Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.Repent and Return
Hosea's closing appeal is full of tenderness, gracious; authoritativeness, and hopefulness.
I. God's Call to Israel.—It was a call to repentance. They had gone far and for a long time from Him. It is not yet too late nor too far to return; but they must return, and not stop short of Him. The simple word 'return' speaks of hope, and may inspire confidence. They are encouraged also by the reminder that they are 'Israel,' the name so significant as their covenant name. Still further are they helped by God's name expressing the relation in which He stood to them, 'The Lord thy God'. Jehovah, their Creator, Benefactor, Redeemer, in covenant with them, and still their God, willing as ever to bless them, and with claims upon them notwithstanding their departure from Him. That which might seem to bar repentance is the very reason for its exercise. The need of repentance is pressed home. The fallen are the proper subjects of repentance.
II. The Method of Returning.—God does not leave Israel in the dark as to the style and spirit of repentance, but gives specific information regarding the acceptable and successful way of returning to Him. 'Take with you words.' Do not appear before the Lord empty or silent, yet bring no outward gifts or sacrifices; bring only words—words of penitent confession. Do not put Him off with vague longings and wistful yearnings and confused thoughts; give shape to your feelings and form your thoughts in words; be definite; say something. Of course the words must come from the heart, and be its true expression. There is to be no sullen silence, but a simple utterance of penitence. Words coming from the heart are worth more than elaborate and costly but heartless sacrifices. Words compel us to analyse our emotions and embody our desires, and fix us down to distinct statements. But such words as God thus requires are not natural to those fallen in iniquity. God Himself gives them; He fills our mouth with arguments.
III. What Words Shall We Take?—'Say unto Him'—
a. 'Take away all iniquity.' A great saying, involving confession of our iniquity, the need of its removal, God's power and readiness to remove it, our inability to remove it.
b. 'Receive us graciously;' literally, 'receive good'; q.d. accept the only good thing we bring, the confession which we offer, and which Thou hast put into our heart and mouth.
c. 'So will we render the calves of our lips,' i.e. present the prayers and praises of our lips as thank offerings. This stands for the vow of a new and changed life of devotion to God's worship and service It is the promise of self-consecration to God—an indispensable element in true repentance, without which prayer for forgiveness becomes little else than a request for liberty to sin afresh, and with impunity.
d. '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.' These words primarily refer to two serious breaches of Israel's covenant relation. They had recourse to foreign aid in national straits, instead of calling on Jehovah. Sometimes they looked to Assyria and sometimes to Egypt, the great country for horses and chariots. They had also fallen into idolatrous worship, and gone deeper until they worshipped gods of their own making. They had, in short, depended on foreign help and on their own devices. This dependence they abjure. All other confidences than God are to be rejected; all worldly policies and refuges and helps forsaken; all trust in self, or in any work of our own hands, renounced.
e. 'In Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.' This is to back up the whole penitential prayer. It is a revelation and assurance of the compassionate nature of God. It is an appropriate encouragement to a penitent sinner coming back to God, away from Whom he has been truly fatherless, coming back conscious of his loneliness and dependence as a desolate orphan.
There is but One Priest Who in His own right can approach God; but One Mediator Who can plead His own goodness; and so there is but One propitiatory, expiatory sacrifice, even 'the One full, perfect, and sufficient Sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction,' once made upon the Cross, for the sins of the whole world. There never has been, there never will be, any other. Except for this one and only Atonement, nothing we could say, think, or do, would be acceptable to God; but for this we should remain as we were born, an accursed race.
