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‘O Israel, return to YHWH your God, for you have fallen by your iniquity.’
Hosea’s initial call is for Israel to return to YHWH their God from the iniquity (inherent wickedness, total disloyalty) into which they have fallen (see Hosea 4:8; Hosea 5:5; Hosea 7:1; Hosea 8:13; Hosea 9:7; Hosea 9:9; Hosea 13:12). The need for Israel to ‘return’ has been consistently made clear throughout the prophecy (Hosea 2:7; Hosea 2:9; Hosea 3:5; Hosea 5:4; Hosea 6:1; Hosea 7:10; Hosea 7:16; Hosea 11:5; Hosea 12:6), and is mentioned four times in this chapter (Hosea 14:1-2; Hosea 14:4; Hosea 14:7). The idea of ‘returning to YHWH’ comes initially from Deuteronomy 1:45; Deuteronomy 30:2; Deuteronomy 30:8. Once they have been carried off into exile it is the message that he wants them to carry with them. It will be a reminder to them that God had not finally finished with them, but that any return could only be on condition of full repentance and a recognition of Him in His uniqueness as Saviour, Deliverer and Covenant God, rather than as a figure to be manipulated through ritual. He is ‘YHWH their God’, the One Who is revealed to them in their ancient records as the Deliverer from Egypt (Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13; Hosea 13:4), the God of Sinai, the Only Saviour (Hosea 13:4), and the Upholder of the Davidic dynasty (Hosea 1:11; Hosea 3:5; Hosea 8:4; Hosea 13:11). And it is to Him in this capacity that they must return (Hosea 3:5).
AN APPEAL IS MADE TO JACOB’S EXAMPLE WHICH SIMPLY SERVES TO REVEAL ISRAEL’S PARLOUS STATE AND GUARANTEES THE COMING JUDGMENT OF DESTRUCTION AND THE EXILE BUT IT IS WITH THE PROMISE OF FINAL RESTORATION AND FRUITFULNESS IN VIEW (Hosea 12:1 to Hosea 14:9 ).
These words were probably mainly spoken during the latter part of the reign of Hoshea, with the destruction of Samaria threatening on the horizon. After a further appeal for repentance Israel is seen to be finally doomed, with any hope that they have lying far in the future because of their unrepentant hearts.
‘Take with you words, and return to YHWH. Say to him, “Take away all iniquity, and accept what is good, so will we render as bullocks the offering of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “Our gods”, for in you the fatherless find mercy.’
The way in which YHWH must be approached when they return to Him is not through ritual but through ‘words’. This is not a lessening of requirements but because they have committed ‘sins with a high hand’ for which sacrifices cannot avail (compare David’s sentiments in Psalms 51:0). Their only hope now is to come to YHWH with deeply repentant words. And Hosea makes clear the kind of words that will be required. They can be analysed as follows:
1) They must approach YHWH ‘with words’ revealing their genuineness. They had sinned with a high hand so that, like David (Psalms 51:0) sacrifices were insufficient. What was now required was a response of genuine contrition and repentance.
2) They must ‘return to YHWH’, genuinely seeking forgiveness, and asking Him to take away all iniquity.
3) They must call on Him to ‘accept what is good’ (compare Hosea 8:3). In other words, to accept a genuine response of heart that sets aside all evildoing and social injustice, together with all idolatry, and offers a life responsive to Him and His covenant. For this is how they will offer to Him the acceptable offering of their lips.
4) They must renounce Assyria and all foreign assistance, and must trust in YHWH alone.
5) They must no longer trust in their own military might, and especially on horses obtained, as they would be, from Egypt.
6) They must guarantee that they will no longer call their own workmanship, ‘our gods’, praying to the work of their own hands.
7) They must submit to Him as ‘orphans’ (the fatherless), acknowledging thereby that they had rejected Him as Father, and seeking His mercy in order to obtain re-acceptance.
It will be noted that three positive responses (1-3) are followed by three renunciations (4-6). It is not enough just to turn from what is wrong, we must first ensure that our relationship with God is put right. The sevenfold picture that ensues is evidence of the divine perfection of their response.
