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CRITICAL NOTES.] The guilt of the sinful nation and the punishment awaiting have been described: now there is a call to conversion, and a promise that God will bless abundantly.
Hosea 14:1. Return] Heb. intensive, expressing strong desire. Unto] Lit. up to, not merely towards the Lord. “Great is repentance which maketh men to reach quite up to the throne of glory,” is a Jewish saying.
Hosea 14:2. Words] Not empty, yet outward gifts not required; only words, and these even found. Rec-] Lit. receive the good, viz. the words of sincere repentance, given by thyself (1 Chronicles 29:14). Calves] i.e. our lips shall be for calves. Instead of offering sacrifice we give thanksgiving and praise, the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:5).
Hosea 14:3. Save] Israel relied upon Assyria and Egypt; now horses (warlike power) and the work of our hands (idolatry) are entirely renounced. Fatherless] Descriptive of Israel’s condition without God; a reason for turning from idols, and an inducement to prayer (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18).
REAL CONVERSION TO GOD DESCRIBED.—Hosea 14:1-3
There is a change in the words of the prophet now. Wrath and threatening are past, and “sweetness and light,” like the sun, burst from the dark clouds. Every word of the invitation is full of mercy, urgent upon Israel and upon all who have gone astray. God is still unchangeable and true to his covenant. There is hope for all who sincerely repent and return to him. The character of this return is clearly described in the text.
I. Its necessity. “For thou hast fallen.” This is the first dawn of light upon the sinner. God discovers to him the abyss into which he has fallen.
1. He has fallen by iniquity: not a mere stumble, but a fall. All sin is a deep fall. A fall from God into idolatry; from holiness into guilt; from honour to disgrace. A fall from which we cannot raise ourselves. It is a pit of distress, “an horrible pit and miry clay” (Psalms 40:2), out of which God alone can deliver us. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works.”
2. He has fallen by his own iniquity. Nations often ascribe their calamity to civil dissension, foolish rules, and disuse of military discipline: to the cruelty of the enemy and reverse of fortune; but the fall is caused by opposition to God, and contempt of his word. Individuals blame their circumstances and their fate; but sin is their own act and deed. The fall is the result of their own conduct. The sinner eats the fruit of his own way, and is filled with his own devices. But though fallen he need not stay in his sin. The way of return is open. The invitation is given. “Return unto the Lord thy God.”
II. Its nature. “Return (up to) the Lord thy God.” True conversion is abandonment of all sin and restoration to all good.
1. Idolatry is abandoned. “Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods.” It is folly to trust to creatures which God has made. How much greater folly to adore things which we ourselves have made. The penitent renounces all idolatry, and views God as the Lord his God. Williams gives a graphic account in his missionary enterprises of the conversion of a chief from idolatry. Romatane decreed the destruction of his temples, the conflagration of his gods, and the erection of a house for God. We must not pride ourselves in monuments of genius, gains of the world, and external performances in religion. Consecration to God excludes every kind of worship to strange gods. “Make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth” (Exodus 23:13).
2. Former sins are renounced. Israel were guilty of two things—reliance upon foreign aid and upon their own warlike strength. (a) Human dependence is renounced. “Asshur shall not save us.” They will betake themselves no more to an arm of flesh: for vain is the help of man. Human helps must never take the place of God. All merit and self-righteousness must be renounced. The best proof of true repentance is utter forsaking of former sin. (b) Dependence upon self is renounced. The horse was a symbol of their own, as well as foreign strength. “A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.” The strongest self-defences are nothing when most needed. Sennacherib with all his cavalry was no match for the angel of God. We must not look to creature strength, to personal merit, for salvation. “The sufficiency of my merit is to know that my merit is not sufficient,” says Quarles. “Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”
3. Entire return to God is seen. The true penitent rises up from his fall, feels that he cannot stay in distance, and returns right up to God. Many vow and never perform, resolve and resolve again, but never forsake their sins. Others shed tears, feel desires, and take some steps towards repentance, and conclude that they are safe. The prodigal started home, did not merely turn his face, nor stop half-way; but “came to his father,” up to his father’s house, quite home.—Many come out of Egypt who never enter Canaan; put on garments of sorrow, who never rend their hearts and return to God. Half-conversions are unsafe; “almost a Christian” is not enough. Nothing short of actual conversion will do; an entire change is necessary. Whatever distance we travel, however high we mount in religion, if we come short of Christ we cannot be saved. “If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me” (Jeremiah 4:1).