But though this be true, yet, with respect to those who rely on the intercession of that one great Priest, and, by faith, plead and apply to their souls the merits of that One expiatory sacrifice, the Spirit teaches us that they render unto God acceptable service; God for Christ's sake will permit them to approach Him, and accept a service at their hands. And this gives us the idea of a sacrifice. For a sacrifice is something presented to God, in behalf of man, by persons Divinely appointed to 'offer gifts unto the Lord'. In this sense, the 'blood of bulls and of goats,' under the law, became a typical sacrifice; and, under the Gospel, the Eucharist is thus designated, being a commemorative sacrifice. But according to Scripture—
I. Public worship is also a sacrifice, and it is very essential to represent it as such. This doctrine is directly implied in the text by a figure of speech. As calves were offered in sacrifice, so are the lips of worshippers to be as calves; they are to offer to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (Amos 4:5; Hebrews 13:15). St. Peter, speaking of the Christian Church, says: 'Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ' (1 Peter 2:5). He cannot here refer to the Eucharist, because he is addressing Christians generally as a holy priesthood, and the celebration of the Eucharist requires the intervention of a special order of men separated from among the general body of believers; he must, therefore, refer to the service of public or common prayer, which he describes as a spiritual sacrifice. The sacrifice offered in public worship is the Sacrifice of Prayer and Praise. It is offered in each congregation for the Church universal, for the Church of the province, for the Church of the diocese, more especially for the Church of the parish, and for all the members of the same; it is offered by the assembled worshippers, being baptized persons, 'continuing steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers' (Acts 2:42). Such persons are for this purpose 'an holy Priesthood,' appointed to offer up these 'spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ' (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 5:9-10). As certain believers are elected from their brethren, and ordained to be priests for the higher service of the Holy Eucharist, and that they may bless the people in the Name of Him Whose ministers they are; so are the members of the Church, as their name denotes (Ecclesia), a people 'called out' of mankind, to act as priests in the general sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving; and, although the presence of ministers is required in the conduct of the morning and evening prayers, by the responses ample provision is made for the people generally to discharge their priestly function.
It would appear, then, that we are all permitted, for the sake of a crucified Saviour, to draw nigh unto God with boldness, and to offer Him a gift, even our reasonable service, our service of prayer and praise, which, through the mediation of an Interceding Saviour, is a sacrifice acceptable to God.
II. Now let this view be taken of the public worship of the Church, and we shall discharge this, our bounden duty and service, with very different feelings from those who regard it as doing openly what they do when they pray in private. We shall not palliate neglect of public worship, if no sermon be preached, by saying that we can pray at home as well as in the Sanctuary. When we regard public worship as a sacrifice, we look off from ourselves, and on to God; we are exerting all our energies to glorify God. That our own souls will be benefited is most true; but by it we are called off from that self-contemplation which makes men 'lovers of their own selves'. Prayer is beneficial to the soul. And as God is praised, God blesses; and in the blessing which alights on the Church, each living member, each 'lively stone,' has his share.
Reference.—XIV. 5.—J. H. Norton, The King's Ferryboat, p. 135.
The Dew and Its Influences
Consider some of the points of analogy between dew and the work of Christ and His Spirit.
I. Dew is silent, gentle, and noiseless in its operations. The dew moves on the noiseless wing of night. The eye cannot see, the ear cannot hear its silent and secret fall. It eludes the touch. The great forces of nature which influence the being, the life, the comfort, and joy of man, work the most silently.
II. The dew is free and copious. The abundant supply of the Spirit implied in the promise which is the subject of my sermon is aptly typified in the world of nature.
How free is the grace of God! 'I will love them freely.' The believer is freely loved (Deuteronomy 7:7-8); freely chosen (Ephesians 1:4-8). Christ is the gift of free love (John 3:16). The spirit is free: 'Uphold me with Thy free Spirit' (Psalm 51:12). Our justification is free (Romans 3:24); our adoption free (Ephesians 1:5); our entire salvation free (Titus 3:5; Acts 15:11)—like the 'dew of the Lord that waiteth not for man, nor tarrieth for the sons of men'. 'The morning light comes unfettered by any condition, and so also descends the rain. They are like God's greatest gifts, without money and without price; and they come with an overflowing plenty, for freeness and fullness go hand in hand.'
III. Dew refreshes, revives, and invigorates. Who has not felt and seen the refreshing influences of the dew in the early summer morning, when every blade of grass and every leaf has sparkled like a diamond in the morning light?
