sermon: Hosea's Prophecy (Part Seven)
Hosea 13 and 14
Martin G. Collins
Given 29-Dec-12; 74 minutes
Although Hosea has been called the “death-bed prophet of Israel,” because he was the last to prophesy before the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC, he presents a heart-felt message of hope and encouragement in his concluding chapter. As you may recall from my previous six sermons, his ministry followed a golden age in Israel, with peace and prosperity not seen since the days of Solomon. But sadly, this prosperity led to moral decay and Israel forsook God to worship idols.
So God instructed Hosea to marry a prostitute, whose unfaithfulness to her husband would serve as an example of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Hosea then explained God’s complaint against Israel and warned of the punishment that would come unless the people returned to the Eternal and remained faithful to Him.
Hosea’s prophecy shows the depth of God’s love for His people, a love that tolerates no competitors or competition, or anything else. In this last sermon summarizing Hosea’s prophecy, we will briefly analyze the last two chapters. Hosea 13 deals with the death of a nation, very similar to what we are seeing in our nation today. Death is the penalty for sin, and Ephraim representing Israel, died spiritually, because sin takes away true life and separates from God.
Of this death, Jesus Christ says “let the dead bury the dead.” The apostle Paul adds, “she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” So Israel died: as a nation and kingdom, being sentenced by God to cease to be—scattered and lost to history.
Hosea 14 concludes the prophecy with Israel’s repentance and God’s mercy. What better way to end a prophecy? As a nation, it was to cease to be. Its separate existence from Judah was a curse, not a blessing, and it was the offspring of rivalry, matured by apostasy. It produced jealousy and hatred.
But while the kingdom was past and gone, the children still remained potential heirs of the promises made to their fathers. As Hosea declared earlier, Israel, after having remained separate for a long time, would in the end seek the Lord, and David their king. After many denunciations of their temporary destruction, God not only calls them to repentance, but foretells that they would be completely converted.
Romans 6:23 is a verse that should be memorized early and repeated often by every Christian.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These words deal with individual salvation, but they also express a principle that goes beyond the individual. True, sin brings death individually, but sin also causes the death of family life, and culture, and even of whole nations. An example is in the 13th chapter of Hosea’s prophecy. Hosea 13 is about relentless judgment and the death of a nation.
Anyone who has read about or studied history has concluded that civilizations die. Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome come to mind instantly. They grow strong, they deteriorate, and they die. Sin brings death, and it is not only the sinning individual, but also the sinning nation or culture that will die.
Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son in Mine; the soul [or individual] who sins shall die.”
Ezekiel 18:20 “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”
Sinning individually and paying the penalty individually. The wickedness of the individual subject or citizen makes the whole nation deathly sick. We can blame our leaders all we want, but that does not exclude us from our guilt and responsibility of self-government, as it did not for the Israelites.
The individual who sins shall die. This is what God says to Israel as He contrasts Israel’s youthful days with their present old age and His relentless judgment on Israel that He describes in Hosea 13. Technically speaking, in a sense Israel is already dead here. But it is a strange death. In medicine, an autopsy is conducted to determine the cause of death and to establish the condition of the corpse for the record. God does this in the first three verses of Hosea 13.
Hosea 13:1-3 When Ephraim [representing Israel] spoke, trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when offended through Baal worship, he died. Now they sin more and more, and have made for themselves molded images, idols of their silver, according to their skill; all of it is the work of craftsmen. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!” Therefore they shall be like the morning cloud [or mist] and like the early dew that passes away, like chaff blown off from a threshing floor and like smoke from a chimney.
Death affects each part of the human constitution. When God created the man and woman, He created them in His image. Adam and Eve possessed a body and spirit. The human spirit is the part of the human being that has awareness of and is capable of fellowship with God.
Job 32:8 But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.
It is what sets the human being apart from animals, who have something like a personality, but who cannot have fellowship with God, who cannot reason in the same way. Animals do not worship; people worship, and this is due to our spiritual nature. However, sin separates us from God, and in a sense, sin destroys or perverts that spirit in man.
Adam and Eve proved it by hiding from God. When He came to them in the Garden, it had been God’s custom to visit Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day. This had apparently been a joyous time for them. Having sinned, it was now anything but joyous. Rather than come to Him, they hid from Him in the bushes. God is the Holy One, and when we sin, a barrier is erected and the fellowship that we originally had and which we are still meant to have is broken.
When God came to Adam, He asked Adam what he had done: “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Adam could not deny the fact, but he pleaded extenuating circumstances, blaming the woman who had been given to him, who had given him the fruit, and indirectly, God who had given him the woman. “The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Likewise, the woman would blame the serpent, and so it has been down through man’s history for every human being.