III. Its method. “Take with you words and turn to the Lord.” Words are not necessary to God. We do not induce him to bless us by mere words. We may argue and persuade men to grant a thing; but words without meaning are sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.
1. Take words of confession. God does not require costly gifts; nor burnt-offerings of goats and bullocks; but a humble and contrite heart; a full and free confession of sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
2. Take words of prayer. “Say unto him.” God himself supplies the words and directs our hearts. We are sensible of inaptitude and ignorance; but he bestows the spirit of prayer, and orders our speech before him (Job 37:19); Method is helpful in everything, and the ordering of words in prayer, words marshalled like military ranks, may quicken and discipline. “Method is the soul of business.” Ask for two things. (a) Take away iniquity. The true penitent is most concerned about sin, desires to be free from its consequences and dominion, to be entirely cleansed and preserved in the future. “All iniquity.” We must not have partial zeal, but strike at all sin, great and small. God must take it away from our hearts and lives. We can neither remove its guilt nor destroy its power. God’s grace can deliver, renew and save. “If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (b) Receive us graciously. When God has pardoned sin and imparted grace, he accepts our imperfect services. “Give what thou demandest and then require what thou wilt,” says Augustine. The gifts are from God and then received by him. “For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.”
3. Take words of thanksgiving. “So will we render the calves, i.e. the fruit, of our lips, giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15). Those that receive much from God “will offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.” The expressions of the lips will spring from a grateful heart. Lip service without sincerity of heart is an abomination to God: but a holy life is a perpetual thank-offering. The sacrifices of the law are abolished; but God’s goodness lays us under deep obligation to praise him. The penitent feels that he cannot praise too much, and resolves that the language of his lips and the fruit of his life shall be given to God. “Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince.”
IV. Its motive.
1. God will hear prayer. This we may presume, and hence the request. “Take words.” But this truth is specially revealed and taught in the word of God. The grand fact which distinguishes God from heathen deities is the fact that he is accessible. “O thou that hearest prayer!” We have every encouragement and every motive to pray. “It is the first thing wherewith a righteous life beginneth, and the last wherewith it doth end. So much of our lives is celestial and divine as we spend in the exercise of prayer,” writes Hooker.
2. God will have mercy upon the miserable. “With thee the fatherless findeth mercy.” Men without God are fatherless; orphans in a sinful world. Israel was helpless, and the prey to every oppressor. The sinner forsaking God forsakes his own mercy. Christ does not leave his people orphans, or comfortless (John 14:18). God, “the Father of the fatherless,” will have compassion on returning sinners. Men are cruel, but God is kind, and reserves his greatest mercy for greatest need. God governs not as an absolute monarch, but as a tender father. He has greater pleasure in showing his goodness than his power. “The poor committeth himself unto thee: thou art the helper of the fatherless.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Hosea 14:1. Fallen. The holy contrasted with the sinful state of man. Fallen in nature and condition, in pursuit and desire. God calls men to him by his prophets and his providence. “O Israel.” “It is well to hear when God calls through his deeds; but it is better to hear his words.”
1. The object. “The Lord thy God,”—not to a strange god. The God of mercy, and the fountain of all good.
2. The reason. “Thou hast fallen.” Thoughts of a fall should make us think of rising from our sad condition.
Hosea 14:2. Take words. The influence of words in prayer—
1. Not necessary to inform God of our wants.
2. A means of stirring up and relieving our own hearts. Words require more exertion than thoughts, and influence our minds by their sounds.
3. Exercise a power over others often when uttered—prompts them to kindred feelings and acts, and quickens them with pathos, passion, and thought.
4. When our words accord with our hearts and the Scriptures we shall be encouraged.
5. God supplies us with words adapted to our varied feelings and necessities. Come to God with his own words. Plead help in his own promises, and you shall find it. “Men must as well look to their words, as to their feet, when they come before God; and see that their affections in prayer be not without answerable expressions in lips.”
Say unto him. Mentally and vocally, with spirit and speech. Prayer is not the labour of the lips, but the travail of the heart, and God hath promised to answer his people before they call (Isaiah 65:24). By calling upon his name we neither inform him of what he knows not, nor move him to show us more mercy than he intendeth. But yet prayers are necessary, as a means which God will have used, that he may receive what he of free mercy giveth. Besides, it prepareth us holily to enjoy the things received; and makes us ready either to wait for them or to want them; and to be content, that he may be glorified, though we be not gratified [Trapp].
