The foregoing part of this book abounds with denunciations of punishment; this closing chapter superabounds with promises of pardon. Wave after wave of threatened wrath had rolled over Israel and come in unto their soul; now offer after offer of grace is made to them. O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God. The invitation to return implies previous departure, or distance, or wandering from God. The return to which they are invited is expressed, not by אֶל , to or towards, but by ער , quite up to, or as far as right home; the penitent, therefore, is not merely to turn his mind or his face toward God, but to turn his face and his feet home to God; he is not to go half the way and then turn aside, or part of the way and then turn back, but the whole way; in other words, his repentance is to be complete and entire, wanting nothing, according to the state merit of the psalmist, "It is good for me to draw near to God." As punishment was threatened in case of obstinate impenitence, so mercy is promised on condition of thorough repentance. For thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. A reason is here assigned for the preceding invitation; kashalta is properly "thou hast stumbled," "made a false step," fallen, yet so that recovery was among future possibilities. The same thought may be included in the fact that Jehovah continues to call his erring people by the honored and honorable name of Israel, and to acknowledge himself their God. Further, many and grievous were the calamities into which by their fall they had been precipitated; neither were any to blame but themselves—their iniquity or their folly was the cause, nor was there any one to lift them up, now that they lay prostrate, save Jehovah. After referring to the desolation of Samaria and the ruthless destruction of its inhabitants, as portrayed in the last verse of the previous chapter, Jerome adds, "All Israel is invited to repentance, that he who has been debilitated, or has fallen headlong in his iniquities, may return to the physician and recover health, or that he who had fallen headlong may begin to stand." The penitent is to direct his thoughts to Jehovah; to him as Center he is attracted, and in him he finds his place of rest; nor is there ether means of recovery or source of help. Thus Kimchi says, "For thou seest that through thine iniquity thou hast fallen, therefore it behooves thee to return to Jehovah, as nothing besides can raise thee from thy fall but thy return to him." "There is none," says Aben Ezra, "can raise thee from thy fall but the Eternal alone."
The fallen invited to return.
The history of Israel is the moral history of the world, at least in miniature.
I. HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF . The history of Israel repeats itself in the history of mankind in general. Their history is the history of sin and of salvation, of ruin and of recovery, of the mercy of God and of the backsliding of man. Their bondage in Egypt represents the slavery of sin; their rescue out of the hand of the oppressor, our redemption; their sojourn in the wilderness, our strangership on earth; their entrance into Canaan, our admission into the better country, even the heavenly; their backsliding from time to time, our own wanderings of heart and life from the living God; their return to the path of obedience, our repentance.
II. GOD 'S READINESS TO RECEIVE THE PENITENT . The reproofs for sin and threatenings of wrath scattered over the preceding chapters of this book now give place to invitations to repentance and promises of mercy. The former were a preparation for the latter. Not only so, even interspersed with reproofs for sin we find most gracious calls to repentance; alongside the threatenings of wrath are the most precious promises. It is in this way that God wounds in order to make whole; when he convinces us of sin, his object is to comfort us; when he brings to mind our sin, it is that he may lead us to the Savior; when he proves to us our ruin by sin, he is at pains to point us to the remedy and provide for our restoration; having warned us of our danger, he urges us to the discharge of duty. He deals with us as with Israel at the time to which the prophet refers, showing us our fall and how we are to rise again; he urges us to repentance, instructing us what to do and what to say, and encouraging us withal by God's willingness to receive us on repentance.
III. MAN 'S FALL AND ITS CAUSE . In the passage before us the words apply in the first instance to Israel; they had stumbled, such being the meaning of the original word. Their stumbling-blocks were their idols; they had forgotten the living and true God; they had proved ungrateful for his benefits and unmindful of his favors. Despising the riches of his goodness and forbearance, they had lapsed into gross idolatry; they had sunk deep into that degrading sin, making molten images of their silver and idols according to their own understanding,—all of it the work of the craftsman. Their ingratitude for the Divine goodness made their iniquity still less excusable, for according to the multitude of his fruit they increased the altars, according to the goodness of his land he made goodly images. No wonder the Majesty of heaven was provoked with that stiffnecked and rebellious people. But the fall of Israel reminds us of the fall of man, and leads us naturally to revert to the infancy of our race.
