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The foregoing part of this book abounds with denunciations of punishment; this closing chapter superabounds with promises of pardon. Wave after wave of threatened wrath had rolled over Israel and come in unto their soul; now offer after offer of grace is made to them. O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God. The invitation to return implies previous departure, or distance, or wandering from God. The return to which they are invited is expressed, not by אֶל, to or towards, but by ער, quite up to, or as far as right home; the penitent, therefore, is not merely to turn his mind or his face toward God, but to turn his face and his feet home to God; he is not to go half the way and then turn aside, or part of the way and then turn back, but the whole way; in other words, his repentance is to be complete and entire, wanting nothing, according to the state merit of the psalmist, "It is good for me to draw near to God." As punishment was threatened in case of obstinate impenitence, so mercy is promised on condition of thorough repentance. For thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. A reason is here assigned for the preceding invitation; kashalta is properly "thou hast stumbled," "made a false step," fallen, yet so that recovery was among future possibilities. The same thought may be included in the fact that Jehovah continues to call his erring people by the honored and honorable name of Israel, and to acknowledge himself their God. Further, many and grievous were the calamities into which by their fall they had been precipitated; neither were any to blame but themselves—their iniquity or their folly was the cause, nor was there any one to lift them up, now that they lay prostrate, save Jehovah. After referring to the desolation of Samaria and the ruthless destruction of its inhabitants, as portrayed in the last verse of the previous chapter, Jerome adds, "All Israel is invited to repentance, that he who has been debilitated, or has fallen headlong in his iniquities, may return to the physician and recover health, or that he who had fallen headlong may begin to stand." The penitent is to direct his thoughts to Jehovah; to him as Center he is attracted, and in him he finds his place of rest; nor is there ether means of recovery or source of help. Thus Kimchi says, "For thou seest that through thine iniquity thou hast fallen, therefore it behooves thee to return to Jehovah, as nothing besides can raise thee from thy fall but thy return to him." "There is none," says Aben Ezra, "can raise thee from thy fall but the Eternal alone."
Take with you words, and turn to the Lord.
(1) Some render this clause. "Take with you [i.e. forget not, neglect not, but receive with obedient spirit] my words." This rendering is obviously erroneous.
(2) The correct translation is that of the Authorized Version, and the words referred to are such as express prayer for pardon and confession of sin—the audible sound of the heart's desires. There is an allusion, perhaps, to the requirement of the Law: "None shall appear before me empty." Not outward sacrifices, but words of confession, were the offering to be presented. Thus Cyril eloquently explains it: "Ye shall propitiate the Deity, not by making offerings of riches, not by dedicating gold, not by honoring him with silver vessels, not gladdening him by sacrifices of oxen, not by slaughtering of birds; but ye shall give him discourses and wish to praise the Lord of the universe, appeasing him." To the same purport is the exposition of Aben Ezra: "He desires not from you, when ye go to seek his favor, treasures or burnt offerings, only words with which ye are to confess;" so also Kimchi: "He does not require of you on your return to him silver or gold or offering, which the Israelites lavished at great expense on their idols, but good works with which ye are to confess your iniquities." Say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously. On turning to the Lord with their whole heart, not with their lips only, they are furnished with a form of sound words which God by his prophet puts into their mouth. Elsewhere a formula is prescribed, thus: "Publish ye, praise ye, and say, O Lord, save thy people, the remnant of Israel" (Jeremiah 31:7); compare also Isaiah 48:20; Psa 16:3; 1 Chronicles 16:35.
The position of כָל before the verb creates a difficulty and causes diversity of rendering; for example,
(1) besides the ordinary rendering, which takes kol as holding its peculiar position by an hypallage, there is a modification of it: "All take away of iniquity."
(2) Some supply mem, and translate accordingly: "From all take away iniquity." Kimchi explains it as a transposition: "All iniquity forgive," and compares Ezekiel 39:11; or, understanding le, "Forgive to every one iniquity." The object of the separation may be for greater emphasis. In like manner, the following clause is also subject to diversity of translation and interpretation.
(1) the rendering of the Authorized Version, which appears to supply le before tov: "Receive us for good," viz. in bonam partem, or graciously; or, "receive our prayer graciously."
(2) Another rendering or exposition is: "Take what is good (of thine own to bestow it on us);" thus in the sixty-eighth psalm at the nineteenth verse God is said to receive gifts among men, i.e. for distribution among men, and hence the apostle, in Ephesians 4:8, substitutes ἔδωκε for ἔλαβε, and thus expresses the sense. The literal sense
(3) is the correct sense, namely, "and receive good:" "And receive good," says Jerome, "for unless thou hadst borne away our evil things we could not possibly have any good thing to offer thee, according to that which is written, 'Cease from evil and do good.'" Thus also the words are translated and interpreted by Pusey: "When then Israel and, in him, the penitent soul, is taught to say, receive good, it can mean only the good which thou thyself hast given; as David says, ' Of thine own we have given thee;'' while he adds in a note on these words, "No one would have doubted that קי ט means, 'receive good,' as just before, קי די means 'take words,' but for the seeming difficulty—What good had they?"
So will we render the calves of our lips.
This is more accurately rendered,
(1) "So will we render young bullocks, even our lips." The word shillem, to render, or repay, is almost technical in its application to thank offer-tugs or sacrifices in fulfillment of a vow; the best animals for thank offerings were parm, or young oxen; but the lips, that is, the utterances of the lips, consisting of prayers or praises, or both, are to take the place of the animal sacrifices offered in thanksgiving. Thus the psalmist says, "I will praise the Name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs."
(2) The Septuagint, reading פְרְי instead of פָרְים, renders by καρπὸν χείλεων, to which the inspired author of Hebrews alludes, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks [margin, 'confessing'] to his Name;" or perhaps the reference in Hebrews is to Isaiah 57:19, "I create the fruit of the lips." Further, as words of confession in Isaiah 57:2 take the place of sacrifices of sin offerings, so here words of thanksgiving replace sacrifices of thanksgiving.
Asshur shall not save us: we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy. This was the practical side of Israel's repentance; this was bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. Here was a renunciation of all hope of safety from the world-powers—both Assyria and Egypt. They would never again have recourse to Assyria for help, nor to Egypt for horses; nor confide in their own unaided power or prowess; while this renunciation of worldly power and carnal confidences implied, as its opposite, unfaltering faith in the protecting power and saving strength of Jehovah. All thin was much, and yet more was required; next to such renunciation of merely human aid, as indicated, and its contrary, the recognition of Divine assistance, comes the absolute and complete abandonment of their national and besetting sin of idolatry. They have so far come to themselves and received the right use of reason as to confess that the manufacture of man's hands cannot be man's god, thus giving up with feelings of contempt and disgust the groveling sin of idolatry with its attendant vices. Still more, they are penetrated with the conviction that man without God is a poor fatherless creature, in no better, if not in a worse, condition than that of a weak orphan child. They have the consolation at the same time that for all such, on their return to him, the father of the fatherless and the God of the orphan has bowels of tenderest compassion. To the presumed prayer of the penitent an answer overflowing with mercy is promised at once, and by God himself in the next section, consisting of—
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him. The penitential prayer put in the mouth of the people receives in this verse a gracious response; words of contrite confession are echoed back in accents of compassion and consolation. When thus penitent and prayerful they returned to the Lord, he promises them favor as well as forgiveness, so as to heal the moral malady under which they had long labored, remedy the evil effects of their apostasy, and withhold the stripes he was going to inflict. Meshubhatham means
(1) their turning away from God and all included therein—defection, rebellion, idolatry, and other sins. The disease would be healed, and its consequences averted.
(2) Some, however, understand the word, in a good sense, to mean "conversion ' or "the converted," the abstract being put for the concrete; the blessing is thus promised them when they turned or returned to God. Thus the Syriac version.
(3) The LXX. again, connecting meshubhah with yashav, to sit or dwell, render it by κατοικίαν, that is," I will heal their dwelling." There is little doubt that (1) is the correct translation, and it is generally accepted as such. They are next assured of God's love, and that spontaneously (נְדָבָה, the preposition le understood) with ready willinghood and unfeignedly. God's love is
(a) free, anticipating its objects, not waiting to be merited or purchased, without money and without price; it is
(b) also purest and most sincere affection, altogether unlike that feigned affection sometimes found among men, who profess much love while their heart goeth after their covetousness, or after some other and different object from that pretended. Then follows an assurance that there is no barrier to the exercise and no obstacle to the outgoing of God's love; the turning away of God's anger from Israel is the ground of such assurance. Some copies read mimmeni, my anger is turned away from me, instead of mimmena; this, however, is erroneous, though the sense is not much affected by it. The error may have arisen from a misunderstanding of Jeremiah 2:35. Rashi explains the verse correctly: "After they have thus spoken before me: I will heal them of their apostasy, and love them of my own free will; although they themselves are not worthy of love, yet will I love them freely, for mine anger has turned away from them." Aben Ezra says. "Backsliding is in the soul what disease is in the body, therefore he uses the word 'heal.' But God proceeds to perform what he has promised; he does not confine his goodness to words, he exhibits it in works, as the following verses show." I will be as the dew unto Israel. "The Jussive assumes different shades of meaning, varying with the situation or authority of the speaker … . Sometimes, from the circumstances of the case, the command becomes a permission: Hosea 14:6, 'I will be as the dew to Israel: let him flourish, וְיַךְ, and strike forth his roots as Lebanon'" (Driver). In lands where there is little rain, the dew, falling copiously, fertilizes the earth, refreshes the languid plants, revives the face of nature, and makes all things grow. Thus the dew becomes the source of fruitfulness. So God, by his Spirit's grace, is the Source of Israel's spiritual fruitfulness. He shall grow (margin, blossom) as the lily. This comparison suggests many qualities, any one of which may characterize, or all of which may combine in, the spiritual growth thus pictured. There is the purity of the lily, the beauty of the lily, the fecundity of the lily, the perfume of the lily, the rapidity of its growth, the stately slightness of its stem. We may combine the rapidity of its growth; its fecundity, with regard to which Pliny informs us that a single root produces fifty bulbs; its beauty, to which our Lord refers in contrast with the glory of Solomon. But its root is weak, and he, on that account perhaps, subjoins: And cast forth (margin, strike) his roots as Lebanon. Whether it mean that the roots are as the trees of Lebanon or the mountain of Lebanon itself, the thought expressed by this comparison is stability. "As the trees of Lebanon," says Jerome, "which strike their roots as far down into the depths as they lift their heads up into the air, so that they can be shaken by no storm, but by their stable massiveness maintain their position." His branches shall spread; margin, go; rather, go on. This feature in the representation denotes enlargement or expansion. The tender branches (suckers) spreading out in all directions very aptly set forth the multiplication of Israel or their growth and increase numerically. But branches straggling, crooked, and ill-shaped would rather be a blemish than a beauty. It is, therefore, added: His beauty shall be as the olive tree. The olive has been called the crown of the fruit trees of Palestine, but besides, its fruitage so plentiful and useful, the splendor of its green, and the enduring freshness of its foliage, make it a vivid picture of that beauty of holiness or spiritual graces which it is here employed to represent. There is still an additional element of interest pertaining to this goodly tree, namely, And his smell as Lebanon. This signifies the fragrance of this beautiful tree of righteousness. The smell of Lebanon is referred to in So Hosea 4:11, "And the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon." What with its cedars, and spices, and fruit, and flowers, and aromatic shrubs, and fragrant vines, Lebanon must perfume the air with the most delightful odors. Thus acceptable to God and pleasing to man shall Israel become. The commentators quote with commendation Rosenmüller's explanation of the individual features of this inimitable picture: "The rooting indicates stability; the spreading of the branches, propagation and the multitude of inhabitants; the splendor of the olive, beauty and glory, and that constant and lasting; the fragrance, hilarity and loveliness." The simile changes into the metaphor; Israel, from being likened to a tree, becomes the tree. They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow (margin, blossom) as the vine: the scent (rather, renown) thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. There is some difficulty and consequent diversity of rendering and explanation in connection with this verse. If the tree be Israel in its collective or national capacity, the dwellers under its shadow are the members of the nation, separate]y and severally, flourishing under the widespread branches of this umbrageous tree. The word yashubhu is explained:
(1) (a) return, i.e. betake themselves to his shadow, which is incongruous, for how could they be said to return to their own shadow or dwell securely under it?
(b) return to their native land, so the Chaldee,—this is somewhat better;
(c) return to the worship of Jehovah, said of Israelites who had abandoned it, not properly of Gentiles turning to that worship;
(d) Rosenmüller, comparing Judges 15:19 and 1 Samuel 30:12, explains it in the sense of coming to themselves, reviving.
(2) Keil constructs yashubhu adverbially by a common idiom with yechayyu, and
(a) translates "shalt give life to come again," that is, "Those who sit beneath the shade of Israel, the tree that is bursting into leaf, will revive corn, cause it to return to life, or produce it for nourishment, satiety, and strengthening." Similarly the Vulgate, "sustain life by corn." This, however, must appear tame after the splendid promises that went before.