‘So will we render bullocks, (the offering of) our lips.’ ‘The offering of’ is not in the Hebrew and is inserted in order to convey the sense in English. The idea is that their words of repentance and supplication have taken the place of blood sacrifices which, in accordance with the covenant, would not suffice for sins of a high hand. And anyway sacrifices could not lawfully be offered in a foreign country unless YHWH had ‘revealed His Name there’.
It has, however, been suggested that prym (bullocks) should be seen as signifying pry (fruit) with an enclitic ‘m’ attached, added for emphasis. Then it will read, ‘so will we render the fruit of our lips’ indicating that what they say they also perform.
YHWH’s Responsive Love Song.
The words that follow are reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, which may well have been known to Hosea, and are in the form of a love song by which YHWH gives His response. Israel are now no longer an adulterous wife, but a wife who is beloved and fruitful.
‘I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for my anger is turned away from him.’
YHWH’s response will then be that He will heal their backsliding and love them freely, because in view of their full ‘return’, His anger will be turned away from them. There will be full reconciliation. Their ‘backsliding’ has been briefly defined in Hosea 14:2-3 which described what they have returned to Him from, and what is contained in those verses has been described in more detail throughout the prophecy. It had resulted in their total disregard for Him in the normal course of life. But now all that will be changed as a result of their new response to Him. Note the need for their backsliding to be ‘healed’. Only God could enable them to be truly restored from their backsliding, (compare Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). It would require a new heart and a new spirit. Alternately the thought may be that they will be healed from the consequences of their backsliding.
As a result He will ‘love them freely’, that is He will love them willingly and plentifully, with no restraint, with the responsive and overwhelming love of the lover. The result of this love is then expanded on. It is recounted in three descriptions of the blessing that they will receive, each of which is in three parts, and is expressed in the context of Lebanon, a familiar theme in the Song of Solomon (see Song of Solomon 3:9; Song of Solomon 4:8; Song of Solomon 4:11; Song of Solomon 4:15; Song of Solomon 5:15; Song of Solomon 7:4). The mountains of Lebanon were mountains that experienced almost continual dew and were always fresh and fruitbearing. Thus being ‘as Lebanon’ was looked on as having achieved the ultimate in fruitfulness and blessing. They will put down strong roots like those in Lebanon, they will give off delightful scents like those in Lebanon, and their taste will be like that of the vines of Lebanon.
‘I will be as the dew to Israel, he will blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.’
YHWH Himself will be as the dew to Israel (compare Song of Solomon 5:2), resulting in their blossoming like a lily (or crocus) and putting down strong roots. The heavy morning dew was an important feature of agricultural life in Israel, providing moisture which enabled plants to flourish when the rains were absent. The lily was renowned for its beauty (‘consider the lilies of the field’) and is especially prominent in the Song of Solomon (Hosea 2:1-2; Hosea 2:16; Hosea 4:5; Hosea 5:13; Hosea 6:2-3; Hosea 7:2), especially as describing the beauty of the maiden and the idealistic life ‘among the lilies’. Lebanon was famous as the place where trees grew strong roots (this reverses the judgment in Hosea 9:16). Thus the idea was that by YHWH’s abundant provision they would flourish and blossom (compare Song of Solomon 6:11) and put down strong roots in the covenant (compare Isaiah 37:31). Overall it is the same idea as is found in Hosea 6:3.
‘His branches will spread, and his beauty will be as the olive-tree, and his odour as Lebanon.’
As a result of their strong roots their branches will spread, the sign of a healthy tree, and they will have the beauty of an olive tree, one of the most desirable of trees in Israelite eyes (compare Jeremiah 11:16; Psalms 52:8), whilst the odour that issued forth from them would be ‘as Lebanon’ (compare Song of Solomon 2:14; Song of Solomon 4:10-11). No one who had visited Lebanon could forget the beautiful aroma of the trees. It is an idealistic picture.
‘Those who dwell under his shadow will return, they will revive as the grain, and blossom as the vine, their taste (name/memorial) will be as the wine of Lebanon.’
And those who dwell under the shadow of the new Israel’s spreading branches will return to YHWH, (or return from exile, compare Hosea 11:11), and there they will revive like the grain (recalling the sudden coming to life of the greenery when the rains fell after the hot season, a transformation remarkable in its suddenness), and blossom as the vine (the blossoming of the vine promising a good harvest was always greeted with rapture). The picture is one of abundant fruitfulness and joy. ‘Their taste (literally ‘name/memorial’; compare Hosea 12:5) will be as the wine of Lebanon’. No one ever forgot the taste of Lebanese wine, and the taste of Israel will be as sumptuous.
