Restoring the Repentant by Granting the Repentance that Restores
Remember that Hosea began with the striking instruction of God for Hosea to marry a woman of whoredom, by whom he had three children. These three children were given names symbolic of God’s judicial abandonment of Ephraim. These designations indicating judgment immediately were followed with a vision of redemptive restoration of Israel and Judah by the Messiah (10, 11). Hosea, nevertheless, not only married her but then went after her to secure her safety and fidelity on her subsequent lapse into unfaithfulness and immorality (3:1, 2). So did God initially redeem Israel and so has he gone after her throughout her life of self-centered, pleasure-seeking, life-destroying religion. Descriptions of gross sin, religious apostasy, covenantal infidelity, social injustice, tyrannical cruelty, and stone-cold resistance to divine overtures for return have been matched by promises of wrathful judgment, thorough discipline, and thorough purging of evil from the heart of Israel. Interwoven into these polarities have been visions of restoration according to God’s own power and his irresistible determination to accomplish his end to have a people based on his covenantal purpose. This lesson continues that pattern and closes the study of Hosea; the last half of the last verse of the book summarizes the ultimate reality of life: “For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hosea 14:9b).
I. Chapter 12 – This chapter alternates between the blessing of God’s presence, guidance, and revelation given through specific cases of human instrumentality, and the failure of Israel to establish itself on that advantage and advance in the knowledge of God, increase in devotion to God, and convert its energies into an ongoing witness to the nations showing them the pleasures of being the people of God.
A. Verse 11:12 – 12:1 – The present condition of Israel, in spite of God’s exalted promise to restore them in 11:8-11, is one of utter carelessness and dependence on a series of instabilities because, in the moment, they appear promising for immediate advantage. Look at the language, “lies, deceit, feeds on the wind, pursues the east wind.” This leads to continuing treachery, “multiply falsehood and violence.” They depend on deceit in seeking to manipulate pagan worldly powers (Egypt and Assyria) to their own advantage, a scheme that never proved sound or prone to produce any long-term prosperity.
B. Verses 2-6 – Israel was given a good beginning with Jacob. Some interpreters see these verses as part of the indictment. In my opinion, the writer intended to evoke a comparison between Jacob’s zeal for Yahweh (3-5), the one true God, and Israel’s contentment with falsehood. Verse two declares that God has good reason for his case against Israel: “Has a dispute, … will punish, … will repay him.” Their father, however, from before his birth used all his energy, according to the light he had, to gain from God Himself his place in life. He knew that if the Lord did not bless him, then nothing else was of value. Israel is called, therefore, to follow that example and return to the commitments that characterized the story of Jacob: “Wait continually for your God” (verse 6).
C. Verses 7-8 – Israel, the offspring of Jacob, is content with gaining prosperity through cheating and lying (“false balances”) and considers itself justified in so doing. So skilled and subtle is his deceit that he has gained confidence that none can detect it: “In all my labors, they will find in me no iniquity, which would be sin” (8b).
D. Verse 9 – As in the days of discipline in the wilderness, when Israel had to live in booths because of their refusal to obey God, so God will restore them through a like discipline.
E. Verses 10-14 – God has given prophets in their present state of apostasy. In the past, the Lord of covenant faithfulness kept covenant with Jacob even when he was in exile and cheated by his father-in-law. He delivered the nation of Jacob’s descendants by Moses when it was in bondage in Egypt. In the present, the consistency of rebellion and deceit and murderous treachery that has permeated the history of the nation has fixed a guilt, a blood-guilt, for which satisfaction must be exacted (11, 14).
II. Chapter 13 – Having had great possibility for strength and exaltation among the nations, Ephraim has forfeited any posture of power or leadership because of its unfaithfulness to the one true God, the God that had engaged their fathers in covenant and had redeemed them from bondage. The God who is Savior also is the consummate avenger.
A. verses 1, 2 – Any respect that may have been due to Ephraim as a son of Joseph and as a bannered leader (Numbers 2:18-24), now is gone because of obeisance to the Baal. These man-made gods, no matter how skillfully crafted, are only reconfigured material elements created by Yahweh. Ephraim’s affection, however, for these crafted calves is more captivating even than the natural affection due to the sons. They have, therefore sacrificed the latter to show their devotion to the former.
B. Verses 3-8 – They have forsaken the God of eternity, power, holiness, security and provision for things ephemeral and gods non-existent. They have found unintentionally a true God zealous for his holiness and exclusivity.
1. Verse 3 uses four images—mist, dew, chaff, and smoke—to show how insignificant will be their strength when once God moves upon them in judgment.
2. Verses 4 and 5 shows that true safety is found only in the favor of the God who saves. He can save; He can destroy. Nothing can stop him from saving according to his own purpose and grace. The mighty empire of Egypt could not even maintain ownership of its slave population when God, for the sake of his own glory and in pursuit of displaying his unfathomable wisdom, brought them out of that oppressive nation by his singular power. In the wilderness, when they should have been crushed by the elements, God, to show his rulership over both them and their environment, sustained them. Nothing in all creation, whether persons or nature, powers visible or invisible, nor death nor the grave can thwart God’s purpose to preserve or save or impede God’s decision to bring judgment.