Prayer to God to take away all iniquity, contains a confession of sin and expresses our faith, that we place our whole hope of recovering our lost purity and of obtaining salvation in the mercy of Christ. Receive good. What other good can we offer, than detestation of our past sin, with burning desire of holiness? This is the burnt-offering. Lastly, we will repay the calves of our lips, is the promise of that solemn vow, most acceptable to God, whereby we bind ourselves to keep in continual remembrance all the benefits of God, and to render ceaseless praise to the Lord, who has bestowed on us such priceless gifts [Pusey].
Hosea 14:3. Fatherless. A plea for orphans. God takes special care of them in his law (Exodus 22:22.) and providence (Psalms 68:4-5; Psalms 27:10).
1. A description of the sinner’s condition. Without the love, help, and guidance of a father.
2. A display of God’s mercy. When earthly fathers sleep in the grave, God watches over and provides for orphan children. This should be a motive to penitence, prayer, and daily trust in God.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Hosea 14:2. “Words are the daughters of earth, and deeds are the sons of heaven.”
Hosea 14:3. Gods. At the introduction of Christianity into this country, a general council was summoned to consider the new doctrines of Paulinus. All present were unanimous as to the utter inefficiency of the gods whom they worshipped. Coifi, the pagan high-priest, in an eloquent harangue proposed their overthrow, and casting aside his priestly garments, called for arms, which Saxon priests were forbidden to wield, and for a horse, which they were not permitted to mount; and thus accoutred, galloped to the shrine at Godmundham, where the chief idol stood, hurled his lance into the enclosure, and profaned the consecrated shrine. The people, encouraged by the example of their priest, destroyed the sacred temple.
Hosea 14:4.] Promise of mercy follows. First heal all injury caused by apostasy. Freely] Gratuitously and with perfect spontaneity (Ezekiel 16:60-63). “The word means impelled thereto by Himself alone, and so moved by His own essential bountifulness, the exceeding greatness of His goodness, largely, bountifully” [Puscy].
HEALTH AND DIVINE FAVOUR.—Hosea 14:4
In response to penitential return to God, he will heal the wounds of his people and bestow upon them the blessings of his grace.
I. We have health. “I will heal their backsliding.”
1. The disease. “Backsliding.” All sin is a disease; backsliding is the most dangerous. It endangers present holiness, joy, and usefulness, and imperils the future. It begins almost imperceptibly, first in the heart, then in the closet, and then in the Church. Private prayer loses its relish, spiritual enjoyments cease, and then the means of grace are neglected. As a sheep that wanders from the fold never seeks to return, so the backslider “wanders on still more and more astray,” till the Divine shepherd brings him back. “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
2. The cure. “I will heal.” Apostasy is no ordinary wound, but God can heal it. (a) By the pardon of sin. The blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. (b) By removing the effects of sin. Taking away its guilt, power, and dominion; destroying the bent, the tendency within us to go back. (c) By restoring to all good. God himself and lost comfort are regained. The cure is efficient. It is restoration to perfect soundness. The cure is certain. “I will heal.” God is a physician that never fails. Cases helpless and hopeless can be healed by him. Christ cured most desperate diseases, so backsliding children may be restored, “For I am the Lord that healeth thee.” II. We have Divine favour. “I will love them.”
1. Anger is turned away! “Mine anger is turned away from him.” God is displeased with sin, but his anger will be turned away from those who repent. This is a proof and an assurance of his love. The clouds with which a guilty conscience covers God shall disperse, and sunshine beam forth in brightness and beauty again.
2. Love is manifest. “I will love them.” (a) Love in its widest scope. “Them.” Who? Moralists and worldly respectable? No! but those who have despised his authority and trifled with former mercies. Backsliders from God. (b) Love in its gracious nature. “Freely.” Spontaneously and liberally, because he will love. Freely, without money and without price; freely, without inducement and without merit; freely, without reluctance and stint. (c) Love in its loftiest source. “I will love them.” God is love—pure, unchanging benignity, the fountain, the fulness of love. A word to the sinner—God loves thee. A direction to the penitent—believe and return to God. To the Christian—“love so amazing, so Divine, demands thy soul, thy life, thy all.”