1. Before the Fall . When we picture to ourselves, as far as the Scripture record enables us, the place of our first parents in the state of pristine innocence, we think of that lovely garden "planted eastward in Eden ;" of its trees and shrubs; of its fruits and flowers; of the rivers that watered it; of its unclouded sky; of the genial warmth of the glorious sun fructifying and beautifying it; of the dews that refreshed it; of man its caretaker and cultivator of his pleasant position in that paradise, placed there as he was to dress it and to keep it. To this must be added the communion of the creature with the Creator, so close, so cordial, and so confidential as that communion then must have been. If Enoch, after sin and Satan had done their worst, still walked with God; if Abraham was called, not only the father of the faithful, but the friend of God; if God spake face to face with Moses, as a man speaketh with his friend;—we may form some faint idea, and it is only a faint idea, of that heavenly communion which man there enjoyed with his Maker as he walked in the garden in the cool of the day.
2. After the Fall . We know how the scene was changed—suddenly and shockingly changed. We have seen a picture designed to represent the change which sin introduced into Paradise, and the wreck which iniquity wrought. In one part of the picture all is beauty, all is loveliness; the sky is cleat', earth beneath is charming; above, below, around, everything appears inexpressibly gay and grand and gorgeous. Man is the monarch of all; every bird of every wing is subject to him, every animal of every species is submissive to his sway, even the most savage beast of prey owns his sovereignty. The lion crouches at his feet, he strokes the tiger with his hand. But no sooner has he tasted the forbidden fruit than the sky is clouded, lightning flashes with fearful fury, the elements are at war with him. The animals, lately so meek and mild, rise in rebellion against him—the lion opens his mouth in wrath, the tiger is wild with fury. Our first parents themselves, shivering with horror, shuddering with fright, are hurried out of Paradise. A flaming sword prevents their return, and guards on every side the tree of life. Such is the painting referred to, and it pictures a dread reality. It points out how man fell, and how far he fell from his state of primeval bliss, of fellowship with the Holy One, and of Divine favor.
3. The cause of such a fall . Iniquity was the cause, as we here read of Israel, "Thou hast fallen by thine iniquity." In that iniquity there were various elements; when analyzed it is found to be made up of several component parts. There was the lust of the flesh, for the tree was good for food; there was the lust of the eyes, for that tree was pleasant to the eyes; there was the pride of life, it was a tree to be desired to make one wise—"Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." There was, in short, rebellion against the mildest authority; there was disobedience to the most reasonable command.
4. Consequences of the fall are seen in posterity. When we read the records of the ancient nations of heathendom, even the most enlightened and polished, we cannot fail to be convinced of the deep degradation into which man by iniquity had fallen. In Egypt, the cradle of civilization, men worshipped animals and plants, and even reptiles. In Greece, with all its boasted intellectual superiority, aesthetic tastes, and fine arts, men worshipped a host of false gods, deified men, and even impersonations of the lowest passions and worst vices that agitate the human heart; while of Athens itself it was said that you could as easily find a god as a man in that celebrated city in Rome men multiplied gods, for, in addition to the national divinities, they readily admitted into their pantheon the gods, however monstrous and motley, of the nations which they conquered. Among the people of Israel in the prophet's time the great besetting sin was idolatry with all its foul accompaniments. In heathen lands at the present day it is still the same; multitudes bow down to stocks and stones, and call these vanities gods. Can anything afford clearer evidence of the fearful fall of our race than this sottish idolatry of ancient and modern heathen, as also of the Hebrew people, though so highly favored with the written Law, besides that which they had in common with their heathen neighbors? We forbear to speak of the gross impurities and shocking immoralities that go hand-in-hand with idolatry.
5. Illustration of the Fall . Of manifold illustrations which the subject admits take that of a stately tree. Its dimensions are mighty and magnificent—its top waves high in air, its branches spread far around, its leafy honors are luxuriant, its foliage umbrageous; it claims or seems to claim supremacy over all the forest trees. But the axe is laid to its root. You beg the woodman to spare that tree. It is vain, however; he has made up his mind, and it is doomed to fall. Blow after blow is struck; the sturdy strokes are redoubled; at length the root is giving way, the top is nodding, the tree topples to its fall. One creak, one crash, and the goodly tree is prostrate; ruin spreads the ground. Ere long the branches wither and the leaves decay. What a contrast between that tree flourishing in the stateliness of its strength and the loveliness of its life, and that same tree felled to the earth, its leaves stripped off, its branches lopped, the whole a sad emblem of decay, a solemn memorial of destruction! Such is the contrast between man in his original purity, while standing by faith, and man at the present day fallen by iniquity.