(b) Vivify; i.e. produce seed like corn, and rejoice in a numerous offspring as from a seed of corn many proceed; according to this, "seed" (זֶרַע) must be supplied, and caph of comparison. The added clause agrees with this, for the flourishing of the vine also symbolizes prolific persons (comp. Psalms 128:3). Further, the vine does not always flourish, yet, not like the corn which after harvest ceases and is no more seen, its root remains, and next year grows green and yields its fruit anew. The fame of the wine of Lebanon is celebrated for its taste and fragrance. Kimchi cites Asaph, a physician, as writing that the wine of Lebanon, of Hermon, of Carmel, of the mountains of Israel and Jerusalem and Caphior, surpass all others in flavor, taste, and for medicinal purposes.
Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? This is full, final, and for over a renunciation of idolatry on the part of Israel. I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found. This is God's promise, that his eye is fixed on Israel in order to look after him, care for him, and provide for him, and to protect and prosper him; while the figure of a green fir tree is the pledge of shelter and security. But, though the fir tree is evergreen, it is fruitless; and therefore it is added that God will prove the Source of fruitfulness, and supply all that his people shall or can ever need.
Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall far therein. This verse demands attention to all the prophet has written, whether for warning, or reproof, or correction in righteousness, or encouragement to piety and virtue, and evidently alludes to Deuteronomy 32:4. The ways of the Lord are those he prescribes for them to walk in, as also the ways he takes in guiding, guarding, and governing men. Like the dictates of the Word, so the dispensations of his providence are to some the savor of life, to others the savor of death; therefore it is added that, while the righteous walk therein, the wicked stumble in them (comp. Deuteronomy 30:19, Deuteronomy 30:20).
The fallen invited to return.
The history of Israel is the moral history of the world, at least in miniature.
I. HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF. The history of Israel repeats itself in the history of mankind in general. Their history is the history of sin and of salvation, of ruin and of recovery, of the mercy of God and of the backsliding of man. Their bondage in Egypt represents the slavery of sin; their rescue out of the hand of the oppressor, our redemption; their sojourn in the wilderness, our strangership on earth; their entrance into Canaan, our admission into the better country, even the heavenly; their backsliding from time to time, our own wanderings of heart and life from the living God; their return to the path of obedience, our repentance.
II. GOD'S READINESS TO RECEIVE THE PENITENT. The reproofs for sin and threatenings of wrath scattered over the preceding chapters of this book now give place to invitations to repentance and promises of mercy. The former were a preparation for the latter. Not only so, even interspersed with reproofs for sin we find most gracious calls to repentance; alongside the threatenings of wrath are the most precious promises. It is in this way that God wounds in order to make whole; when he convinces us of sin, his object is to comfort us; when he brings to mind our sin, it is that he may lead us to the Savior; when he proves to us our ruin by sin, he is at pains to point us to the remedy and provide for our restoration; having warned us of our danger, he urges us to the discharge of duty. He deals with us as with Israel at the time to which the prophet refers, showing us our fall and how we are to rise again; he urges us to repentance, instructing us what to do and what to say, and encouraging us withal by God's willingness to receive us on repentance.
III. MAN'S FALL AND ITS CAUSE. In the passage before us the words apply in the first instance to Israel; they had stumbled, such being the meaning of the original word. Their stumbling-blocks were their idols; they had forgotten the living and true God; they had proved ungrateful for his benefits and unmindful of his favors. Despising the riches of his goodness and forbearance, they had lapsed into gross idolatry; they had sunk deep into that degrading sin, making molten images of their silver and idols according to their own understanding,—all of it the work of the craftsman. Their ingratitude for the Divine goodness made their iniquity still less excusable, for according to the multitude of his fruit they increased the altars, according to the goodness of his land he made goodly images. No wonder the Majesty of heaven was provoked with that stiffnecked and rebellious people. But the fall of Israel reminds us of the fall of man, and leads us naturally to revert to the infancy of our race.
1. Before the Fall. When we picture to ourselves, as far as the Scripture record enables us, the place of our first parents in the state of pristine innocence, we think of that lovely garden "planted eastward in Eden ;" of its trees and shrubs; of its fruits and flowers; of the rivers that watered it; of its unclouded sky; of the genial warmth of the glorious sun fructifying and beautifying it; of the dews that refreshed it; of man its caretaker and cultivator of his pleasant position in that paradise, placed there as he was to dress it and to keep it. To this must be added the communion of the creature with the Creator, so close, so cordial, and so confidential as that communion then must have been. If Enoch, after sin and Satan had done their worst, still walked with God; if Abraham was called, not only the father of the faithful, but the friend of God; if God spake face to face with Moses, as a man speaketh with his friend;—we may form some faint idea, and it is only a faint idea, of that heavenly communion which man there enjoyed with his Maker as he walked in the garden in the cool of the day.
2. After the Fall. We know how the scene was changed—suddenly and shockingly changed. We have seen a picture designed to represent the change which sin introduced into Paradise, and the wreck which iniquity wrought. In one part of the picture all is beauty, all is loveliness; the sky is cleat', earth beneath is charming; above, below, around, everything appears inexpressibly gay and grand and gorgeous. Man is the monarch of all; every bird of every wing is subject to him, every animal of every species is submissive to his sway, even the most savage beast of prey owns his sovereignty. The lion crouches at his feet, he strokes the tiger with his hand. But no sooner has he tasted the forbidden fruit than the sky is clouded, lightning flashes with fearful fury, the elements are at war with him. The animals, lately so meek and mild, rise in rebellion against him—the lion opens his mouth in wrath, the tiger is wild with fury. Our first parents themselves, shivering with horror, shuddering with fright, are hurried out of Paradise. A flaming sword prevents their return, and guards on every side the tree of life. Such is the painting referred to, and it pictures a dread reality. It points out how man fell, and how far he fell from his state of primeval bliss, of fellowship with the Holy One, and of Divine favor.
3. The cause of such a fall. Iniquity was the cause, as we here read of Israel, "Thou hast fallen by thine iniquity." In that iniquity there were various elements; when analyzed it is found to be made up of several component parts. There was the lust of the flesh, for the tree was good for food; there was the lust of the eyes, for that tree was pleasant to the eyes; there was the pride of life, it was a tree to be desired to make one wise—"Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." There was, in short, rebellion against the mildest authority; there was disobedience to the most reasonable command.
4. Consequences of the fall are seen in posterity. When we read the records of the ancient nations of heathendom, even the most enlightened and polished, we cannot fail to be convinced of the deep degradation into which man by iniquity had fallen. In Egypt, the cradle of civilization, men worshipped animals and plants, and even reptiles. In Greece, with all its boasted intellectual superiority, aesthetic tastes, and fine arts, men worshipped a host of false gods, deified men, and even impersonations of the lowest passions and worst vices that agitate the human heart; while of Athens itself it was said that you could as easily find a god as a man in that celebrated city in Rome men multiplied gods, for, in addition to the national divinities, they readily admitted into their pantheon the gods, however monstrous and motley, of the nations which they conquered. Among the people of Israel in the prophet's time the great besetting sin was idolatry with all its foul accompaniments. In heathen lands at the present day it is still the same; multitudes bow down to stocks and stones, and call these vanities gods. Can anything afford clearer evidence of the fearful fall of our race than this sottish idolatry of ancient and modern heathen, as also of the Hebrew people, though so highly favored with the written Law, besides that which they had in common with their heathen neighbors? We forbear to speak of the gross impurities and shocking immoralities that go hand-in-hand with idolatry.
5. Illustration of the Fall. Of manifold illustrations which the subject admits take that of a stately tree. Its dimensions are mighty and magnificent—its top waves high in air, its branches spread far around, its leafy honors are luxuriant, its foliage umbrageous; it claims or seems to claim supremacy over all the forest trees. But the axe is laid to its root. You beg the woodman to spare that tree. It is vain, however; he has made up his mind, and it is doomed to fall. Blow after blow is struck; the sturdy strokes are redoubled; at length the root is giving way, the top is nodding, the tree topples to its fall. One creak, one crash, and the goodly tree is prostrate; ruin spreads the ground. Ere long the branches wither and the leaves decay. What a contrast between that tree flourishing in the stateliness of its strength and the loveliness of its life, and that same tree felled to the earth, its leaves stripped off, its branches lopped, the whole a sad emblem of decay, a solemn memorial of destruction! Such is the contrast between man in his original purity, while standing by faith, and man at the present day fallen by iniquity.
6. Greatness of the Fall. When the great Roman dictator had usurped the liberties of his country and changed the republican form of government to the imperial; when he had overcome all opposition, conquered all enemies, and fully gained the mastery; when he had reached the summit of popularity and power;—just then the daggers of the conspirators smote him to the earth. He fell at the foot of his great rival's statue. The friend who spoke his funeral oration and improved the occasion did justly magnify that fall, exclaiming, as well he might, "What a fall was there, my countrymen!" But what, after all, is the fall of the warrior, or hero, or emperor, even from the pinnacle of his fame and of his fortune, compared with the fall of an immortal soul by sin, dragged down into the deep pit of perdition? The sight of the fallen warrior, as he sat amid the ruins of Carthage, has furnished a subject for men to moralize on, while historians have commented on the fact; and it is indeed sufficiently impressive. The harmony that existed between the person and the place was necessarily striking and even startling; the fate of the one was so like that of the other, the downfall of the one was so similar to the desolation of the other, that we scarcely know which of the two is more entitled to the tear of pity or sigh of sympathy—the degradation of the chieftain or the destruction of the city. Yet greater far are the degradation and desolation which the blight of sin brings upon person or place.
7. Practical considerations. We need not travel far for proof of our fallen state; we do not need to go back to our first parents except for the purpose of tracing the evil to its fountain-head; we need not visit pagan lands, whether past or present; we do not require to quit the lands of Christendom. The condition of the Hebrew people as set forth by the Prophet Hosea is one that often repeats itself in the experiences—some of them sad enough—of everyday life. How many have fallen by iniquity around us! How many are falling by iniquity at our very doors, on this side and on that! How many have we known to begin life well, but they fell by iniquity! The wrecks of the fallen are strewn on the right hand and on the left. Some fall by drunkenness, some by lewdness, some by want of rectitude and right principle, some by what the world calls unsteadiness. If the sword slays its thousands, iniquity slays its tens of thousands.
8. Personal duties. Several personal duties of much importance may be learnt from this part of the subject; these may be expressed in Scripture language as follows: "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall;" "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall;" "Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness." Also pity the fallen; try to lift them up; pray for the backslider who has fallen back from the position he seemed to have attained, and seek to restore such a one in the spirit of meekness.
IV. THE RETURN OF THE PENITENT. Many motives, and those of the most powerful kind, urge the sinner to return to God.
1. There is the character of the invitation. It is an earnest one, a precious one, and a glorious one. It is the gospel re-echoing through the past and resounding about us at the present. This invitation proves the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the Divine goodness.
2. There is the Author of the invitation. It proceeds from the Friend whom we have treated so ungratefully and so ungraciously; he comes after us, as it were, calling and entreating us to return; he promises us a hearty welcome when we do return; he assures us that his heart and hearth and home stand open to receive us; his arms are stretched out to embrace us.
3. There are the persons invited. The vilest are subjects of this invitation; the oldest, the worst, the most wicked, are comprehended; they are offered present pardon, they are assured of instant forgiveness, and all without money and without price: "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Oh, then, since God is waiting and willing to be gracious, let not the sinner ignore that goodness, nor regard it with insensibility, nor trample underfoot his great mercy, nor treat his gracious overtures as the idle wind that passeth by; but allow himself to be led by the goodness of God to repent race.
V. THE MODE OF RETURNING TO GOD. We are to take with us words, as the worshipper in the olden time did not go empty-handed, but brought with him an offering when he went to worship God.
1. The words we are required to bring are words of confession, like the poor prodigal when he said, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son;" like the contrite publican when he cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner." If we thus confess our sins, he "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
2. There must be petition as well as confession; our words must be words of earnest pleading. Nor are we left without instruction on this head; suitable petitions are suggested, and the very words put in our lips. There is, according to the Authorized Version, a petition for forgiveness and one for favor. The former is, "Take away all iniquity;" for it is iniquity that has wrought our ruin, it is sin that is the source of all our sorrows; take it away, for by it we have fallen. Take it all away—the guilt of it, the defilement of it, the dominion of it, the love of it, and the practice of it. Take it all away and forever, for it is only thus we can be saved; only thus our souls are washed and justified and sanctified in the Name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. The second part of the petition pleads for favor; it is, "Receive us graciously;" that is, receive us into thy favor, thy family, and thy service. Receive us graciously, that is, gratuitously, of thy free favor and sovereign grace; not on the ground of innocence, for—
"Not in our innocence we trust—
We bow before thee in the dust:
And through our Savior's blood alone
We seek acceptance at thy throne."
Not on the ground of merit, for we have sinned and merit only wrath; not on the ground of price, for we have nothing to pay—
"Nothing in our hand we bring,
Simply to thy cross we cling."
Not on the ground of works, for we are saved solely of the Divine mercy, according to the riches of his grace in Christ Jesus.
3. There are words of thanksgiving. The calves, even the lips, are the thank offerings and service of the lips in general; nor do these differ aught from the fruit of the lips. Thanksgiving, praise, prayer, self-dedication, and self-surrender are all expressed by the lips, and are thus their offerings or their fruit.