3. So, verse 6 shows that the most favored of all people, when left to themselves, will forget God and pursue the world. They do indeed, when pursuing their “free will,” walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience, and are by nature children of wrath (cf. Ephesians 2 1-3). Even Ephraim, left to himself, to his own musings, became filled with worldly comfort, credited himself for the good standing, and forgot God.
4. Verses 7, 8 – God now uses images of wild beasts, hungry for prey, and set on vengeance for invasion of property: A lion, a leopard, a she-bear robbed of her cubs. While Ephraim is like mist or dew, chaff or smoke, God is like a lion. Hosea used the image of the lion as a figure of sovereign saving power in 11:10; now he uses it of his fearsomeness in an action of just retaliation for a long history of wrongs toward both man and God.
C. Verses 9, 10 – Hosea makes reference to Israel’s demand for a king to rule over them “like other nations” recorded in 1 Samuel 8. According to God’s words to Samuel, this indicated that “they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). Samuel warned them what the effects of having a king would be; they wanted a king to fight their battles and to judge them. Even the best, David and Solomon, led them in paths that caused sorrow, punishment, and distress. Solomon’s taxes, unhealthy alliances and many marriages informed the mentality of an unwise son, Rehoboam, whose intention to be even more oppressive than Solomon, led to the split of the nation and the consequent endless troubles of the North, Samaria. Now God taunts them with their preference for earthly splendor and guidance instead of trusting and serving God and looking for safety to the intervention of divine providence. The giving of a king according to their will (though part of an eternal plan and a figure of the kingship of Christ) came to them as a matter of God’s judgment (“I gave you a king in my anger”). This first king showed the tendency of all human attainment of power to increase possessiveness and jealousy and lead to the using of the position, not for the good of the people, much less to the glory of God, but for personal advancement. Samuel had warned about this in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. He ended his warning with the words, “but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
D. Verses 12-16 – The accumulation of iniquity and unfaithfulness has in equal proportions accumulated divine wrath. Now the dam that has to this point stayed the rush of its power will burst and righteous fury will come forth to reveal all the power of death as the promised wages of sin (Romans 6:23; Genesis 2:17).
1. As warned, Israel reached a point in their sin from which they could not return. The accumulation of idolatries and sinful atrocities had been building up as water behind a dam (12) and now was ready to rush forth.
2. He has been summoned to return with the strength of a child being summoned into the world in the labor pains of its mother, but even that could not draw him forth to repentance (13).
3. Now the wages of sin will be poured out. The insatiable appetite of Death and Sheol has been unleashed over them and God finds no compassion to ransom them from its plague and its sting (14). Worthy of remark is the obvious fact that Paul employs this image in 1 Corinthians 15:55 when speaking of the infinite fullness of the redemptive work of Christ in rescuing his people from the quenchless thirst of death and the grave as fueled by sin. This shows that greatness and necessity of Christ in that his work, and his only, could in fact satisfy the grave and give it no victory over those for whom Christ has died. It also shows the severity of what he suffered as he shouldered the penalty for his people.
4. Now all hope of staying the rough wind of this vengeance is gone (15, 16). Assyria will be the destructive wind and by its thorough policy of refined cruelty will strip away every vestige of hope and dignity from Samaria. Before God, Samaria will bear a just vengeance. The atrocities committed by Assyria would be worthy of judgment and condemnation before a world court for crimes against humanity, but as a matter of divine vengeance it is no more than is deserved in its earthly manifestation and would not be too much even when brutal death is followed by hell. We are shocked by such frank statements of the ways in which God displays wrath, but only because we have such misty, minimalized, unperceptive views of the infinite ugliness of sin. As Anselm proposed in Why God Became Man, “You have not yet considered what a great thing sin is.”
III. Chapter 14 – This chapter contains vital ideas concerning repentance.
A. verse 1 – A call to the duty of repentance has been both explicit and implicit throughout this series of prophecies. Judging from the number of kings both in Judah (4) and Israel (2), these prophecies were short bursts of intense warning, description of the thickness of merited wrath, calling to repentance, and predictions of days in which God’s grace would overcome all resistance. Even in the absence of conquering grace, repentance is a morally absolute necessity. Their, and our, inability to repent comes from an immoral aversion to the divine holy prerogative and thus is criminal, blameable, and accumulative of just wrath for the day of judgment. Every description of moral perversion and idolatrous unfaithfulness implies a call to turn from it and walk in uprightness, obedience, and love for God alone. Previously, God has given a picture of true conversion of hearts and affection to God (6:6) – “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” This specific call to repentance is followed by an outline of issues that should constitute an obedient response.
B. Verses 2-3 consist of instruction concerning the content involved in repentance.
1.Words are important for they reflect one’s perception of important truths and the way in which they should be regarded. (“For with the mouth confession is made . . .Romans 10:10).
2. Sin must be confessed as well as the determination to follow God’s commands; sincere words of turning from evil and toward good now render the required sacrifice for sin an acceptable offering.