6. Greatness of the Fall . When the great Roman dictator had usurped the liberties of his country and changed the republican form of government to the imperial; when he had overcome all opposition, conquered all enemies, and fully gained the mastery; when he had reached the summit of popularity and power;—just then the daggers of the conspirators smote him to the earth. He fell at the foot of his great rival's statue. The friend who spoke his funeral oration and improved the occasion did justly magnify that fall, exclaiming, as well he might, "What a fall was there, my countrymen!" But what, after all, is the fall of the warrior, or hero, or emperor, even from the pinnacle of his fame and of his fortune, compared with the fall of an immortal soul by sin, dragged down into the deep pit of perdition? The sight of the fallen warrior, as he sat amid the ruins of Carthage, has furnished a subject for men to moralize on, while historians have commented on the fact; and it is indeed sufficiently impressive. The harmony that existed between the person and the place was necessarily striking and even startling; the fate of the one was so like that of the other, the downfall of the one was so similar to the desolation of the other, that we scarcely know which of the two is more entitled to the tear of pity or sigh of sympathy—the degradation of the chieftain or the destruction of the city. Yet greater far are the degradation and desolation which the blight of sin brings upon person or place.
7. Practical considerations . We need not travel far for proof of our fallen state; we do not need to go back to our first parents except for the purpose of tracing the evil to its fountain-head; we need not visit pagan lands, whether past or present; we do not require to quit the lands of Christendom. The condition of the Hebrew people as set forth by the Prophet Hosea is one that often repeats itself in the experiences—some of them sad enough—of everyday life. How many have fallen by iniquity around us! How many are falling by iniquity at our very doors, on this side and on that! How many have we known to begin life well, but they fell by iniquity! The wrecks of the fallen are strewn on the right hand and on the left. Some fall by drunkenness, some by lewdness, some by want of rectitude and right principle, some by what the world calls unsteadiness. If the sword slays its thousands, iniquity slays its tens of thousands.
8. Personal duties . Several personal duties of much importance may be learnt from this part of the subject; these may be expressed in Scripture language as follows: "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall;" "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall;" "Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." Also pity the fallen; try to lift them up; pray for the backslider who has fallen back from the position he seemed to have attained, and seek to restore such a one in the spirit of meekness.
IV. THE RETURN OF THE PENITENT . Many motives, and those of the most powerful kind, urge the sinner to return to God.
1. There is the character of the invitation. It is an earnest one, a precious one, and a glorious one. It is the gospel re-echoing through the past and resounding about us at the present. This invitation proves the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the Divine goodness.
2. There is the Author of the invitation. It proceeds from the Friend whom we have treated so ungratefully and so ungraciously; he comes after us, as it were, calling and entreating us to return; he promises us a hearty welcome when we do return; he assures us that his heart and hearth and home stand open to receive us; his arms are stretched out to embrace us.
3. There are the persons invited. The vilest are subjects of this invitation; the oldest, the worst, the most wicked, are comprehended; they are offered present pardon, they are assured of instant forgiveness, and all without money and without price: "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Oh, then, since God is waiting and willing to be gracious, let not the sinner ignore that goodness, nor regard it with insensibility, nor trample underfoot his great mercy, nor treat his gracious overtures as the idle wind that passeth by; but allow himself to be led by the goodness of God to repent race.
V. THE MODE OF RETURNING TO GOD . We are to take with us words, as the worshipper in the olden time did not go empty-handed, but brought with him an offering when he went to worship God.
1. The words we are required to bring are words of confession, like the poor prodigal when he said, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son;" like the contrite publican when he cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner." If we thus confess our sins, he "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
2. There must be petition as well as confession; our words must be words of earnest pleading. Nor are we left without instruction on this head; suitable petitions are suggested, and the very words put in our lips. There is, according to the Authorized Version, a petition for forgiveness and one for favor. The former is, "Take away all iniquity;" for it is iniquity that has wrought our ruin, it is sin that is the source of all our sorrows; take it away, for by it we have fallen. Take it all away—the guilt of it, the defilement of it, the dominion of it, the love of it, and the practice of it. Take it all away and forever, for it is only thus we can be saved; only thus our souls are washed and justified and sanctified in the Name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. The second part of the petition pleads for favor; it is, "Receive us graciously;" that is, receive us into thy favor, thy family, and thy service. Receive us graciously, that is, gratuitously, of thy free favor and sovereign grace; not on the ground of innocence, for—
"Not in our innocence we trust—
We bow before thee in the dust:
And through our Savior's blood alone
We seek acceptance at thy throne."