GRACE ABOUNDING.—Hosea 14:4
This sentence is a body of divinity in miniature. The sense hinges upon the word “freely.” Here is the glorious, the suitable, the Divine way by which love streams from heaven to earth. In the text we have two great doctrines. I will announce, establish, and apply the first.
I. The first great doctrine is this, that there is nothing in man to attract the love of God to him. We have to establish this doctrine. Our first argument is found in the origin of that love. Our second, that the whole plan of Divine goodness is entirely opposed to the old covenant of works. Thirdly, the substance of God’s love, clearly proves that it cannot be man’s goodness which makes God love him. Remember, further, the objects of God’s love, and we shall soon see that it could not be anything in them which constrains God to love them. We are informed in Scripture that the love of God and the fruit of the love of God are a gift. But what practical use of this doctrine? It offers comfort to those who do not feel fit to come to Christ. The text is a death-blow to all kinds of fitness and unworthiness. It invites backsliders to return. The text specially written for them.
II. Nothing in man can be an effectual bar to God’s love. If anything in man to bar God’s grace, then this would have been a hindrance to its coming to any of the human race, it would have prevented the salvation of those undoubtedly saved, it would mar the sovereignty of God, be a great slur upon the grace of God, and detract glory from the gospel. The love of God has provided means to meet the extremest case. They are twofold—the power of Christ and the power of the Spirit Spurgeon].
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Hosea 14:4. “We would always look hopefully at a sinner under correction. For surely so long as the physician administers the medicine there is no ground for despondency” [Bridges]. “Consumption, when it once comes to be really consumption, is beyond all doubt utterly incurable by ordinary medicine; and though many remedies may assist the sufferer and prolong his life, yet, as a rule, consumption is the herald of death; and so backsliding is incurable by any human means, and would be the forerunner of total apostasy were it not for Divine grace” [Spurgeon].
Hosea 14:5.] This love will be manifest in great blessings. Dew] Not the early, but constant, refreshing, and enlivening dew (ch. Hosea 6:3-4; Proverbs 19:12; Job 29:19; Isaiah 26:19); thro which Israel will grow splendidly, deeply root itself, and spread abundantly. Lily] A beautiful and most productive plant.
Hosea 14:6. Smell] like Leb. rendered fragrant by its cedars and spices (Song of Solomon 4:11). “The rooting indicates stability, the spreading of the branches, propagation and the multitude of inhabitants; the splendour of the olive, beauty and glory, and that constant and lasting; the fragrance, hilarity and loveliness” [Rosenmüller].
Hosea 14:7.]. Hence Israel compared to a tree. Return] Those forced to leave shall return and dwell in safety. Others take His shadow, the shadow of the Almighty (Psalms 17:8; Psalms 91:1). Revive as the corn] Enjoy a second life and great increase. Others, will revive, i.e. cause the corn to grow, culture it for support. Scent] The fame of Israel (Song of Solomon 1:3), like wine of Leb., celebrated for aroma and flavour.
REVIVING GRACE.—Hosea 14:5-7
The promise of good is continued. The supply is unfailing, and many images are given to exhibit the manifold grace of God and the results of that grace. We have refreshing influence, luxuriant growth, and social usefulness, in a sevenfold metaphor.
I. Refreshing influence. “I will be as the dew unto Israel.” This is a great contrast to the desolation of sin (ch. Hosea 13:15). Spots most barren revive and flourish by God’s blessing. The “liquid diamonds of the morn” descend on the mown grass to quicken and refresh it (Psalms 72:6). Drops of dew are “fruitful nourishers of herbs and flowers.” Gardens and vineyards parched with heat shall flourish again. This heavenly baptism of dew shall invigorate dying plants, renew vegetation, and beautify the garden of the Lord. “Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” shall come, and the Church shall grow in beauty, strength, and fruitfulness. This influence will be—
1. A constant,
2. An efficient,
3. An abundant blessing. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.”
II. Luxuriant growth. The prophet dwells with delight and at some length on the idea of fruitfulness. This Divine influence is given to promote the growth of the Church. We are chosen to “bring forth fruit, and that our fruit should remain.” God is “glorified” when we “bear much fruit.” What God promises to give we should earnestly desire to have.