"Nay, rather unto me, thy God,
Thanksgiving offer thou;
To the Most High perform thy word.
And fully pay thy vow:
And in the day of thy distress
Do thou unto me cry;
I will deliver thee, and thou
My Name shalt glorify."
VI. FRUITS MEET FOR REPENTANCE. These in the present instance consist in the complete rejection of carnal confidences and sole dependence on God. The penitent Israelite renounces all confidence in worldly policy, and worldly allies as secured by such policy—the Assyrian and the Egyptian alike. He renounces his idolatrous practices and superstitious devotions; and, depending no longer on foreign help, or objects and observances of idol-worship, or domestic resources, he places his entire and undivided trust in the living God. Henceforth the rule of his conduct and motto of his life may be conceived as summed up in the words of the psalmist: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God." It has been well said that "there is no sin more usual among men than carnal confidence; to lean on our own wisdom, or wealth, or power, or supplies from others; to deify counsels and armies, or horses and treasures, and to let our hearts rise or fall, sink or bear up within us, according as the creature is helpful or useless, nearer or further from us; as if God were not a God afar off, as well as near at hand." This was one of Israel's great sins, and which on repentance is renounced. This is a common sin, and one which all must renounce, trusting, not in an arm of flesh, but sanctifying the Lord alone in our hearts. It is when we feel our condition in this world to be one of orphanage, of weakness, destitution, desolateness, and distress, that we repose trustfully and securely in the Divine mercy and gracious fatherhood of God.
These verses describe the happy result of Israel's penitence and the merciful response to Israel's prayer.
1. The pardon sought is secured, and that for the greatest sin—that of backsliding, and so for all minor trespasses. The acceptance prayed for is presently and plentifully vouchsafed. The dark storm-cloud of God's wrath is dispersed and dispelled forever.
2. We next learn the fullness of God's forgiving love and his superabundant mercy to them that trust in him. By the most pleasing figures we are taught what God promises to be to his people; what they themselves become; and what a blessing they prove to others.
I. PICTORIAL CHARACTER OF DIVINE TEACHING. We find great variety as well as great beauty in the lessons of the Bible. There is great variety, for all nature, animate and inanimate, is laid under contribution to supply fit illustrations of Divine things; there is great beauty, for the loveliest objects above us, around us, and beneath us are employed for this purpose. In the passage before us there is a cluster of lovely natural objects employed in this manner to set forth spiritual truths with all the reality of nature and all the vividness of life. Here we read of the dew, the deep-rooted and everlasting hill, the lily, the tall tree with umbrageous foliage, the olive ever green, and Lebanon ever fragrant. We read also of the springing corn, the blooming vine, and wine of aromatic odor. These, it must be acknowledged, are beautiful figures, and the facts which they are intended to convey are equally blessed. But what enhances the beauty and the blessedness is the circumstance that the persons to whom these facts and figures have reference are those very persons who had erred and strayed from the Lord their God—even Israel who had fallen by their iniquity, Israel who had sadly backslidden, Israel who had grievously provoked the just anger of the Almighty; but Israel repenting and returning, praying and pleading, giving up their false refuges and casting aside their false gods. Oh how cheering and encouraging that God welcomes his erring children to return! Like the father in the parable, he runs to meet the prodigal, he casts the arms of his love around him; he receives the penitent to his fond embrace, laying aside the wrath that had been provoked; he bestows the love that had been undeserved; he forgives the sins that had been committed; he foregoes the punishment that had been incurred; and, physician-like, he heals the backslidings great and manifold.
II. SCRIPTURAL APPLICATIONS OF THE DEW. Figurative applications of dew are frequent in Scripture. Sometimes it signifies temporal benefits, as when Isaac blessed his son Jacob, saying, "God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine." Sometimes it denotes spiritual blessings, as in the case of Israel, of whom we read," His heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the Shield of thy help, and who is the Sword of thy excellency!" Sometimes it implies the reviving power and refreshing nature of the Divine Word, as when Moses the man of God, before he went up to the top of Pisgah and closed his eyes in death, addressed the people in that lovely song in which he says," My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew." Solomon compares the king's favor to "dew upon the grass." The psalmist compares brotherly love and union and peace to dew.
"As Hermon's dew, the dew that doth
On Zion hills descend;
For there the blessing God commands—
Life that shall never end."
He also speaks of the children of God who have been born of the Spirit—born from above as dew, because Divine light shines in upon them the Divine image is reflected in them, and, like the morning dewdrops, they deck and ornament the wide field of humanity; thus: "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." In like manner the Prophet Micah, speaking of the conversion of the Jews, and of the benefit which they shall in that day confer upon the rest of the world, and of their blessing to the peoples among whom they have been long scattered, says, "The remnant of Israel shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord." So also Isaiah, in a beautiful and highly poetic passage in which he refers to the resurrection of the dead, says, "Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs." Here God, speaking of himself, says, "I will be as the dew unto Israel."
III. PROPERTIES OF THE DEW AS ILLUSTRATIVE OF THIS PROMISE. The first and perhaps most obvious property of the dew is its refreshing quality.
1. This refreshing property is experienced most in the summer months, and especially during a season of drought, like that with which the land of Israel was visited, when, for three years and a half, there was neither rain nor dew. At such a time the ground is dry and parched; vegetation languishes; gardens and meadows and corn-lands are scorched; fields of grain, blades of grass, and leaves of trees wither; fruits and flowers droop. The showers of the sky have been withheld; rain-clouds, it may be, have gathered and darkened and promised much; but they have passed over without the long-hoped-for and much-required rain. Oh, how refreshing at such a juncture is the dew when it comes down copiously on the bosom of the thirsty earth! There it lies like a shower of gems upon the ground, shimmering in the morning sunrise; it covers the surface with pearly beauty.
"As Morn, her rosy steps in th' Eastern clime
Advancing, sows the earth with Orient pearl."
But those dewdrops are as refreshing as they are beautiful: they water to some extent the fields; they invigorate the languishing herbs; they refresh every green thing; they revive the plants and shrubs, the grasses, herbs, and flowers, and lift up their drooping heads; they gladden all nature. The transition from the soil to the soul is easy and not unnatural. What the dew is to the soil, grace is to the soul. In the natural world, where all erewhile was parched and scorched, dry and hard, waste and withered, consequently bleak and bare and barren, abundant dews, largely supplying in Eastern lauds the place of rain, descend; soon new life springs up and revives the half-withered plants and exhausted herbage, new loveliness appears in the leaves of trees and flower-petals. Just so when the grace of God is vouchsafed to the soul, and when the Spirit of God communicates it in rich abundance, new life is imparted to the soul, new energies are awakened, new spiritual vigor manifests itself, and new holy sympathies are developed. Sometimes, too, after the first bestowal of grace and impartation of life, believers may droop and their graces languish; the winds of the wilderness may blow upon us, the drought of the desert may scorch or wither us; in other words, the world, with its trials and temptations, Satan and his snares, sin and its enticements, the flesh and its lusts, all tend to dry up the spiritual affections of the soul, exhaust its energies, and check the heavenly flow of its feelings. Again a fresh communication of the dew of Divine grace is granted, and spiritual greenness springs up afresh and spreads throughout the soul, a renewal of spiritual life ensues, so that we live no longer to self and sin, but to him who died for us; no longer to the world, but are crucified to it; no longer to the flesh to serve it in the lusts thereof.
2. Dew has a fertilizing and fructifying property. Hence the dew is indispensable to germination and growth. Without it the husbandman would labor in vain and spend his strength for naught. He might industriously break up the fallow ground and carefully scatter the seed, but without the moisture of rain or dew the seed sown would neither bud nor grow; so in spiritual husbandry, men may plough and sow, but without the dew of Divine grace there will be no increase. How different when the dew of God's grace is abundantly bestowed l Then hard hearts are softened, stubborn wills renewed, invitations of the gospel accepted, the warnings of the Divine Word touch the conscience, its instructions impress the heart, awakenings take place in Churches, revivals occur throughout the land. Nay, more, the weakest means become effectual, the simplest instrumentalities powerful; while in individual life the weak Christian is strengthened, the weary is refreshed, the fainting revived, the unlovely spiritually beautified, and the spiritual fruitfulness or virtues of all developed or revived.
3. God's wise economy of the dew. There is not a single drop of dew formed by the rude hand of chance or made in vain. Neither is there a shrub, or herb, or leaf, or flower, or blade of grass that does not collect as much dew as is needed 10r its peculiar wants. Grass-lauds and cultivated soils radiate very freely by night the heat which they absorb by day; consequently they cool down speedily and condense plentifully into dew the vapor of the air as it passes over them. Gravel, rocks, barren lands, on the contrary, radiate very slowly and very little heat, so that very little dew forms upon them. Thus there are places where little or no dew falls and which no dew refreshes. There is the barren rock—no dew refreshes it; there are the gravel walk and the sandy desert—little or no dew is formed, collected, or needed thereon; there is the stone-paved street—no dew is needed to moisten it. Exactly so there are hearts so hardened by unbelief that no dew of grace either settles on them or softens them. The seed of Divine truth may be scattered on them from sabbath to sabbath, but it makes no impression on them, and takes no root in them; it lies, it may be, for a little on the surface, then cometh the wicked one and catcheth away that which was sown thereon. It is not for want of willingness in God to bestow the dew of his grace, or for want of sufficiency in Divine grace, that such is the case; but because the heart has been so hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, the conscience so seared by iniquity, and the whole man so alienated from the life of God, that there is no disposition to receive or profit by the heavenly boon.
IV. EFFECTS PRODUCED BY THE DEW OF GOD'S GRACE. The first effect is growth as of the lily.
1. The growth of the lily is rapid as it is beautiful. Here we may consider it as an emblem of beauty. Thus our Lord says, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That oven Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." In a passage in Ezekiel God says to his people, "Thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God." The comeliness to which the prophet refers is the comeliness of the soul. There is nothing so beautiful as holiness; there is no ornament like piety. The earth is beautiful when God adorns it with the bounties of his providence; when he replenishes it with fruit and flower, with grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man; when he carpets its surface with living green, clothing the fields with verdure, and covering the hills with corn. There is beauty in the over-canopying sky, in the bright orbs that sparkle like gems in the firmament. There is beauty in the widespread world of waters, and in the waves that dimple ocean's cheek. There is beauty twinkling in every star above us, sparkling in the dewdrops at our feet, and shining in every shimmer of noonday splendor. All these testify how beautiful this world once was, and how beautiful it would still be but for sin. There is beauty in the human face divine: there is beauty in the face of fair woman, and beauty of a rougher east in the countenance of man, and beauty, playful, cheerful beauty, in the pretty countenance of childhood. But all the varied beauties of a lovely world are not to be compared with the beauty of holiness. It is a beauty that reflects God's own image, and by which we resemble Christ.
"Come, then, O house of Jacob, come,
To worship at his shrine;
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine."
There may be beauty in the adorning of the person, in the plaiting of the hair, the wearing of gold, and the putting on of apparel; but the true beauty is the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
2. The next characteristic of this growth is stability. The growth of the lily may be fair or fast, but it soon fades; it may be easily plucked up, and so another figure is added to show the firmness of the believer. He is firmly rooted as well as spiritually fair. Some colors are very beautiful and very showy, but they are not fast colors; they soon fade, they soon lose their vividness. Some plants are very beautiful in their bloom, but weak in their root and soon uptorn. Not so the Christian. He casts forth his roots as Lebanon—either as the mountain itself, one of earth's deep foundations; or as the forest trees, those cedars of God, deeply rooted therein. Thus, with the flower of the lily, the believer has the root of the mountain or of the cedar tree, over which the winds of heaven have swept for centuries. He is fair as the one and firm as the other, for Christ dwells in his heart by faith; he is rooted and grounded in love; he is rooted in Christ and established in the faith, abounding therein with thanksgiving. He is, moreover, "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," forasmuch as he knows that his labor is not in vain in the Lord. Besides, as the root of trees draws up nourishment from the ground, so the Christian derives nourishment and strength from Christ; while the union is so close and so constant that nothing can separate him from Christ, nothing can wrench him from that rock in which he is rooted, nothing can detach him from the foundation on which he rests.
3. The next characteristic is expansiveness, as expressed by the words, "His branches shall spread." While his roots spread far and sink deeply into the soil, his branches spread. The application of this promise is to Israel literally, and so to the Church in general, as well as to the individual Christian. The Church of God is destined to grow to a great extent, and to spread her branches widely on every side, sending out "her boughs into the sea, and her branches unto the river," and ultimately to fill the whole earth. The Christian's growth likewise is expansive. He grows inwardly in the graces of the Spirit, outwardly in good works, upward in heavenly mindedness, and downward in humility. He adds to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity. These things are in him and abound, and thus is neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of God and in the doing of the Divine will. Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy, he thinks on and practices these things. His profiting appears to all, and his holy demeanor is so manifested that he promotes the growth of grace in others, and consequently the progress of the gospel in the world. He resembles the shining light, which continues to spread more widely and to shine more brightly until the perfect day.
