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O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?

It is I who answer and look after you.

I am like an evergreen cypress;

your faithfulness comes from me.

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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, v. 8. 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 and Belial? 2 Cor. vi. 14, 15. Therefore thou must break off thy league with them if thou wilt come into covenant with me." As we read it, God promises to bring Ephraim and keep him to this: Ephraim shall say, God will put it into his heart to say it, What have I to do any more with idols? He has promised (v. 3) not to say any more to the works of his hands, You are my gods. But God's promises to us are much more our security and our strength for the mortifying of sin than our promises to God; and therefore God himself is here surety for his servant to good, will put in into his heart and into his mouth. And, whatever good we say or do at any time, it is he that works it in us. Ephraim had solemnly engaged not to call his idols his gods; but God here engages further for him that he shall resolve to have no more to do with them. He shall abolish them, he shall abandon them, and that with the utmost detestation; for it is necessary not only that in our lives we be turned from sin, but that in our hearts we be turned against sin. See here, (1.) The power of divine grace. Ephraim had been joined to his idols (ch. iv. 17), was so fond of them that one would have thought he could never fall out with them; and yet God will work such a change in him that he shall loathe them as much as ever he loved them. (2.) See the benefit of sanctified afflictions. Ephraim had smarted for his idolatry; it had brought one judgment after another upon him, and this at length is the fruit, even the taking away of his sin, Isa. xxvii. 9. (3.) See the nature of repentance; it is a firm and fixed resolution to have no more to do with sin. This is the language of the penitent: "I am ashamed that ever I had to do with sin; but I have had enough of it; I hate it, and by the grace of God I will never have any thing to do with it again, no, not with the occasions of it." Thou shalt say to thy idol, Get thee hence (Isa. xxx. 22), shalt say to the tempter, Get thee behind me, Satan.

2. The gracious notice God is pleased to take of it: I have heard him, and observed him. I have heard, and will look upon him; so some read it. Note, The God of heaven takes cognizance of the penitent reflections and resolutions of returning sinners. He expects and desires the repentance of sinners, because he has no pleasure in their ruin. He looks upon men (Job xxxiii. 27), hearkens and hears, Jer. viii. 6. And, if there be any disposition to repent, he is well pleased with it. When Ephraim bemoans himself before God, he is a dear son, he is a pleasant child, Jer. xxxi. 20. He meets penitents with mercy, as the father of the prodigal met his returning son. God observed Ephraim, to see whether he would bring forth fruits meet for this profession of repentance that he made, and whether he would continue in this good mind. He observed him to do him good, and comfort him, according to the exigencies of his case.

3. The mercy of God designed for him, in order to his comfort and perseverance in his resolutions; still God will be all in all to him. Before, Israel was compared to a tree, now God compares himself to one. He will be to his people, (1.) As the branches of a tree: "I am like a green fir-tree, and will be so to thee." The fir-trees, in those countries, were exceedingly large and thick, and a shelter against sun and rain. God will be to all true converts both a delight and a defence; under his protection and influence they shall both dwell in safety and dwell in ease. He with be either a sun and a shield or a shade and a shield, according as their case requires. They shall sit down under his shadow with delight, Cant. ii. 3. He will be so all weathers, Isa. iv. 6. (2.) As the root of a tree: From me is thy fruit found, which may be understood either of the fruit brought forth to us (to him we owe all our comforts) or of the fruit brought forth by 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 good.

II. Concerning every one that hears and reads the words of the prophecy of this book (v. 9): Who is wise? and he shall understand these things. Perhaps the prophet was wont to conclude that sermons he preached with these words, and now he closes with them the whole book, in which he has committed to writing some fragments of the many sermons he had preached. Observe, 1. The character of those that do profit by the truths he delivered: Who is wise and prudent? He shall understand these things, he shall know them. Those that set themselves to understand and know these things thereby make it to appear that they are truly wise and prudent, and will thereby be made more so; and, if any do not understand and know them, it is because they are foolish and unwise. Those that are wise in the doing of their duty, that are prudent in practical religion, are most likely to know and understand both the truths and providences of God, which are a mystery to others, John vii. 17. The secret of the Lord is with those that fear him, Ps. xxv. 14. Who is wise? This intimates a desire that those who read and hear these things would understand them (O that they were wise!) and a complaint that few were 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.