They were trying to excuse themselves, and rather than admit their wrongdoing, from this point things went downhill. In the next generation, Cain, one of the sons of Adam and Eve, killed his brother. Within several generations, the world of that day had become as wicked as our own. It did not take long for human beings to deteriorate and become so perverted as that.
This pattern of Biblical teaching seems to be in mind as Hosea began to write this section of his prophecy. The death of the nation described in these verses closely parallels the death of our first parents, Adam and Eve. How do nations die? The answer is that they die in spirit first, and then they lose heart. Eventually, the body of the nation also dies and vanishes.
When looking at this in greater detail, we must ask first: how does a nation die in spirit? The answer is quite simple: a nation dies in spirit when it forgets God and begins to worship that which is not God. Hosea describes this in the case of Israel in verse 1 by saying:
Hosea 13:1 (NIV) He became guilty of Baal worship and died.
In more recent times, the literal worship of Baal has been replaced by the worship of entertainment and other forms of material prosperity that we have abundantly in this nation.
No nation has ever had a total awareness of God, involving every one of its citizens. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as God-consciousness in a nation. It has sometimes been the case, particularly at the birth of a nation, or at some period of special religious awakening, that many people have been aware of God, and have been so anxious to serve Him, that they have impressed truly spiritual principles and standards on their corporate (that is, their group) life, or in the forming of a nation. This was true of the United States of America.
Not all of our founding fathers were Christians; on the contrary, many were deists and other variations of religion. Some believed almost nothing biblical. But these views were probably not very formative for the nation, and did not dominate its first organization. In those days, people who did not believe fundamental Christian laws and principles did not express their disbelief or fight for their secular outlook as people do today. Consequently, a certain God-consciousness was present and expressed. Prayer was part of the national life, and God was publicly credited for national blessings. Even in schools, the Bible was read and taught openly. Our higher forms of education, Yale and Harvard, began as Christian religious schools.
The first step in a nation’s death takes place when its God-consciousness dissipates, or worse, is deliberately removed, as we are seeing today. This is precisely what has happened in America, and in all the nations with a large Israelitish populous. Here in the U.S., there has been a deliberate attempt to remove any kind of overt dependence on God from national life. Prayer and Bible study have been removed from the schools, which is producing evil narcissists. Leaders have become afraid with being identified with anything related to Christian principles and God’s way of life.
The second step in a nation’s death takes place when the heart of a nation becomes hard and dies. This means that the national character deteriorates into evil continually. We see this in the plunging moral climate of society: the accelerated corruption of business; the breakup of families; the obsession with materialism; the increase in crime. We also see it at the national level in the failure of government to keep faith with its people and those of other nations.
One example of how governments break faith with their people is by permitting and causing inflation, particularly on an epic scale, which happens in periods of decline, as we are seeing today in this country. Inflation is theft: debt that cannot be paid back is stealing. In the days of their greatest vitality and earning power, people saved money to see them through their old age. The money that they laid aside was worth something when they initially save it. But as the years go by, the value of their money deflated, so that the money is actually worth much less when they come to use it later. All because of the greed of the national leaders.
One example of how governments break faith with the people of other nations is when they fail to honor treaties and trade agreements. The United States has been doing this, and on an ever increasing basis, breaking treaties and agreements with other countries on a whim, because of the power of its currency and military. The U.S. will back a nation with a treaty, and then support rebels with money and weapons. We have seen this in Egypt and we have seen it in some of the Central American countries.
Greed, the desire for power, and lust for material things, are usually the driving forces behind leaders who cause inflation by overspending. The same motivations drive them to break agreements. We now have a president who is constantly breaking our own laws, especially the Constitution. We are in the same boat, maybe worse off, than ancient Israel at the time Hosea wrote.
Hosea talks about a similar stage of Israel’s decline:
Hosea 13:2 Now they sin more and more [is that not true of our nation today?], and have made for themselves molded images, idols of their silver, according to their skill; all of it is the work of craftsmen. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!”
Listen to how Barnes’ Notes describes what was going on in and around ancient Israel at that time, and picture in your mind how the U.S. does the same thing with material things that come from China and any other country that manufactures merchandise with which Americans can cheaply satisfy their lusts:
“The calves were of gold; now they ‘made them molten images of their silver,’ perhaps plated with silver. In Egypt, the mother of idolatry, it was common to gild idols, made of wood, stone, and bronze. The idolatry, then, had become more habitual, daily, and universal. Their idols were made of ‘their silver;’ they themselves had had them ‘molten’ out of it...' According to their own understanding,’ they had had them formed. They employed ingenuity and invention to multiply their idols. They despised the wisdom and commands of God who forbade it. The rules for making and coloring the idols were a minute as those, which God gave for His own worship. Idolatry had its own vast system, making the visible world its god and picturing its operations, over against the worship of God its Creator. But it was all, 'their own understanding:’ The conception of the idol lay in its maker’s mind. It was his own creation. He devised, what his idol should represent; how it should represent what his mind imagined; he debated with himself, rejected, chose, changed his choice, modified what he had fixed upon; all ‘according to his own understanding.’ Their own understanding devised it; the labor of the craftsmen completed it.”