3. Past reliance on political alliance, military preparedness, and the supposed benefits of false gods will be cast aside
4. They recognize the tender mercies of God and desire to receive that outflow of compassionate love (“In you the orphan finds mercy.”)
5. Compare this to the suggested repentance of 6:1-3.
C. Verses 4-7 – God’s promise to perform his work in his people
1. Note that if any repentance toward God is to come, God must take it upon himself to produce it. God said, “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely; . . . I will be like the dew to Israel.” They will not, until He wills it. He loves them freely, that is without any cause in them. So was Hosea to love Gomer. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:24, we are “justified freely.”
2. When the triune Yahweh acts effectually, then Ephraim becomes beautiful and productive and reflects the excellence of human personality in union with God. Note the refreshing nature of the images employed by Hosea. These images indicate the intrinsic beauty of a thing uninterrupted by an invasive perversity aggravated by the rational and voluntary capitulation to the god of this world. “Blossom like the lily, … take root like the trees of Lebanon, … beauty shall be like the olive, … fragrance like Lebanon [referring to the naturally exhilarating and purifying fragrance of the massive cedars], … flourish like the grain, … blossom like the vine [beautiful blossoms that precede the clusters of grapes], … fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon” (verses 5-7).
3. These beauties, similes pointing to the spiritual revolution prompted and then carried to success by regeneration, are covenantal certainties stated about the group that would be known in the New Testament as the Samaritans. As we did last week, let us note, in an expanded manner, the inclusion of the Samaritans in the blessings of the gospel. Jesus took himself to the Samaritans and manifest his Messianic status to them (John 4:4-42), beginning even with the worst of them whom they themselves recognized as outcast and unworthy of respectable human company. When the Jewish leaders wanted to insult Jesus with a harsh and provocative epithet in John 8:48, they accused him of being a Samaritan. Note the emphasis on Samaritans in other places: Luke 9:51-56 (Jesus’ refusal to destroy a Samaritan village when they refused to let him pass through); 10:25-37 (the Good Samaritan); 17:16-18 (The grateful Samaritan); Is it possible that the story of the Prodigal Son is about the acceptance of Samaritans as true sons of the Father (Luke 15:11-32)? In Acts the gospel coming to Samaria is a prominent facet of the command to move from Jerusalem throughout the world (Acts 1:8); the fulfillment of this is recorded in Acts 8:1 ff when the gospel came to Samaria by Philip; Peter and John went to observe and pray for the reception of visible manifestation of the presence of the Spirit. Note that the gospel released them from the superstitious idolatry involved in their adherence to the person Simon, the Magician. Also, note that, returning to Jerusalem, these apostles “preached the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans” (8:25).
4. These promises to Samaria also show God’s intention for the display of his determined purpose, effectually executed in the person and work of Christ and implanted in the experience of the elect in every part of the world by the Holy Spirit. This is summarized in Titus 2:11-14: “ For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
D. verses 8, 9 – A reminder that life is found only in Yahweh
1. Idols are lifeless, false, and utterly absurd as objects of worship or dependence. Only Yahweh has life in Himself (John 5:26) and is the source of all life. He is like a “luxuriant cypress.” Their fruit comes from him. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work according to his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13).
2. True wisdom comes in knowing and loving this God and following his ways. All the threats and eventual execution of judgment written of here by Hosea are right and reflect a truly symmetrical and purely just response from the thrice-holy Lord, “for the ways of the Lord are right.” The only life that is life indeed is to walk in the purity, holiness, and justice of the ways of God for “the upright walk in them.” To do otherwise is to destroy oneself for “transgressors stumble in them.”
This prophecy of Hosea is a constant call to part with sin and find life, blessing, beauty, and joy in knowing and loving God. Our fallenness means that only one way can be provided for such a restoration of life. There will be no parting with sin unless the love of the pleasures of the world becomes nauseating in being replaced with a love for more excellent and abiding things. Only a spiritual perception of the beauty of Christ in his Person and Work is sufficient to bring us to repentance toward God from sin and faith in the absolute perfection of the character and righteousness of Christ. When the Father by the Spirit opens blind eyes to see why He Himself spoke from above to say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” then we desire to be found before the Father’s eyes in such a way and know that such a standing can be reached only if we are united with Christ. This is true initially of being brought from darkness into light at the time of the new birth and the first motions of faith. It is also true in every subsequent stage of developing holiness in the believer. In a sermon on The Excellency of Christ based on Psalm 45, John Owen gave this personal testimony concerning this:
I have had more advantage by private thoughts of Christ, than by any thing in this world; and I think, when a soul hath satisfying and exalting thoughts of Christ himself, his person, and his glory, it is the way whereby Christ dwells in such a soul. If I have observed any thing by experience, it is this, a man may take the measure of his growth, and decay in grace, according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and of his love. A heart that is inclined to converse with Christ, as he is represented in the gospel, is a thriving heart; and if estranged from it, and backward to it, it is under deadness and decays. (John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 1826, 17:88)