How the Israelites, when marching through the arid desert, must have enjoyed the baptism of the cloud! When any one has experienced the fiery power of the law, or when some assault of Satan has stirred up the passions of the soul, or when some fiery trial has come upon him, how comforting and refreshing the sweet influences of the heavenly dew! 'Shall not the dew assuage the heat?' (Sir 18:16). So copious is the grace, and yet so gentle is the influence, that it does not break the bruised reed nor injure the most tender plant It is on this account, because of its refreshing and reviving effects, that the dew symbolizes the mission of the Israel of God in the world around. The 'remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord'. So shall it be with Israel as a people among the nations of the earth in the time of their regeneration.
IV. I have only time to add one more analogy between the dew and the work of the Holy Spirit. Dew fructifies and matures. Rains and dews are a chief cause of all fruitfulness. In nature the quantity of the fruit as much depends upon the rain and dew as upon the sun. 'So the believer's growth and fruitfulness are equally dependent upon the Spirit of grace from Christ Jesus, as upon the glories of His person and the fullness of His work; these, indeed, are in order to the other, and the fullness of the Spirit is in His hand to give, and promised by Him to all His. people.' Wherever there is much of the Spirit's influence, there, of necessity, will much fruit be brought forth to God.
—J. W. Bardsley, Many Mansions, p. 265.
God's Love for Israel
I. The departure of Israel from God. No figure which could be imagined could be so true of God's love for Israel; none so accurately describe that love which was stronger than her sin. The sadness of God as he looks upon Israel is given in the strongest form in this parable.
II. The ruin which follows departure from God. The sin of Israel was deep, of the darkest order, and yet the love of God is deeper, and will not be turned.
III. There are offers of mercy and restoration. It is the one great feature of this book. In every utterance of woe there is an undercurrent of the tenderest gentleness, continually breaking out into entreaty and sorrow. The application is clear. Be careful to regard the Divine order of things. The safety of home, the security of the nation is endangered when men begin to defy that Divine order, and loosen the ancient bands of morality.
—H. Greene, The Church Homilist, p. 229.
The Dew and the Plants
Hosea is eminently the Prophet of repentance and of pardoning love. The text comes from a fervent and tender appeal to Israel to come back to its God. The Prophet presses into service the lily, the cedar, the olive, and the springing corn and the blossoming vine, as symbols of what God is able and willing to do to penitents that come back and submit themselves to His influence.
I. The source of fruitfulness. The deceitful ray of prosperity is full of danger to the spiritual life, and no less cruel are the fervid beams of fiery temptation with which we have all to be tried. And where is our strength? I know but one source of it—that we shall receive the communications of that spiritual life, the gift of which is the central blessing of the Gospel. So we have to begin with confession; we have to begin with penitence; we have to receive into opening hearts the welcome of our pardoning Father, and then we may be sure that we shall receive the promised gift. And the silent influence will come stealing over the landscape, and every thing that was wilting and drooping in the deadly sunshine will be freshened and restored in the cool stillness of the moist-laden night.
II. The profuse beauty which will follow the fall of the dew. 'He shall grow as the lily.' A profusion of grace ought to match the profusion with which the dew comes from God. But let Christian people remember what a great many are apt to forget, that we are bound to try to make our Christianity attractive. Grace means both a gift from God and beauty; and the double meaning of the word should always be kept in mind. There ought to be the beauty of holiness where there is the dew from the Lord.
III. The strength which should go with the beauty. To the beauty of the fragile lily we must add the strength of the stable cedar. There must be strength conjoined with beauty in a world like ours, full of conflict and strength. If you are to be beautiful you have to be strong. The only way to be strong is to 'stand fast in the Lord, and in the power of His might'. Open your hearts to God's dew, and you will have the beauty of the lily and the strength of the cedar.
IV. The fruitfulness which should crown beauty and strength. On our barren stems little that is good can grow. We must be grafted into the true Vine. Vital union with Jesus Christ through simple faith is the condition of all true goodness. A man that is apart from Christ does nothing and is nothing, and is whirled away at last before the storm.
—A. Maclaren, Christian Commonwealth, 27 April, 1899, p. 488.
References.—XIV. 5, 6.—J. Vaughan, Sermons (10th Series), p. 181. XIV. 7.—J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 163. XIV. 8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1339. XIV. 9.—J. M, Gibson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii. p. 344.
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.
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.
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.
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
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.
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.
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.