1. Beauty in growth. “He shall grow as the lily.” The lily is the fairest of flowers. Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these plants. God seeks to make his people morally beautiful and pure in their lives. The beauty of holiness is comely to God and useful to man. But this beauty is permanent. The beauty of the lily soon decays; but that of “the olive tree” lasts for ever. What a lustre from the life of one “beautified with salvation”! His outward conduct is attractive in every part, and his inward dispositions of love and humility are well-pleasing to God himself. Man transformed into God’s image is more attractive and more durable than natural beauty. “God in the redemption of the soul,” says Emerson, “has solved the problem of restoring to the most original internal beauty.”
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
2. Rooted in growth. “Cast forth his roots as Lebanon.” There must be downward as well as upward growth. God’s people must not be all foliage and profession. All spiritual growth is growth at the root. The root of the matter must be within, to “spread its branches,” and manifest its vigour in every good word and work. This alone can give stability to principle and character. The seed without root withered away (Matthew 13:6). We must be rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17). If only like a lily, we may be wafted by the wind, and in danger of being carried away. But if firm at the root, we shall be immovable as cedars of Lebanon, which storms of centuries could not uproot. “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.”
3. Expansive in growth. “His branches shall spread.” True religion will manifest itself in open profession. It leads its possessors to come forth from obscurity, and openly confess Christ before men. “His branches,” his acts and example, are seen in the family, the prayer-meeting, and the house of God. But like the trees of Lebanon, his branches widely spread, to offer shade and shelter from the burning heat and terrible storm. His religion is luxuriant and his heart expansive. He outgrows the narrowness of a creed and the boundaries of a sect. His sympathies and efforts are world-wide: his outstretched arms afford grace and protection to all. “It becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”
4. Fragrant in growth. “And his smell as Lebanon.” This is twice mentioned, and is worthy of notice. “The scent of Lebanon’s wine has a remarkable aroma.” Christian influence, like the name of Christ, “is as ointment poured forth.” His conversation is refreshing and delightful; his prayers are sweet odours (Revelation 5:8); and his deeds of charity are an odour of good smell (Philippians 4:18). In proportion as a Christian lives near to God, does the smell of life reveal itself to man. “Thanks be to God which maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” The Church shall yet revive, and be like “the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed.” “How much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!” (Song of Solomon 4:10).
III. Social usefulness. The corn and the vine are emblems of Christian usefulness. They are often unpromising in appearance, but revived by the genial influence of the sun and the rain, and bless others with their fruitfulness. In others restored to God there will be a revival of religion. They shall be for protection and progress.
1. The Church blessed shall protect others. “They that dwell under his shadow shall return.” Religion is not selfishness. It is intended for others. Ministers, parents, and Sunday-school teachers have men dwelling under their shadow requiring sympathy and instruction. Where can we flee for help, in exposure and penitence, but to the people of God? If you want to do good to others, and be eminently useful in bringing them to Christ, live to him yourself, and be rich and fragrant in the odour of his grace. Live under his shadow, and others “shall return” to dwell with you. Lord Peterborough said of the home of Fenelon, “If I stay here any longer I shall become a Christian in spite of myself.”
2. The Church blessed shall contribute to the progress of others. “They shall revive the corn.” In whatever sense we take these words, the thought is this—quickened themselves, they shall quicken and advance others. They revive and cultivate everything good and useful. God’s people help on, and never hinder, the progress of the world. They are greater blessings to it than corn and wine. Delivered from sin and misery, they grow to maturity, as “corn” ripens for harvest; bear fruit as “the vine,” and are delightful to all around them, through example, converse, and prayer. Thus the cause of God revives in one place after another; believers ripen for heaven, and grow more useful on earth; God is glorified, and sinners are saved.
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
1. The dew falls very quietly and gently.
2. The dew falls very copiously.
3. The dew is very refreshing.
4. The dew is very fertilizing.
5. The dew is very near [Dr. Raleigh].
Beautiful as the dew; sheddingaglory over every common thing. Invisible as dew; not in thunder and power. Penetrating as the dew; insinuating itself into every plant on which it falls, and maintaining its vegetative powers.
1. As dew is the purest water in nature, so the presence of God is the greatest blessing.
2. As dew is necessary to the growth and beauty of herbs and plants, so the blessing of God is necessary for the beauty of the heart and life.
