Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Already the future of northern Israel has been irradiated for Hosea by short gleams of hope (Hosea 11:8-11, Hosea 13:14); now at length hope becomes victorious over fear. True, Israel has not yet ‘returned’, and Hosea is obliged to repeat his exhortation. But he evidently feels persuaded that Israel cannot resist the lovely promises of which in this chapter he is the bearer. Hosea 14:1-3 contain an imaginative expression of the feelings by which the Israelites will one day be animated (contrast Hosea 6:1-3).
O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.1. return … for thou hast fallen] To ‘stumble’ or to ‘fall’ means to be visited by a calamity (as Hosea 4:3, Hosea 5:5). Experience has shown the Israelites, to quote Jeremiah (Hosea 2:19), ‘what an evil and bitter thing it is to forsake Jehovah their God.’
Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.2. Take with you words] It is one of the most undoubtedly ancient of the religious laws of the Pentateuch that ‘none shall appear before Jehovah empty’ (Exodus 23:15; Exodus 34:20). What gift then will be most acceptable from the Israelites to their heavenly King? The answer that will naturally rise to the lips of a half-converted Israelite will be ‘sacrifice and burnt-offering’ (see note on Hosea 5:6); but the prophet in his present mood cherishes the belief that Israel’s repentance will after all not be as superficial as he once feared (contrast Hosea 5:6). He therefore urges his people, after the bitter lessons of experience, to take as their offering, not cattle, but penitent words spoken out of the abundance of the heart.
Take away all iniquity] Rather, Altogether forgive Iniquity. The form of the Hebrew is singular, but not unparalleled.
receive us graciously] Rather, accept the good; ‘for it is good to sing praises unto our God’ (Psalm 147:1).
render the calves of our lips] Or, ‘pay (as if with) bullocks (with) our lips.’ Thus the Israelites are converted at last to the principle of chap. 6 Hosea 14:6. It is a very strange expression, however, and Archbishop Newcome may be right in preferring the reading of the Septuagint (comp. Hebrews 13:15), pay the fruit of our lips, which is a choice Hebrew phrase (Isaiah 57:19). The ‘fruit’ is of course praise and thanksgiving, or vows of obedience (Psalm 50:13-14; Psalm 69:30-31).
Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.3. Israel here renounces those sins against the theocracy of which Jehovah’s prophet had specially accused him, viz. trust in Assyria (Hosea 5:13, Hosea 7:11, Hosea 8:9) and reliance on horses and chariots (Hosea 1:7, Hosea 10:13, alluding no doubt to the Egyptian alliance, comp. Isaiah 30:16; Isaiah 31:1), and idolatry (Hosea 4:17, Hosea 8:4).
to the work of our hands] An early anticipation of the splendid morsels of irony, in which a later prophet lashes idolatry (see Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 54:17).
the fatherless] Israel’s condition is compared to that of an orphan (comp. the exquisite ὀρφανούς of John 14:18).
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.
I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.5. their backsliding] i.e. the damage which their ‘backsliding’ has brought upon them.
love them freely] Or, ‘spontaneously’, i.e. without receiving any gifts but those mentioned in Hosea 14:2.
5–9. Jehovah, in answer, describes the blessings which He will give. The imagery reminds us of the Song of Songs; notice especially the references to the lily and to Lebanon.
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.6. I will be as the dew] Rather, as the night-mist, i.e. the masses of vapour (Hebr. tal) brought by the damp westerly winds of summer (see on Hosea 6:4). ‘In the strict scientific sense of the word, this is rain, and not dew at all, since the vapour becomes condensed in the air before touching the ground’ (Neil, Palestine Explored, p. 135). The promise comes very appropriately after the ‘I will heal’ of Hosea 14:4. The baleful effects of the sirocco are often felt in Palestine during the rainless heat of summer, but by the beautiful provision of night-mist all hardy forms of vegetable life are preserved. But to the ‘east-wind’ described in Hosea 13:15 there was no such counteracting force. A ‘dew’ (‘night-mist’) of supernatural energy (like Gideon’s) was required to vivify that which Assyria had destroyed—what another prophet calls (Isaiah 26:19) ‘a dew of lights’, i.e. an influence from the divine Light, could alone undo so complete a catastrophe. Observe how nearly coincident are the conceptions of land and people in Hosea’s mind (see on Hosea 2:3).
grow [blossom] as the lily] So Sir 39:14. The image suggests the ideas of profusion and beauty. There is nothing to bind us down to any single individual of the lily species. Indeed, the application of the Hebrew shôshan was probably as wide as that of the Arabic sûsan still is, if we may argue from the mention of ‘lilies [oleanders?] by the rivers of waters’ in Sir 50:8. Dr Thomson’s ‘Hûleh lily’, which abounds in the woods north of Tabor (The Land and the Book, p. 256), is at least as likely a flower to be meant as any other. Dr Tristram prefers the not less gorgeous than abundant Anemone coronaria (Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 464).
and cast forth] Lit., ‘and let it strike.’ A change of the verbal form for the sake of colour and variety.
as Lebanon] The slender roots of the lily supply no fit image for stability; for this Hosea turns to the ‘cedars of God’ (Psalm 80:10, A. V. ‘goodly cedars’), or perhaps he means the mountains of Lebanon themselves (for the ‘roots’ of a mountain, comp. Job 28:9).