Sin draws on sin. This seems to be a third stage in their sin. First, under Jeroboam, was the worship of the calves. Then, under Ahab, the worship of Baal. Third, the multiplying of other idols, piercing and infiltrating their private life, even of their less wealthy people. Everyone was involved.
Regarding kissing the calves: kissing was an act of homage in the East, done on the hand or the foot, the knees or shoulder. It was a token of divine honor, whether to an idol or to God. It was performed either by actually kissing the image, or when the object could not be approached (as the moon), kissing the hand and so sending, as it were, the kiss to it. This is similar to our custom of blowing a kiss, we are all familiar with that. It does not necessarily mean that blowing a kiss is a pagan thing to do, it just means that is one of the methods that they used in their worship, in perverting what had gone on before that in regular life.
Hosea’s point is that although Israel is spiritually dead, she nevertheless goes on sinning. She is a walking, sinning corpse. She is a zombie.
It is what the apostle Paul says of a former life of the Christians at Ephesus: they were dead in trespasses and sin. Nevertheless, they sinned following the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of air.
At the end, the body of the nation dies by degrees. To use an analogy of a body, it is as if one organ after another fails to function properly, and the body as a whole gradually sinks down until it outright collapses.
Nations seldom die cataclysmically, by sudden and total overthrow at the hands of the enemy. They break down, bit by bit. The police show up after the crime and cease to be effective in protecting the populace. The courts become technical battlegrounds, and so cease to perform their proper function, in punishing the guilty and exonerating the innocent. Politicians become no longer worthy of the trust committed to them. Schools cease to educate and become propaganda tools. Workers cease to work, and live on entitlements, handouts, and out of a bottle. Managers cease managing as authority breaks down at every level. Eventually, the whole thing caves in, and the country becomes a third or fourth rate power or worse. In the end, the nation is taken over or is dominated by another country that is rising to power, often on the back of the capitulating nation. Sadly, this is a vivid and accurate picture of the U.S. and the other Israelitish nations today.
Hosea looks to the future and sees the eventual disappearance, that is, death, of the body. This is what Hosea refers to in verse 3.
Hosea 13:3 Therefore they shall be like the morning cloud [that is, mist] and like the early dew that passes away, like chaff blown off from a threshing floor and like smoke from a chimney.
He is speaking of the death of the spirit of the nation, which is past. He is speaking of the present moral and mental decline; the loss of heart. He describes it as mist, dew, chaff, and smoke. Nothing. Vapor. It is hard to think of images better calculated to express how light, weak, and empty the nation of Israel had become. It is difficult to picture more graphically how she was to vanish at the first ray of heat, or breath of air.
Hosea raises an important question at his point: from what source does the death of the nation come? Who sends it? What is the source of the prophesied destruction?
Hosea says that God sends death. The One who previously has preserved the nation now brings judgment on it. This idea is graphically portrayed in Hosea 13:4-16. It begins with a reminder of the deliverance of the people from Egypt by God’s hand. In fact, it begins with a direct verbal echo of the opening phrases of the Ten Commandments, in which the deliverance is brought forward as the moral basis of the people’s obligation to serve God.
Hosea 13:4 “Yet I am the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know now God but Me; for there is no savior besides Me.”
The passage continues with a reminder of the care God gave during the days of the people’s desert wanderings.
Hosea 13:5-6 “I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. When they had pasture, they were filled [speaking of Israel]; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they forgot Me.”
So they were filled with all they needed, so they no longer needed God and forgot Him. Again, we see the image of the heart. The heart is used in Scripture to refer more broadly to what we might call individuality or personality. It has to do with our likes and dislikes, our dispositions, our ambitions or lack of them, and the way we see ourselves. Above all, it concerns the moral and ethical side of our nature that motivates us.
Genesis 6:5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
So we see the source of that motivation. The heart is deceitful.
In Hosea 13:7-16, the prophet uses a number of illustrations to show different kinds of discipline, and I mentioned this in my last sermon. Since the people forgot God, now, says God, He, who has been their deliverer, will become their destroyer. Hosea uses the first image of a shepherd who turns himself into the very enemy of the sheep. This image is slightly hidden in most English versions, but it is clear in the original. The words “I knew or cared for you in the wilderness” at the beginning of Hosea 13:5 are literally “I pastured you in the wilderness,” which is what a shepherd does.
