Grey hairs here and there! Few, in middle life at any rate, have not been made aware of their presence. The tell-tale mirror, or an observant but perhaps not altogether tactful friend – these serve to acquaint us with the sign that the passing years will bring physical decline. Nor is the individual reaction sometimes all it should be. Popular advertisements of rejuvenating agents and present day fashionable methods alike proclaim the determination of men (and it can be left at that!) to evade the facts inherent in the presence of the greying hair’ Yet to those who are truly aware of them the Old Book has words of encouragement and comfort. “The hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Prov. 16. 31). “The beauty of old men is the grey head” (ch. 20. 29). “Even to hoar hairs will I carry you” (Isa. 46. 4). Glory, beauty, the tender loving kindness of Jehovah God – all are suggested. But to Hosea there was no glory or beauty to be seen because Israel was not in the way of righteousness. To him the grey hairs meant strength devoured by strangers, power declining, national decadence morally and spiritually. His twice repeated phrase, “he knoweth not,” marked the tragedy. Hosea knew, God knew, the foes of Israel knew, but the people were unaware of their true condition. For this ignorance they were verily guilty. The mirror would have revealed, even had there been no faithful messengers like Hosea and Isaiah to declare the truth to them, but Ephraim and Judah had alike refused to heed the written Word and the messengers sent to them. Hosea’s homely word has surely a message to us in this twentieth century. Nationally, the grey hairs are more than “here and there” upon us. We mark with grief the increasing signs of declining appreciation of true spiritual values. Almost utter neglect of the Word of God; increasing use of the Lord’s Day in a mad quest for pleasure; the falling off in attendance at Religious Services – these are the grey hairs upon us. And of our nation, as of Israel, it is true – he knoweth it not, despite the warnings of faithful men. To his people Hoses indicated the way of recovery in the words, “Return,” “Seek” (v. 10) – words that are more than once to be found in his message. Only so could decline be arrested – only so can decadence be stayed today. What a responsibility lies upon the Lord’s people to pray earnestly that even yet there may be an awakening.
To the Church, too, Hosea has a message. If, as may well be, we have reached the Laodicean stage in the Church’s history, John, who saw through the eyes of his Risen Lord walking amidst the lampstands, detected the grey hairs where the Laodicean church members saw none. Rich, increased and self complacent, they said they had no lack. They “knew not” (Rev. 3. 17) their real state of wretchedness, misery, poverty, blindness and nakedness. Grey hairs, indeed, observed by others but they knew not. Again the way of renewal is put before them. “I counsel thee to buy of Me – anoint thine eyes – open the door,” which means a re-discovery of all the plenitude there is in Christ, a true vision resulting from the application of the heavenly eye-salve, a response of the will and the affection to the persistent knocking of the wound-scarred Hands. Glory and beauty may even yet mark a Church responsive to the Word of God.
The application of the prophet’s word to the individual is a solemn one. That there is such an application must be evident from the story of Samson whose name, it should always be remembered, is found with others of honourable mention in Hebrews 11. Samson was a lifelong Nazarite (Judges 13. 7) as distinct from one who became a Nazarite for a particular time or a specific purpose (see Num. 6;; only so could effective witness for God be borne in the days when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Separated to God, as occasion demanded, the Spirit of God came upon him – mightily at times – and through him wrought deliverance from the Philistines
So from strength to strength he went in the power of the Spirit. “Then Samson went to Gaza” (Judges 16. 1). The separated man was found in the enemy’s country – the first “grey hair” had appeared, and in quick succession others followed. Fleshly desires indulged, affections uncontrolled – all this was noted by the lords of the Philistines. Foes are ever quick to see the evidences of departure from God. I here followed the weakening of purpose and inability to withstand the daily enticement of Delilah, and then actual fellowship with the enemies of God and of His people as he “told her all his heart,” discovering to her the real secret of his strength, sharing with her the sacred things of the Lord for which she had no heart except to use them to his undoing. Finally, the resting place of his Nazarite locks was upon Delilah’s knees, and Samson, lulled into a false peace, slept while those locks were shorn. In words of indescribable pathos the record runs – “And he awoke out of his sleep and said, I will go out as at other times before and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” Here was one who had been mightily used of God but who, through failure to observe the first signs of weakening, became unusable and even a reproach to the Name of Jehovah. Like many another since, he was content to rely upon his past experiences – “I will go out as at other times,” – as though for his present need he could draw upon them. In his supposed sufficiency he did not know that God had left him. Well may we ponder the solemn lesson of Samson’s story lest by bitter experience we also learn that past mercies, past grace, power for past service even, are not enough. We need the abiding presence of the Lord which we can only enjoy as we live watchfully. Thank God, even for Samson there was recovery – “the hair of his head began to grow again.” Strength was renewed and his victory in the hour of his death was the greatest triumph of all. Such is the grace of God whose purpose ever is to restore.
If there are those of us who have become conscious of “grey hairs here and there”; who, searched by the unerring Word, have a sense of failing strength in the spiritual life, then Hosea’s contemporary points the way for us in words that flame with glory – “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40. 31), while of Moses who had waited upon God for many days in the mount it is written that he “wist not that the skin of his face shone” (Ex. 34. 29).
Unconscious decadence or unconscious glory – such are the alternatives before us.
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