Hosea 14:1
O Israel, return to the LORD your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.
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(1) Thy.—Tenderness and inextinguishable love are suggested by the use of the pronoun. “Repentance (say the Rabbis) presses right up to the Eternal Throne.”



Hosea 14:1 - Hosea 14:9

Hosea is eminently the prophet of divine love and of human repentance. Both streams of thought are at their fullest in this great chapter. In Hosea 14:1 - Hosea 14:3 the very essence of true return to God is set forth in the prayer which Israel is exhorted to offer, while in Hosea 14:4 - Hosea 14:8 the forgiving love of God and its blessed results are portrayed with equal poetical beauty and spiritual force. Hosea 14:9 closes the chapter and the book with a kind of epilogue.

I. The summons to repentance.

‘Israel,’ of course, here means the Northern Kingdom, with which Hosea’s prophecies are chiefly occupied. ‘Thou hast fallen by thine iniquity’-that is the lesson taught by all its history, and in a deeper sense it is the lesson of all experience. Sin brings ruin for nations and individuals, and the plain teachings of each man’s own life exhort each to ‘return unto the Lord.’ We have all proved the vanity and misery of departing from Him; surely, if we are not drawn by His love, we might be driven by our own unrest, to go back to God.

The Prophet anticipates the clear accents of the New Testament call to repentance in his expansion of what he meant by returning. He has nothing to say about sacrifices, nor about self-reliant efforts at moral improvement. ‘Take with you words,’ not ‘the blood of bulls and goats.’ Confession is better than sacrifice. What words are they which will avail? Hosea teaches the penitent’s prayer. It must begin with the petition for forgiveness, which implies recognition of the petitioner’s sin. The cry, ‘Take away all iniquity,’ does not specify sins, but masses the whole black catalogue into one word. However varied the forms of our transgressions, they are in principle one, and it is best to bind them all into one ugly heap, and lay it at God’s feet. We have to confess not only sins, but sin, and the taking away of it includes divine cleansing from its power, as well as divine forgiveness of its guilt. Hosea bids Israel ask that God would take away all iniquity; John pointed to ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ But beyond forgiveness and cleansing, the penitent heart will seek that God would ‘accept the good’ in it, which springs up by His grace, when the evil has been washed from it, like flowers that burst from soil off which the matted under-growth of poisonous jungle has been cleared. Mere negative absence of ‘evil’ is not all that we should desire or exhibit; there must be positive good; and however sinful may have been the past, we are not too bold when we ask and expect that we may be made able to produce ‘good,’ which shall be fragrant as sweet incense to God.

Petitions are followed by vows. On the one hand, the experience of forgiveness and cleansing will put a new song in our mouths, and instead of animal sacrifices, we shall render the praise which is better than ‘calves’ laid on the altar. Perhaps the Septuagint rendering of that difficult phrase ‘the calves of our lips,’ which is given in Hebrews 13:15, ‘the fruit of our lips,’ is preferable. In either case, the same thought appears-that the penitent’s experience of forgiving and restoring love makes ‘the tongue of the dumb sing,’ and it will bind men’s hearts more closely to God than anything besides can do, so that their old inclinations to false reliances and idolatries drop away from them. The old fable tells us that the storm made the traveller wrap his cloak closer round him, but the sunshine made him throw it off. Judgments often make men cling more closely to their sins, but forgiving mercy makes them ‘cast off the works of darkness.’ The men who had experienced that in God, the Israel, which by its sins had brought down the punishment of His repudiation of being its father {Hosea 1:9}, had found mercy, would no longer feel temptation to turn to Assyria for help, nor to seek protection from Egypt’s cavalry, nor to debase their manhood by calling stocks and stones, the work of their own hands, their gods. What earthly sweetness will tempt, or what earthly danger will affright, the heart that is feeling the bliss of union with God? Would Judas’s thirty pieces of silver attract the disciple reclining on Jesus’ bosom? We are most firmly bound to God, not by our resolves, but by our experience of His all-sufficient mercy. Fill the heart with that wine of the kingdom, and bitter or poisonous draughts will find no entrance into the cup.

II. God’s welcoming answer.

The very abruptness of its introduction, without any explanation as to the speaker, suggests how swiftly and joyfully the Father hastens to meet the returning prodigal while he is yet afar off. Like pent-up waters rushing forth as soon as a barrier is taken away, God’s love pours itself out immediately. His answer ever gives more than the penitent asks-robe and ring and shoes, and a feast to him who dared not expect more than a place among the hired servants. He gives not by drops, but in floods, answering the prayer for the taking away of iniquity by the promise to heal backsliding, going beyond desires and hopes in the gift of love which asks for no recompense, is drawn forth by no desert, but wells up from the depths of God’s heart, and strengthens the new, tremulous trust of the penitent by the assurance that every trace of anger is effaced from God’s heart.

