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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Hosea 14

 

 

Verse 1

COME BACK! COME BACK!

Hosea 14:1

All sin is departing from God. Holiness is living near to God. The first thing a sinner has got to do is to return. Repentance is returning to God. How is a sinner to return? God in His infinite mercy and condescension has given to us a form of prayer, an inspired litany of repentance—which may be used by every repentant sinner. There are five petitions in this inspired litany of repentance.

I. Take away all iniquity.—The first thing is deliverance from sin, not from punishment. Though all desire to escape punishment, all do not wish to be freed from sin. Take away all iniquity. Some are apt to pray, Take away all iniquity—except that trick of trade, that habit of mine, that friendship. Others, like Augustine, pray, Lord save me—but not yet. We cannot break away from sin of ourselves. God can help us to do it. He can take it away, and He will, if we come with this petition to Him in sincerity.

II. Receive us graciously.—Receive us into Thy favour. We are in disgrace. In disgrace with God, what wretchedness it brings! A mother who had great power in her eye, looked her disapproval of some wrong act. ‘Mother,’ said her child, ‘punish me, but don’t look at me like that.’ What kind of sinners said this prayer? (see Hosea 4). How can God receive us graciously? Hosea does not tell us, but St. Paul does. ‘He hath made Him to be sin for us Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’ For Christ’s sake He receives us graciously.

III. So will we render the calves of our lips.—Calves of our lips means sacrifices of our lips. ‘As long as we live we will praise Thy Name.’ The sinner does not merely wish to get off, but to live to this praise. If only sin is forgiven, he will praise God as long as he lives.

IV. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses, etc.—This, rendered in twentieth century language, means, We will renounce all trust in an arm of flesh. We must not trust to anything we can do ourselves. So many trust in what they can do, instead of Christ. Prayers, tears, religious ordinances, won’t save us.

‘Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Thy Cross I cling.’

V. For in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.—This is a beautiful finish to the prayer. I’m your Father. Who so fatherless as he who has gone away from God! Though the prodigal son, I’m your Father. ‘When his father saw him he had compassion upon him, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.’ To all who use this litany of repentance, the promise is given, ‘I will heal their back-sliding. I will love them freely, for Mine anger is turned away from him.’


Verse 2

CHRISTIAN SACRIFICES

‘So will we render the calves of our lips.’

Hosea 14:2

There is but One Priest Who in His own right can approach God; but One Mediator, Who can plead His own goodness; and so there is but One propitiatory, expiatory sacrifice, even ‘the One full, perfect, and sufficient Sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction,’ once made upon the Cross, for the sins of the whole world. There never has been, there never will be, any other. Except for this one and only Atonement, nothing we could say, think, or do, would be acceptable to God; but for this we should remain, as we were born, an accursed race.

But though this be true, yet with respect to those who rely on the intercession of that one great Priest, and, by faith, plead and apply to their souls the merits of that One expiatory sacrifice, the Spirit teaches us that they render unto God acceptable service; God for Christ’s sake will permit them to approach Him, and accept a service at their hands. And this gives us the idea of a sacrifice. For a sacrifice is something presented to God, in behalf of man, by persons Divinely appointed to ‘offer gifts unto the Lord.’ In this sense, the ‘blood of bulls and of goats,’ under the law, became a typical sacrifice; and, under the Gospel, the Eucharist is thus designated, being a commemorative sacrifice. But according to Scripture, public worship is also a sacrifice, and it is very essential to represent it as such.

I. This doctrine is directly implied in the text by a figure of speech.—As calves were offered in sacrifice, so are the lips of worshippers to be as calves; they are to offer to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (Amos 4:5; Hebrews 13:15). St. Peter, speaking of the Christian Church, says: ‘Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5). He cannot here refer to the Eucharist, because he is addressing Christians generally as a holy priesthood, and the celebration of the Eucharist requires the intervention of a special order of men separated from among the general body of believers; he must, therefore, refer to the service of public or common prayer, which he describes as a spiritual sacrifice.

II. The sacrifice offered in public worship is the sacrifice of prayer and praise.—It is offered in each congregation for the Church universal, for the Church of the province, for the Church of the diocese, more especially for the Church of the parish, and for all the members of the same; it is offered by the assembled worshippers, being baptized persons, ‘continuing steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’ (Acts 2:42). Such persons are for this purpose ‘an holy Priesthood,’ appointed to offer up these ‘spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 5:9-10). As certain believers are elected from their brethren, and ordained to be priests for the higher service of the Holy Eucharist, and that they may bless the people in the Name of Him Whose ministers they are; so are the members of the Church, as their name denotes (Ecclesia), a people ‘called out’ of mankind, to act as priests in the general sacrifice of Christian worship.