4. The next element of this growth is permanence of beauty and abundance of fruit. In addition to the beauty or glory of the lily, the stability of the cedar rooted in Lebanon, or of Lebanon itself, the expansiveness of numerous and magnificent branches, we have also the abiding beauty and rich fruitage of the olive. The beauty of the lily is frail and its glory lading; but the greenness of the olive is perpetual; and as abundance of branches and plenty of leaves may make a show for a time, and suggest the idea of a sort of empty ostentatiousness, the prophet gives a fresh touch to his picture by adding the greenery of the olive, which is lasting, and the fruitfulness of the olive, which is so profitable and for many purposes serviceable—enlightenment, nourishment, and embellishment. Thus the psalmist says, "I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever." So also in Jeremiah 11:8 God calls his people a green olive tree, fair and of goodly fruit; such too is the individual believer—planted in the garden of the Lord, watered by the dew of heaven, his leaf is ever fresh and his fruit ever seasonable. Even in the winter of adversity the leaf of the righteous is green; in the winter of age they still bear fruit; in the wintry storms of the world their beauty remains like that of the olive tree, ever green, ever fresh, and ever flourishing. The beauty of an evergreen is enhanced, like most other things, by contrast; it appears most when other shrubs and trees are stripped and bared by the wintry blast; it is seen to most advantage when deadness and desolation reign around. In like manner, when the storms of' life, when the decrepitude of age, when the languor of decay, has stripped the mere worldly professor of the leaves of a merely assumed and temporary profession, a profession without reality, then true Christians stand out in striking contrast.
"Those that within the house of God
Are planted by his grace,
They shall grow up and flourish all
In our God's holy place:
And in old age, when others fade,
They fruit still forth shall bring:
They shall be fat and full of sap.
And aye be flourishing."
5. By the smell of Lebanon is set forth the fragrance of holiness. There is nothing so pleasing to God as holiness proceeding from faith in Christ and love to God. The believers' efforts in the cause of God have a rich perfume; their zeal and devotedness are like ointment poured forth; their spiritual sacrifices send forth the savor of a sweet smell. Thus the children of God are trees of righteousness, God's own planting, precious in his sight, pleasant and pleasing to God, and to all who love God and are like God. God compares his Church to a garden of spices: "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphor, with spikenard, spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices."
6. The people or Church of God become a blessing to others, Not only are they blessed themselves, but are made a blessing to others; they benefit all around. Like the pebble dropped into a pool and sending out wavelets to the furthest shore, so the people of God communicate benefits that, may reach to the utmost bound of earth and to the very end of time. Such as are converted through their influence, repenting of sin and returning to God, will join themselves to God's people and rest under the shadow of God's Church—shall be spiritually fruitful, reviving like the corn, of which a grain when it dies in the earth brings forth many more; and prolific as the vine, which, when pruned, produces many clusters, and each cluster many grapes; while their persons and their services are fragrant and even medicinal spiritually, as the scent of the far-famed wine of Lebanon physically. So with the Church of the old dispensation; so with that of the new; so with God's Church still.
Hosea 14:8, Hosea 14:9
A call to understanding.
The former verse exhibits Ephraim brining forth the fruits of repentance, abandoning idolatry forever. God on his part hears his prayers, grants his petitions, and makes him the object of his paternal care and kind providence. Nor is that all; he becomes to him refreshment in every time of need, and the source of fruitfulness at all times. It is the part of understanding and the privilege of the prudent to devote due attention to and to attain to proper discernment of such things. By the judicious exercise of their natural powers, quickened and strengthened by grace, they convince themselves of the rightness and justness of God's ways, and continue, to their own unspeakable comfort, to walk therein; but transgressors stumble at God's dealings and fall into the perdition of ungodly men.
HOMILIES BY C. JERDAN
Return to God: its beginnings.
The long and terrible storm of denunciation is now at last over; the wrath-clouds roll away, and the sunshine of the Divine love bursts forth with healing in its wings. Beyond all the hurly-burly of the tempest sent as the punishment of sin, the prophet discerns the paternal tenderness and the loving patience of the God of Israel. So he begins this closing chapter of his book with a last tender entreaty to return to him who "sitteth upon the flood," and who "will bless his people with peace." How changed the prophet's style, in this final strophe, from what it is in most of the preceding! When denouncing Ephraim's sin and doom Hoses is obscure, abrupt, rugged, and volcanic; but in Hosea 14:1-9. all is pellucid and restful and full of beauty. The whirlwind and the earthquake and the fire have given place to the still small voice. The subject in these opening verses is—The beginnings of spiritual revival. In its rise there are three stages.
I. THE LORD BESEECHING. (Hosea 14:1) As applied to Israel, the exhortation has for its background all the judgments which have been threatened throughout the Book. And since these words were written Israel "has fallen" indeed. The ten tribes were soon carried into Assyria; Judah was by-and-by driven away to weep beside the rivers of Babylon; regained Jerusalem was at length fiercely overthrown by the Romans; and for eighteen centuries now the Jews have been dispersed over the wide world, and exposed to reproach and persecution and cruelty. All this has been the punishment of Israel's own "iniquity"—the political schism, the calf-worship, the Baalism, the godless pride, the unblushing immorality, and at last the rejection and murder of the Son of God. Jehovah could not avoid punishing; he could not but allow the apostate nation to lie under its doom during centuries and millenniums; but all the while the Divine heart is saying, "O Israel, return!" How wonderful that the eternal God should condescend to entreat men to repent! But "the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations" (Psalms 100:5). If, however, there is to be salvation, there must be repentance, and all true repentance takes its rise in the call of God's Spirit. The Lord seeks the sinner with his grace before the sinner can seek him. And thus "Return unto the Lord" is the burden of the entire revelation of the Bible; it is the key-note of all Hebrew prophecy, as of all New Testament gospel. Not only so, but in this passage God also condescends to direct the people as to the thoughts and words" with which they may acceptably approach him in complying with his urgent entreaty (verses 2, 8). How different all this from "the manner of man"!
II. THE PENITENT PRAYING. (Verse 2) This verse and verse 3 form a sort of "Lord's Prayer" for backsliders. God desires no longer the animal sacrifices of the Law; indeed, the twelve tribes cannot in their exile offer any, for the temple-worship has now ceased. But he requires "words" which shall be the evidence of "a broken and a contrite heart." Even these, however, he here provides for his penitent children. "What need God words? He knows our hearts before we speak unto him. It is true, God needs no words; but we do, to stir up our hearts and affections" (Sibbes). Although the Lord does not now demand sacrifices, the kind of" words" which he asks recalls to our minds the three principal forms of sacrifice ordained by the Levitical Law, viz. the propitiatory, the dedicatory, and the eucharistic, represented respectively by the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering. In a true return to God there will be:
1. Words of confession. "Take away all iniquity." A child who has done wrong recovers his father's favor so soon as he confesses his fault; so Jehovah's children, who have made themselves "fatherless' by their apostasy, take the first step in the direction of" finding mercy ' when they "return up to" (verse 1) him with words of repentance. The penitent draws near with the leper's confession, "Unclean! Unclean!" and with the publican's prayer, "God be merciful to me a sinner." His first and deepest need is pardon; he wants mercy for the past, and grace to help for the future. He prays to be delivered from the power of evil; and pleads, in doing so, the merit of Jesus Christ as his Sin Offering.
2. Words of dedication. "Receive us graciously;" literally, "receive good." The barrier of sin being removed through faith in the atonement, the next step in revival is the presentation of the person "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God" (Romans 12:1). It is true that of ourselves we have no good which we can offer; but we are to give to the Lord of his own. The grace which he bestows upon us we are to employ in his service and for his glory. The Christian dedicates his renewed humanity, in body and soul, to his Redeemer (Micah 6:6-8).
3. Words of thanksgiving. "So will we render the calves of our lips," i.e. we shall offer our lips as a peace offering, instead of calves. The praise of a redeemed heart is an acceptable sacrifice, and "shall please the Lord better than a bullock that hath horns and hoots" (Psalms 69:31). The soul that has been forgiven much loves much, and should therefore overflow with thanksgiving and praise (Hebrews 13:15). Such are the three sorts of "words" which God expects from all who "return" to him. He wants words of confession like those of Psalms 51:1-19.; of self-dedication, like those of Psalms 116:1-19.; of thanksgiving, like those of Psalms 103:1-22. And, now that Christ has come, these are "the sacrifices of God," alike for the sons of Israel and for sinners of the Gentiles.
III. THE PENITENT RENOUNCING CREATURE-CONFIDENCES. (Psalms 103:3) After the threefold word-sacrifice, comes the promise of practical amendment and reformation. Israel resolves to forsake his great national sins, viz. his habit of looking for help to Assyria, his reliance upon the cavalry of Egypt or other warlike strength, and his idolatry of Baal and the calves. The people will show the sincerity of their conversion by endeavors after new obedience. They will realize that away from God they are helpless orphans; and, in all their approaches to him, appeal to his "mercy "as the "Father of the fatherless," This is just what every sinner must do in returning to the Lord. We all have Asshurs and horses and idols which we must abjure. If we will "return quite up to Jehovah our God" (Psalms 103:1) we must put away confidence in every creature-help, and in any defense which is our own handiwork. We may have been "glued to idols" (Hosea 4:17); but we must at any cost tear them out of our hearts, even although the soul should seem to be rent asunder in the process. For true conversion implies perfect union to the Lord Jesus Christ, perpetual communion with the Holy Spirit, and persevering progress in the ways of holiness. We obey "the first and great commandment," and fulfill the chief end of our being, when we choose Jehovah as the Portion of our souls, and give him our supreme and constant and most tender love.
1. The mercy of God to sinners is untiring and indestructible (Psalms 103:1).
2. Now that Christ has died as our Sin Offering, we plead his atonement as the ground on which we ask the Lord to "take away all iniquity" (Psalms 103:2).
3. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," and contrition always manifests itself in prayer (Psalms 103:2).
4. To obey is better than sacrifice" (Psalms 103:3).
5. The penitent sinner and the backsliding believer have this assuring motive to induce them to return to God, that, however they may be scorned by their fellow-men, they are sure of a warm welcome from him who is the "Father of the fatherless."—C.J.
Hosea 14:4, Hosea 14:5
Return to God: its immediate effects.
So soon as Israel shall return to Jehovah and offer the foregoing words of self-condemning supplication (Hosea 14:2, Hosea 14:3), they shall receive a glad welcome from him "who delighteth in mercy," and who will not "keep his anger for ever." The first clauses of this answer of blessing remind us that there are three results of religious revival which begin to be experienced at once. These are "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ," in the form of healing; "the love of God," in the gift of positive and full salvation; "and the communion of the Holy Ghost," as manifested in the enjoyment of Divine influence. The answer corresponds to the prayer of the penitents, only that the blessings promised are even larger and richer than those which have been asked.
I. SPIRITUAL HEALING. "I will heal their backsliding" (Hosea 14:4); or rather, "their falling away; ' "their apostasy." The Lord will remove the injuries which his people's apostasy has brought upon them, and will cure them of the malignant disease itself. This blessing of healing includes
(1) the forgiveness of sin;
(2) deliverance from its pollution;
(3) the cure of the tendency to backslide; and
(4) removal of the chastisements and sorrows which past guilt has entailed.
How does God heal all these wounds? He does so by the application of the blood of Christ. That blood is the one unfailing salve for the sinner's conscience and heart, and it procures also his redemption from all future evil. All men, Jew and Gentile alike, who accept the gospel message, receive such healing in our time; and in "the latter days" this gracious promise shall be completely fulfilled in the national conversion of Israel, as well as in the "coming in" of "the fullness of the Gentiles."
II. FULL SALVATION. "I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4). Jehovah's wrath being gone, and his people's apostasy healed, his generous love is now free to go forth without restraint. He finds in his people themselves, it is true, no cause why he should love them. In himself the backsliding sinner is repulsive and unlovely; and the only acceptable gift which he can bring when he returns is merely feelings and "words" (Hosea 14:2). But, as a mother's love for her child is not based upon the child's character, or upon the return which he makes for her goodness, so also love is instinctive and natural to the Divine heart. He loves "freely," or spontaneously, just because he himself "is love." The Lord heals his people's backslidings by discovering anew to their souls the greatness of his tender mercy towards them. His wonderful love leads him first to be the soul's Physician, and then to become its Husband. His free favor bestows upon the healed one the health of holiness, and continues to be the springing well-head of the believer's salvation.
III. DIVINE INFLUENCE. "I will be as the dew unto Israel" (Hosea 14:5). This promise announces the reversal of the curse of barrenness recorded in Hosea 13:15. We think of Jehovah as being "the dew" in connection with the gracious operations of his Spirit. He rewards the prayer and the life of penitence, and evinces his free love to his people, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. There are many points of analogy between the descent of the dew and the work of the Spirit. The Divine dew, like the natural, is:
1. Mysterious and heavenly. It has its source high above us The falling of the dew is independent of man's skill and power (Micah 5:7; Job 38:28); much less are the workings of grace the result of any human process (John 3:3-8).
