so miraculously preserved; none is destined to a future so glorious. (J. Hiles Hitchens, D. D.)

The great things of Scripture

I. The Holy Scriptures are God’s writing.

II. The subjects of which the Holy Scriptures treat are great things. The things written in the Scriptures may well be styled great things.

1. Because of their inherent grandeur. Can there possibly be any greater subject than God Himself in His character, in His infinite excellence, and in His relations to men, God as incarnated and revealed in the person of His Son Jesus Christ? Can any themes exceed in interest, atonement for sin, redemption, the indwelling Spirit, immortal life, resurrection, heaven?

2. Because of their supreme importance. They have been given mainly for the purpose of answering those great questions which had perplexed the minds of men from the beginning of human history, and which weighed heavily upon their hearts and consciences the more they thought about them.

3. Because of their great effects. They make all those great who lovingly receive them into their hearts. And much of what the Word of God does for individuals it also does for nations. It introduces into them the germs of solid prosperity and the elements of true greatness. It makes a people righteous, temperate, pure, unselfish, benevolent.

III. Every human being has a personal interest in the contents of the Holy Scriptures. They have been written for all, in the sense of having been written for each individual in that all. I have written unto him. This “I have written” arms every part of the sacred Book with all the authority of God.

IV. And yet, how many treat the “great things” which God has written in His word in the very manner which is here condemned! They were counted by them as a strange thing; that is, with indifference, with looks askance, as things with which they had no practical concern, perhaps even with positive aversion. (Homiletic Magazine.)

The dignity of the Scripture

God hath vouchsafed the free use of His Word; what greater bounty? Men pass by it as a thing not worth the looking to; what greater impiety?

I. The free use of God’s Word.

1. The commendation of God’s Word, by the plenty, abundance, and largeness of the matter that is in it; and by the price, excellency, and worth of the matter. All necessary points, either touching faith or manners, are abundantly contained and laid forth in the Scriptures. This fact condemns the common neglect and universal contempt of the rules and precepts of Holy Scripture. In matters of conversation, men prefer the examples and guides of the times, the course and practice of the multitude, before the principles of God’s Spirit. The excellency of Scripture is seen in that the author of it is God; the matter of it is the mystery of godliness; the style of it, there is a fulness of majesty in simplicity of words; the end of it is to make men wise unto salvation.

II. The mercy of God in vouchsafing His word to us.

1. How can it be said that God hath written His Word?

2. Why was it meet to write it?

3. When the Word of God began first to be written, and how it was preserved for the Church’s use all that time.

4. How we shall be assured that that which amongst us is now called the Scripture is the very same Word and precious will of God, which He hath written for the use and comfort of His people. Nothing is able to persuade a man’s conscience that the Scripture is the Word of God, but only the Spirit of God. The best proofs are to be fetched out of Scripture itself. Its excellency is shown in the purity of the law of God by Moses: the quality of the matter in Scripture; the antiquity of the Scripture.

III. Man’s misuse of scripture.

1. Shew the nature of the fault. They regarded Scripture as containing matter that did not pertain to them. This fault is compounded of three gross evils--disobedience, unthankfulness, neglect of their own private good, even the good of their souls. What judgment is due to this offence? In general it openeth the very floodgate of God’s wrath. In particular, it makes all our prayers odious, and the torment of our souls. Seeing then that to account the great things of God’s law as a strange thing, is a fault, a grievous fault, a fault liable to extreme punishment, our fault, there is no remedy but we must henceforth give all diligence, that the Word of God may be no more a stranger unto us, but a dweller with us, and familiar unto us. (S. Hieron.)

The great things of God

1. They are things that proclaim the greatness of the Law-maker; and things of great use and importance to us.

2. It is a great privilege to have the things of God’s law written; thus they are reduced to a greater certainty, spread the further, and last the longer, with much less danger of being embezzled and corrupted than if they were transmitted by word of mouth only.

3. The things of God’s law are of His own writing; for Moses and the prophets were His amanuenses.

4. It is the advantage of those that are members of the visible Church that these things are written to them, are intended for their direction, and so they must receive them. (Matthew Henry.)