Illustration

‘David tells us that the service God wants is the opening of the lips, that the mouth may show forth God’s praise. The sacrifices which please Him are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. God wants our lips. Praise is a very important part of religion.’


Verse 3

THE ORPHAN’S GOD

‘The fatherless findeth mercy.’

Hosea 14:3

This description of the pity and benignity of God is literally true. And the literal truth is suggestive of a wider sense in which the words may be employed, and a glorious principle of the Divine government precious to God’s people in every age. Israel might well renounce all other confidence in order to trust in Jehovah, in whom the very fatherless among the children of men find mercy.

I. The fact here asserted concerning the compassion of God revealed to orphans.—(1) The privations of the fatherless are many; they are without the guardianship, the bounty, the guidance, the affection of him who is most suited to watch over their childhood and youth. (2) The dangers of the fatherless are many; they are exposed to the designs of the crafty, and to the ill-treatment of the cruel. (3) God in many ways shows mercy to orphans. He raises up friends to care for them and to protect them. He opens up before them careers of usefulness and honour. He interposes often in a signal manner upon their behalf.

II. The larger fact concerning the spiritual history of mankind which these words suggest.—(1) By disobedience and rebellion sinful men have thrown off the Divine Father’s authority, have forfeited all claims to His regard, and have done their best to render themselves ‘fatherless’ in God’s universe. (2) The spiritual destitution and danger thus incurred have aroused the compassion of God’s heart, and have prompted His paternal interposition. Thus the gift of Christ, the outpouring of the Spirit, the means of grace appointed in the Church, are all instances of the Father’s mercy, and prove His infinite pity and His adopting love. O, for the spirit of sons, that we may cry, Abba, Father!


Verse 4

BACKSLIDING AND ITS CURE

‘I will heal their backsliding.’

Hosea 14:4

In the English Bible the word ‘backsliding’ is found fifteen times, and represents in English several words in the original, even in the same writer. Backsliding means a wearying of God’s yoke, an attempt to get free from it wholly or in part, and a turning from the straight path, from dislike of its dullness or steepness, or from the existence of counter attractions.

There are many sensitive souls who readily accuse themselves of this sin, and whose peace is marred, and their prayers hindered by false notions of the marks of backsliding. We shall try to help these.

I. Backsliding is not that almost inevitable alteration in feeling which comes to many Christian people who have been for a good many years following the Divine Master, and who find now less warmth in their emotions of fear, hope, love, and joy.—There is something in the laws of our nature which forbids repeated impressions to be felt as strongly as they were at first. We need not enter largely into the subject, but may perhaps be allowed to refer to a chapter on Feeling and Will, in ‘Spiritual Life in its Advancing Stages.’ When any believer in the Lord Jesus laments the change from an ardent to an unimpassioned state of soul, and longs for his old feelings, he will do well to hesitate before he pronounces this change to be due to backsliding. It is by other signs that the sin is to be known. Habit strengthens principle, but seems to blunt feeling. The seat of backsliding (see Hosea 4:16) is not in the feelings, but in the will.

II. Backsliding is not that depression about spiritual matters, that so-called ‘hiding of God’s Face” which often accompanies ill-health, or physical and mental weariness.—A preacher of a mission whose whole powers of body, mind, and spirit have been strained for several weeks, frequently suffers afterwards from a torpidity of soul, in which he seems little able to realize the comfort of the truths he has been so earnestly setting forth to others. This, however, must be set down to bodily exhaustion, and the want of nerve-rest. A couple of days in bed, with all trying subjects and letters kept from him, may do him much good.

III. Backsliding has its causes and its signs.—The causes are generally the gradual yielding to temptation to relax watchfulness, shorten prayer, indulge the body, read misleading books, or cultivate unspiritual friendships. And it is easy to see how these things which are causes, may also be used as marks of backsliding. A very common mark is an increasing dislike to spiritual conversation, and still more to spiritual effort for the reclaiming of sinners.