3. As dew falls most copiously in the night, so God’s presence is most felt in darkness and trouble.
Hosea 14:5. As the lily.
1. In silence as a lily.
2. In beauty as a lily.
3. In purity as a lily.
4. In fruitfulness as a lily.
Happy are the pure, whose heart
Freely blooms in every part;
Godly acts are living gems,
Fit for crowns and diadems.
1. That God can make his Church beautiful and pleasant.
2. That beauty and apparent excellency are worth little without root and stability.
3. That no pretence of root and stability should hinder visible fruits of grace.
4. That visible fruits of grace must not consist in profession or ostentation, but in living, green, and permanent deeds.
5. That a Church thus fruitful will be acceptable to God, and useful to others. 6 That it is our duty to seek these things, for God has promised to bestow them.
Christian fruitfulness is a manifold and various thing. It is not all of one kind. One life is not meant exactly to be like another life. Each is cast in its own type, and when the life is cast, the type or mould is broken. Of course it is broken, because it was composed in part of circumstances which never were before, nor ever can be again. Let each “planted” soul rejoice to feel rooted in him! and then let each grow freely according to his will—not fearing, but gladly daring to branch, and blossom, and fructify, according to the law of individual life. The lily! the olive tree! the corn! the vine! the cedar! all these are growing in God’s garden; and there is room and dew for them all [Raleigh].
Types of Christian character found in the vegetable kingdom. The lily in its beauty; the olive in its greenness; the cedar in its firmness; the vine with its clusters; and the corn with its bounty; all set forth the variety and completeness of Christian character.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Hosea 14:5-7. “How full of beauty and poetry is this passage! There is no book so poetic in its character as the Book of inspiration. Apart from the sublimity of the matters treated and the glory of the doctrines, the style itself is enough to make the book precious to every reader. It is a wondrous book; it is the book of God: yea, as Herbert says, ‘the god of books.’ It is a book full of stars: every page blazes with light; from almost every sentence there beams forth some beautiful metaphor, some glorious figure” [Spurgeon].
Smell. Whitfield speaks of one young man who said, “I will not leave my old father’s house, for there is not a chair or a table there but smells of his piety.”
Hosea 14:8.] God speaks now. Idols] Eph., I have no longer to plead with thee, on account of idols. I have nothing more to do with them, and thou hast not. I have answered and observed him, i.e. answered and cared for him, when idols did not. I am like a green fir, green winter and summer alike, and whatever fruit thou yieldest, it is from me. Some represent Eph. speaking, and acknowledging its flourishing condition; but God reminds him that it is owing to his blessing. Both senses represent God as the shelter and the life of the nation.
GOD IN RELATION TO A CONVERTED PEOPLE.—Hosea 14:8
These words represent Ephraim in his return to God; and God in his kindness to Ephraim. God has nothing to do with idols, therefore his people do not put them in competition with him; entirely renounce them; return unto him, and are accepted and blessed.
I. God attracts a converted people. “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?” Once he was “joined to idols,” and in the midst of Divine chastisement stupidly resolved, “I will go after my lovers.” Now he renounces all former sins and depends upon God. The world has no attraction to the true convert. He forsakes his evil ways and companions; parts with everything which disputes allegiance with God; and makes no idol of opinions, parties, or means. He has been drawn to God in love and power. He turns away from the glitter which fascinates to the treasure which enriches. He envies not, he seeks not, the worldling’s portion. God is all in all to him. “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”
II. God accepts a converted people. “I” is here emphatic. I have heard the confession and accepted it. God had hid his face before, or observed them only in his displeasure; now he watches over them and provides for them.
1. God hears their prayers. “I have heard him.” Prayer is an indication of a change of heart. Saul was no sooner converted, than he cried, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” Angels in heaven say of such a one, “Behold, he prayeth.” Prayer is the first breathing of Divine life, and then becomes “the Christian’s native air.” He may be despised, and considered weak in mind, or disordered in imagination, by the world: but God regards and hears him. “Before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking I will hear.”
2. God delights in their character. “And observed him.” God is everywhere and observes all men. But more is intended here than mere observation. He is anxious about his people, cares for them and provides for them. He delights in them, and seeks to do them good. He sees the penitent a great way off, and desires his return. He knows and approves of his conduct. He is acquainted with all the remorse, the contrition, and the resolutions of the returning sinner. “Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.”