2. Gentle and silent. No one sees or hears the dew falling, and experience alone has taught man that it is really an important force of nature. Similarly the grace of the Spirit "cometh not with observation" (Luke 17:20). It works on in secrecy, and becomes visible only in its beneficent results upon character and life.
3. Abundant. In Palestine the dew is so copious as to compensate to some extent for the absence of rain. The Divine dew, in like manner, is often seen to be most abundant, especially in a time of religious revival. The work of the Spirit may influence for much good an entire Church, or even a whole nation, so as to enrich its life as a Christian community.
4. Penetrative. The dew pierces the soil, and insinuates itself into the fibers of every herb and plant; so the Holy Ghost, using the Divine Word, "pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit" (Hebrews 4:12), and searches through the whole nature of man, to purify and bless it.
5. Given daily. "The grace of God, like the dew, is not given once for all, but is day by day waited for, and day by day renewed. Yet doth it not pass away, like the fitful goodness of God's former people (Hosea 6:4), but turns into the growth and spiritual substance of those on whom it descends" (Pusey).
6. Refreshing and fertilizing. The dew produces verdure and fruitfulness. So the constant presence of the Holy Spirit within the soul and in the Church is essential to spiritual freshness and usefulness. The clauses that follow (Hosea 13:5-8) show that this is the main point of the emblem as employed here, and trace with exceeding beauty of poetic diction the results of the Lord's gracious activity when he comes "as the dewy He shall so come in "the last days"—blessed be his Name!—"unto Israel," i.e. to his ancient people; and not to them only, but to the whole Israel of God, of every nation, who follow spiritually in the footsteps of Abraham.
1. Apostasy is a malignant soul-malady, which, if not arrested by the great Healer, will lead to final perdition. If we would be preserved from it, we must avoid habits of backsliding.
2. What a ground of hope to the penitent, and of comfort to the believer, is the "freeness" or spontaneity of the Divine love!
3. The absolute dependence of the individual and the Church upon the work of the Holy Spirit.—C.J.
Return to God: its ultimate results.
These are like the effects of the dew of heaven upon garden and landscape. They are, in fact, the results of the Divine influence which God the Holy Spirit bestows upon returning penitents. The imagery of the passage is borrowed from the vegetable kingdom, and reminds us of that of the Song of Solomon. The prophet employs a combination of emblems—the lily, the cedar, the olive, the corn-field, the vineyard, because it requires them all to furnish an adequate picture of the blessed outcome of religious revival. This representation shall yet be realized in the spiritual future of the Hebrew nation. "Ephraim," now so sadly blighted, shall be dowered with "double fruitfulness," and thus verify the presage of his ancient name (Genesis 41:52). The promise is fulfilled also, even now, in the case of every Christian Church, and of every gracious heart, which "returns unto Jehovah," and receives a fresh baptism of his Spirit. The rich and blessed results of revival are—
I. GROWTH. "He shall grow as the lily" (verse 5). There are various plants of the lily species found in Palestine which are remarkable, not only for their beauty, but for their rapid and luxuriant growth. The tall lilies, to whose brilliant colors the Lord Jesus pointed his disciples (Matthew 6:28, Matthew 6:29), possess also much vitality and productiveness. So is it with the Church that has been watered with the copious dews of God's good Spirit. How rapidly the infant Church grew after the outpouring on the day of Pentecost! What multitudes turned to the Lord in the times of the Reformation! What numbers do still in every season of revival! And so also is it with the individual soul when the garden of its graces is daily wetted with the heavy heavenly dew. It makes rapid progress in its upward growth. Each of us may profitably ask himself, "Am I growing in grace? Are my Christian faith, and love, and patience, and diligence, and holy zeal larger than they were ten or twenty years ago?"
II. STRENGTH. He shall "strike his roots as Lebanon: his branches shall spread" (verses 5, 6). The lily both grows and multiplies rapidly; but it is not an emblem of stability, for its stalk is frail and its root slender. To find an image of fixedness and forceful reserve, the prophet goes to the cedar of Lebanon. This tree is far-famed for its strength and stateliness. It is very deeply rooted; and from its main trunk numerous branches spread out horizontally, tier upon tier, until the diameter of the compass of ground which the tree covers is even greater than its height. In like manner, spiritual solidity and expansiveness are secured by striking our roots well down into the hidden life of faith, and prayer, and communion with God, and fidelity to conscience. The moral robustness which is proof against whatever "tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word" (Matthew 13:21) is always the result of a deep sense of sin, a thorough apprehension of the gospel, and a profound love to the Savior.
III. BEAUTY AND FRAGRANCE. "His beauty shall be as the olive tree" (verse 6). There is doubtless a natural glory of its own in the slender grey-green foliage of the olive; but to the Oriental the attractiveness of this tree consists largely in its capacity of yielding that oily matter ("fatness," Judges 9:9) which is so essential to health in the dry and hot climate of the East. "His smell as Lebanon" (verse 6); the reference being to the fresh breezes of the mountain, laden in early summer with the fragrance of the vines and the balsamic odor of the cedars and aromatic plants. "The scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon" (verse 7), which was celebrated for its fine flavor and its rich aroma. These emblems are suggestive of the beauty of holiness, and the fragrance which proceeds from the renewed heart and life. The Divine dew is sent to make one nature bloom as the lily, and to clothe another with verdure like the ever-green olive. It should impart to every child of God some healthful fragrance or sweetness of disposition which shall lead others to "take knowledge of him, that he has been with Jesus" (Psalms 45:8). How many Christians, unhappily, lack this blessed aroma! How many are morose and moody, rather than sunny and joyful; thereby giving countenance to the impression that religion is a melancholy thing, instead of being "cheerful as the day"!
IV. FRUITFULNESS. This is the most important of the results, and Hosea's mind dwells on it in verses 7 and 8 as the prevailing thought of the passage. Fruitfulness is the ultimate test and the final end of every revival In verse 7 the restored Israelitish nation is spoken of as a wide spreading tree, under whose grateful shadow its people also shall be individually restored from their backslidings. The corn "falls into the ground and dies," and may seem to be killed a second time by the storms of winter; but when spring comes it revives, and at length yields an abundant harvest. The vine, when its fruit-bearing branches have been carefully pruned, sprouts again with new vigor and bears choicer fruit. So is it with a Church or with an individual believer at the close of a long winter of declension, and after experience of the pruning-knife of affliction. With the blessed consciousness of sin forgiven, and of the restored favor of God, and under the fertilizing influence of the dew of the Holy Spirit, the revived Church ripens like a waving harvest-field, and hangs with luscious clusters like a fragrant vineyard. The purpose of the gift of Divine grace is fruit-bearing. The dew of the Spirit is sent with a view to "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23). The scheme of redemption is God's plan for the promotion of morality. The Savior says to his disciples, "I have chosen you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain." "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8, John 15:16). It is true, of course, that in different lives spiritual fruitfulness varies in character. One believer has the beauty of the lily; another, the stability of the cedar; a third, the fatness of the olive. But in the communion of the saints, and even within each separate Christian congregation, all the forms of strength, beauty, and usefulness should meet. A revived Church, watered with the Divine dew, should be garden, orchard, vineyard, fruitful field, and forest, all in one.
CONCLUSION. In verse 8; Jehovah joyfully anticipates the permanence of Ephraim's reformation. He "hears" him resolving to put away idols forever, and "observes" him bringing forth fruit meet for repentance. The backsliders have returned, and have repented from sin as well as for it. Those who were "joined to idols" are now joined to the Lord. And the Lord reminds them, in a closing word, that all their "springs ' are in himself. Jehovah is "like a green cypress tree; ' he is "the Tree of life," and the Giver of "fruit' to all who dwell under his shadow. May the good Lord incline our hearts also to abjure every idolatry, and to seek our "fruit" in himself only, that he may with joy address us as "Ephraim," because he finds in us "double fruitfulness"!—C.J.
With this weighty sentence the prophet seals up the written record of his life-message. As the foregoing chapters express the essence of Hosea's public teaching during his prolonged ministry, this closing verse, in like manner, sets before us the quintessence of that written record. The conclusion "unspecializes the prophecy, as it were, and extracts the general moral lesson which underlies it all" (Cheyne). Two main points are suggested here for our consideration.
I. A SUMMARY OF THE PROPHET'S TEACHING. This is given in the second half of the verse. The Book of Hosea is full of precious instruction:
1. About God. That "the ways of Jehovah are right" is the sum of its theology. God's "ways" are to be understood to mean his dealings with men as the supreme moral Governor. And the prophet's aim in these pages is akin to that which Milton announces in the beginning of his great epic, viz. to "assert eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to men."
(1) His ways in judgment are right. "These things" cannot but include all the lamentations and chidings and announcements of punishment with which the book is so largely occupied. Ephraim had sinned against the voice of God's Law, against the assurances of his love, and even against the pleadings of his mercy; so the Lord could not be "unrighteous in taking vengeance," however dreadful and prolonged that vengeance might be. Hosea's message, on its side of sternness, announced that "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." God's ways are right in his dealings with every ungodly nation, despite all the difficulty and mystery which may gather round them. And his ways are right in his dealings with each individual transgressor, albeit that the reasons of his procedure may be "past finding out." The rectitude of the Divine ways is attested by experience; for, although they prove stumbling-blocks to the ungodly, "the just walk in them," and by-and-by arrive at "a city of habitation." To his own people Jehovah is "just," and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.
(2) His ways in mercy are right. If there be any book of Old Testament Scripture which exhibits the Divine grace and compassion, that book is Hosea. The strain of it is not ethical alone; it is evangelical also. The prophet represents the love of God as the fundamental ground of God's relations to his ancient people. Hosea conceives of Jehovah as Israel's Husband (Hosea 2:1-23) and Father (Hosea 11:1-12). But, as the prophet was persuaded that it was not wrong for himself to continue to love Gomer, his adulterous wife, and to yearn for the well-being of her children, when they followed in her evil ways,—so Goal's dealings in mercy towards apostate Israel, and towards sinners of the Gentiles, are right also. "Oar book is, therefore, truly a classic for the right understanding of the Old Testament conception of God with its interaction of love and wrath, and of the nature of the Old Testament revelation concerning God. Only such a God who can be so angry and so loving, who in all his love so displays anger, and in all his anger so displays love, could give up his only begotten Son to the accursed death for the deliverance of rebellious man" (Lange). But the Book of Hosea is also full of teaching:
2. About men. It separates them into two classes,—"the just" or righteous, and "the transgressors;" those who "walk in" the Lord's ways, and those who "stumble thereon." In other words, this book deals with the great theme of spiritual apostasy and revival.
(1) Spiritual apostasy. There are always many "transgressors," who, like Ephraim, stumble and fall in the right ways of the Lord. And this book is written to warn men against becoming such. Hosea points out the earliest symptoms of backsliding; e.g. the "morning-cloud goodness" (Hosea 6:4); the "grey hairs" (Hosea 7:9); the "removing of the bound" (Hosea 5:10); the "forgetting of one's Maker" (Hosea 8:14); the "hiring of lovers" (Hosea 8:9), etc. He indicates its further manifestations; e.g. "counting God's Law a strange thing" (Hosea 8:12); "mixing among the people; "being like "a cake not turned" (Hosea 7:8); becoming "an empty vine" (Hosea 10:1); "sowing the wind" (Hosea 8:7); "sinning more and more" (Hosea 13:2), etc. And he warns against ultimate results; e.g. idols "broken in pieces" (Hosea 8:6); "the land mourning" (Hosea 4:3); "reaping the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7); "joined to idols" (Hosea 4:17); "cast away by God" (Hosea 9:17), etc.
(2) Spiritual revival. The prophet deals with this more pleasant side of his message in Hosea 2:14-23, Hosea 6:1-3, and especially in Hosea 14:1-9. (For an outline of his teaching regarding the rise, progress, and fruits of revival, see the three preceding homilies)
II. THE MORAL QUALIFICATION NECESSARY IF WE WOULD PROFIT BY THIS TEACHING. The student of Hosea, who desires to get at the mind of the Spirit contained in these oracles, must be "wise" and "prudent." The "just" or pious man "walks in the Lord's ways;" and these ways require to be walked in to be understood. The "wisdom" which the prophet desiderates is not to be confounded with intellectual acuteness; it is a moral qualification. Here, as in the Book of Proverbs, and indeed throughout all Scripture, the "wise" are they whose souls have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and who have been brought into a right moral state in relation to Divine truth. The profound theology of Hosea, accordingly, will not be grasped by the man of merely intellectual discernment, or by any one who has only accumulated stores of human learning. Moral preparation is necessary in order to the reception and assimilation of spiritual truth. As the psalmist has it, "Light is sown for the righteous" (Psalms 97:11). Or, as the Lord Jesus expressed the same thought," If any man is willing to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God" (John 7:17). This experimental qualification is within every one's reach. The possession of it makes the simple-minded shepherd really wiser than the "undevout astronomer." Cowper's "cottager, who weaves at her own door," has it to the full; while "the brilliant Frenchman never knew" it. Only the right-hearted man will be habitually persuaded of the equity of the Divine government, both as regards judgment and mercy. Such a one has learned to "taste and see that the Lord is good." Correctness of conduct promotes correctness of creed, and helps to the proper understanding of God's ways. A man thinks rightly just to the extent of his living purely (Psalms 111:10). In our day, accordingly, one must be a believer in Christ and a follower of him if he would profit by the study of Hosea.