The pleasures of life lie many of them just on the border line between good and evil. Some pleasures are so wholly pure, some so decidedly sinful that they need not enter into discussion; but the majority of our pleasures are just of the kind that you cannot decisively say that you may or may not innocently follow them without restraint. Now it is here that Satan finds his cruel advantage. The bringing us into contact with the ungodly in ‘innocent’ pleasures—all tend to draw the cloud of unspirituality over the heart, and so these ‘harmless things’ shut out the light of the sun; a little hesitation is felt in going straight from them to prayer; a day or two without prayer passes, and backsliding, perhaps for weeks, or months, is the result.

But sometimes Satan is bolder. Counting on his ally in our own breasts, ‘for the infection of nature doth remain even in them that are regenerate,’ he is able to blind those who are not very watchful indeed, as to the danger of some course of action. In matters of the affections this often happens. Many young Christians, become backsliders for years, or for life, from allowing their affections to fix on one who has no share with them in the Divine Love.

Money matters often spoil promising careers. Either the passion for getting, the lust of hoarding, the dislike of giving, the reluctance to pay debts quickly, or worse still, some untrustworthiness about the money of others, has crept in little by little on once spiritual persons; and when this is the case, farewell to all religious life!

Self-dependence, the removing of the soul’s full trust from Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit’s power, is a fruitful spiritual source of backsliding. Was not this the cause of St. Peter’s fall? The marks of this may not be visible in any wrong acts, but they will be soon seen in the lowered spiritual tone, and the growth of pride and self-satisfaction; or in some cases, by a general dissatisfaction and discontent. For who can be happy who has removed his confidence from Jesus, and fixed it on himself?

Archdeacon G. R. Wynne.

Illustration

‘Only God can heal backsliding. Nature knows nothing about forgiveness. Nature is red in tooth and claw. She never gives a fresh start to a life that has maimed and marred itself. She never forgets old mistakes. Her inexorable rule is, Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he reap. Other religions know nothing about the gracious healing. “I have devoted as much time as any living man, to the sacred books of the world,” a famous scholar testifies, “and I have found their keynote. Whether it be the Vedas of the Brahmin, or the Koran of the Mohammedan, or the Zend-Avesta of the Parsee, the one keynote of all of them is salvation by works. They all say that salvation must be bought with a price, and that the purchase-money must be our own deservings.” There is no word there of free and loving pardon. Men cannot entirely restore the wrongdoer. For their knowledge of sin in all its circumstances is a partial and defective knowledge.’


Verses 5-7

‘I WILL BE AS THE DEW UNTO ISRAEL’

‘I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return.’

Hosea 14:5-7

Observe the order. First, what God is to us, for we may safely take ‘Israel’ to be ‘the Church’ in every age. Then, what we are in ourselves and to God. And then what we do for others. Divine operation, spiritual growth, religious influence.

And religion always must be in that order. God’s grace to begin with. All first principles there. What God is in Himself, and what He is to us. Then, our personal condition, and our relations to God. And then the power we exercise, and the work we do in the world. ‘I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. Its branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under his shadow shall return.’

God begins: ‘I will be as the dew unto Israel.’ Where the peculiar charm and excellence of the promise is—not that God will shed ‘dew’ upon Israel, but that He will be ‘the dew.’ We find what we want in Himself—in a personal God. And to have the Giver is better than to have the gift. ‘I will be as the dew unto Israel.’

How the Holy Spirit distils upon us, or why, we cannot tell. The commencement of the Divine life, and its supplies, are perfectly inscrutable. Why God should ever have visited me, how His Spirit can mingle with my spirit, and become a part of my being—I cannot tell. But I know it is lovely and comely. The workings are secret, but the results are patent.

Such is God to His people, and the great secret of the possession of it lies in finding it in God Himself, not in His ordinances, not in His word,—not in His sacraments,—not in His people. They are beautiful channels, only channels. In Himself! A felt Presence—a realised Indwelling, an appropriated, Living Being,—our own—a God we go to, a God we hear, a God we speak to, a God we feel. ‘I will be as the dew unto Israel.’

II. Now trace the consequences on the man himself.—The metaphor is sustained. It is by the dew-like, gentle workings of God’s Spirit—by myriads of drops, each imperceptibly small: ‘He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.’ There are five things: growth, strength, expansion, beauty, fragrance.

III. But I have to carry the image a little further, to the point of influence.—In this colder region of our earth, the idea of ‘shade’ is almost always associated with what is unpleasant, and drear, and chill! But, in the hotter latitudes, where the scenes of the Bible mainly lie, it is naturally the reverse. ‘Shade’ is good—a thing to be desired. Therefore, with the exception that it is sometimes used as a metaphor for shortness, I am not aware that ‘shadow’ is ever taken in any but a happy way in the Bible.