The blessings consequent on the gift of God’s love are described in lovely imagery, drawn, like Hosea’s other abundant similes, from nature, and especially from trees and flowers. The source of all fruitfulness is a divine influence, which comes silently and refreshing as the ‘dew,’ or, rather, as the ‘night mist,’ a phenomenon occurring in Palestine in summer, and being, accurately, rolling masses of vapour brought from the Mediterranean, which counteract the dry heat and keep vegetation alive. The influences which refresh and fructify our souls must fall in many a silent hour of meditation and communion. They will effloresce into manifold shapes of beauty and fruitfulness, of which the Prophet signalises three. The lily may stand for beauty of purity, though botanists differ as to the particular flower meant. Christians should present to the world ‘whatsoever things are lovely,’ and see to it that their goodness is attractive. But the fragrant, pure lily has but shallow roots, and beauty is not all that a character needs in this world of struggle and effort. So there are to be both the lily’s blossom and roots like Lebanon. The image may refer to the firm buttresses of the widespread foot-hills, from which the sovereign summits of the great mountain range rise, or, as is rather suggested by the accompanying similes from the vegetable world, it may refer to the cedars growing there. Their roots are anchored deep and stretch far underground; therefore they rear towering heads, and spread broad shelves of dark foliage, safe from any blast. Our lives must be deep rooted in God if they are to be strong. Boots generally spread beneath the soil about as far as branches extend above it. There should be at least as much underground, ‘hid with Christ in God,’ as is visible to the world.

But beauty and strength are not all. So Hosea thinks of yet another of the characteristic growths of Palestine, the olive, which is not strikingly beautiful in form, with its strangely gnarled, contorted stem, its feeble branches, and its small, pointed, pale leaves, but has the beauty of fruitfulriess, and is green when other trees are bare. Such ‘beauty’ should be ours, and will be if the ‘dew’ falls on us.

In Hosea 14:7 there are difficulties, both as to the application of the ‘his,’ and as to the reading and rendering of some of the words. But the general drift is clear. It prolongs the tones of the foregoing verses, keeping to the same class of images, and expressing fruitfulness, abundant as the corn and precious as the grape, and fragrance like the ‘bouquet’ of the choicest wine.

Hosea 14:8 offers great difficulties on any interpretation. The supplement ‘shall say’ is questionable, and it is doubtful whether Ephraim is the speaker at all, and whether, if so, he speaks all the four clauses, and who speaks any or all of them, if not he. To the present writer, it seems best to take the supplement as right, and possible to regard the whole verse as spoken by Ephraim, though perhaps the last clause is meant to be God’s utterance. The meaning will then come out as follows. The penitent Israel again speaks, after the gracious promises preceding. The tribal name is, as usual in Hosea, equivalent to Israel, whose penitent cry we heard at the beginning of the passage. Now we hear his glad response to God’s abundant answer. ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’ He had vowed {Hosea 14:3} to have no more to do with them, and the resolve is deepened by the rich grace held forth to him. Hosea had lamented Ephraim’s mad adherence to ‘his idols’ {Hosea 4:17}, but now the union is dissolved, and by penitence and reception of God’s grace, he is joined to the Lord, and parted from them. His renunciation of idolatry is based, in the second clause, on his experience of what God can do, and on his having heard God’s gracious voice of pardon and promise. If a man hears God, he will not be drawn to worship at any idol’s shrine.

Further, in the third clause, Ephraim is joyfully conscious of the change that has passed on him, in accordance with the great promises just spoken, and with grateful astonishment that such verdure should have burst out from the dry and rotten stump of his own sinful nature, exclaims, ‘I am like a green fir-tree.’ That is another reason why he will have no more to do with idols. They could never have made his sapless nature break into leafage. But what of the fourth clause-’From Me is thy fruit found’? Can we understand that to mean that Ephraim still speaks, keeping up the image of the previous clause, and declaring that all the new fruitfulness which he finds in himself he recognises to be God’s, both in the sense that, in reality, it is produced by Him, and that it belongs to Him? He comes seeking fruit, and He finds it. All our good is His, and we shall be happy, productive, and wise, in proportion as we offer all our works to Him, and feel that, after all, they are not ours, but the works of that Spirit which dwells in penitent and believing hearts. Some have thought that this last clause must be taken as spoken by God; but, even if so taken, it conveys substantially the same thought as to the divine origin of man’s fruitfulness.