Not on the ground of merit, for we have sinned and merit only wrath; not on the ground of price, for we have nothing to pay—
"Nothing in our hand we bring,
Simply to thy cross we cling."
Not on the ground of works, for we are saved solely of the Divine mercy, according to the riches of his grace in Christ Jesus.
3. There are words of thanksgiving . The calves, even the lips, are the thank offerings and service of the lips in general; nor do these differ aught from the fruit of the lips. Thanksgiving, praise, prayer, self-dedication, and self-surrender are all expressed by the lips, and are thus their offerings or their fruit.
"Nay, rather unto me, thy God,
Thanksgiving offer thou;
To the Most High perform thy word.
And fully pay thy vow:
And in the day of thy distress
Do thou unto me cry;
I will deliver thee, and thou
My Name shalt glorify."
VI. FRUITS MEET FOR REPENTANCE . These in the present instance consist in the complete rejection of carnal confidences and sole dependence on God. The penitent Israelite renounces all confidence in worldly policy, and worldly allies as secured by such policy—the Assyrian and the Egyptian alike. He renounces his idolatrous practices and superstitious devotions; and, depending no longer on foreign help, or objects and observances of idol-worship, or domestic resources, he places his entire and undivided trust in the living God. Henceforth the rule of his conduct and motto of his life may be conceived as summed up in the words of the psalmist: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God." It has been well said that "there is no sin more usual among men than carnal confidence; to lean on our own wisdom, or wealth, or power, or supplies from others; to deify counsels and armies, or horses and treasures, and to let our hearts rise or fall, sink or bear up within us, according as the creature is helpful or useless, nearer or further from us; as if God were not a God afar off, as well as near at hand." This was one of Israel's great sins, and which on repentance is renounced. This is a common sin, and one which all must renounce, trusting, not in an arm of flesh, but sanctifying the Lord alone in our hearts. It is when we feel our condition in this world to be one of orphanage, of weakness, destitution, desolateness, and distress, that we repose trustfully and securely in the Divine mercy and gracious fatherhood of God.
Return to God: its beginnings.
The long and terrible storm of denunciation is now at last over; the wrath-clouds roll away, and the sunshine of the Divine love bursts forth with healing in its wings. Beyond all the hurly-burly of the tempest sent as the punishment of sin, the prophet discerns the paternal tenderness and the loving patience of the God of Israel. So he begins this closing chapter of his book with a last tender entreaty to return to him who "sitteth upon the flood," and who " will bless his people with peace." How changed the prophet's style, in this final strophe, from what it is in most of the preceding! When denouncing Ephraim's sin and doom Hoses is obscure, abrupt, rugged, and volcanic; but in Hosea 14:1-9 . all is pellucid and restful and full of beauty. The whirlwind and the earthquake and the fire have given place to the still small voice. The subject in these opening verses is—The beginnings of spiritual revival. In its rise there are three stages.
I. THE LORD BESEECHING . ( Hosea 14:1 ) As applied to Israel, the exhortation has for its background all the judgments which have been threatened throughout the Book. And since these words were written Israel "has fallen" indeed. The ten tribes were soon carried into Assyria; Judah was by-and-by driven away to weep beside the rivers of Babylon; regained Jerusalem was at length fiercely overthrown by the Romans; and for eighteen centuries now the Jews have been dispersed over the wide world, and exposed to reproach and persecution and cruelty. All this has been the punishment of Israel's own "iniquity"—the political schism, the calf-worship, the Baalism, the godless pride, the unblushing immorality, and at last the rejection and murder of the Son of God. Jehovah could not avoid punishing; he could not but allow the apostate nation to lie under its doom during centuries and millenniums; but all the while the Divine heart is saying, "O Israel, return!" How wonderful that the eternal God should condescend to entreat men to repent! But " the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations" ( Psalms 100:5 ). If, however, there is to be salvation, there must be repentance, and all true repentance takes its rise in the call of God's Spirit. The Lord seeks the sinner with his grace before the sinner can seek him. And thus " Return unto the Lord" is the burden of the entire revelation of the Bible; it is the key-note of all Hebrew prophecy, as of all New Testament gospel. Not only so, but in this passage God also condescends to direct the people as to the thoughts and words" with which they may acceptably approach him in complying with his urgent entreaty (verses 2, 8). How different all this from "the manner of man"!
