Return to God: its Beginnings
Hosea 14:1-3
O Israel, return to the LORD your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.

The long and terrible storm of denunciation is now at last over; the wrath-clouds roll away, and the sunshine of the Divine love bursts forth with healing in its wings. Beyond all the hurly-burly of the tempest sent as the punishment of sin, the prophet discerns the paternal tenderness and the loving patience of the God of Israel. So he begins this closing chapter of his book with a last tender entreaty to return to him who "sitteth upon the flood," and who "will bless his people with peace." How changed the prophet's style, in this final strophe, from what it is in most of the preceding! When denouncing Ephraim's sin and doom Hoses is obscure, abrupt, rugged, and volcanic; but in Hosea 14. all is pellucid and restful and full of beauty. The whirlwind and the earthquake and the fire have given place to the still small voice. The subject in these opening verses is - The beginnings of spiritual revival. In its rise there are three stages.

I. THE LORD BESEECHING. (Ver. 1.) As applied to Israel, the exhortation has for its background all the judgments which have been threatened throughout the Book. And since these words were written Israel "has fallen" indeed. The ten tribes were soon carried into Assyria; Judah was by-and-by driven away to weep beside the rivers of Babylon; regained Jerusalem was at length fiercely overthrown by the Romans; and for eighteen centuries now the Jews have been dispersed over the wide world, and exposed to reproach and persecution and cruelty. All this has been the punishment of Israel's own "iniquity" - the political schism, the calf-worship, the Baalism, the godless pride, the unblushing immorality, and at last the rejection and murder of the Son of God. Jehovah could not avoid punishing; he could not but allow the apostate nation to lie under its doom during centuries and millenniums; but all the while the Divine heart is saying, "O Israel, return!" How wonderful that the eternal God should condescend to entreat men to repent! But "the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations" (Psalm 100:5). If, however, there is to be salvation, there must be repentance, and all true repentance takes its rise in the call of God's Spirit. The Lord seeks the sinner with his grace before the sinner can seek him. And thus "Return unto the Lord" is the burden of the entire revelation of the Bible; it is the key-note of all Hebrew prophecy, as of all New Testament gospel. Not only so, but in this passage God also condescends to direct the people as to the thoughts and words" with which they may acceptably approach him in complying with his urgent entreaty (vers. 2, 8). How different all this from "the manner of man"!

II. THE PENITENT PRAYING. (Ver. 2.) This verse and ver. 3 form a sort of "Lord's Prayer" for backsliders. God desires no longer the animal sacrifices of the Law; indeed, the twelve tribes cannot in their exile offer any, for the temple-worship has now ceased. But he requires "words which shall be the evidence of a broken and a contrite heart." Even these, however, he here provides for his penitent children. "What need God words? He knows our hearts before we speak unto him. It is true, God needs no words; but we do, to stir up our hearts and affections" (Sibbes). Although the Lord does not now demand sacrifices, the kind of" words" which he asks recalls to our minds the three principal forms of sacrifice ordained by the Levitical Law, viz. the propitiatory, the dedicatory, and the eucharistic, represented respectively by the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering. In a true return to God there will be:

1. Words of confession. "Take away all iniquity." A child who has done wrong recovers his father's favor so soon as he confesses his fault; so Jehovah's children, who have made themselves "fatherless' by their apostasy, take the first step in the direction of" finding mercy ' when they "return up to" (ver. 1) him with words of repentance. The penitent draws near with the leper's confession, "Unclean! Unclean!" and with the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." His first and deepest need is pardon; he wants mercy for the past, and grace to help for the future. He prays to be delivered from the power of evil; and pleads, in doing so, the merit of Jesus Christ as his Sin Offering.

2. Words of dedication. "Receive us graciously;" literally, "receive good." The barrier of sin being removed through faith in the atonement, the next step in revival is the presentation of the person "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God" (Romans 12:1). It is true that of ourselves we have no good which we can offer; but we are to give to the Lord of his own. The grace which he bestows upon us we are to employ in his service and for his glory. The Christian dedicates his renewed humanity, in body and soul, to his Redeemer (Micah 6:6-8).

3. Words of thanksgiving. "So will we render the calves of our lips," i.e. we shall offer our lips as a peace offering, instead of calves. The praise of a redeemed heart is an acceptable sacrifice, and "shall please the Lord better than a bullock that hath horns and hoots" (Psalm 69:31). The soul that has been forgiven much loves much, and should therefore overflow with thanksgiving and praise (Hebrews 13:15). Such are the three sorts of "words" which God expects from all who "return" to him. He wants words of confession like those of Psalm 51.; of self-dedication, like those of Psalm 116.; of thanksgiving, like those of Psalm 103. And, now that Christ has come, these are "the sacrifices of God," alike for the sons of Israel and for sinners of the Gentiles.

III. THE PENITENT RENOUNCING CREATURE-CONFIDENCES. (Ver. 3.) After the threefold word-sacrifice, comes the promise of practical amendment and reformation. Israel resolves to forsake his great national sins, viz. his habit of looking for help to Assyria, his reliance upon the cavalry of Egypt or other warlike strength, and his idolatry of Baal and the calves. The people will show the sincerity of their conversion by endeavors after new obedience. They will realize that away from God they are helpless orphans; and, in all their approaches to him, appeal to his "mercy "as the "Father of the fatherless," This is just what every sinner must do in returning to the Lord. We all have Asshurs and horses and idols which we must abjure. If we will "return quite up to Jehovah our God" (ver. 1) we must put away confidence in every creature-help, and in any defense which is our own handiwork. We may have been "glued to idols" (Hosea 4:17); but we must at any cost tear them out of our hearts, even although the soul should seem to be rent asunder in the process. For true conversion implies perfect union to the Lord Jesus Christ, perpetual communion with the Holy Spirit, and persevering progress in the ways of holiness. We obey "the first and great commandment," and fulfill the chief end of our being, when we choose Jehovah as the Portion of our souls, and give him our supreme and constant and most tender love.


1. The mercy of God to sinners is untiring and indestructible (ver. 1).

2. Now that Christ has died as our Sin Offering, we plead his atonement as the ground on which we ask the Lord to "take away all iniquity" (ver. 2).

3. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," and contrition always manifests itself in prayer (ver. 2).

4. To obey is better than sacrifice" (ver. 3).

5. The penitent sinner and the backsliding believer have this assuring motive to induce them to return to God, that, however they may be scorned by their fellow-men, they are sure of a warm welcome from him who is the "Father of the fatherless." - C.J.

Parallel Verses
KJV: O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.

WEB: Israel, return to Yahweh your God; for you have fallen because of your sin.

Repentance, or Reformation
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