1. What a commentary upon this verse is the whole history, of the Hebrew nation, from the beginning until now!
2. Hosea's last word, like Holy Scripture everywhere, draws a sharp contrast between the righteous and the wicked.
3. Every man must make choice either of "walking in God's ways," or of "stumbling thereon."
4. The believer should derive comfort from this text in presence of the mysteries of Providence.
5. This final exhortation should come home to us with still greater power than it was fitted to do to Hosea's contemporaries; for, since he lived, the four great world-empires have successively fallen, the Jews remain scattered among the cities of the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ has been lifted up on the cross as an atonement for sin, and his gospel has been preached among the nations.—C.J.
HOMILIES BY A. ROWLAND
Hosea 14:1, Hosea 14:2
God's message to the prodigal.
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. Verse 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. Verse 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.
The heavenly dewfall.
The former part of the chapter describes the experience through which a Church or a soul must pass before the fulfillment of this promise. The repentance, the vows, the hopes of the penitent are here crowned by Divine goodness. With a startling and sudden transition, in the fourth verse, Jehovah is represented as interposing amidst the prayers of those returning to him. So our Lord describes the father as unable to listen to the close of the prodigal's confession, before he breaks forth in a gush of generous pardon and blessing. How encouraging the truth this suggests for all who turn to God! We accept our text as a figurative description of the revivifying and beautifying influence of the Holy Spirit upon the human heart. Let us notice, therefore, some of the characteristics of the dew.
I. DEW IS UNSEEN IN ITS COMING. We see its effects when every leaf and flower glitters in the early sunshine; but the dew came unperceived, when darkness was over the earth.
1. Probably the most powerful forces are those which are unseen. The noblest part of man is hidden from human gaze, and of him who is the directing Power of the universe it is said, "No man hath seen God at any time." If it be argued that because God is, and always has been invisible, he must be non-existent; it may also be argued that the conscious ego does not exist, because it has never been seen. It is true that no research or analysis in the natural world has discovered God; it is equally true that no investigation of the human body, living or dead, has ever revealed the subtle consciousness of whose existence each man is, however, certain. Both are beyond the range of experimental science. We do not know how the Spirit of God affects us; we cannot discover the nexus by means of which holy thoughts and impulses from above becomes ours, yet we are confident that they are of God and not of us. In our holiest and best hours the Holy Spirit comes to us, but secretly, "as the dew lighteth upon the grass."
2. The evidence of the work of the Spirit is to be found in its effects; e.g. the conversion of Saul of Tarsus; the profound teaching of the unscholarly writers of Holy Scripture; the triumph of Christianity through the influence of such men as were its first representatives; the moral transformation of some we ourselves have seen. One example of genuine conversion will do more to prove the work of the Spirit than all the tomes of theology ever written.
II. DEW IS SILENT IN ITS FALL. We can hear the pattering of rain or the rippling of streams, but the dewfall does not disturb an insect's sleep.
1. The Church, as well as the world, depends too often on noise and bustle, as the signs or the causes of success. The preacher whose eloquence attracts the multitude, around whom are clustered societies and organizations to do all manner of work, is not always the man most richly blessed of God. Be that as it may, the signs that the work is of God are to be found, not in the outward, but in the inward—in truer thoughts of sin and holiness, in a loftier standard of Christian integrity, in the generosity and self-sacrifice of Christ's disciples, in the purity and love which are being silently inwrought by the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence we should be slow to measure success in our own efforts or those of others.
2. As a rule, spiritual blessing is richest when outward joy is least. The dew falls not during sunshine, but in the night. Note the spiritual richness and power of the Church in times of persecution. Refer to the development of Christian faith, peace, hope, devoutness, in the dark seasons of affliction. The world must be hushed that we may hear God's voice. Earth must be darkened before the dew of heavenly blessing falls.
III. DEW IS REVIVING IN ITS INFLUENCE. We see nothing comparable to that with which Hoses was familiar, living as he did in a land where no rain fell for months together, and where the withholding of dew meant the death of vegetation. Without it corn would not reach maturity, and olives and vines and fig trees would yield no fruit. A more terrible curse than that pronounced by Elijah in Ahab's reign could not have been inflicted. Christ Jesus foresaw the dearth of comfort arid hope and energy which would prevail in his Church if his disciples were left to themselves. Hence he gave the promise of the Comforter, whom he would send from the Father, to lead his disciples into all truth, and to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The garden, glittering and beautiful after its dewy baptism, may illustrate such spiritual refreshment as we see in Peter coming from the upper room at Pentecost, or in John rejoicing even in the exile of Patmos. What are the graces and gifts—the fruits of the Spirit in us, which need the heavenly benediction? Whence their impoverishment? Where their source of revival? "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
IV. DEW IS REPEATED AND ABUNDANT IN ITS FALL. Its departure, as well as its coming, is rapid and secret. Hence Hosea elsewhere uses it as an illustration of transient religious feeling. To give a dewfall once in a season would be of little use.
1. It comes night after night, and tags is in accordance with the Divine method. Thus God gave the manna, which could not be hoarded or stored up for future use. By this means the people learnt their constant dependence on God. Still we are taught to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread"—a prayer which includes spiritual as well as temporal sustenance. Israel could not live on yesterday's manna. You cannot live on the relics of your old faith. Your character will break down if it rests on the memory of your past experience. The feeling aroused when you first thought of God was enough to bring you to him, but not enough to keep you near him. The prayer which brought pardon must be daily repeated for purification from sin. And in our weakness this is necessary, lest we should lapse into a prayerless life, and go on our way in a spirit of presumptuous self-dependence.
2. It is not that God cannot give grace abundantly, or that he willingly withholds from the feeblest and most worthless what they want and can receive. He does not stint the world of dew. The humblest flower has its drop; unsightly things are baptized with that blessing; the rough bracken shares it equally with the rose, and the tiny flower on the window-sill of the pauper is as much blessed as the garden of the peer. Free to all, it is a fit emblem of the fullness of the Holy Spirit which God will in nowise withhold from him who seeks. "I will be as the dew unto Israel."
CONCLUSION. If God is prepared to give, are we prepared to receive? Let us not make a mistake about the Holy Spirit similar to that which men formerly made about the dew, which represents him. They supposed that the moon and planets poured it down upon the earth, regardless of its condition. But at the beginning of this century, Dr. Wells, by three years' experiments, established the theory which, as Dr. Tyndall says, "has stood the test of all subsequent criticism, and is now universally accepted." It was demonstrated, in short, that dew was not dependent on the condition of the heavens only, but on the condition of the earth; ay, and of the various things upon the earth. It was shown that the aqueous vapor condenses on things which are cooled by the radiation of their own heat, and on those only; so that if anything, a cloud, for example, comes between them and heaven, which prevents the giving off of their heat, the dew does not come; or, if they do not themselves freely give off their heat, though all around are blessed, they are not. Carry the thought into the higher sphere of which we have spoken. If there be no outgoing of warm earnest desire on your part, if there be not an honest putting away of any cloud, be it of doubt or of sin, which lies between your soul and heaven, though others may be blessed, you will fail to receive the fulfillment of the promise, "I will be as the dew unto Israel."—A.R.
Hosea 14:5, Hosea 14:6
The bedewed Church.
This is a description of the condition of a Church which has received the fulfillment of the promise, "I will be as the dew unto Israel." Its blessedness is so full and so varied in its manifestations that no one emblem would suffice to represent it. Hence the text is crowded with imagery. The bedewed Church has these characteristics.
I. GROWTH. "He shall grow as the lily."
1. This presupposes life. A lifeless log would not grow, however rich the soil, favorable the season, abundant the sunshine and dew; but if these conditions be given to a lily bulb, though it be unsightly in appearance and deeply buried in the earth, it must grow, because it lives. No Church can expect the blessedness described in the text unless it is living, consisting of those who have more than a name to live, whose consciousness of God's presence and devotion to his service prove that they have passed from death unto life.
2. This indicates multiplication. A lily multiplies itself, and so foot by foot conquers the soil about it. Similar extension is a sign of vitality in a Church; for if the life of Christ be in it, it will never be self-absorbed, content with enjoyment, or even with self-culture, but will propagate itself in the waste places around.
3. It implies variety. The lily genus contains an unusual variety of species. Sometimes a single scale will produce a new plant. Some lilies are stately, others lowly; some grow in heat, others spread their broad leaves over the surface of a quiet pool. Far greater varieties are seen in the forms in which Divine life displays itself to the world. Some Churches are ornate in their acts of worship, others stern in their simplicity; some lay stress on accurate definitions of theology, others on the human side of their mission, etc. Yet all these but imperfectly represent the fullness of Divine life which was in Christ. These are not antagonistic forms of life, but imperfect developments of the one life.
4. It suggests purity. All Churches are agreed in seeking this which the lily so often represents. "The pure in heart shall see God," and "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Happy is it for men that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin."
II. STABILITY. "He shall...cast forth his roots as Lebanon." The lily grows fast, but is fragile; indeed, stability is seldom reached rapidly in nature. The succulent plant, which swiftly reaches maturity, is killed by the first frost; but the oak, which wrestles with the wind and laughs at the storm, is the growth of years or centuries. In the spiritual sphere, however, God can create a Church swiftly, whose beauty is not transient: "It grows as the lily, but cast forth its roots as Lebanon." The allusion is, not to the cedars of Lebanon, but to Lebanon itself. Standing on the summit of that mountain range, you see below you blooming flowers, solemn cedars, here a patch of waving corn and there a terraced vineyard, here a quiet dell and there a busy village. These change, but Lebanon abides; for it sends out its rocky ridges, like giant roots, down deep beneath the distant sea. That is Hosea's emblem of the stability of the Church, of which Christ said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The outward forms of Christian life may change, but Christ the Son of God, the one Hope of humanity, the one true King of the world, is rooted deep in the hearts of men, and the purpose of God and "his kingdom is that which shall never be destroyed."
III. EXTENSION. "His branches shall spread." No man can be good without doing good. If he has high moral tone, intense spiritual earnestness, strong, deep-rooted convictions, an attractive Christ-like character, his influence will spread in spite of himself—over his home and business relationships. This power is quite distinct from social or intellectual influence, and may exist without it. Hence it is that the rough-handed fishermen of a despised country are swaying the destinies of the world. "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me." Show how far-reaching is the quiet influence of a Christian mother, whose only sphere of activity is her own home. Note: Influence is not less because it is morally bad. Not only do the branches of the cedar spread, but also the branches of the upas tree, whose shadow is deadly. God forbid that the extension of our influence should prove the extension of our evildoing, and therefore of our retribution.
IV. BEAUTY. "His beauty shall be as the olive tree." No tree in Palestine was more valuable than the olive. Its oil was used as food, was poured on sacrifices, was employed in the coronation of the king, and afforded sustenance for light. No wonder it is so often used in Scripture as an emblem of prosperity. Here, probably, the reference is to the abiding beauty of the character created by God's Spirit—the olive being evergreen, as beautiful in winter as in summer. In natural disposition we often see gaiety and pleasantness supplanted by moroseness and irritability, when the experience of life has been bitter. But we have seen Christians whose luxurious home has been exchanged for straitened circumstances, whose vigorous health has failed, whose family circle has been broken up; and yet, in thankfulness for what is left, in serenity of spirit, in trustfulness for the future, we see the unfading beauty of the olive. "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf also shall not wither."
V. ATTRACTIVENESS. "His smell as Lebanon." In the valley between the two ranges of Lebanon, aromatic plants abound; myrtle and lavender and sweet-smelling reeds send forth delicious fragrance, and every passing breeze is perfumed and carries over the world a message concerning the tender mercy of God. It was with some thought of this that the Church is represented as praying, "Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; and blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out." Doubtless the graces of the Spirit are signified in that verse and in this, but the reference is chiefly to the diffusive influence of love, the greatest yet the quietest moral power we know. There is, unhappily, in the spiritual world, as in the physical, a beauty that is cold and almost repellant. There are Churches and Christians whose intellectual culture and social respectability none would dispute, but they are the last in the world to whom the troubled, the sinful, the skeptical, would turn for sympathy. They are deep-rooted as Lebanon, pure as the lily, but they have none of the smell of Lebanon, and do not bewray themselves and attract others by their sweetness. We cannot do Christ's work without his Spirit, without revealing sympathy and love like his. If we are to have any power for him, it must be spiritual power. If we are to lay hold of men and save them, it must be by the arms of brotherly love. "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it!"—A.R.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Hosea 14:1, Hosea 14:2
Counsels to the sinful.
It was the office of the prophet to be faithful at once with man and with God. He was bound not to flatter man, not to conceal or palliate human sins. At the same time, it was his to declare the whole counsel of God as the Ruler of all men, the Judge of the obdurate, the Healer of the penitent.