II. THE PENITENT PRAYING . (Verse 2) This verse and verse 3 form a sort of " Lord ' s Prayer" for backsliders. God desires no longer the animal sacrifices of the Law; indeed, the twelve tribes cannot in their exile offer any, for the temple-worship has now ceased. But he requires " words " which shall be the evidence of "a broken and a contrite heart." Even these, however, he here provides for his penitent children. " What need God words? He knows our hearts before we speak unto him. It is true, God needs no words; but we do, to stir up our hearts and affections" (Sibbes). Although the Lord does not now demand sacrifices, the kind of" words" which he asks recalls to our minds the three principal forms of sacrifice ordained by the Levitical Law, viz. the propitiatory, the dedicatory, and the eucharistic, represented respectively by the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering. In a true return to God there will be:
1. Words of confession . "Take away all iniquity." A child who has done wrong recovers his father's favor so soon as he confesses his fault; so Jehovah's children, who have made themselves "fatherless' by their apostasy, take the first step in the direction of" finding mercy ' when they "return up to" (verse 1) him with words of repentance. The penitent draws near with the leper's confession, "Unclean! Unclean!" and with the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." His first and deepest need is pardon; he wants mercy for the past, and grace to help for the future. He prays to be delivered from the power of evil; and pleads, in doing so, the merit of Jesus Christ as his Sin Offering.
2. Words of dedication . "Receive us graciously;" literally, " receive good." The barrier of sin being removed through faith in the atonement, the next step in revival is the presentation of the person " a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God" ( Romans 12:1 ). It is true that of ourselves we have no good which we can offer; but we are to give to the Lord of his own. The grace which he bestows upon us we are to employ in his service and for his glory. The Christian dedicates his renewed humanity, in body and soul, to his Redeemer ( Micah 6:6-8 ).
3. Words of thanksgiving . " So will we render the calves of our lips," i.e. we shall offer our lips as a peace offering, instead of calves. The praise of a redeemed heart is an acceptable sacrifice, and " shall please the Lord better than a bullock that hath horns and hoots" ( Psalms 69:31 ). The soul that has been forgiven much loves much, and should therefore overflow with thanksgiving and praise ( Hebrews 13:15 ). Such are the three sorts of "words" which God expects from all who "return" to him. He wants words of confession like those of Psalms 51:1-19 .; of self-dedication, like those of Psalms 116:1-19 .; of thanksgiving, like those of Psalms 103:1-22 . And, now that Christ has come, these are " the sacrifices of God," alike for the sons of Israel and for sinners of the Gentiles.
III. THE PENITENT RENOUNCING CREATURE - CONFIDENCES . ( Psalms 103:3 ) After the threefold word-sacrifice, comes the promise of practical amendment and reformation. Israel resolves to forsake his great national sins, viz. his habit of looking for help to Assyria, his reliance upon the cavalry of Egypt or other warlike strength, and his idolatry of Baal and the calves. The people will show the sincerity of their conversion by endeavors after new obedience. They will realize that away from God they are helpless orphans; and, in all their approaches to him, appeal to his "mercy "as the "Father of the fatherless," This is just what every sinner must do in returning to the Lord. We all have Asshurs and horses and idols which we must abjure. If we will "return quite up to Jehovah our God" ( Psalms 103:1 ) we must put away confidence in every creature-help, and in any defense which is our own handiwork. We may have been "glued to idols" ( Hosea 4:17 ); but we must at any cost tear them out of our hearts, even although the soul should seem to be rent asunder in the process. For true conversion implies perfect union to the Lord Jesus Christ, perpetual communion with the Holy Spirit, and persevering progress in the ways of holiness. We obey "the first and great commandment," and fulfill the chief end of our being, when we choose Jehovah as the Portion of our souls, and give him our supreme and constant and most tender love.
1. The mercy of God to sinners is untiring and indestructible ( Psalms 103:1 ).
2. Now that Christ has died as our Sin Offering, we plead his atonement as the ground on which we ask the Lord to "take away all iniquity" ( Psalms 103:2 ).
3. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," and contrition always manifests itself in prayer ( Psalms 103:2 ).
4. To obey is better than sacrifice" ( Psalms 103:3 ).
5. The penitent sinner and the backsliding believer have this assuring motive to induce them to return to God, that, however they may be scorned by their fellow-men, they are sure of a warm welcome from him who is the "Father of the fatherless."—C.J.
God's message to the prodigal.