The last verse is rather a general reflection summing up the whole than an integral part of this wonderful representation of penitence, pardon, and fruitfulness. It declares the great truth that the knowledge of the pardoning mercy of God, and of the ways by which He weans men from sin and makes them fruitful of good, makes us truly wise. That knowledge is more than intellectual apprehension; it is experience. Providence has its mysteries, but they who keep near to God, and are ‘just’ because they do, will find the opportunity of free, unfettered activity in God’s ways, and transgressors will stumble therein. Therefore wisdom and safety lie in penitence and confession, which will ever be met by gracious pardon and showers of blessing that will cause our hearts, which sin has made desert, to rejoice and blossom like the rose.Hosea 14:1-2. O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God — O Israel, return now at length, after thou hast suffered so many evils, to the Lord by true repentance and reformation of conduct. The whole family of Israel, in both its branches, seems to be here addressed. For thou hast fallen — From God’s love and favour into his displeasure, and consequently into misery, by thine iniquity — Which has involved thee in endless troubles, and will be the cause of thy destruction. Take with you words — Make your confessions, present your petitions, and signify your promises and resolutions unto God, not only in your thoughts, but also by words well chosen and digested; sanctioned by the Holy Scriptures, and agreeable to the will of God. The prophet here prescribes a form of confession, petition, and supplication very proper to be used upon their repentance and conversion. It implies in substance, Confess your sins, entreat for pardon, and promise amendment. And turn to the Lord — In heart and life, in faith, love, and new obedience, otherwise your confessions and prayers will be to little purpose. Say, Take away all iniquity, &c. — Deliver us from the guilt and power of our sins, internal and external; take entirely away the sinful principle within us, the carnal heart of the old Adam. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me; and receive us graciously — Accept our persons and performances of thy mere grace and favour, thy unmerited mercy and love. But this clause may be rendered, Give us what is good; that is, bestow thy grace and blessing upon us: or, accept the good; that is, when we are begotten again unto holiness by thy Spirit, accept, as good, what we, thus regenerated, shall be enabled to perform. So will we render the calves of our lips — That is, the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving uttered by our lips. By calling vocal devotions calves, (or bullocks, as Bishop Horsley renders the word פרים,) “is shown, that this form of supplication is prepared for those times, when animal sacrifices will be abolished, and prayer and thanksgiving will be the only offering.”14:1-3 Israel is exhorted to return unto Jehovah, from their sins and idols, by faith in his mercy, and grace through the promised Redeemer, and by diligently attending on his worship and service. Take away iniquity; lift it off as a burden we are ready to sink under, or as the stumbling-block we have often fallen over. Take it all away by a free and full forgiveness, for we cannot strike any of it off. Receive our prayer graciously. They do not say what good they seek, but refer it to God. It is not good of the world's showing, but good of God's giving. They were to consider their sins, their wants, and the remedy; and they were to take, not sacrifices, but words stating the desires of their hearts, and with them to address the Lord. The whole forms a clear description of the nature and tendency of a sinner's conversion to God through Jesus Christ. As we draw near to God by the prayer of faith, we should first beseech him to teach us what to ask. We must be earnest with him to take away all iniquity.O Israel, return - (now, quite) unto the Lord your God The heavy and scarcely interrupted tide of denunciation is now past. Billow upon billow have rolled over Ephraim and the last wave discharged itself in the overwhelming, indiscriminating destruction of the seat of its strength. As a nation, it was to cease to be. its separate existence was a curse, not a blessing; the offspring of rivalry, matured by apostasy; the parent, in its turn, of jealousy, hatred, and mutual vexation.

But while the kingdom was past and gone, the children still remained heirs of the promises made to their fathers. As then, before, Hosea declared that Israel, after having long remained solitary, should in the end "seek the Lord and David their king" Hosea 3:5, so now, after these manifold denunciations of their temporal destruction, God not only invites them to repentance, but foretells that they should be wholly converted.

Every word is full of mercy. God calls them by the name of acceptance, which he had given to their forefather, Jacob; "O Israel." He deigns to beseech them to return; "return now;" and that not "toward" but "quite up to" Himself, the unchangeable God, whose mercies and promises were as immutable as His Being. To Himself, the Unchangeable, God invites them to return; trod that, as being still their God. They had cast off their God; God had "not cast off His people whom He foreknew" Romans 11:2.