Some see ‘under his shadow’ as referring to YHWH (compare Song of Solomon 2:3), but ‘his’ in context clearly refers to Israel, and the distinction between Israel as a nation and the Israelites as a people was already contained in the picture found in chapters 1-2 of Israel as the mother and the Israelites as her children. The central idea is of all returning to the covenant into which Israel as a whole have now re-entered.
‘Ephraim (will say), “What have I to do any more with idols? I have answered, and will regard him. I am like a green fir-tree, from me is your fruit found.”
The bare word ‘Ephraim’ (it is not ‘O Ephraim’) probably indicates that at least the first phrase is spoken by Ephraim, with ‘Ephraim’ signifying the whole of Israel. But recognising that in the whole of the Old Testament YHWH is never likened to a tree, and certainly not to a green tree, a description which could have resulted in dangerous misinterpretation because ‘green trees’ were notoriously regularly connected with idolatrous worship (‘under every green tree’ - Deuteronomy 12:2; Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:13; Jeremiah 17:2; etc), we are probably to see the whole of the verse as spoken by Ephraim. In it Ephraim rejects idolatry once and for all, and declares that, having ceased to regard idols he has rather ‘answered’ YHWH (responded to Him, compare Hosea 2:15), and will from now on ‘regard’ Him (by obeying the covenant and following the procedures in Hosea 14:2-3). He has thus now become like a green fir tree (the evergreen element indicating permanent loyalty) from whom Israel’s people can ‘find fruit’ (compare Hosea 14:7 for the similar differentiation in context between Israel as a nation and the people), a fruit which being from a fir tree will itself grow into strong trees. The picture can be compared with that of Israel as the blossoming lily and the beautiful olive tree (Hosea 14:5-6). Here Israel is now a green fir tree. This interpretation suitably caps off the prophecy with a declaration by Ephraim/Israel that they are once more the covenant community through whom permanent and self-sustaining life is offered to all. It is therefore a declaration of the triumph of YHWH.
The majority of commentators, however, rather see the reference to the ‘green fir-tree’ as (uniquely) a reference to YHWH, with the implication being that from now on their fruit will be found from Him and not from Baal (even though fir-tree fruit was not one of Baal’s specialities. His supposed expertise was the grain and the oil and the wine).
‘Who is wise, that he may understand these things?
Prudent, that he may know them?
For the ways of YHWH are right,
And the righteous will walk in them,
But transgressors will fall in them.’
There is a hint of wisdom writing in these final words (compare the similar parallel situation in Psalms 107:43), but it will be noted that whilst the wisdom writers in the Old Testament always contrast ‘the righteous’ with ‘the wicked’, here Hosea contrasts ‘the righteous’ with ‘transgressors’. Being familiar with wisdom writing he calls on it and fashions it in accordance with his own purpose, at least in the first two lines. We should, however, note that the thoughts behind the second two lines are found elsewhere in Scripture, in what some would call ‘Deuteronomic’ literature, with the phrase ‘the ways of YHWH’ appearing in 2 Samuel 22:22 (and not appearing in any wisdom literature). Compare also Psalms 138:5; Deuteronomy 32:4. Furthermore the thought of ‘walking in His ways’ is comparable to Deuteronomy 10:12 (compare also Deuteronomy 5:33). Reference to ‘transgressors’ is found in the Davidic Psalms 51:13 and in Isaiah 1:28 (whose ministry would by now be under way).
That being said Hosea’s purpose here is simply to make his readers consider his prophecy more deeply, something which indicates that the heart of the prophecy is by this stage already in writing. He is emphasising, with all the authority of a wisdom teacher, that the wise and the prudent will take note of what he has said, and with all the authority of the Scriptures available to him that they will do so because YHWH’s ways are right, and because those who are righteous will therefore walk in them.
In contrast he points out that transgressors will fall in them. So all must consider seriously which path they take, and will know whether they are righteous or transgressors by how they respond. Furthermore while the wise will know that His ways are right, it is the righteous who will walk in them. It is a reminder that it is possible to be ‘wise’ without being obedient, and that that then makes the person a transgressor.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hosea 14". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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