This chapter stands out in vivid contrast from much that precedes it. The denunciation of threats is over, and now Hosea turns to tender pleading with the godless. The change is like that which we see sometimes during a thunderstorm. The clouds gather, the wind sinks into a solemn silence, then the thunder rolls and crashes overhead, and men's hearts fail them for fear. But suddenly there is a lull, the clouds break, and, as a burst of sunshine lights up the earth, the rainbow of God's faithfulness and goodness is seen. With such a sudden and sublime transition does Hosea pass here from storm to calm, from denunciation to pleading. The prophet is addressing a nation which, as such, could not be saved. The kingdom of Israel was to be hopelessly destroyed. But the children were still "heirs of the promises," and, while the corporate society to which they belonged would be swept away, they themselves might return to their God. There is no nation so evil but that in it some may work righteousness, no family so godless but that some of its members may be loyal to Christ. Circumstances never necessitate the ruin of a soul. The desolation of society has been historically the means of saving what is best in it; e . g . if in the reign of Charles I. the unscrupulous Buckingham had been successful in his foreign policy, the result would have been the establishment of a tyranny in England. Our national defeats just then were the cause of our constitutional salvation; men being roused to a consciousness of wrongdoing by the consequences of wrong-doing. So with Israel. The destruction of Israel seemed to the heathen the failure of Jehovah's purpose; but it was the means of salvation to many who heard and obeyed in the misery of exile, as they would not have heard and obeyed in prosperity, the exhortation, "O Israel, return unto the Lord." A world-wide truth was taught by our Lord when he described the prodigal as thinking of the father's home, when he "had spent all," and famine was in the land, so that "he began to be in want." Our text is God's message to such a one.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE SINNER .
1. A condition of estrangement . Implied in " return ." 0f those addressed by Hoses, some had once joined in Jehovah's worship, but had forsaken it, while others had been taken as children to the altars of idols. These two classes are represented still. There are those who have never known God; to them he is no more than the emperor of a distant land might be, the ruler of others, one to be heard and read of, but nothing more. There are also those whose hearts were once tender, who were nominally on the side of the Church, to whom the Lord says, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Apply the text to each.
2. A condition of moral degradation . "Fallen."
3. A condition of self-destructiveness . "Thine iniquity." Not Adam's transgression, not thy father's neglect or evil example, not the associations of life, but "thine own iniquity," ruins thee. Therefore, with a sense of weakness and guilt, let us return to the Lord, saying, "I have sinned against Heaven," etc.; " God be merciful to me a sinner."
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF HIS RETURN .
1. Sincerity, or thoroughness . The Pharisees were condemned for want of it. All are rejected of whom God can say, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth … but their heart is far from me, " The Hebrew signifies, " Return right up to thy God." You are not to stop at self-reformation or at sentimental feeling, but to return " right up to" God, and stand face to face with him. To be nearly saved is to be altogether lost.
2. Confession . "Take with you words." Words are cheap enough. It is well that no costly sacrifice is required, but only "words," which the poorest and most illiterate can utter. Words are worthless in themselves, but they have true value when they come from an honest and good heart. If a child who has done wrong is shut up alone to think over his fault, he knows that all he has to say is, "I'm sorry." It is easy enough to say the words; yet he sits there, proud and defiant, until better thoughts come to him; and when at last he falters out "I'm sorry," it is enough to win him reconciliation. The "words ' are nothing, but they mean much, for they involve self-conquest and humiliation. That is the meaning of the exhortation to the penitent. "Take with you words."
3. Entreaty .
(a) trust in man (Asshur);
(b) trust in self (horses, equivalent to military power);
(c) trust in idols.
These have their modern counterparts, when we trust
(a) in the influence of others to get us on in life;
(b) in our physical or intellectual power;
(c) in our wealth and position, instead of in God.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO HIS OBEDIENCE .
1. It is found in the fatherliness o God . Verse 3: "For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." He is "thy God," to whom thou owest obedience; who has girded thee, though thou hast not known him; and who now sees thee a great way off, and has compassion on thee. When the dove found no rest for her foot in a dark and desolate world, she returned to the ark; nor had she to flutter outside it in vain. Noah saw her, and put out his hand and "took her in unto him into the ark." If Noah did that for a poor tired bird, what will not God do for his own tired child?
2. They are found in the promises of God . Verse 4: "I will heal their backsliding," etc. He pledges himself to cure our waywardness and fickleness, and he is faithful. Therefore, though a good reputation has been lost, a pious ancestry disgraced, and holy promises broken, yet be encouraged to obey the loving exhortation, "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God."—A.R.