: "He entreats them not only to turn back and look toward the Lord with a partial and imperfect repentance, but not to leave off until they were come quite home to Him by a total and sincere repentance and amendment." He bids them "return quite to" Himself, the Unchangeable God, and their God. "Great is repentance," is a Jewish saying , "which maketh men to reach quite up to the Throne of glory."

For thou hast fallen by thine iniquity - "This is the first ray of divine light on the sinner. God begins by discovering to him the abyss into which he has fallen," and the way by which he fell. Their own iniquity it was, on which they had stumbled and so had fallen, powerless to rise, except through "His" call, whose "voice is with power" Psalm 29:4, and "Who giveth what He commandeth." : "Ascribe not thy calamity," He would say, "to thine own weakness, to civil dissension, to the disuse of miltary discipline, to want of wisdom in thy rulers, to the ambition and cruelty of the enemy, to reverse of fortune. These things had not gone against thee, hadst not thou gone to war with the law of thy God. Thou inflictest the deadly wound on thyself; thou destroyedst thyself. Not as fools vaunt, by fate, or fortune of war, but 'by thine iniquity hast thou fallen.' Thy remedy then is in thine own hand. 'Return to thy God. '"

: "In these words, 'by thine iniquity," he briefly conveys, that each is to ascribe to himself the iniquity of all sin, of whatsoever he has been guilty, not defending himself, as Adam did, in whom we all, Jews and Gentiles, have sinned and fallen, as the Apostle says, 'For we were by nature the children of wrath, even as others' Ephesians 2:3. By adding actual, to that original, sin, Israel and every other nation falleth. He would say then, O Israel, be thou first converted, for thou hast need of conversion; 'for thou hast fallen;" and confess this very thing, that 'thou hast fallen by thine iniquity;' for such confession is the beginning of conversion."

But wherewith should he return?


Ho 14:1-9. God's Promise of Blessing, on Their Repentance: Their Abandonment of Idolatry Foretold: The Conclusion of the Whole, the Just Shall Walk in God's Ways, but the Transgressor Shall Fall Therein.

1. fallen by thine iniquity—(Ho 5:5; 13:9).An exhortation to repentance, Hosea 14:1-3. A promise of God’s blessing, Hosea 14:4-9.

O Israel, you that are the true Israel of God, you that are the remnant amidst so great a body of incurable rebels, return; repent ye thoroughly, not hypocritically, turn ye from all your sins in which with others you have been defiled, and turn to

the Lord, the everlasting, living God, who is worthy to be worshipped and obeyed; your idols were never worth your love, but the Lord, the Fountain of being and life, is worthy of it. Turn to him as

thy God, in covenant with thee, to get pardon for past sins according to covenant promise, to renew covenant for time to come, and to engage thyself sincerely and heartily to be his people.

For thou hast fallen; thy sins against the Lord thy God have enkindled his wrath against thee, have involved thee in endless troubles, have turned thy prosperity into extreme adversity; sin hath cast thee from the height of glory to the depth of reproach and contempt, thus thou art fallen.

By thine iniquity: it is the singular number, either because all their sins were so linked together they were as one huge mass of sin, or it refers particularly to their idolatry, which is by way of eminency, and above any one other sin a falling from God, and here punished with a fall into calamities.

O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God,.... From whom they had revolted and backslidden; whose worship and service they had forsaken, and whose word and ordinances they had slighted and neglected, and had served idols, and had given into idolatry, superstition, and will worship; and are here exhorted to turn again to the Lord by repentance and reformation, to abandon their idols, and every false way, and cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart; and the rather, since he was their God; not only their Creator, Preserver, and kind Benefactor, but their God, by his special choice of them above all people; by his covenant with them; by his redemption of them; and by their profession of him; and who was still their God, and ready to receive them, upon their return to him: and a thorough return is here meant, a returning "even unto" (w), or quite up to the Lord thy God; it is not a going to him halfway, but a going quite up to his seat; falling down before him, acknowledging sin and backslidings, and having hold upon him by faith as their God, Redeemer, and Saviour: hence, from the way of speaking here used, the Jews (x) have a saying, as Kimchi observes,

"great is repentance, for it brings a man to the throne of glory;''

the imperative may be here used for the future, as some take it; and then it is a prediction of the conversion of Israel, "thou shalt return, O Israel" (y); and which was in part fulfilled in the first times of the Gospel, which met with many of the Israelites dispersed among the Gentiles, and was the means of their conversion; and will have a greater accomplishment when all Israel shall be converted and saved:

for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity; or "though thou art fallen" (z); into sin, and by it into ruin, temporal and spiritual; from a state of great prosperity and happiness, both in things civil and religious, into great adversity, and calamities of every sort; yet return, repent, consider from whence thou art fallen, and by what; or thou shall return, be recovered and restored, notwithstanding thy fall, and the low estate in which thou art. The Targum is,

"return to the fear of the Lord.''

