THE WAY BACK HOME
1. A book rich in meaning for Christians: Hosea.
a. Explaining the attitude of Christ (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Hos. 6:6)
b. Understanding the church as a people (1 Pet. 2:10; Rom. 9:25-26; Hos. 1:9; 2:23)
c. Appreciating God’s kind of love – his covenant love, his steadfast love. (I wonder if the Lord’s story of the prodigal son is not based on the message of Hosea.)
2. A significant value of Hosea’s message: what it means for those who belong to God to return to him.
a. Note that we are speaking of people who are in covenant relationship with God, but wander from him and are wayward.
b. At Mt. Sinai, God entered into a covenant with Israel, sealed by blood, and afterward those who were born into that nation were God’s people.
c. But in the Christian age, when individuals are baptized into Christ they are redeemed by his blood and he adds them to his covenant people. What if they then wander? What is the way home? The three “return” sayings in our text will help us answer our question.
1. “Return ... to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity,” 14:1.
a. The obvious reality: a people away from their God.
i. Dealt faithlessly with him by transgressing his covenant (6:7; 8:1)
ii. Responded to his kindness with disgraceful idolatry
(1) 10:1-2, “...The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built;...Their heart is false...”
(2) 8:4-6, “...With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. I have spurned your calf, O Samaria...For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not from God...”
iii. Experiencing moral and social disaster. You can’t get God wrong and life right! 4:1-3 describes their condition: “...There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore, the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish...”
b. The striking thing: the portrayal of both the ugliness of their faithlessness and the hurt it causes God.
i. A love like a morning cloud (6:4)
ii. Betrayal like an unfaithful wife who gives her love to another man (1:2-3, 6, 8-9; 3:1-2)
(1) The husband, who married her even when she had not deserved his love, is crushed with heartbreak.
(2) Three children are now in his care, but he can’t be sure two of them are his.
(3) Finally, when years have passed and her other lover has no more use for her, she is sold at the slave market for the cut-rate price of an injured slave. And who buys her? Her heart-broken husband!
iii. Rejection like a child ungrateful for a father’s love (11:1-4, 8-9)
(1) He took them up by their arms, taught them to walk, led them with kindness and with the bands of love, eased their burdens, and bent down to feed them.
(2) But they were bent only on turning away from him! The more he called his son, the more they went away from him to give their affection and devotion to idols.
(3) Still, the Father cries, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim?...” He goes on loving!
c. The pressing need: return to God, which they seem incapable of doing.
i. 5:15 – God says, “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and...earnestly seek me.”
ii. 6:3 – The prophet says, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
iii. 5:4 – But the reality is this: “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do not know the Lord.” How can such a people ever do what they need most to do: return wholeheartedly to the God who loves them?
2. “Take with you words, and return to the LORD; say to him...,” 14:2-3. The wandering people can’t merely say, “Here I am. I return.” They have to intentionally take words with them that enact the return and show it to be genuine.
a. A word of humble need: “Take away all iniquity” (v. 2b).
i. “All” has the emphasis, and “please” is implied. These words are a confession that the faithlessness is there, and a plea for God to remove it by his grace, and an indication of humble submission to him.
ii. “I know my iniquity is real. It is my fault. It stands in the way of my return. I cast myself on your mercy. Please remove all my sins and make me yours again.”
iii. These are words spoken in common by erring but penitent children of God, whenever they have lived.
(1) Psalm 51:1-3
(2) Luke 15:18-19
(3) Acts 8:22
b. A word of intended devotion: “Accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips” (v. 2c).
i. A principle God gave to his people is, “None shall appear before me empty...” (Ex. 23:15).
ii. If the confession just mentioned may be compared to the sin-offering, the “calves of our lips” referred to here would represent thank-offerings for the peace God would create by removing the iniquity.
(1) Gracious acceptance by God was to be accompanied by a commitment to follow through on promises made to him.
(2) This is realistic and necessary because there would, of course, be no real returning to the LORD without an intention like this.
iii. He did not want calves like they had set up at Dan and Bethel. He did not need the bulls that were sacrificed under the law – the people did! What pleases God is his humble and grateful people sincerely praising him with the fruit of their lips (Ps. 69:30-31; Heb. 13:15, which may be a reference to our “word” here in Hosea).
c. A word of exclusive loyalty: “Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses” (v. 3a).
i. In other words, say: “We will rely truly on you. Our loyalty to you will be such that we will quit shopping around for a better deal. We will no longer try to make some other covenant with someone else who might deliver us. Neither will we depend on our own might. You will be our strength.”
ii. True repentance means abandoning known sin. In time of danger, Israel had sent to Assyria, hoping the great king would save them, but he was not able (5:13). Ephraim had hired lovers, allies who could not be depended upon (8:9). They had also trusted in their own way, and in the multitude of their warriors (10:13).
iii. But they Lord GOD brought them back to reality: “Besides me there is no savior” (13:4). In view of this truth, a real return to him must be a renewal or exclusive covenant loyalty.
d. A word of genuine submission: “And we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands” (v. 3b).
i. “Take with you words that declare an end of trying to remake God in the image you think he should be; words that recognize him as the Creator and yourselves as the creatures, him as the Father and yourselves as the children.”
ii. The besetting evil of Israel was the sin of Jeroboam, who had set up images of calves at Bethel and Dan. He had the people call on them as the LORD, according to his own instructions instead of God’s.
iii. The people were trembling before hand-made gods, with man-appointed priests, according to human-originated precepts (10:5; 5:11). Real return to God requires a resolve to stop such things and to obey him.
e. A word of complete trust: “In you the orphan finds mercy” (v. 3c).
i. These are words of confidence in God and trust in the compassionate kindness of God.
ii. They honor him because they indicate a knowledge of who he really is. The Father-love of God for his adopted children can be safely counted on and returned to (cf. Rom. 8:15, 17).
iii. Returning to him in loyal, exclusive, submission and obedience is not a bitter defeat one endures as a victim of his greatness. It is a blessed privilege to be loved and ruled by the God of heaven!
3. “They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow,” 14:4-7. For nothing more than returning from disaster, the orphaned people find the mercy they require. God responds to their words like the father of the prodigal in Luke 15:20-22. What a change!
a. How God deals with his people who return with these words
i. “I will heal their apostasy” (v. 4a).
ii. “I will love them freely” (v. 4b).
iii. “I will be like the dew” to them (v. 5a).
b. What returned people become with God’s blessing
i. Attractive like the blossom of the lily, or the beauty of the olive, or the fragrance of the mountains (v. 5b; 6b).
ii. Stable like the trees of Lebanon (v. 5c-6a).
iii. Useful like the flourishing grain or the vine (v. 7b).
1. A contrast calls for a choice: under which tree will we seek shade?
a. 4:13 – “They sacrifice ... under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good.”
b. 14:7, 8 – “They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow .... I am like an evergreen cypress...”
2. “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (Hosea 12:6).