Now we all ‘cast our shadows’; and though our ‘shadow’ cannot be what St. Peter’s was, yet our ‘shadow’—the influence we carry, the effect we produce—may be, and should be, and must be always for good and for God. And this is the characteristic of a Christian, that ‘they that dwell under his shadow shall return’!—‘return’ to what they have lost; ‘return’ to peace; ‘return’ to the good land; ‘return’ to Canaan; ‘return’ to Him.

There are many that are ‘dwelling under your shadow’: more perhaps, than you have thought of. And very few realise their own weight and power for good or evil in the world.

Let me ask, have all those ‘under your shadow’ reason to be thankful that they ever came there? Have they ‘returned’? Has your influence led them towards ‘returning’? Have you tried? Or, are you a upas tree? Awful thought! if you have sent them farther off! if it had been better for them that they had never come near you!

So throw your ‘shadow’—make such use of the contracts of life everywhere—that you may be always either bringing back a lost one, or helping a seeker, or strengthening some one on the way, that all who come near to you may have cause to bless God that they ever were brought ‘under your shadow’!

Rev. Jas. Vaughan.


Verse 8

EPHRAIM FORSAKING IDOLS

‘Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have beard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From Me is thy fruit found.’

Hosea 14:8

These are the last words of Hosea’s prophecy. They sum up his whole hopes for his people. They are somewhat difficult of understanding, from the perplexity in which the frequent occurrence of the word ‘I’ involves us. But it is quite clear, I think, that we have in them two speakers: ‘Ephraim’—that is, the personification of the kingdom of Israel—‘shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?’ And then there follows the answer to that word, from another speaker, and that other speaker is God.

Here are two voices—first, the penitent voice of the returning wanderer, then the welcoming answer of the Father. ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’ The nation which is here represented as thus speaking, as the last point and object of the whole prophecy, is described in a former part of this remarkable book as being ‘joined to his idols.’ And now that strait band and bond that link him to his idols is snapped, and he is set free.

I. We get here, first of all, a wonderful expression of the perfect simplicity of a true return to God.—‘What have I to do any more with idols?’ That is all! No paroxysms of grief, no agonies of repentance, no prescription of so much sorrow, so much grief, for so much sin; no long, tedious process; but, like the finger put upon the key here, the sound yonder.

Heard far away, the nation has only to whisper the resolve, to break away from the evil, and immediately there, in the heavens, the voice is heard.

And then there follows: ‘And the Lord hath made to pass from me the iniquity of my soul.’ Two words—for it is only two words in the original—two words; we pass out of the evil when a man turns to God. ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’

II. Then look at the answer, the echo of this confession which comes from heaven; it is the welcoming voice of the Father, ‘I hear him, and observe him.’ (1) Notice how, instantaneously, that Divine ear, strong enough, according to the old story about the ears of the gods, to hear the grass grow, fine enough to hear the first faint shootings of the new life in a man’s heart, catches the sound that is inaudible to all besides, and as soon as the words come from the pale, penitent lips of Ephraim, the answer comes from God—‘I hear him; and if I hear him, that is all that is necessary. I hear him, and observe him.’

There, of course, observation is used in a good sense. The insecure, uncertain footsteps of the returning child are watched and kept by the gracious Father: ‘I hear him, and I turn My eye upon him.’ The good eye and the good hand of the Lord upon the returning prodigal for good.

And then we come to a very beautiful, although a very singular metaphor: ‘I am like a green cypress tree.’ The singularity of this metaphor has led many people to suppose that it cannot be intended to apply to the Divine nature. But I think there can be no question but that it does, and that it yields a worthy and a very beautiful signification. The cypress tree, for one thing, is an evergreen, unchanged amidst the changing seasons, unaffected by all the change. An everlasting metaphor, ‘the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’ Our melancholy associations were altogether foreign to the mind and imagination of the prophet. To him this tree, with its wealth of continual shadow, was an emblem of unchanging blessing and protection.

So my text says, ‘I am like a green cypress,’ strong, immutable; a shadow, a protection to all those that come beneath my branches, shielding them from the hot sunshine; keeping them dry in all the tempests and rain of the winter time; spreading a green bough above them in the summer; putting my broad sheaf of leaves between them and the blistering heat, and so preserving them from outward and from inward dangers. ‘The Lord is thy shade at thy right hand.’

