Hosea 14:1, 2
O Israel, return to the LORD your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.
This chapter stands out in vivid contrast from much that precedes it. The denunciation of threats is over, and now Hosea turns to tender pleading with the godless. The change is like that which we see sometimes during a thunderstorm. The clouds gather, the wind sinks into a solemn silence, then the thunder rolls and crashes overhead, and men's hearts fail them for fear. But suddenly there is a lull, the clouds break, and, as a burst of sunshine lights up the earth, the rainbow of God's faithfulness and goodness is seen. With such a sudden and sublime transition does Hosea pass here from storm to calm, from denunciation to pleading. The prophet is addressing a nation which, as such, could not be saved. The kingdom of Israel was to be hopelessly destroyed. But the children were still "heirs of the promises," and, while the corporate society to which they belonged would be swept away, they themselves might return to their God. There is no nation so evil but that in it some may work righteousness, no family so godless but that some of its members may be loyal to Christ. Circumstances never necessitate the ruin of a soul. The desolation of society has been historically the means of saving what is best in it; e.g. if in the reign of Charles I. the unscrupulous Buckingham had been successful in his foreign policy, the result would have been the establishment of a tyranny in England. Our national defeats just then were the cause of our constitutional salvation; men being roused to a consciousness of wrongdoing by the consequences of wrong-doing. So with Israel. The destruction of Israel seemed to the heathen the failure of Jehovah's purpose; but it was the means of salvation to many who heard and obeyed in the misery of exile, as they would not have heard and obeyed in prosperity, the exhortation, "O Israel, return unto the Lord." A world-wide truth was taught by our Lord when he described the prodigal as thinking of the father's home, when he "had spent all," and famine was in the land, so that "he began to be in want." Our text is God's message to such a one.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE SINNER.
1. A condition of estrangement. Implied in "return." 0f those addressed by Hoses, some had once joined in Jehovah's worship, but had forsaken it, while others had been taken as children to the altars of idols. These two classes are represented still. There are those who have never known God; to them he is no more than the emperor of a distant land might be, the ruler of others, one to be heard and read of, but nothing more. There are also those whose hearts were once tender, who were nominally on the side of the Church, to whom the Lord says, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." Apply the text to each.
2. A condition of moral degradation. "Fallen."
(1) Godlessness is itself an inward degradation. The godless man has "fallen" below what he might have been, as a ruler of himself and a worshipper of God. He has fallen from the likeness and from the favor of God.
(2) It leads to moral degradation; so that ultimately courage, purity, and reverence in the outward life disappear. "Iniquity," i.e. an inward tendency to evil, does for the character what the sea does for the cliff, undermining it secretly, till unexpectedly it falls.
3. A condition of self-destructiveness. "Thine iniquity." Not Adam's transgression, not thy father's neglect or evil example, not the associations of life, but "thine own iniquity," ruins thee. Therefore, with a sense of weakness and guilt, let us return to the Lord, saying, "I have sinned against Heaven," etc.; "God be merciful to me a sinner."
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF HIS RETURN.
1. Sincerity, or thoroughness. The Pharisees were condemned for want of it. All are rejected of whom God can say, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth... but their heart is far from me," The Hebrew signifies, "Return right up to thy God." You are not to stop at self-reformation or at sentimental feeling, but to return "right up to" God, and stand face to face with him. To be nearly saved is to be altogether lost.
2. Confession. "Take with you words." Words are cheap enough. It is well that no costly sacrifice is required, but only "words," which the poorest and most illiterate can utter. Words are worthless in themselves, but they have true value when they come from an honest and good heart. If a child who has done wrong is shut up alone to think over his fault, he knows that all he has to say is, "I'm sorry." It is easy enough to say the words; yet he sits there, proud and defiant, until better thoughts come to him; and when at last he falters out "I'm sorry," it is enough to win him reconciliation. The "words ' are nothing, but they mean much, for they involve self-conquest and humiliation. That is the meaning of the exhortation to the penitent. "Take with you words."
(1) "Take away all iniquity." This implies that only God can do so. The prayer involves much. We want not only the consciousness of sin or the punishment of sin removed, but the "iniquity" itself taken away. The true penitent does not say, "Take away the sins that disgrace me, but spare those by which I make money," or, "Destroy my lusts, but let ambition and pride remain." Popular sins, pet sins, as well as vile sins, are included in the words, "Take away all iniquity."
(2) "And receive us graciously;" literally, "receive good." The "good" we offer God comes from himself, so that we must say of all right desire and true thought and Christian service, "Of thine own have we given thee." He can only cast out evil by pouting in good. He leaves no heart empty, but gives the new love to keep out, as well as to cast out, the old. Yet even the good he gives is so affected by our imperfections that, casting ourselves upon his condescension and mercy, we need to pray, "Receive good."
(1) To have done with the old sins. "Asshur shall not save us," etc. This is an abjuration of Israel's three sins:
(a) trust in man (Asshur);
(b) trust in self (horses, equivalent to military power);
(c) trust in idols.
These have their modern counterparts, when we trust
(a) in the influence of others to get us on in life;
(b) in our physical or intellectual power;
(c) in our wealth and position, instead of in God.
(2) To offer perpetual thanksgiving. "So will we render the calves of our lips." The meaning of the phrase is - when we have received pardon and conquest of sin, "we will praise thee with joyful lips." What more noble than praise, such as the redeemed render! what more natural, when we remember the goodness of God! what more helpful to others than the songs which of old caused the glory of God to fill the house of the Lord! "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord," etc.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO HIS OBEDIENCE.
1. It is found in the fatherliness o God. Ver. 3: "For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." He is "thy God," to whom thou owest obedience; who has girded thee, though thou hast not known him; and who now sees thee a great way off, and has compassion on thee. When the dove found no rest for her foot in a dark and desolate world, she returned to the ark; nor had she to flutter outside it in vain. Noah saw her, and put out his hand and "took her in unto him into the ark." If Noah did that for a poor tired bird, what will not God do for his own tired child?
2. They are found in the promises of God. Ver. 4: "I will heal their backsliding," etc. He pledges himself to cure our waywardness and fickleness, and he is faithful. Therefore, though a good reputation has been lost, a pious ancestry disgraced, and holy promises broken, yet be encouraged to obey the loving exhortation, "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God." - A.R.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.