O Israel, return to the LORD your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.
The prophecy does not close without comforting glimpses into the future, and sweet words of promise. The opening verses of this section invite the nation to repentance. They put a prayer into the people's lips with which to return to God.
I. THE INVITATION. (Ver. 1.) The door of mercy stands open to Israel. But the invitation addressed to the ancient people is equally, in Christ, addressed to every sinner. Consider, accordingly:
1. The condition in which the sinner is found. "Fallen by thine iniquity." "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). We have all fallen by our iniquity.
(1) Fallen from the state in which we were created.
(2) Fallen out of the Divine favor.
(3) Fallen into wretchedness, guilt, discord with self, pollution, bondage.
(4) Fallen - in some cases - under heavy strokes of the Divine anger.
We have so fallen that we cannot raise ourselves up again.
2. To whom the sinner is pointed. "The Lord thy God." Israel's God and ours. God is our God, as being
(1) our Maker;
(2) our Sustainer;
(3) our moral Ruler;
(4) our Savior.
He is the God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord. He gives us in the promises of the gospel a claim upon himself. He is ours in offer, and will be ours in fact, if only we will receive him. There is no Savior beside him (Hosea 13:4), and no other is needed. He alone is all-sufficient.
3. The invitation given to the sinner. "0 Israel, return unto the Lord thy God." God might command, but he condescends to invite, to entreat (2 Corinthians 5:20). He asks us to return to him. He can ask no less, for without penitent return, salvation is impossible. His mercy is seen in this, that he asks no more - no sacrifices, no price, no probationary curriculum, no works of the Law. But the return must be sincere, not with the body, but with the mind, the affections, the will.
II. THE PRAYER. (Ver. 2.) The penitent, resolved on returning to God, is counseled to take with him "words." The inward penitence is to express itself outwardly. It is to utter itself in prayer. This is the only sacrifice God will require. The prayer with which we are to come is:
1. Prayer for forgiveness. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity." Forgiveness is the first need of our nature. Till sin is forgiven us we can have no peace with God, we cannot be visited by his love or made partakers of his Spirit. Forgiveness at once precedes, and is a pledge of, the communication of every other blessing. It is, therefore, the thing we first ask lot We are to confess sin and to seek the pardon of it (1 John 1:9).
2. The prayer of uprightness. "Accept what is good" - for thus the second clause must be rendered. The language is not that of self-righteousness, but of sincere motive. The penitent knows his unworthiness, but is conscious at the same time that his prayer no longer proceeds from feigned lips (Psalm 17:1); that his spirit is truly contrite; that there is some good thing "in his heart towards the Lord God" (1 Kings 13:14). He recognizes this:
(1) As a fruit of Divine grace in the soul - therefore a pledge of acceptance. God, who by his Spirit draws the sinner to himself, will not east him off when he comes (John 6:37, 44, 45).
(2) As essential to forgiveness. For though it is God's mercy, not our own righteousness, that saves us, it is yet essential to acceptance that our spirit, in returning to God, be without guile (Psalm 32:2; Psalm 51:4, 6). Coming to God with upright intent, and conscious that we do so, it is natural that we should appeal to this in prayer.
3. Prayer in order to praise. "So will we render the calves of our lips." Salvation carries with it the obligation to consecration (Romans 12:1). The penitent has no other desire than now to live to God, rendering to him spiritual sacrifices. He asks God to open his lips (by forgiveness), that he may thereafter show forth God's praise (Psalm 51:15). We render to God "the calves of our lips"
(1) in acknowledgment of him;
(2) in thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15);
(3) in praises (Psalm 40:3; Psalm 50:23);
(4) in confession of him before men.
III. THE VOW. (Ver. 5.) With prayer is connected a solemn vow. Israel renounces all sinful trusts, and looks to God only. He renounces:
1. Trust in man. "Asshur shall not save us." The world is a poor savior. It promises much, but gives little. Its favor is deceitful. Its will to help is even more limited than its power. But its power is not great. It cannot save when God contends with us. It must leave us to shift for ourselves at death. It has no salvation for the soul - for eternity.
2. Trust in his own strength. "We will not ride upon horses." Israel had multiplied horses. He put trust in them for his deliverance. This trust, with every other of a similar kind, he now renounced. Neither in war, nor in peace, nor in anything he did, would he exalt himself as independent of God. He would be humble.
3. Trust in idols. "Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods." Thus, in succession, Israel renounced, as Christians would say, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Every heart not serving God has its idol - its something which it puts in God's place. This it now renounces, and gives him all the glory. The prayer concludes with an appeal to the Divine pity. "For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." The soul without God is as one orphaned. In penitence it seeks the pity of him who compassionates the fatherless. God feels this pity for his alienated children. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.