So I think that if you will take these two points—unchangeableness and protection, condescension—you understand the force of this lovely emblem. (2) And then there follows a last truth: ‘From Me is thy fruit found.’ The hard cones of the cypress are not worth calling fruit; there is no fruit on it that anybody can eat; but it has so embodied in itself the virtues of all, and having the shadow of the cypress has the fruit, like that of the grape and the pomegranate.

But all that is not enough. The fruit that we bear in ourselves is not fruit that any man can take pleasure in. The fruit that shall sustain and help us must be the fruit that we gather from the rich branches of that ‘tree that bare all manner of fruits, and bare them every month,’ and whose very leaves were ‘for the healing of the nations.’ Not enough that we should have the productive energy within ourselves; we must feed upon the rich harvest that is provided for us in God.

So it all comes to this, the humblest voice of conscious un-worthiness and lowly resolve to forsake evil, though it be whispered only in the very depths of our heart, finds its way into the the ears of the merciful Father, and brings down the immediate answer, the benediction of His shadowing love and perpetual presence, and the fullness of fruit, which He alone can bestow.

Illustration

‘There is some mistake often made as to what are “idols.” Remember that “idols” are, generally, rather objects of fear than of affection. Almost all heathen deities are worshipped in dread—to avert the evil which they might otherwise do. This is the first intention. Nevertheless, there is a fascination in “an idol,” by which, though feared, it becomes almost a subject of love. So that the thing which we fear, and while we fear, has a fascination over us which is hurtful. An “idol” is anything too lovable. A person who exercised a bad power over you, and whom you feared, and almost you disliked—but to whom you were still strangely attracted, and by whom you were badly bound and enthralled—that would be “an idol.”’


Verse 9

THE MORAL OF HOSEA’S PROPHECIES

‘These things.’

Hosea 14:9

Hosea was a good man in a bad time. He let his light shine, and it shone the brighter because of the darkness. He walked straight in crooked surroundings. He dared to be right when all the world was wrong. The voice of the people did not shut his ears to the voice of God. He listened to hear what God might say, and then he spoke without fear or withholding. God needs prophets wherever there is wickedness.

I. The story of the Prodigal Son was repeated in Hosea’s time, with the difference that a nation was the prodigal.—Israel had left the Father’s house, and now it was eating the unsatisfying husks of sin. Hosea was the voice to call the prodigal home. It is true that whole nations may sin and incur God’s punishment. Our own nation’s hope is in being true to God. Her wealth and possessions cannot make her great; Israel was never richer nor larger than in Hosea’s time. Our patriotism and our religion should unite in impelling us to labour for the holiness of our country. Righteousness alone exalteth a nation.

II. Foolish persons sometimes get ‘too big’ for religion.—They think they can get along very well without it. Nations have adopted the same principle, scores of times, and have surrendered their faith in God. Inevitably, of course, iniquity has followed infidelity in the history of nations, as usually in the case of individuals. When we give up God it does not take long to give up goodness. When a tide of unbelief sweeps over a people it is usually followed by a wave of wickedness. And, as in the case of Israel, prosperity cannot long abide with dissoluteness and debauchery. Drunken hands cannot hold either gold or land. So poverty stalks after sin. The bad people soon become the poor people. It never pays—to consider the subject on the lowest ground—to try to get along without God. When religion departs, righteousness and prosperity follow.

III. The trouble with Israel, as with us, was one that Assyria or Egypt could not mend.—There are some difficulties in which friends and neighbours can be of no help. The secret of Israel’s distress was sin, which is likewise the secret of most everything that is wrong in our life and in the world to-day. There is only one source of help for sin—God. The remedy that alone can make whole and holy is the love and power of our offended Father. Turning to God is the only way to better our condition and to secure happiness. In His forgiveness is peace and prosperity. God alone can kelp in life’s greatest difficulties.

Illustration

‘“Have you ever been here before?” demanded a magistrate of a prisoner. “Once, your honour, and you let me go. Please let me off again.” But the second offence found no mercy with the court, and the man was sent to jail. This is the world’s way. It may forgive once, but there its forgiveness ends. But the mercy of God—how great it is! Again and again He forgives the penitent sinner. His pity and tender mercy are beyond finding out.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Hosea 14:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/hosea-14.html. 1876.

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