The great things of God’s law counted as a strange thing

That which should have been for their health, became to them an occasion of more heinous and aggravated guilt.

I. God has written unto us the great things of His law. By the law of God understand the whole revelation which God has given of His will. Take brief survey of God’s law, as written and delivered to us.

1. The declarations contained in it are great and important.

2. There are many promises which are exceeding great and precious.

3. There are great things written in the way of invitation and encouragement.

4. There are great and interesting precepts and instructions.

5. There are solemn threatenings against obstinate and impenitent offenders. We are certainly not less favoured than Israel was.

II. Whether and in what degree we are chargeable with their guilt, in “counting the great things of God’s law a strange thing.”

1. They did not receive what God delivered to them as being of Divine authority, but as a kind of imposition to which they were under no obligation to submit. We may judge who among ourselves are in a similar state of guilt. All those who deny the Divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and deem that invaluable treasury of great things to be nothing better than a cunningly devised fable.

2. They did not at all see or discern their own interest in those things. Are not similar views entertained among us? And is not similar conduct the consequence? Some consider the Bible and religion as adapted only to persons of a gloomy and melancholy cast of mind. Others think the study of them belongs only to divines.

3. They were apprehensive that a strict adherence to God’s law would make their conduct appear strange and singular among their surrounding neighbours. We contract greater guilt when ever we are ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; when we are afraid to act up to its sacred rules. The mercy of God, in writing and committing to us the great things of His law, is such as cannot be sufficiently estimated. It calls for fervent and lasting gratitude. “To whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” (S. Knight, M. A.)

No excuse of ignorance

God had written their duties for them in the Ten Commandments with His own hand; He had written them of old, and manifoldly. He wrote those manifold things to them (or for them) by Moses, not for that time only, but that they might be continually before their eyes, as if He were still writing. He had written to them since, in their histories, in the Psalms. His words were still sounding in their ears through the teaching of the prophets. God did not only give His law or revelation once for all, and then leave it. By His providence and by His ministers, He continually renewed the knowledge of it, so that those who ignored it should have no excuse. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

The Bible to be read

Young man, if some one laughs at you, because you read the Bible, laugh him to scorn. Let him laugh at you because you read Plato, or Homer, or Dante, or Shakespeare, or Browning; but laugh at him if he laugh at you because you read the Bible. More than we have gained from all other literatures we have gained from this. More of our law from Moses than from Justinian; more of our poetry from David than from Homer; more of our inspiration from Isaiah than from Dante, Demosthenes, or Cicero; more of our philosophy from Paul than from Plato; more of our life from this one Book than from all other books combined. And yet it is not the book; it is the message in the book that has to give the life. (Lyman Abbott.)


Verse 14

Hosea 8:14

For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities.

Neither the religion nor security of a nation to be judged by appearances

The temples are the idolatrous temples built after the models from Syrophoenicia. Fenced cities are fortified places erected against foreign invaders.

1. The multiplicity of temples is no infallible proof of the growth of religion in a country. When we think of the moral causes that often lead to the erection of temples, they rather prove our forgetfulness of God. They are greed, spite, sectism.

2. The increase of national defences is no proof of the increase of national security. The safety of a people is in the moral excellence of their character, and in the guardianship of heaven. (Homilist.)

God forgotten

Prosperous men become dangerously independent, and in their pride they forget God, and exclaim with Nebuchadnezzar, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built?” As Daniel Quorm quaintly says, “The devil is called in the Bible ‘Beelzebub’--that do mean, the ‘god o’ flies’--and you’re sure to find ‘em a-buzzin’ about the honey-pots o’ prosperity.” Nothing so completely blinds a man as gold-dust, for he cannot even see God--he is a practical atheist. Affluence leads first to indifference, then to coldness, then to unbelief, then to cynicism, and then to godlessness! Henry IV. once asked the Duke of Alva if he had observed certain eclipses which had occurred that year. “No,” was the reply, “I have had so much business to attend to upon earth, that I have had no time even to look up to heaven.” This is one of the perils of prosperity--to forget God, and leave heaven out of account. (Helping Words.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Hosea 8:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/hosea-8.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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