I. A REMINDER OF THE FALL. The Book of Hosea's prophecies is full of reproaches and expostulations addressed to backsliding, idolatrous Israel. The people are charged with iniquity, and they are put in mind of the "fall" into which their ungodliness has brought them. As surely as men wander from the ways of God into the ways of error, unrighteousness, and folly, so surely do they, sooner or later, meet with a fall. It is a plain truth that the godly stand upright. Under a Divine and righteous rule it cannot be well with those who neglect and despise the moral law. Our first parents "fell" by sin, and in this they furnished an exemplification of the consequences of disobedience as a lesson to their posterity.
II. AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO REPENTANCE. In the very language used in this expostulation and entreaty there is much to cheer and to justify the approach of the penitent sinner unto God.
1. There is the designation "Israel," the use of which seems a reminder of the Divine favor.
2. There is the appellation given to Jehovah—"the Lord thy God;" thine, even though thou hast shown thyself so insensible and so ungrateful.
3. There is the term which the counselor employs—"turn," "return," unto the Lord, implying that the right and proper path is Godward, that to have forsaken that path was deviation and error, that steps must be retraced. What stress is laid in Scripture upon sincere repentance and conversion—upon the turning of the soul unto him against whom sin has been committed, needs not to be shown; yet the sinful need that such directions should be repeated, both to preserve them from any other and any false way, and to encourage diffident and desponding souls in their access to God.
III. A DIRECTION TO CONFESSION AND ENTREATY. "Take with you words."
1. This is an encouragement to the expression and outpouring of the feelings of the heart. Mere words, that is, meaningless and insincere words, are vain; but words which are the utterance of a penitent and lowly soul, are acceptable.
2. Words should utter the self-abasement which is the sinner's proper attitude of heart before a righteous Lord. Confession is indispensable; for only the hardened and insensible can withhold it.
3. Words should plead for pardon and acceptance. The prophet himself puts such language into Israel's lips, and at the same time represents the willingness of an offended God graciously to hear and royally to answer.
APPLICATION. To show what light is furnished by the gospel of Christ to make evident alike the sinner's condition and also the grounds and assurance of Divine favor and forgiveness.—T.
Hosea 14:2, Hosea 14:3
The supplication and the vow.
Words alone are vain. Yet, in the order of nature, words are the expression of thought and sentiment and resolve. Especially must words uttered to Heaven be sincere and truthful; for he is the Searcher of hearts, whose favor the sinner beseeches with contrition and with confidence. Let it, then, be understood that the words here suggested as suitable for the repenting sinner's address to God are the utterance of deep emotion and sincere resolution.
I. PENITENT CONFESSION. Israel acknowledges that there has been misplaced confidence. She has trusted in alliances with Assyria, in military resources, in the vain aid of the idols of the surrounding idolaters. In all this she has been her own enemy, and has been proving her own folly. The confession, which is the indispensable condition to acceptance, is here made.
II. REPENTANCE AND RESOLVE. Israel not only sees the fact and feels the reproach concerning herself; she resolves upon a change—a turning from human aid and an abandonment of self-confidence. Apart from this there is no hope of a safer way, a better life.
III. ENTREATY FOR FORGIVENESS AND ACCEPTANCE. Israel loathes her sin, and desires that both the sin and its consequences should be removed. Israel is weary of enmity with God, and desires that there may be peace, that she may be accepted and dealt with in grace and love.
IV. THE SUPPLIANT'S VOW. It has ever been characteristic of human nature to deal with the higher Power as though that power were human, and to be appeased with offerings and with promises of service. Vows have been and still are made under the influence of this superstitious belief, Yet this is no argument against such vows as that here put into the lips of Israel: "So will we render the calves of our lips." Sacrifices of obedience and of praise are just on the part of man, and are acceptable to God. None who is graciously pardoned and accepted can withhold this tribute. There have doubtless been those who, in their ignorance and unspirituality, have hoped to bribe Deity with the proffer of their praises. But none the less does it become the pardoned penitent to express his gratitude to him who is plenteous in forgiveness.—T.
The fatherless findeth mercy.
The sorrows of human life are many, and some of them are, by us, largely inexplicable. The relation of father and son is an obvious provision of Divine wisdom and goodness, and beautifully symbolizes the relation between God and his dependent children. Yet there are the fatherless, deprived of the care and protection so urgently needed. Why should it be permitted that any should be placed in a position so painful and pitiable? We cannot tell. Still the case of such furnishes an opportunity for the intervention of him who is the Father of the fatherless.
I. WHAT THE FATHERLESS NEED. To understand this we must consider:
1. Of what they are deprived. They are without a father's kindness, wisdom, and bounty.
2. To what they are exposed. How many are the ills which befall the orphan! He is exposed to neglect; poverty may prevent his enjoyment of a suitable nurture and education. He is exposed to injustice and wrong. If he has property, he is liable to the cupidity of a selfish guardian, tie is exposed to actual ill treatment. The cruel may take advantage of his defenseless position to treat him with violence for which there is little or no redress.
II. WHAT THE FATHERLESS FIND. They may look for help to man, and look in vain. But in God the fatherless findeth mercy. That which is denied by earth is accorded by Heaven.
1. God raises up friends who, to some extent, take the father's place. Pity leads Christians to adopt orphans into their own families, or to found asylums where they can enjoy the blessings of kind supervision and liberal education.
2. God, in his providence: opens up before the fatherless careers of usefulness and honor in life. How many orphans have occupied distinguished and serviceable positions in society! It is by the mercy of God that what, from a human point of view, seemed so unlikely, has come to pass.
3. God, by his Word and his Spirit, often reveals to the fatherless the riches of his own fatherly love. In him are compassion and affection deeper and vaster than a human heart can know. He dries the orphan's tears, supplies the orphan's wants, and enriches the orphan's nature with the treasures of his grace and love.—T.
As the father was forward to meet and to welcome the returning prodigal, so our heavenly Father is ever anxious and ready to console and to restore the wandering sinner who repents, confesses, and deplores his transgressions, and casts himself upon Divine compassion. The assurances of this verse must have been comforting to Israel; they have been comforting to multitudes who have sought in the Word of God some consolation for their burdened and penitent spirits.
I. DIVINE ANGER IS AVERTED.
1. The displeasure of God with sin and with the sinner is a fact in the moral government of the universe which it would be folly to overlook. God is angry, i.e. with the wicked, every day.
2. Yet God delights not in wrath, but in mercy. Hence the provision in the gospel of redemption from the curse of the Law. It is not by any interposition from without; it is by the exercise of his own wisdom and clemency, that the great Judge of all lays aside his anger. The penitent and believing sinner is the object of the compassion of a God of righteousness and love.
II. HUMAN DEFECTION AND DISOBEDIENCE ARE OVERLOOKED AND FORGIVEN. "Backsliding" is an expression which implies that privileges and blessings have in the past been enjoyed, but then misused. Such was the case with Israel; the sin was the greater because it was sin against light and knowledge, against favor and forbearance. The grace of God is sufficient not as in the olden times, to deal with cases of defection and apostasy. These are regarded as malignant spiritual diseases; but they are not beyond the healing power of the great Physician. The virtue of the Savior's blood, the efficacy of the Spirit's purifying energy, are sufficient even for a case apparently so hard and hopeless as this supposed. None need despair who "truly repents, and unfeignedly believes Christ's holy gospel."
III. THE LOVE OF GOD ENRICHES HEARTS LONG AND PAINFULLY ESTRANGED. The promise here uttered is beyond our highest expectations. Forbearance and forgiveness do not, among men, necessarily imply the bestowal of friendship, of love. But God's ways are not our ways. He is not satisfied simply to annul a sentence of condemnation, to remit a merited penalty. He reveals the tenderness of a fatherly heart rejoicing over the restoration of those long alienated. He completes the work of recovery by manifesting his love towards those whom he pardons and accepts. The freedom and generosity of this Divine love are specially mentioned; and may well awaken the wonder and admiration of the ransomed and. restored.
APPLICATION. What gratitude, affection, and devotion are due from pardoned and accepted sinners towards him who is not satisfied merely to heal, but who condescends to love!—T.
The prospect of Israel's repentance and reformation fills the mind of the prophet with a happy exultation, and suggests imagery of the most beautiful and vivacious description. The poetical allusions crowd in upon his mind and flow from his pen with a harmonious prodigality. Reading this passage, we are transported in imagination into the scenes of verdure, fragrance, and fruitfulness, which furnished Hosea with the lively emblems of that national prosperity which he was inspired to anticipate with patriotic confidence and hope. There rise before our vision the cedar-glades of Lebanon, the flowery slopes of Carmel, the yellow corn-fields of Bethlehem, the gray and unchanging olive-yards of Judaea. All are too faint to depict the glorious vision—a vision which surely no material prosperity can realize, upon which no earthly day shall ever dawn.
I. THE SOURCE OF LIFE AND PROSPERITY. "I will be as the dew unto Israel." As the sweetly tempered elements are the source of life and growth, of beauty and fertility, in field and garden and forest; so only Heaven's favor, "the continual dew of God's blessing," can give rise to true national greatness, to the growth of a noble patriotism, a disinterested virtue, a general prevalence of piety. A blessed promise is this of showers of blessing, of heavenly nurture, of abundant grace.
II. THE SIGNS OF VITALITY AND PROSPERITY. We notice here figurative descriptions of:
1. Life. The several productions of the vegetable kingdom are laid, so to speak, under tribute, and are constrained to set forth the true and higher life of the individual man, and especially of society, of nations. The olive and the vine, the cedar tree and the luxuriant corn are all the signs of the vitality and prodigality of nature. Many and varied are the forms in which life manifests its presence and its activity. When nations rise from calamity and chastisement, when public spirit springs into being, when the arts and industries of society are vigorous and prosperous, when justice and mutual consideration prevail, when the poor are cared for, when piety assumes practical and beneficent forms,—there is life.
2. Growth. Steady and vigorous growth is the result of genial influences acting upon life. Declension is the precursor of death. As surely as the tree lives and thrives, it spreads; as surely as the seed is sown in a fruitful soil, the crop, by its abundance, rewards the laborer's toil. Emblematic of the extension of the people who are filled with a true national life, in whom the Spirit of God lives and moves, and in whose midst the Church is not a dead organism, but an organism which is the vesture and embodiment of a spiritual and imperishable life.
3. Beauty and attractiveness. The Author of nature, the Giver of life, has ordered that beauty and fragrance shall accompany the vital growth—that the cedar shall be stately and the olive evergreen, that the vine shall cling with grace around the elm, that the fragrance of the lily shall delight the sense, that the corn shall wave in beauty and rustle with music in the passing breeze. And the same Being appoints that, in the moral realm, true excellence and true attractiveness shall be conjoined. The beauty of holiness, the harmonies of praise, the fragrance of piety, are signs and ornaments of spiritual life. Where these graces abound, the world will feel the spiritual magnetism of the Church. "They shall come again who dwell under his shadow."—T.
This is the language of sincere repentance. The state of mind here revealed is decisively acceptable to God, and is the earnest and promise of better days. It is a sign of the Spirit's gracious working in the heart that every rival to God's dominion is forsaken and abjured.
I. THE EXPERIENCE THAT LEADS TO THIS RESOLUTION.
1. Disappointment in the service of others than the true God. Israel had addicted herself to strange gods, only to learn that all the flattering promises of their priests and ministers were delusive and vain. And whatever deity man has set before himself, as worthy of the homage and service due to God alone, it may be confidently asserted that such a rival has failed to answer prayer, to fulfill hope, to satisfy the heart.
2. Chastisement on the part of Divine Providence. As long as there is a Supreme Ruler, let men be assured he will not suffer his prerogatives to be invaded without inflicting the righteous penalties due to disobedience and defiance. Israel learned by bitter experience that Jehovah would tolerate no rival; and every generation of sinners has been taught the same lesson. "The way of transgressors is hard." Happy they who, through however painful an experience, have, nevertheless, come to see and feel that to have aught to do with idols is to involve themselves in distress and misery!
II. THE RESULTS THAT FLOW FROM THIS RESOLUTION.
1. When the soul abjures the objects of a foolish affection and devotion, Divine forgiveness and favor are waiting to restore and comfort it. The soul that is without idols shall not be left without God.
2. The rivals to the true worship and service shall lose their charms, and the soul shall wonder how it could have been captivated and enthralled.
3. A full and eternal satisfaction shall take possession of the nature which turns away from idols with abhorrence, and turns confidingly and devoutly unto God. What the false deities were powerless to bestow, the living God confers in perfect completeness. "His loving-kindness is better than life."—T.
Wisdom and righteousness.
The book of Hosea's prophecies closes with a solemn statement of human freedom and human responsibility. God's mind and will are revealed, but the prophet gives all concerned to understand that the revelation alone is insufficient. Let men observe that it depends upon the spirit in which they receive it, and the action which they take upon it, that all its benefit and advantage depend.
I. DIVINE REVELATION CALLS FOR THE EXERCISE OF HUMAN WISDOM. The praise of folly, which some religionists account a proper part of piety, has no countenance in Scripture. The wise man is the good man; and his wisdom is apparent in his acceptance of Divine counsels and his submission to Divine appointments. The faculty of understanding has been implanted by the Creator, and the due exercise of that faculty is honorable to God. Human wisdom may be misdirected; but human ignorance and imprudence are far more likely to lead men astray. What is needed is a more active exercise of all the powers of the mind; sloth is of all things the most disastrous. On the whole, to know what wise and great men have thought is an advantage to the religious inquirer; a comparison of inspired with uninspired wisdom is likely to lead men into the paths of true and Divine wisdom.