Counsels to the sinful.
It was the office of the prophet to be faithful at once with man and with God. He was bound not to flatter man, not to conceal or palliate human sins. At the same time, it was his to declare the whole counsel of God as the Ruler of all men, the Judge of the obdurate, the Healer of the penitent.
I. A REMINDER OF THE FALL . The Book of Hosea's prophecies is full of reproaches and expostulations addressed to backsliding, idolatrous Israel. The people are charged with iniquity, and they are put in mind of the "fall" into which their ungodliness has brought them. As surely as men wander from the ways of God into the ways of error, unrighteousness, and folly, so surely do they, sooner or later, meet with a fall. It is a plain truth that the godly stand upright. Under a Divine and righteous rule it cannot be well with those who neglect and despise the moral law. Our first parents "fell" by sin, and in this they furnished an exemplification of the consequences of disobedience as a lesson to their posterity.
II. AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO REPENTANCE . In the very language used in this expostulation and entreaty there is much to cheer and to justify the approach of the penitent sinner unto God.
1. There is the designation "Israel," the use of which seems a reminder of the Divine favor.
2. There is the appellation given to Jehovah—" the Lord thy God ;" thine, even though thou hast shown thyself so insensible and so ungrateful.
3. There is the term which the counselor employs—"turn," "return," unto the Lord, implying that the right and proper path is Godward, that to have forsaken that path was deviation and error, that steps must be retraced. What stress is laid in Scripture upon sincere repentance and conversion—upon the turning of the soul unto him against whom sin has been committed, needs not to be shown; yet the sinful need that such directions should be repeated, both to preserve them from any other and any false way, and to encourage diffident and desponding souls in their access to God.
III. A DIRECTION TO CONFESSION AND ENTREATY . "Take with you words."
1. This is an encouragement to the expression and outpouring of the feelings of the heart. Mere words, that is, meaningless and insincere words, are vain; but words which are the utterance of a penitent and lowly soul, are acceptable.
2. Words should utter the self-abasement which is the sinner's proper attitude of heart before a righteous Lord. Confession is indispensable; for only the hardened and insensible can withhold it.
3. Words should plead for pardon and acceptance. The prophet himself puts such language into Israel's lips, and at the same time represents the willingness of an offended God graciously to hear and royally to answer.
APPLICATION . To show what light is furnished by the gospel of Christ to make evident alike the sinner's condition and also the grounds and assurance of Divine favor and forgiveness.—T.
Repentance, or reformation.
"O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God," etc. "After the prophet has set before the sinful nation in various ways its own guilt, and the punishment that awaits it, viz. the destruction of the kingdom, he concludes his addresses with a call to thorough conversion to the Lord, and the promise that the Lord will bestow his grace once more upon those who turn to him, and will bless them abundantly" (Delitzsch). The subject of these words is Repentance; or, the greatest reformation . Reformation is a subject on which men are never tired of talking: it is the grand text of the demagogue, as well as the leading purpose of the philanthropist. There are various kinds of reformation. There is the doctrinal reformation—reformation in creed, the renunciation of one set of opinions and the adoption of another. There is the institutional reformation—reformation in political, in ecclesiastical, and in social laws. There is the reformation in external character— involving the renunciation of old habits and the formation of new ones. But all such reformations are of little, if any worth, apart from the moral reformation—a reformation in the leading spirit and controlling dispositions of the soul, a reformation involving a thorough change of heart. This is the only reformation worth working for. In these verses we have several things worth notice in relation to it.
I. ITS NATURE AND METHOD INDICATED .
1. Its nature . "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God." The description contained in the first and third verses of this reformation implies three things.
2. Its method . "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord." Why take words to God?
(a) His forgiveness . "Take away all sin."
(b) His acceptance . "Receive us graciously"
II. ITS CAUSE AND BLESSEDNESS SPECIFIED .
1. Its cause . God. "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely ... I will be as the dew." All reformation is brought about by his agency. I will act upon the soul silently, penetratingly, revivifying, "as the dew." All true reformation brings with it God's silent but effective agency.
2. Its blessedness .
(a) The growth is connected with beauty . Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like it.
(b) Its growth is connected with strength . "Cast forth his roots as Lebanon." How deeply did the roots of the cedar in Lebanon strike into the earth! and how firm their grasp! The storms of centuries could not remove them.