III. God beautifies a converted people. He is “like a green fir-tree” unto them. The fir is tall and stately; beautiful in appearance, fragrant, and useful. Without pressing the metaphor, it pictures the constant shelter, the lasting beauty, and the perpetual life of God to the soul. Created beauty is a faint image of moral life. Christians are beautified, winter and summer; are ever fresh and ever flourishing by sap and virtue from God. God is the same to the soul at all times and in all places: the constant shade and the undying verdure of his people. In the restoration of God’s image to man and the godly life of a believer we have the embodiment of “the sublime and beautiful.” “He will beautify the meek with salvation.”
IV. God fertilizes a converted people. “From me is thy fruit found.” Before conversion they have neither beauty, enjoyment, nor fruit in life. But God supplies all deficiency in them. He affords repast as well as repose. The fir-tree may be a shelter and evergreen, but yields no fruit. Fruit and shelter are united in God. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
1. The fruit they enjoy comes from God. In pardon and peace, in the comforts of the Holy Ghost, and the foretastes of heaven: they have the earnest, the first-fruits of eternal bliss. They possess it in their hearts, but God is the source and giver. The Church is not the fountain of sufficiency; the creed not the supply of grace. In God is our joy, from God our life, and to God must be our praise. “All my springs are in thee.”
2. The fruit they produce comes from God. Grace in the heart leads to activity in the life. We receive the gifts, but he imparts them. We repent and believe, but faith and repentance are produced by him. We obey, but he inclines and helps us. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” God therefore is the source of all fruits in this life and that which is to come. “Without me ye can do nothing.” The fruits of the Spirit result from the work of the Spirit. “The fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”
HOMILETIC HINTS AND OUTLINES
Idols. The language expresses former attachment, present aversion and rejection. “What have I to do any more with idols?”
1. They have been a source of pain.
2. A source of shame.
3. A source of degradation. The more penitent we are, and the more we taste of God’s goodness, the more useless do idols appear, and the more do we loathe former sins. “What fruit had ye in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed?”
Those who pray oftenest and secure greatest blessings will see the emptiness and vanity of everything in competition with God. “I have heard him;” therefore the response should be, “What have I to do any more with idols?”
1. God is a protection to his people, “like a green fir-tree.” They often encounter blasts and dangers in returning to him; but he shelters them from the storm (Isaiah 4:6).
2. God is a support to his people. Without him they are barren in their souls, and unfruitful in their lives. Support in penitence and duty springs from him. “From me is thy fruit found.”
Human nature, by itself, can as little bear fruit well pleasing to God as the pine or cypress can bear fruit for human use. As it were a miracle in nature, were these trees to bring forth such fruit, so, for man to bring forth fruits of grace, is a miracle of grace. The presence of works of grace attests the immediate working of God the Holy Ghost, as much as any miracle in nature [Pusey].
Hosea 14:9.] A most important concluding lesson. Wise] Those who are not, cavil at God’s word, and his providence to them is a complete riddle. The prudent—“properly gifted with understanding, the form of the word expressing that he was endowed with this understanding, as a gift of God”—shall know and discern. Right] Straight and direct, leading to the object. Ways which lead some to life and others to death, according to the attitudes which men assume towards God. The just, the righteous, walk in them and live; sinners deviate from them, stumble and perish. Moses announced to Israel that this would be the result to them (Deuteronomy 30:19-20); Paul tells us that such will be the effect of the gospel at all times (1 Corinthians 1:18).
THE WAYS OF GOD AND THE DESTINIES OF MEN.—Hosea 14:9
In this epilogue the prophet sums up his teaching, and seeks to “justify the ways of God to man.” The dealings of God with men are often mysterious and difficult to understand; but are right in themselves, designed to lead to life, and will influence men according to their treatment of them.
I. The ways of God in their aspects towards men. These ways indicate the ways of Providence and the paths of duty; God’s treatment of men and his requirements from them.
1. They are right in themselves. “The ways of the Lord are right.” No fault can be found with them. (a) They are conformed to the will of God, which is holy and just; the standard of righteousness to the universe. (b) They are the most direct and straight line to a right end. They never deviate from truth and duty. They are more holy and more trustworthy than any code of morals. Invincible in power and unimpeachable in justice. “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (c) They are proved to be right by our moral nature. The written word accords with the human conscience; the law without is confirmed by the testimony within. We have a sense of obligation, approve the right, though we follow the wrong. We are filled with remorse and delight. The work of the law is written in our hearts, our conscience bears witness, and our thoughts accuse or excuse us continually (Romans 2:15).