6. His branches shall spread] For ‘branches’ render saplings. It is the same word as in Isaiah 53:2 (where A. V. ‘tender branch’). There the prophet’s idea is that after Israel’s vine has been cut down, a slender plant will spring up from the root; here, that the root of the living tree shall send forth many fresh plants. In fact, Israel is to be like not merely a tree, but a garden.
as the olive-tree] Beautiful doubtless in itself, but with a beauty enhanced by the serviceableness of the fruits. Jeremiah compares Israel to ‘a fresh-green olive-tree, fair, and of goodly fruit’ (Jeremiah 11:16).
his smell as Lebanon] As the balsamic odour of the cedars and of aromatic shrubs. Comp. Song of Solomon 4:11.
They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.7. They that dwell … as the corn] Rather, Once more shall they that dwell under his shadow bring corn to life (i.e. in prosaic language, cultivate corn). A contrast to the lamentation for the corn in Hosea 7:14. ‘His shadow’, i.e. Israel’s; Jehovah is presumably still the speaker. For the idea, comp. Jeremiah 31:5; Jeremiah 31:12.
grow [blossom] as the vine] There is a transition from the prosperity of the agriculture to that of the people who live by it, as in Psalm 72:16.
the sent thereof] Rather, his [i.e. Israel’s] renown (lit. his memorial or name). For the comparison which follows, comp. Song of Solomon 1:3, ‘Thy name is as ointment poured forth.’
as the wine of Lebanon] The vine is still largely cultivated in every part of Lebanon. But the finest grapes in Syria are those of Helbon, a village in the Antilibanus district, a little to the north of Damascus, precisely as in the days of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:18) and Nebuchadnezzar (Lenormant, Étude sur quelques parties des syllabaires cunéiformes Par. 1876, p. 123).
Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.8. Ephraim (shall say), What have I to do any more with idols] So the Targum and the Syriac. The objection is that the ellipsis is unique, and hence Archbishop Seeker proposed to follow the Septuagint (reading lo for li), and render, Ephraim—what hath he to do, &c. Prof. Robertson Smith is dissatisfied with this, but his objection simply is that the third member of the verse is unsuitable in the mouth of Jehovah, the evergreen tree being ‘in Semitic symbolism the image of receptivity, of divinely nourished life, not of quickening power’ (The Prophets of Israel, p. 411). But why should the whole verse be given to the same speaker, especially if we reject the idea that the prefixed Ephraim indicates Israel as the speaker? It is surely very difficult to assign the fourth member to Israel, as if it meant that Ephraim or Israel bore fruit to Jehovah. On the whole, it seems best to adopt the Septuagint reading, and to assign all but the third member of the verse to Jehovah. There is a special force in the restoration of the name Ephraim, if we look at the closing words of the verse. [Pusey and before him the Lutheran divine Manger assign the four lines of which the verse consists alternately to Ephraim and Jehovah.]
I have heard him and observed him] Rather, I respond and look on him. The pronoun is emphatically expressed—‘I on my part.’ ‘Respond’ reminds us of Hosea 2:15; Hosea 2:21-22. The idea is that Jehovah’s treatment of Israel corresponds to Israel’s treatment of him (comp. Psalm 18:25-26). ‘To look upon’ anyone is to be favourable to him (Psalm 84:9; Psalm 119:132); the opposite is ‘to hide the face from’ (Psalm 22:24; Psalm 27:9).
I am like a green fir tree] The precise kind of tree meant by b’rôsh is uncertain; but Hosea, as a N. Israelite, is evidently thinking of the splendid forests of Lebanon. Most have supposed a reference to the sherbin-tree, a small kind of cypress resembling the cedar; Tristram prefers the Aleppo pine, a tree quite as characteristic of Lower Lebanon as the cedar. Certainly it is very alien to the spirit of the prophets to compare Jehovah to a tree (comp. Hosea 4:13; Isaiah 1:29). Keil refers to the ‘tree of life’; but even this is never identified with Jehovah (though Sept. identifies it with Israel, Isaiah 65:22). Is not this short clause a naïve self-gratulation on the part of Israel? Here, as in the previous clause, the personal pronoun is expressed.
From me is thy fruit found] Israel cannot be the speaker here (see above). The clause contains a warning for Israel in his prosperity not to forget the Giver. Probably there is a play upon the name Ephraim ‘fruitfulness’ (as in Hosea 13:15).
Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.9. An epilogue or conclusion to the prophecy, unspecializing it, as it were, and extracting the general moral lesson which underlies it all. The tone and language of it remind us of the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 11:5; Proverbs 15:19). The term ‘the righteous’ occurs nowhere else in Hosea.
Who is wise, &c.] Rather, Whoso is wise, let him understand these things (i.e. the foregoing prophecies). One great mark of ‘wisdom’ in the Old Testament sense was a rational acquiescence in the equity of the providential government.
for the ways of the Lord, &c.] The ‘ways of Jehovah’ are those marked out by Him as Governor of the world for the righteous and for the wicked respectively. These ‘ways’ are ‘straight’ or ‘right’ (synonymous with ‘righteous’, as Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 119:37), alike when they spread themselves out in an unbroken level for the pious, and when they oppose themselves in rocky stumbling-blocks to the ungodly. Comp. Proverbs 11:5; Proverbs 15:19; Isaiah 26:7.