(w) "asque ad Dominum", Montanus, Tigurine version, Oecolampadius, Schmidt, Burkius. (x) T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 86. 1.((y) "revertere", i. e. "reverteris", Schmidt. (z) "etsi corruisti", Luther apud Tarnovium.

O Israel, {a} return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.

(a) He exhorts them to repentance to avoid all these plagues, exhorting them to declare by words their obedience and repentance.

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.’Verse 1. - The foregoing part of this book abounds with denunciations of punishment; this closing chapter superabounds with promises of pardon. Wave after wave of threatened wrath had rolled over Israel and come in unto their soul; now offer after offer of grace is made to them. O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God. The invitation to return implies previous departure, or distance, or wandering from God. The return to which they are invited is expressed, not by אֶל, to or towards, but by ער, quite up to, or as far as right home; the penitent, therefore, is not merely to turn his mind or his face toward God, but to turn his face and his feet home to God; he is not to go half the way and then turn aside, or part of the way and then turn back, but the whole way; in other words, his repentance is to be complete and entire, wanting nothing, according to the state merit of the psalmist, "It is good for me to draw near to God." As punishment was threatened in case of obstinate impenitence, so mercy is promised on condition of thorough repentance. For thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. A reason is here assigned for the preceding invitation; ka-shalta is properly "thou hast stumbled," "made a false step," fallen, yet so that recovery was among future possibilities. The same thought may be included in the fact that Jehovah continues to call his erring people by the honored and honorable name of Israel, and to acknowledge himself their God. Further, many and grievous were the calamities into which by their fall they had been precipitated; neither were any to blame but themselves - their iniquity or their folly was the cause, nor was there any one to lift them up, now that they lay prostrate, save Jehovah. After referring to the desolation of Samaria and the ruthless destruction of its inhabitants, as portrayed in the last verse of the previous chapter, Jerome adds, "All Israel is invited to repentance, that he who has been debilitated, or has fallen headlong in his iniquities, may return to the physician and recover health, or that he who had fallen headlong may begin to stand." The penitent is to direct his thoughts to Jehovah; to him as Center he is attracted, and in him he finds his place of rest; nor is there ether means of recovery or source of help. Thus Kimchi says, "For thou seest that through thine iniquity thou hast fallen, therefore it behooves thee to return to Jehovah, as nothing besides can raise thee from thy fall but thy return to him." "There is none," says Aben Ezra, "can raise thee from thy fall but the Eternal alone." Hosea 4:1-5 form the first strophe, and contain, so to speak, the theme and the sum and substance of the whole of the following threatening of punishment and judgment. Hosea 4:1. "Hear the word of Jehovah, ye sons of Israel! for Jehovah has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land; for there is no truth, and no love, and no knowledge of God in the land." Israel of the ten tribes is here addressed, as Hosea 4:15 clearly shows. The Lord has a controversy with it, has to accuse and judge it (cf. Micah 6:2), because truth, love, and the knowledge of God have vanished from the land. 'Emeth and chesed are frequently associated, not merely as divine attributes, but also as human virtues. They are used here in the latter sense, as in Proverbs 3:3. "There is no 'ĕmeth, i.e., no truthfulness, either in speech or action, no one trusting another any more" (cf. Jeremiah 9:3-4). Chesed is not human love generally, but love to inferiors, and to those who need help or compassionate love. Truth and love are mutually conditions, the one of the other. "Truth cannot be sustained without mercy; and mercy without truth makes men negligent; so that the one ought to be mingled with the other" (Jerome). They both have their roots in the knowledge of God, of which they are the fruit (Jeremiah 22:16; Isaiah 11:9); for the knowledge of God is not merely "an acquaintance with His nature and will" (Hitzig), but knowledge of the love, faithfulness, and compassion of God, resting upon the experience of the heart. Such knowledge not only produces fear of God, but also love and truthfulness towards brethren (cf. Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12.). Where this is wanting, injustice gains the upper hand.
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