Take With You Words and Return
The book of Hosea portrays Israel’s relationship with the LORD as one between a faithless bride and her ever-faithful husband. Israel has forsaken the LORD at every turn and sought after the help and approval of the Assyrians and the Egyptians. Predictably Hosea preaches a message of judgment and certain doom for the nations of Israel and Judah, but the reader of this gospel is soon struck with the intensity and bluntness of the message. In the same way that a broken marriage results in a very peculiar and intense pain and sorrow for both parties, God expresses His pain and sorrow over the faithlessness of Israel and pronounces their deserved judgment in those same terms.
There are tiny moments of reprieve to be found between chapters 4 and 13, but chapter 14 stands in stark contrast to the repeated pronouncements of judgment that come before. Here at the end of the book, one last plea for Israel to repent is made by the prophet. Hosea instructs the nation of Israel to “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (14.1), and then tells them how they may do so. Using the same language as one who brings sacrifice to the altar of worship, Hosea tells Israel to “Take with you words and return to the LORD”.
What sacrifice, what words could Israel possibly bring to the LORD in the light of their repeated infidelities to Him? This is an important question even for Christians today, as we too have been faithless to the LORD during certain moments or even certain periods of our life. Hosea’s instructions as to what to bring to God in an effort to return to Him are ancient, and yet like the rest of the Old Testament they are very instructive to any who would approach the LORD and seek to renew their relationship with Him.
“Take away all iniquity” (v.2)
The first words Israel is instructed to bring to the LORD are those begging God’s forgiveness. Even today when a married person has been unfaithful and he/she seeks to be reconciled to their spouse, isn’t this the first thing that is typically said? “Please forgive me.”
When we approach the LORD seeking reconciliation forgiveness is the first and most important concern that must be on our minds. Our sins have created a separation between ourselves and the LORD (Isaiah 59.1-2) and for reconciliation occur the sin in our lives must be addressed. Those who walk in the light are cleansed by the blood of Jesus from their sins (1 John 1.7), and if we confess those sins to God, “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1.9). Israel, as the people of God, could approach the LORD and request His mercy and His forgiveness for their sins. In the same manner today those who approach the LORD in obedience to the Gospel can be forgiven of their sins. “And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2.38).
“accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips” (v.2)
What more appropriate action follows forgiveness than worship? The 3,000 Christians of Acts 2.41 are baptized and then the very next thing we read about them is their worship! “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2.42). The Ethiopian Eunuch of Acts 8 is baptized in v.38, and “went on his way rejoicing.” (v.39), the same reaction that is recorded concerning the Philippian Jailer and his family in Acts 16.34.
Being reconciled to God should invoke a response of worship. The ESV translates this passage awkwardly, whereas the NASB gives us a better sense of the meaning: “And receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips.” This passage is in interesting one in that Israel is asking the LORD to accept the offerings of their lips as one would accept the offerings of bulls for a thank offering, which was the best form of peace offering. (Lev. 3.1, 7.11-12). How similar this is today to the offerings that Christians make to the LORD! Our confession of Christ as our LORD, our requests for prayers, and our singing (to name a few) are made in large part by our words!
“Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; (v.3)
Hosea’s gospel describes Israel as doves, “silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria.” (7.11). One of their problems concerned their dependence on foreign nations for protection and prosperity, which were the very same two things Israel was commanded to depend on the LORD for. They trusted in their own selves, their own ability to “wheel and deal” with the other nations, all the while ignoring the clear truth: they and all the other nations exist as they do simply because God willed it to be so.
For Israel to return to the LORD, they had to learn to trust in Him once again. Nothing has changed for people who follow God in 2018. Christians must learn even now to put their trust in God. As an example, ow often do we skip over prayer as our first response to trouble or tragedy? In many cases prayer is turned to after all our feeble attempts have come up fruitless. Are we willing to trust in the LORD even in the smallest, day-to-day difficulties?
“and we will say no more ‘Our God’ to the work of our hands” (v.3)
Israel’s infidelity to God via idolatry permeates the book of Hosea. For Israel to come back to the LORD, they would need to repent of their idol worship. This bears much in resemblance to the request of an unfaithful spouse to be reconciled to their significant other. Asking for forgiveness is essential and a primary concern, to be sure, but this must be coupled with “fruit in keeping with repentance” as John the Baptist described in Matthew 3.8. A request for forgiveness without a change in behavior is obviously unacceptable, so Hosea instructs Israel of their need to turn from their wickedness.
This concept continues even today. Do we genuinely seek to repent and change our course after begging God’s forgiveness for our sins? Or do we treat God’s forgiveness as an insurance policy in case we die or become incapacitated? The Lord’s ability and willingness to forgive us should not be mistaken for a tolerance of insincerity and unrepentance on our part. God is not deceived, and He most certainly will not be mocked by our feeble attempts to keep ourselves “covered” spiritually. To have sought to repent and fallen short is a very different matter than never truly seeking to repent.
“In you the orphan finds mercy” (v.3)
This last phrase of Hosea 14.3 is perhaps the most poignant. Throughout the book Israel is described as a people who do not understand God, who seek the LORD but not with the right intentions, who have forgotten who God truly is. In the ESV and NASB, “forgot” is only found a total of 10 times in the Bible, and two of those are in Hosea. Both times they are about what Israel did to God (Hosea 2.13, 13.6)! God often describes himself in the Law as the God who looks after the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner (Ex. 22.22; Deut. 10.18, etc.). For Israel to approach God and state “In you the orphan finds mercy” is a huge change from the way Israel is described throughout this book. Instead of the pride they are exhibited as having throughout the book (and really throughout their history as a people), Hosea instructs them to approach the LORD humbly.
How do you see the LORD? Do you call Him your God, and then treat Him as the “Great Vending Machine in the Sky”? Do you recognize your own helplessness, your own utter dependence on God? Christians must be concerned with whether we regard the LORD in the proper way. We must approach the LORD with humility ourselves, our worship to Him must be rendered “with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12.28), and even Jesus instructed His disciples that unless they were to become like children they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18.3). So let us take care that we do not forget our humility when it comes to our relationship with God.
If Israel would return to the LORD as Hosea instructed them in v.1-3, then God would return them to a place of blessing, comfort, and providence much like the Garden they forsook long ago:
“I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.” (Hosea 14.4-7)
Friend, if you will approach the LORD in this manner, calling upon His name and heeding the call of His gospel, then He will take you to a place that far exceeds Eden in every way imaginable:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 22.1-5)