God says that He was like a shepherd to Israel. He led them into the wilderness as a shepherd would lead sheep; He cared for them like sheep. But they forgot Him. Therefore, He will attack them with those predator animals that are the sheep’s natural enemies.
Hosea 13:7-8 “So I will be to them like a lion; like a leopard by the road I will lurk; I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs; I will tear open their rib cage, and there I will devour them like a lion. The wild beast shall tear them.”
Once again, Hosea uses a number of similes and metaphors to describe the trials that God was sending on His disobedient people. Like a ferocious beast, He would suddenly attack them and this is a reference to the invasion of the Assyrian army. Hosea’s contemporary and fellow prophet to the Northern Kingdom, Amos, also depicts Israel as the prey of wild beasts. They are an image of God’s judgment.
It is interesting that these four animals—the lion, leopard, bear, and wild beast—are found in Daniel 7, which forecasts Gentile world history from the period of the fall of Jerusalem up to the coming of Jesus Christ. The order of the list of animals is slightly different. Daniel has the bear and leopard reversed, but with this slight exception, the passages seem to be somewhat parallel. As far as we can determine, in Daniel’s vision, the lion represents the kingdom of Babylon, the Chaldean empire, the state that overthrew the last remnants of the Jewish nation in the sixth century BC
The bear represents the kingdom of Medea-Persia, which under King Darius, overthrew Babylon. The leopard stands for the empire of Alexander the Great, the Grecian empire. The fourth animal, the unnamed wild beast, stands for the Roman Empire.
Repetition of these four animals in the prophecies of Hosea and Daniel are more than a coincidence. What it suggests, from the perspective of Hosea’s prophecy, is that God often works through the Gentiles to bring about Israel’s judgment and defeat. Remember, Hosea 13 is about God’s judgment that is relentless.
God can do the same today, and He will. We look at Russia, Red China, or the various Muslim nations, and in our national self-righteousness, we were not afraid of them for much of this nation’s history until about 60 years ago. According to Hosea, the rulers of Israel were weak, temporary, and ineffective. The time had come for the nation to have no king, a situation that would last for centuries.
Hosea 13:9-11 “O Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is from Me. I will be your King; where is any other, that he may save you in all your cities? And your judges to whom you said, ‘Give me a king and princes’? I gave you a king in My anger, and took him away in My wrath.”
Another image of discipline in these verses is of an unborn child, a fetus, who refuses to be born.
Hosea 13:12-13 “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is stored up. The sorrows of a woman in childbirth shall come upon him. He is an unwise son, for he should not stay long where children are born.”
What is Hosea saying? Is he comparing Israel to a woman in labor, or to the child who refuses to be born? The answer is both, and neither. Actually, it is the situation itself that is his focus. When a woman’s time comes, a child is expected to be born. This is the natural course of events; if the baby cannot be born, it is unnatural, dangerous, and eventually fatal.
But this is Israel’s condition. Her rejection of God is unnatural, and because the one who has been delivered and kept by God should be thankful, it is dangerous because it invites judgment. It is ultimately fatal, because God will judge the nation that rejects him. Also, a woman in labor is used often in Scripture to picture extreme pain and sorrow. But Hosea adds a new twist: he sees the woman too weak to deliver the child, and the baby too stupid to come out of the womb. All of the exertion was wasted.
Verse 14 is somewhat vague and strangely placed here. Nevertheless, it is very significant.
Hosea 13:14 “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My eyes.”
Because of the form of the Hebrew words, the first part of the verse can be translated either as a statement that God will deliver the people from death’s powers, like it is shown there in the NKJV, or as a question that in the context might be answered in the negative. Let me read it to you from the ESV, which I think is similar to the RSV and a few other translations. This is in the form of a question.
Hosea 13:14 (ESV) “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.”
So how should the verse be taken? In I Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul refers to these verses in speaking of the destruction of death through the work of Christ.
I Corinthians 15:54-55 (NIV) When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
But that is not the same as saying that this is the meaning of the similar verses in Hosea. Does Hosea 13:14 refer to the defeat of death?
The immediate context suggests no, because the verses on either side speak of the destruction that did come. On the other hand, the greater message of Hosea’s prophecy is of an eventual restoration, in which the death of the nation will be overcome. So it depends on whether you look at the immediate context or the whole book of Hosea. So the scripture can go either way; it is amazing how dynamic God’s Word is in its inspiration.
One thing is certain: restoration will not be apart from a genuine repentance, involving both a truthful confession of sin and a complete return to God. Sin brings forth death, but the grace of God, received through faith, brings blessing.
