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Week of February 27, 2011

 

Bible Verses:  Hosea 14:1-9

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about returning to God when we’ve made a mess of our lives.

 

When God’s Words Become our Words:  Hosea 14:1-3.

 

[1]  Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. [2]  Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. [3]  Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy."  [ESV]

 

In the last chapter of Hosea we find an appeal 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 captivity. In that day they will undoubtedly wonder if God has cast them off utterly. They will feel forsaken. But God wants them to know that their captivity is due, not to His wishes for them or abandonment of them, but to their sin, and that in spite of their sin the way of return stands open. If they will make the confession of 14:1-3, then 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 6:1-3. That confession has many of the same words as this latter, true confession. But the tone is entirely different. It lacked a true awareness of sin and a true turning to God. It thought of God mechanically. 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 is the way it works. God will appear as surely as the sun rises. 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 truly turn from their sin to righteousness. He will bless only when their repentance is along the lines of that with which Hosea closes his book in chapter 14. There are three things that make this confession a true one, things lacking in the false repentance of chapter 6. First, there is an awareness of sin and that in two ways: (1) that sin is sin, and (2) that it is serious. We see this in the word that is used for sin, literally iniquity. It is an ugly word, but it rightly describes sin’s nature, which is ugly. True repentance begins with an acknowledgment that sin is sin and that it is ugly and terribly offensive in God’s sight. When we are truly contrite, the smallest sin becomes an offense which is mountainous in the sight of God, and dreadful in the view of our own hearts. The second thing that makes the confession of chapter 14 a true 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 [see verse 3]. Two things regarding repentance are easy to do: (1) repent of someone else’s sins, and (2) repent of sin generally. To repent of one’s own, specific sin is so difficult that it is actually impossible apart from the grace of God. 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. She was known for her violence in dealing with those she conquered. But revival came to the city through Jonah’s preaching, and we know it was true revival because it was exactly of their specific sins that the people repented. The specific sin of the Ninevites was violence, and it was from this that they repented. We must do the same. If our specific sin is covetousness or greed – one of the dominant sins of the western world – we must repudiate that sin. Perhaps ours is a sexual sin. In that case we must turn from it rigorously, because until we do all forms of religious practice will be mere hypocrisy. The one thing we must not do is pretend that our specific sin – whether greed, immorality, anger, pride, gluttony, dishonoring of our parents, 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. This is involved in verse 2. It means that we must come to God solely on the basis of His grace, not imagining that in spite of our sins there is nevertheless some merit in us to commend us to God – not even the fact that we have repented of our sins and appeal to His mercy. There is probably nothing that is harder for us to do. It is hard to admit that we are sinners and that sin is serious. It is harder to admit to specific sins and turn from them. Hardest of all is to admit that apart from these sins there is still nothing in us to commend us to God or compel Him to be favorably disposed toward us. What we usually do, even when we are confessing our sin, is immediately rush on to remind God that although we have sinned there are nevertheless 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. How do we repent? Hosea hits on something important when he answers, Take with you words and return to the Lord. We must not merely assume that God knows of our repentance, though He does if we are 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. But if we confess our sins, we can know that he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [1 John 1:9].

 

When God’s Blessings Become our Blessings:  Hosea 14:4-7.

 

[4]  I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. [5]  I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; [6]  his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. [7]  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.  [ESV]

 

Having called on the people genuinely to repent of their sins, God now promises a full measure of restoration for when they do. God says He will do three things. First, He will heal their waywardness. That is, He will not only forgive them for their sins; He will actually cure the waywardness so that they will not wander from Him again. Second, God says He will love them. 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 anyhow and acted to redeem her – which is how God acts with us and with Israel. Third, God says that He will cause His people to prosper again. This last promise is couched 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. Ruin results. But from the ruins, like plants or trees gradually forcing down their roots and rising above the destruction, the people would again begin to grow under God’s divine presence and blessing. He would be like the early dew of morning – quiet but effective. They will be like flowers, trees, vines, and fields of grain [14:5-7]. 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. Sin is ugly, and sin had ruined Israel. Sin likewise makes us ugly, and none can change that ugliness but God who can bring a beauty to your life that you thought could not be restored. 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. This too is important. Sin not only makes us ugly; it also weakens us, and this weakness becomes increasingly apparent as we grow older. Has sin made you weak? Has it taken away the strength you once had? Repent of that sin and turn to God. He can make you strong again. Isaiah knew this and wrote: Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for 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 [Isaiah 40:30-31]. When 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. It was highly valuable in ancient times. It would be the equivalent of petroleum today. In their sin the nation had ceased to have value, even in its own eyes, but the love and blessing of God would make it valuable again. Has sin robbed you of your value? Has it made you feel worthless in your own eyes and in the eyes of others? Repent of that sin and turn to God. He can teach you to bring forth fruit that will last forever. When God speaks of the fragrance of the cedars 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. If you have ceased to be a pleasure to God or others through sin, repent of that sin and turn to God. It can be said of you as Paul said it was of the Christians of his day: God … always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing [2 Cor. 2:14-15]. In 14:7 a number of images are combined: the shade of a tree, the flourishing 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. If sin has robbed you of the abundant life that God intended you to have, repent of that sin and return to God. He will make you fruitful in His service. Does the scope of this promise of God surprise us? It should not, because God is the source of every good gift and all fruitfulness. Beauty! Strength! Value! Delight! Abundance! These are in Him. He is beauty, strength, value, delight and abundance. He is the answer to our every need.