(c) Its growth is connected with expansiveness . "His branches shall spread." Widely grew the branches of those old cedars, offering to the traveler a cooling shade from the sun and a shelter from the tempest. How a divinely formed soul expands! It outgrows the boundaries of sects and the limits of creeds. Its sympathies become world-wide.
(d) Its growth is connected with fragrance . "His beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon." Sweet was the aroma that was swept by the wind over those old hills. How delectable the fragrance of a holy life!
(e) Its growth is connected with social usefulness . It shall offer protection to men. "They that dwell under his shadow shall return." Where car we flee in distress but to the sympathy and love of the good? Not only protection, but beneficent progress . "They shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine."—D.T.
The prayer of the penitent.
The prophecy does not close without comforting glimpses into the future, and sweet words of promise. The opening verses of this section invite the nation to repentance. They put a prayer into the people's lips with which to return to God.
I. THE INVITATION . ( Hosea 14:1 ) The door of mercy stands open to Israel. But the invitation addressed to the ancient people is equally, in Christ, addressed to every sinner. Consider, accordingly:
1. The condition in which the sinner is found . "Fallen by thine iniquity." "There is none righteous, no, not one" ( Romans 3:10 ). We have all fallen by our iniquity.
We have so fallen that we cannot raise ourselves up again.
2. To whom the sinner is pointed . "The Lord thy God." Israel's God and ours. God is our God, as being
He is the God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord. He gives us in the promises of the gospel a claim upon himself. He is ours in offer, and will be ours in fact, if only we will receive him. There is no Savior beside him ( Hosea 13:4 ), and no other is needed. He alone is all-sufficient.
3. The invitation given to the sinner . "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God." God might command, but he condescends to invite, to entreat ( 2 Corinthians 5:20 ). He asks us to return to him. He can ask no less, for without penitent return, salvation is impossible. His mercy is seen in this, that he asks no more—no sacrifices, no price, no probationary curriculum, no works of the Law. But the return must be sincere, not with the body, but with the mind, the affections, the will.
II. THE PRAYER . ( Hosea 14:2 ) The penitent, resolved on returning to God, is counseled to take with him "words." The inward penitence is to express itself outwardly. It is to utter itself in prayer. This is the only sacrifice God will require. The prayer with which we are to come is:
1. Prayer for forgiveness . "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity." Forgiveness is the first need of our nature. Till sin is forgiven us we can have no peace with God, we cannot be visited by his love or made partakers of his Spirit. Forgiveness at once precedes, and is a pledge of, the communication of every other blessing. It is, therefore, the thing we first ask lot We are to confess sin and to seek the pardon of it ( 1 John 1:9 ).
2. The prayer of uprightness . "Accept what is good"—for thus the second clause must be rendered. The language is not that of self-righteousness, but of sincere motive. The penitent knows his unworthiness, but is conscious at the same time that his prayer no longer proceeds from feigned lips ( Psalms 17:1 ); that his spirit is truly contrite; that there is some good thing "in his heart towards the Lord God" ( 1 Kings 13:14 ). He recognizes this:
3. Prayer in order to praise . "So will we render the calves of our lips." Salvation carries with it the obligation to consecration ( Romans 12:1 ). The penitent has no other desire than now to live to God, rendering to him spiritual sacrifices. He asks God to open his lips (by forgiveness), that he may thereafter show forth God's praise ( Psalms 51:15 ). We render to God "the calves of our lips"
III. THE VOW . ( Hosea 14:5 ) With prayer is connected a solemn vow. Israel renounces all sinful trusts, and looks to God only. He renounces:
1. Trust in man . "Asshur shall not save us." The world is a poor savior. It promises much, but gives little. Its favor is deceitful. Its will to help is even more limited than its power. But its power is not great. It cannot save when God contends with us. It must leave us to shift for ourselves at death. It has no salvation for the soul—for eternity.
2. Trust in his own strength . "We will not ride upon horses." Israel had multiplied horses. He put trust in them for his deliverance. This trust, with every other of a similar kind, he now renounced. Neither in war, nor in peace, nor in anything he did, would he exalt himself as independent of God. He would be humble.
3. Trust in idols . "Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods." Thus, in succession, Israel renounced, as Christians would say, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Every heart not serving God has its idol—its something which it puts in God's place. This it now renounces, and gives him all the glory. The prayer concludes with an appeal to the Divine pity. "For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." The soul without God is as one orphaned. In penitence it seeks the pity of him who compassionates the fatherless. God feels this pity for his alienated children.—J.O.