Another image of discipline is one that would be well understood by the inhabitants of Palestine: a destructive wind from the desert. It represents the invasion that was to come from Assyria.
Hosea 13:15-16 Though he is fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come; the wind of the Lord shall come up from the wilderness. Then his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up. He shall plunder the treasury of every desirable prize [who does that sound like?]. Samaria is held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. They shall fall by the sword, their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child ripped open.
Again, this chapter is very descriptive in the harshness of God’s judgment of sin, by a nation that should have known better. The invasion of the Assyrians will be like a hot, dry wind from the desert that will smother the people and dry up the water courses. All the nation’s treasures will be plundered and their greatest treasure, their children, will be slain mercilessly. Why? Because the nation would not return to God.
Did Ephraim (Israel) sense his wrong? On the contrary, the more he prospered in his godless ways, the more he assumed that all was well between God and him. Ephraim reasoned that his very success was proof that nothing was wrong and that the prophets who denounced sin were in error. And what is this nation saying about those religious leaders who are calling for this nation’s repentance? About those who are saying that this nation has sinned? They are being ridiculed right off of the airwaves.
Ephraim, by his stubborn refusal to return to the Lord, rejected the only hope that God offered. God revealed His love to Israel in His past mercies, and His present disciplines, and still Israel did not return to God. Nevertheless, in the Eternal’s promises for the future was her hope.
Now we enter Hosea 14. This is totally opposite to Hosea 13 in its tone. It does have some warning in it, but for the most part, it is about Israel’s repentance and God’s mercy. It is encouraging and exciting, and a period that we certainly look forward to. Hosea finishes his book with a series of moving appeals to the rebellious Northern Kingdom to return to the Eternal and find healing and covenant renewal. In many ways, the last chapter of Hosea is the most beautiful in the entire prophecy, and forms an appropriate close to the series of prophetic sermons that Hosea wrote.
The 14th chapter is reminiscent of the truths contained in chapter 2, of God’s mercy on His people. Here God speaks tenderly in love and grace. God’s grace shines through the threatening clouds at last.
In light of God’s mercy and love, it is not surprising that God gives a last appeal through Hosea to Israel to return to God. In a sense, it is God’s last word; a word that is to sustain the people during the coming days of their captivity. In that day, they will undoubtedly wonder if God has cast them off completely, and they will feel forsaken. But God wants them to know that their captivity is due, not to His desires for judgment on them, or abandonment of them, but to their sin—and that in spite of their sin, the way of return still remains open, but at a later date.
Hosea 14 reveals God’s promises, verses 2-7 specifically illuminate God’s promises for the future. He will receive them graciously, restore them in love, and revive them to new life. Though His people may turn away from Him, God will not abandon them. Even though He disciplines them, because He is true to His covenant and His promises, He still gives them hope.
II Timothy 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
We have that promise.
God pleads with His people to return to Him and forsake the sins that were causing their downfall. He had already told them to plow up their hard hearts and seek the Eternal, and return to God for mercy. But now He talks to them like little children, and tells them just what to do. God gives them promises to encourage them to repent.
We pick this up in verses 1-4. The caption in my Bible is “Israel Restored at Last,” so this is future.
Hosea 14:1-4 O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’ For in You the fatherless finds mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.”
Here God promises that in the future, He will receive them graciously. He had every reason to reject His sinful people Israel, but He chose to offer them forgiveness. Instead of bringing sacrifices, they needed to bring sincere words of repentance, and ask God for His loving forgiveness.
Psalm 51:16-17 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.
Humility, lowliness of mind, submission, meekness. If Israel will make such a concession, God will restore them as the next verses show.
What strikes us first about this appeal is how different it is from the false confession of Hosea 6:1-3. That confession has many of the same words as Hosea 14 which is their true confession. But the tone is entirely different. Hosea 6 lacked a true awareness of sin, and a true turning to God. Notice how they thought of God mechanically in Hosea 6; there is a different tone here in the context.
Hosea 6:1-3 Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.
Keep in mind Israel’s attitude at this point was one of thinking they were fine, but they realized that they needed God for some things. They really did not see that they needed to repent, so they were presuming. These words are offensive because they are shallow and presume on God. They assume that if the people only acknowledge God verbally, He will inevitably restore them because, so the argument runs, “that’s the way it works.” God will appear, as surely as the sun rises, and He is like the seasons. Spring will follow winter, you can depend on it. But God is not nature; He is not a machine. He is the Holy God, who will bless, but only as His people turn from their sin to righteousness. He will bless them only when the repentance is in accordance with the close of Hosea’s prophecy.