 

When God’s Ways Become our Ways:  Hosea 14:8-9.

 

[8]  O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. [9]  Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.  [ESV]

 

The question with which this section begins called the attention of the people of the northern kingdom to the long span of history over which Yahweh had manifested Himself. Never did He have anything to do with idols. His law began with the command, You shall nave no other gods before me [Ex. 20:3]. The prophets of the eighth century viewed idolatry as a destructive influence at work within the social fabric of Israel. Israel’s God never worked through the mediation of idols. It was He Himself who responded to the needs of His people and who intently watched over them. Over the course of Israel’s history it was Yahweh who responded to them. When they were a helpless infant, alone in desert wastes, He responded to their need. It was He who brought them to national prominence. Could they not see that their idols were helpless to save them from their desperate national plight? Hosea continues his appeal to the phenomena of nature by picturing Yahweh as a luxuriant evergreen tree. It is in Yahweh alone that their fruit is to be found. The metaphor of the tree serves only to represent productiveness. Fruitfulness can be found only in Yahweh. It was He who granted them the blessing first granted to their ancient patriarch, Abraham. The prophecy ends with a wisdom-saying. This saying is an appeal to all the readers of the book. Those who have skill in understanding will discern the message of Hosea. That message is that the Lord’s ways are right. From the picture of Gomer in her pitiful condition, to the depiction of Yahweh as a stately tree we have seen this fact set forth. Ephraim’s ways will lead to death; Yahweh’s ways will bring life. The ways of God are free of obstacles for the righteous. The upright realize the benefits of God’s laws and instructions, and they know that His ways are wise. What God has instituted is for our good. We find satisfaction and nobility in a life that is lived humbly before God. Those who rebel against God’s yoke will stumble over his commands; they will find them too hard to bear. Hosea vividly describes the heart of the rebellious in 7:13-16. Hosea’s marriage was bittersweet, but so was Yahweh’s relationship with His people. They stumbled in the way and fell. They rationalized their adherence to their syncretistic religion and defended their national policies as necessary to their survival. All the while they moved closer to extinction. The key to survival and eventual exaltation as a people was simple, yet profound. They had only to take with them words [14:2] and acknowledge their wrongdoing. If their hearts were broken, their relationship to God would be mended. If they returned to God with words of true confession and trusted in Him completely, God will accept them back into His covenant relationship. This is exactly what happened to the remnant who returned to the promised land from exile [see the book of Ezra].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Compare the confession in 14:1-3 to that of 6:1-3. What are the key differences? List the three things that make 14:1-3 a true confession. Compare the confession of your sin to these three things. In there something you need to change in the way you confess your sin to God?

 

2.         What three things will God do when we truly confess our sin [see 14:4-7]? What do the images of 14:5-7 tell you about the results in your life of God’s actions when you truly confess your sin?

 

3.         The people of Hosea’s time sought to combine their worship of Yahweh with the worship of idols. Do you see Christians today attempting to do the same thing? Ephraim’s idols were physical, man-made idols. What are the idols that people today worship? In 14:8 God tells His people that He alone is to be the source of their fruit. In this context, what does the fruit represent?

 

4.         In 14:9 Hosea closes his book with the importance of wisdom for understanding the ways of Yahweh. If wisdom is so essential, how can we obtain this wisdom [see Eph. 1:17-18; James 1:5]?

 

References:

Hosea, Douglas Stuart, Thomas Nelson.

Hosea, James Montgomery Boice, Kregel Publications.

Hosea, Thomas McComiskey, Baker.