2. They are difficult to be understood. “Who is wise?” Mystery and majesty, justice and mercy, are displayed in God’s providence. We are finite creatures, and should not presume to penetrate “the clouds and darkness round about him.” There are “things hard to be understood” in the works as well as in the word of God. We may go forward and backward, on the right hand and on the left, and yet not perceive God (Job 23:8-10). “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing” (Proverbs 25:2). “Little can we at the beginning of any action guess at God’s intention in the conclusion,” says Bp Hall. “His judgments are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out.” Some are obvious and plain; written with beams of light and love; and he that runs may read. Others are obscure and beyond our comprehension. “Lo! these are parts of his ways; but how little a portion is heard of him!”
3. Yet enough may be known for the duties of life. The question indicates that some know, that all who wish may know, and do right. “The prudent shall know them.” God’s ways are unsearchable to the intellectual and the theorist, but intelligible to the humble and the obedient. We know a part, and that is enough to practise. Aristotle teaches that the end of moral science is not knowledge, but practice. “Those have the best knowledge who know their duty,” says Matt. Henry. “Let no man,” says South, “presume that he can see beforehand into the ways of Providence. His part is to contemplate them in the past, and trust in them for the future: but so trusting, to act always upon motives of human prudence, directed by religious principles.”
II. The ways of God in their requirements from men. “Who is wise and prudent?”
1. They require to be known. Many have a slight acquaintance with them, but few study them. The wise alone meditate upon them and understand them. The proud and self-conceited often scoff and ridicule. A right and teachable disposition is required. “He that comes to seek after knowledge with a mind to scorn and censure, shall be sure to find enough for his humour, but none for his instruction” [Bacon]. True wisdom is to understand what we have to do, and “knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth” this. A true heart and a ready mind, a single eye and a right motive, will make the path of duty easy. “If any man will” (is willing, wishes to) “do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”
2. They require to be observed. “The just shall walk in them.” We are not to speculate, but to obey; not to stand, but walk in the way; not merely continue, but advance in it. Delay and sloth create difficulty, raise “a hedge of thorns,” and harass to the end of the journey. Exertion and hope will make the way plain and prosperous (Proverbs 15:19). Wait not for louder calls and greater opportunities. “Duties are ours, events are God’s.” “To wait for God’s performance and do nothing is to abuse that Divine providence which will always so work as not to allow us to remain in inactivity” [Bp Hall]. “Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.”
Act an honest part.
Look before thee as thou goest,
Do the duty which thou knowest.
III. The ways of God in their influence upon men. “Transgressors shall fall therein.” Truth will influence according to the method in which it is received. The best blessings may be perverted by malicious dispositions. “The things which should have been for his wealth become to him an occasion of falling” (Psalms 69:22). “Christ himself is set for the rising and falling of many” (Luke 2:34). Hence the ways of God influence men in two methods.
1. The righteous walk in them and live. The wise discern their rectitude and desire to secure their end. The righteous walk in them, become like them, and live in them. There is much to discourage and oppose; but the sincere persevere in holiness, add strength to strength, and enjoy foretastes of heaven. “The righteous also shall hold” (take firm hold) “on his way, and he that is of clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.”
2. The ungodly deviate from them and perish. If God’s ways lead to life, departing from them must be death. The disobedient stumble at the word and the ways of God. They are offended at the requirements and the providence of God. They transgress, fall, and perish. This is the sum of Hosea’s ministry; the fulfilment of ancient prediction (Deuteronomy 30:19-20); and the general effect of gospel preaching (1 Corinthians 1:18). God’s ways are just and true. Those who walk in them shall live, and those who depart from them shall perish. “Whoso readeth, let him understand.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 14
Hosea 14:9. Providences are sometimes dark texts; which require an expositor (Genesis 42:36). They that would judge aright of any one of the Lord’s dispensations must be careful students of them all. They must not slight any work of his, because all, though they may be many and difficult to us, make but one entire work in God’s hand. And every part of that work is a commentary, clearing the nature and use of the whole and God’s intent therein [Nisbet].
Just are the ways of God,
And justifiable to men;
Unless there be who think not God at all.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Hosea 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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