There are three things that make the confession in Hosea 14 a true one; things that are lacking in the false repentance of chapter 6. First, there is an awareness of sin, and that is in two ways. One, that sin is sin—you cannot commit sin and scuff it off. The second is that sin is very serious. We see this in the word that is used for sin, literally iniquity in Hosea 14:1. It is an ugly word, but it rightly describes sin’s nature, which is ugly. True repentance begins with an acknowledgement that sin is sin, and that it is ugly, and terribly offensive in God’s sight.
The second thing that makes the confession of Hosea 14 a true confession or repentance, is its turning from specific sins. In this case, it is a repudiation of those foreign alliances, which the people have trusted, and the idols, which they made in the days of their apostasy.
Hosea 14:3 “Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’ For in You the fatherless finds mercy.”
Two things regarding repentance are easy to do: repent of someone else’s sin is easy to do, and to repent of sin generally, without being specific. To repent of one’s own specific sin is so difficult that it is actually impossible apart from the empowerment of God, to truly repent of it. We think here of the repentance that took place in Nineveh under the preaching of Jonah. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, then the dominant power in the Near East, and she was known for her violence in dealing with those she conquered. Nahum wrote this about the city:
Nahum 3:1-3 Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. The noise of a whip and the noise of rattling wheels, of galloping horses, of clattering chariots! Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses—they stumble over the corpses.
That sounds like central Detroit, or some other city like that, say Washington, D.C. But renewal came to the city through Jonah’s preaching, as instructed by God. We know it is true recovery, because it was exactly of these sins that the populace repented, and they did it with humility. Notice the decree of the king in Jonah 3.
Jonah 3:7-9 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water [he was calling for a fast]. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth [that is, humility], and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
The specific sin of the Ninevites was violence, and it was from this that they repented in humility and fasting. The lesson for us is that we must do the same. If our specific sin is covetousness or greed, one of the dominant sins of the western world, we must reject that sin specifically, and call to mind when we have actually done it. We must remember to have our priorities set in the right order.
Proverbs 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble.
Perhaps our sin is one of judging another who is trying to do the right thing, and who is being careful with how he lives his life. Often, the sin of condemning and judgment is committed by those who criticize and ridicule another person who is trying to be careful to do the right thing, mocking him for being faithful. We certainly see that in this nation, as the Christians are mocked. Remembering the principle, he who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much. Sneering destroys unity and exposes one’s hypocrisy.
With respect to a specific sin, one thing we must not do is pretend that our specific sin—whether greed, or immorality, or lying, or drunkenness, or whatever it may be—is not sin, or think that we can retain it while nevertheless serving God.
The third element in the true repentance of these verses is an appeal to the grace of God.
Hosea 14:2 Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.”
In verse 2, the clause receive us graciously, is literally receive good. The rendering of this phrase in the English overlooks the contrast of the two clauses. Israel is admonished to pray to God to take away and to receive something. When God has forgiven and taken away sin, He has removed all hindrance to the influx of His grace. There is no vacuum in His spiritual creation, any more than in His natural creation. When God’s good Spirit is chased away, the evil spirit enters the person again. Jesus explains this in Matthew 12:
Matthew 12:43-44 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.”
When God has forgiven and taken away man’s evil, he pours into him grace and all good through His Spirit. In this way, when Israel is taught to say, “Receive us graciously,” or “receive good,” it can mean only the good that God Himself has given, as David says in I Chronicles 29.
I Chronicles 29:14 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You [God], and of Your own we have given You.”
So anything we give back to God—tithing, offerings, our lives—is all something that God already owns, and we are giving back to Him. As God is said to crown us with His own gifts, therefore we are to pray to God to receive from us His own good, which we get from Him. Even the good which God gives to be in us, He accepts back in forgiving mercy.
Psalm 103:4 [God is the one] Who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies.
So we humbly implore God to accept our service, forgive our imperfection, and mercifully consider our weakness, and not be displeased with us, because all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. Our righteousness is exceedingly imperfect, especially if we consider the majesty of the divine nature, which should be served with infinite reverence. So we are accredited with Christ’s righteousness, because He is the only one perfect, besides of course God the Father.
This is what the Eternal is telling Israel through Hosea. They must come to God solely on the basis of His grace, not imagining that in spite of their sins, there is some merit in them to commend them to God—not even the fact that they have repented of their sins and appeal to His mercy. Those are God’s conditions: we must repent; Israel must repent, and willingly come to God. Those are conditions for receiving that forgiveness.
What we often do, even when we are confessing our sin, is immediately rush on to remind God that although we have sinned, there are other areas in which we have been true to Him. This is not true repentance; it may be true that there have been areas of faithfulness. But the areas of unfaithfulness spoil even those.
I Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
So we go to God humbly, not telling Him how great we are, what we have done good—not while we are ready to repent or confess to Him. We only go with that confession.
How do we repent? Hosea hits on something important when he answers: with words.
Hosea 14:2 Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.”
We must not merely assume that God knows of our repentance, though He does if we are truly repentant. Rather, we must express our repentance verbally. Without this open confession, we can never be fully sure that we have done what God requires.
This is the point to which the last chapter of Hosea’s prophecy now comes. Having called on the people to genuinely repent of their sins, God now promises a full measure of restoration for when they do. Hosea 14:4-8 have a millennial setting after Israel repents.
Hosea 14:4 “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.”
In Hosea 14:4, God promises that in the future, He will restore them in love. God restores the repentant to spiritual health, and heals their going back to their old ways. When a person collapses with sickness, it is usually the result of a process that has been working in the body for weeks or even months, usually a period of time. The first stage is an infection that gets into the system and begins to grow. The person experiences weariness and loss of appetite and weakness, then the collapse occurs. When sin gets into the inner person and is not dealt with, it acts like an insidious infection. It grows quietly; it brings loss of spiritual appetite. It creates weariness and weakness, and then comes the collapse.
For example, when Peter denied Christ three times, that sin did not suddenly appear. It was the result of gradual spiritual weakness. The denial began with Peter’s pride; he told Jesus that he would never forsake Him, and would even die for Him, and as we know, he denied Him. The second stage is sleeping when Peter should have been praying, and then fighting when he should have put his sword away. He should have left the scene, but instead, he followed to see what would happen and walked right into temptation.
When we confess our sins to God, He forgives us and the germs of sin are cleansed away.
I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We have that promise and we have that assurance.
But as with physical sickness, there is often a period of recuperation when we get back our strength and our appetite for spiritual food. “I love them freely” describes that period. When we are back in fellowship with God and are enjoying His presence. We see the smile on His face because His anger is turned away.
Second, God says He will love them, and the pattern here is the love of Hosea for Gomer, even after her fall into slavery. The life of slavery had taken its toll, but Hosea loved Gomer despite her disloyalty, and acted to redeem her, which is how God acts with us and with Israel.
Third, God says He will cause His people to prosper again. This last promise is understood in a series of images that may well be the most beautiful and poetic section of the book. They are all pastoral in nature. The judgment of which the earlier chapters speak is harsh and sudden, with ruined results. But from the ruins, like plants and trees gradually forcing their roots down and rising above the destruction, the people would then again begin to grow under God’s divine blessing and presence.
He would be like the early dew of morning, quiet but effective, and they will be like flowers, trees, vines, and fields of grain. Notice what God says:
Hosea 14:5-7 “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”
God promises that in the future He will revive them to new life, and Hosea pictures the restoration of the repentant as the emergence of new life in a dry field, on which the refreshing dew has fallen. In the summer and early autumn in the Holy Land, the dew is very heavy and greatly appreciated, because it revives the shriveled and dried vegetation. It brings it all to life. So that is the picture here; that is what the word revive in verse 7 means, to bring new life. The rich vegetation appears, producing beauty and fragrance, where earlier the farmer saw only ugliness and emptiness. The fallow ground becomes a fruitful garden.
When God says that His blessing will result in the growing of blossoms like a lily, He is saying that He will restore beauty to the nation. Israel was beautiful once, but sin is ugly, and sin had ruined Israel. Sin likewise makes all human beings ugly, and none can change that ugliness but God. Nevertheless, He is able to restore the years of desolation.
When God speaks of sending down roots, like one of the great cedars of Lebanon, He is saying that He will restore strength to the nation. Sin not only makes us ugly, but also weakens us, and this weakness becomes increasingly apparent as we grow older. Isaiah knew this when he wrote:
Isaiah 40:30-31 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
In Hosea 14:6, where God speaks of the splendor of the olive tree, He is saying that He will restore the nation’s value. The splendor of the olive is oil, and it was highly valuable in ancient times. In their sin, the nation of Israel had ceased to have value, even in its own eyes. But the love and blessing of God would make it valuable again. That was a promise He was giving them. The Eternal teaches us to bring forth fruit which will last forever. When we appear before Him at a resurrection, we hope He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
In Hosea 14:7, when God speaks of the fragrance, or scent of the wine of Lebanon, He is saying that He will again make the nation a delight. Fragrance has no utilitarian value, but it is a pleasure to all who breathe it. Notice how the apostle Paul said it:
II Corinthians 2:14-15 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
So God’s knowledge is pleasant, and so are His people.
