O Israel, return to the LORD your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity.
O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God, etc. "After the prophet has set before the sinful nation in various ways its own guilt, and the punishment that awaits it, viz. the destruction of the kingdom, he concludes his addresses with a call to thorough conversion to the Lord, and the promise that the Lord will bestow his grace once more upon those who turn to him, and will bless them abundantly" (Delitzsch). The subject of these words is Repentance; or, the greatest reformation. Reformation is a subject on which men are never tired of talking: it is the grand text of the demagogue, as well as the leading purpose of the philanthropist. There are various kinds of reformation. There is the doctrinal reformation - reformation in creed, the renunciation of one set of opinions and the adoption of another. There is the institutional reformation - reformation in political, in ecclesiastical, and in social laws. There is the reformation in external character - involving the renunciation of old habits and the formation of new ones. But all such reformations are of little, if any worth, apart from the moral reformation - a reformation in the leading spirit and controlling dispositions of the soul, a reformation involving a thorough change of heart. This is the only reformation worth working for. In these verses we have several things worth notice in relation to it.
I. ITS NATURE AND METHOD INDICATED.
1. Its nature. "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God." The description contained in the first and third verses of this reformation implies three things.
(1) That the soul is away from God. Truly the moral heart of humanity is far gone from the great Father. The souls of men are in the "far country" of sin. "Fallen by thine iniquity." It has gone down from the high hills of spiritual purity and Divine communion.
(2) The renunciation of all dependence upon creatures. "Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses." This means - We will not trust to Asshur - that is, Assyria - for help. Nor will we ride upon horses - court friendship with Egypt from whence they are fetched. When danger comes, we will trust in God, and him only. Moral reformation involves all this. All dependence on anything short of God for salvation is given up - science, philosophy, ritualism, priesthood, shall not save us.
(3) Utter abandonment of all idols. "Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods. For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy."
2. Its method. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord." Why take words to God?
(1) Not because words can inform him of anything of which he is ignorant. With words we enlighten men; but Omniscience knows all connected with us - all that we are, have been, and shall be, through all the ages of the future.
(2) Not because words can induce him to be more kind to us than he is. With words we persuade men to grant us our requests; but our words can never dispose him to do what he has not been always ready to accomplish. Words can never make him more kind and merciful than he has ever been. Why, then, use words? Because words relieve our own spirits; words aid our own devotions. This, then, is the method - go to God at once, and pour out your souls before him. Before him resolve, "So will we render the calves of our lips." And before him pray. Pray for two things.
(a) His forgiveness. "Take away all sin."
(b) His acceptance. "Receive us graciously"
II. ITS CAUSE AND BLESSEDNESS SPECIFIED.
1. Its cause. God. "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely .... I will be as the dew." All reformation is brought about by his agency. I will act upon the soul silently, penetratingly, revivifying, "as the dew." All true reformation brings with it God's silent but effective agency.
2. Its blessedness.
(1) Health. "I will heal their backsliding." The soul is diseased. God is its great Physician.
(2) Divine favor. "I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him." The auger with which their guilty consciences invested him is removed as a thick cloud from the sky of their soul, and it glows in the sunshine of their love.
(3) Growth. "He shall grow as the lily."
(a) The growth is connected with beauty. Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like it.
(b) Its growth is connected with strength. "Cast forth his roots as Lebanon." How deeply did the roots of the cedar in Lebanon strike into the earth! and how firm their grasp! The storms of centuries could not remove them.
(c) Its growth is connected with expansiveness. "His branches shall spread." Widely grew the branches of those old cedars, offering to the traveler a cooling shade from the sun and a shelter from the tempest. How a divinely formed soul expands! It outgrows the boundaries of sects and the limits of creeds. Its sympathies become world-wide.
(d) Its growth is connected with fragrance. "His beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon." Sweet was the aroma that was swept by the wind over those old hills. How delectable the fragrance of a holy life!
(e) Its growth is connected with social usefulness. It shall offer protection to men. "They that dwell under his shadow shall return." Where car we flee in distress but to the sympathy and love of the good? Not only protection, but beneficent progress. "They shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine." - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.