In Hosea 14:7 a number of images are combined. The shade of a tree, the nourishing of a field of grain, the luxuriant blossoming of a vine. It is a way of talking about abundance, which God says He will cause to be true of Israel in the day of their return to Him. God is the source of every good gift and of all fruitfulness. Keep in mind that verses 4 through 7 are millennial.
We must come the whole way, but human nature wants only to come part way, just far enough to get what it wants, while preserving the greatest measure of freedom to do our own thing. This is not acceptable with God. It might sometimes seem to work with our employer, our parents, our husband, our wife. But it does not work with God, for the simple reason that He is God, and He sees all, and He knows the heart. He sees our motivation; He knows where we stand.
Just as Ephraim had to come to the point of renouncing all idols, if we are true witnesses of God and want to glorify Him in our lives, we must renounce our idols entirely. We cannot allow anything to be of more importance than our God.
Hosea 14:8 “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; your fruit is found in Me.”
So the rejection of one’s idols opens the door to be made alive again—alive spiritually.
What would cure them of the idols of their lives? Obviously, not another idol. Not willpower, because they were dead in trespasses and sins, and therefore had no good willpower at all in spiritual matters. The only thing that would do it is if God would give them a change of heart, a pure heart.
Psalm 24:3-5 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
David considered who could go into the presence of such a sovereign Lord and worship in His holy place. The hands are the instruments by which we accomplish anything, so to have clean hands is equivalent to being upright in action. The heart is the seat of motivation and thoughts, so to have a pure heart represents godly intentions and living by the will of God. Clean hands refers to right actions, and a pure heart refers to a right attitude and will.
Only those who do not worship an idol can be true worshippers, and can walk by faith and integrity. For anyone to be recognized as a faithful friend and worshipper of God, he must not be practicing sin, but always striving to live righteously. It does not mean, as God’s people that we do not commit sin; of course we do, because we are still human. But I am speaking of habitual sin; a way of life He will not accept. He certainly accepts and helps people who are trying their best with what He has given them.
The apostle John wrote about this to those of his day, and to us.
I John 5:20-21 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
Hosea ends his prophecy with an appeal to those who have wisdom to discern the truthfulness of God’s warning and encouragement.
Hosea 14:9 Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.
This is an apt conclusion to Hosea’s prophecy. The Eternal has made His case, and is justified in punishing Israel for ingratitude, covenant breaking, and idolatry. Yet there this is final appeal for the wise who understand, and the same verb is used negatively in Hosea 4:14 where it says, “people without understanding shall come to ruin.”
This last verse is the epilog of the whole prophecy. The one wise in his relationship with the Eternal, and careful before God, will understand these things. That is a guarantee and assurance that we have. All the ways of the Eternal will be seen as right. The just will be happy to walk in them. The sinners will fall because of them, to their own ruin.
God’s warning and encouragement is applicable to the Israelitish nations and the church today. The times of Hosea were similar to today, and it was a wealthy, spoiled, wicked society. Sin was rampant, and we know that sin brings death. But submission to God is the path of life.
The closing verse presents us with only two alternatives: rebel against the Eternal and continue to stumble, or return to the Eternal and walk securely in His ways. The first choice is foolish, the second choice is wise.
Deuteronomy 30:19 I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life.
Choose wisely. Hosea 14:9 is full of terms commonly seen in the Psalms and the Proverbs, such as wise and understand, and the contrast between the upright and sinners. Most of the prophecy has addressed Ephraim and Israel as a corporate body, but these terms in verse 9 focus on the moral response of individual Israelites. It gets down to the individual.
The positive terms, in the setting of verse 9, refer to those who really grasp the love of God and His covenant of grace. The Eternal guides the wise and prudent in their own personal course of life. Even when terrible disaster overtakes the people as a whole, the individual Christian upholds God’s standards in his own self and family. He is not a reflection of the world by any means.
All prophecy is given to induce a godly walk in conformity with the will of God. What a wonderful blessing it is to have a heart that is submissive to learning the ways of the Eternal, then to follow Him diligently, to the blessing of countless others.
If the death of a nation unfolded along these lines for Israel, if it became true for Judah later, if this unfolding of a kind of spiritual death has characterized nations throughout history, and seems to be descriptive of our own nation in the present day, is it nevertheless possible to say at any point that there is hope for this nation?
For every nation that has experienced repentance on a national scale and been spared, there have been hundreds of others that have continued on their sinful way, oblivious to the whirlwind coming upon them. I doubt if we will see a major turning to God again in America, though we may, and we certainly pray for that. At the same time, we can say this: although repentance may not occur nationally so that the nation is saved now, it can always happen to and for the individual, so that the individual is saved. It can happen to you personally, and will if you fear Him and hope in His mercy.
Psalm 33:12-15, 18 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He has chosen as His own inheritance. The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works. . . . Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.