II. DIVINE REVELATION CALLS FOR THE EXERCISE OF RIGHTEOUS OBEDIENCE. Man is not a purely speculative being; he is eminently practical, and knowledge of the truth answers the intended purpose when it leads to the love and practice of rectitude. That abandoned sinners have been converted is true and is ground for rejoicing; that correctness of outward conduct has sometimes stood in the way of a spiritual life is also sadly undeniable. Yet the just are likely to long for a higher righteousness. To admire and to aspire to goodness is to be in the way for the perfect satisfaction which attends those who walk "in the ways of the Lord." These ways are right. And it is hypocrisy to profess to know the revelation of God unless we accept its practical precepts, and make the Scriptures the lamp of our feet and the light of our path. They are truly wise who understand and know God's declarations, and they are truly just who walk in his ways.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Repentance, or reformation.
"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.
God and his reformed people.
"Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found." Some think that this is a dialogistic parallel as follows: "Ephraim: What have I further to do with idols? God: I have answered and will regard him. Ephraim: I am like a green cypress. God: From me is thy fruit found." But I am disposed to regard, with Delitzsch and others, that God, and not Ephraim, is representing himself as the "green fir tree." I observe, therefore—
I. THAT GOD FORESEES THE CHANGE IN HIS REFORMED PEOPLE. "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?"
1. Mark the description of the change. Before the period of their conversion comes, he hears them say, "What have I to do any more with idols?" What have I to do with them?
(1) They are beneath me. I am ashamed of them. "What fruit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?"
(2) They are a curse to me. Idols degrade, deceive, damn. Omniscience foresees all the workings of the penitent soul.
2. Mark God's recognition of the change. "I have heard him, and observed him." He is cognizant of all the reflections, remorses, resolutions, of the repentant soul.
II. THAT GOD PROVIDES BLESSINGS FOR HIS REFORMED PEOPLE.
1. Protection. "I am like a green fir tree." Those trees in Eastern countries were exceedingly large and thick, affording shelter from sun and storms and showers.
2. Support. "From me is thy fruit found." God is to his people the source of all relief and good, both for this life and the life to come.
CONCLUSION. Sinner, repent and be converted. Say, "What have I to do any more with idols?" Renounce the old. The Almighty Father is ready to receive and bless you.—D.T.
"Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein." God has his ways, his methods of action. He proceeds on certain principles in all his operations, both in the realm of matter and of mind. The Infinite has a way of doing things.
I. HIS WAYS ARE TO BE STUDIED. "Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them?" It is one thing to know the works of a man, and another thing to know his ways, his methods of action. He only knows a man who understands his way of doing things. God's ways are the highest subjects of study. It is said that he made known his "way ' unto Moses, his "works ' unto the children of Israel. The millions know something of his works; only the "wise,'' the "prudent," the initiated, like Moses, understand his ways. Brother, come away from the study of details, ascend into the realm of principles. Men who understand God's ways become prophets. They can foretell the future.
II. HIS WAYS ARE RIGHTEOUS. "The ways of the Lord are right."
1. They are right; they cannot be otherwise. They are right because they are his. He cannot do wrong; there is no law external to him, no law above him. What he does is right because he does it. To say he does a thing because it is right is tantamount to the assertion that there is something independent of him.
2. They are right; human conscience attests it. No conscience in heaven, earth, hell, doubts the rectitude of God's ways. If sinners in hell felt they were wrong, they would feel no remorse for their conduct. They are right essentially, immutably, everlastingly right.
III. HIS WAYS ARE TO BE PURSUED. "The just shall walk in them." They are not merely to be studied, but to be practically followed. You cannot do what God does, but what you do you can do in God's way—do silently, lovingly, beneficently. Walk in this way, the way of love and usefulness.
IV. HIS WAYS MAY RUIN. "The transgressors shall fall therein." As God moves in calm majesty and resistless force on his way, he crushes in his march all who oppose him. His chariot-wheels grind them into powder. Recipitur ad modum recipientis. What is received influences according to the qualities of the receiver. "The same sun," says an old author, "softens wax and hardens clay. But of all transgressors those certainly have the most dangerous fatal falls that fall in the ways of God, that split on the Rock of Ages, and suck poison out of the balm of Gilead. Let the sinners in Zion be afraid of this."—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The prayer of the penitent.
The prophecy does not close without comforting glimpses into the future, and sweet words of promise. The opening verses of this section invite the nation to repentance. They put a prayer into the people's lips with which to return to God.
I. THE INVITATION. (Hosea 14:1) The door of mercy stands open to Israel. But the invitation addressed to the ancient people is equally, in Christ, addressed to every sinner. Consider, accordingly:
1. The condition in which the sinner is found. "Fallen by thine iniquity." "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). We have all fallen by our iniquity.
(1) Fallen from the state in which we were created.
(2) Fallen out of the Divine favor.
(3) Fallen into wretchedness, guilt, discord with self, pollution, bondage.
(4) Fallen—in some cases—under heavy strokes of the Divine anger.
We have so fallen that we cannot raise ourselves up again.
2. To whom the sinner is pointed. "The Lord thy God." Israel's God and ours. God is our God, as being
(1) our Maker;
(2) our Sustainer;
(3) our moral Ruler;
(4) our Savior.
He is the God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord. He gives us in the promises of the gospel a claim upon himself. He is ours in offer, and will be ours in fact, if only we will receive him. There is no Savior beside him (Hosea 13:4), and no other is needed. He alone is all-sufficient.
3. The invitation given to the sinner. "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God." God might command, but he condescends to invite, to entreat (2 Corinthians 5:20). He asks us to return to him. He can ask no less, for without penitent return, salvation is impossible. His mercy is seen in this, that he asks no more—no sacrifices, no price, no probationary curriculum, no works of the Law. But the return must be sincere, not with the body, but with the mind, the affections, the will.
II. THE PRAYER. (Hosea 14:2) The penitent, resolved on returning to God, is counseled to take with him "words." The inward penitence is to express itself outwardly. It is to utter itself in prayer. This is the only sacrifice God will require. The prayer with which we are to come is:
1. Prayer for forgiveness. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity." Forgiveness is the first need of our nature. Till sin is forgiven us we can have no peace with God, we cannot be visited by his love or made partakers of his Spirit. Forgiveness at once precedes, and is a pledge of, the communication of every other blessing. It is, therefore, the thing we first ask lot We are to confess sin and to seek the pardon of it (1 John 1:9).
2. The prayer of uprightness. "Accept what is good"—for thus the second clause must be rendered. The language is not that of self-righteousness, but of sincere motive. The penitent knows his unworthiness, but is conscious at the same time that his prayer no longer proceeds from feigned lips (Psalms 17:1); that his spirit is truly contrite; that there is some good thing "in his heart towards the Lord God" (1 Kings 13:14). He recognizes this:
(1) As a fruit of Divine grace in the soul—therefore a pledge of acceptance. God, who by his Spirit draws the sinner to himself, will not east him off when he comes (John 6:37, John 6:44, John 6:45).
(2) As essential to forgiveness. For though it is God's mercy, not our own righteousness, that saves us, it is yet essential to acceptance that our spirit, in returning to God, be without guile (Psalms 32:2; Psalms 51:4, Psalms 51:6). Coming to God with upright intent, and conscious that we do so, it is natural that we should appeal to this in prayer.
3. Prayer in order to praise. "So will we render the calves of our lips." Salvation carries with it the obligation to consecration (Romans 12:1). The penitent has no other desire than now to live to God, rendering to him spiritual sacrifices. He asks God to open his lips (by forgiveness), that he may thereafter show forth God's praise (Psalms 51:15). We render to God "the calves of our lips"
(1) in acknowledgment of him;
(2) in thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15);
(3) in praises (Psalms 40:3; Psalms 50:23);
(4) in confession of him before men.
III. THE VOW. (Hosea 14:5) With prayer is connected a solemn vow. Israel renounces all sinful trusts, and looks to God only. He renounces:
1. Trust in man. "Asshur shall not save us." The world is a poor savior. It promises much, but gives little. Its favor is deceitful. Its will to help is even more limited than its power. But its power is not great. It cannot save when God contends with us. It must leave us to shift for ourselves at death. It has no salvation for the soul—for eternity.
2. Trust in his own strength. "We will not ride upon horses." Israel had multiplied horses. He put trust in them for his deliverance. This trust, with every other of a similar kind, he now renounced. Neither in war, nor in peace, nor in anything he did, would he exalt himself as independent of God. He would be humble.
3. Trust in idols. "Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods." Thus, in succession, Israel renounced, as Christians would say, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Every heart not serving God has its idol—its something which it puts in God's place. This it now renounces, and gives him all the glory. The prayer concludes with an appeal to the Divine pity. "For in thee the fatherless findeth mercy." The soul without God is as one orphaned. In penitence it seeks the pity of him who compassionates the fatherless. God feels this pity for his alienated children.—J.O.
God's response to the penitent.
Israel's repentance will be followed by the turning away of God's anger, and by superabundant blessings. Figures are heaped on each other, and one figure is employed to fill in another, to set forth the fullness with which this blessing will descend. The prophecy, hitherto so dark and troubled, ends in heavenly peace.
I. BACKSLIDING HEALED. (Hosea 14:4) No time is lost in answering Israel's prayer. Forgiveness follows close upon return. So David also found it: "I said, I will confess my transgression unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (Psalms 32:5). The penitent need not fear being kept long waiting at the door of mercy (cf. Luke 15:20-24). God:
1. Turns away his anger. "For mine anger is turned away from him." Terrible to him who realizes it is the thought of lying under the Divine anger. Infinite things are to be hoped for from God's love. Infinite things are to be dreaded from his wrath. We dread the anger of fellow-men. Much more should we dread to be the objects of the anger of the Omnipotent. "Fear not them which kill the body," Christ says, "but are not able to kill the soul," etc. (Matthew 10:28). Just, however, because God's anger is so terrible, is it a blessed thing to know, as every pardoned sinner may, that this anger is turned away. "O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me" (Isaiah 12:1). If God s anger is turned away from us, there is nothing else we need fear. And under the gospel it is turned away from every one who believes in Christ.
2. Restores his love. "I will love them freely." The love is free as being
(3) unlimited in measure.
God loves the redeemed with the same love which he bears to his Son. He rejoices in his love towards them. As it is the nature of the sun to shine, so it is the nature of God to love. Judgment is his strange work, but love is the proper exercise of his being. The gospel is the manifestation of love. Salvation is the triumph of love. God rejoices more over one lost sheep brought back to him than over the ninety and nine that went not astray. He sheds his love abroad in his people's heart (Romans 5:5).
3. Heals their backsliding. "I will heal their backsliding." He heals the wounds made by sin (cf. Hosea 6:1), both the spiritual wounds, and the wounds resulting from temporal chastisements. He revokes the curse. He restores prosperity. He gives compensations for past sorrow. Often, when wounds are healed, the scar remains. Even the sinner, though repentant, is not in this life relieved from all the consequences of his transgressions. He has to suffer both in soul and body for past indulgence in vice. But when God heals Israel, no scar remains. And all scars will be removed in eternity.
II. THE DEW TO ISRAEL. (Hosea 14:5) God will be as the dew to Israel.
1. He himself will be as the dew. It is not merely his blessing which he gives; it is himself. He comes in his Spirit. He came first in the Son; and, now that Christ has ascended, he comes in the Holy Ghost.
2. The dew is copious. It was so in the East even more than it is with us. It lay thick and soaking on the herbage. Every tree, every twig, every leaflet, every blade of grass, every flower, received its abundant portion. Thus is it with grace. The Spirit will be poured out in the latter days yet more plentifully.
3. The dew is a source of manifold blessing.
(1) It refreshes;
(2) it revives;
(3) it promotes growth;
(4) it beautifies;
(5) it increases fragrance.
So God's Spirit is a reviving, refreshing, fructifying, beautifying, and sanctifying power in the soul. It gladdens, comforts, enriches, gives sweetness and fragrance to the character.
4. This dew is not, like Israel's goodness, evanescent. It does not pass away (cf. Hosea 6:4). It is not merely a thing of the dawn. Or, rather, it is ever morning with the soul to which this dew is given. It flourishes in perpetual youth.
III. LIFE AND FRUIT. (Hosea 14:5-7) These figures from the vegetable world are used to fill out the different aspects of the prosperity which God would bestow on Israel. All are emblems of life, and fitly symbolize the life of grace. The features represented are:
1. Lily-like purity and beauty. "He shall grow as the lily." The lily is white, pure, delicate, fragile. It symbolizes innocence, purity, spiritual beauty. Grace bestows a rare sweetness and refinement. Nothing is more fair than a pure soul.
2. Cedar-like strength. "His roots as Lebanon." The lily, though graceful, has a weak root. But God would have his people "rooted and grounded" in faith and love—not easily shaken or removed (1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:23). The cedar is an emblem, not merely of strength, but of stateliness (majesty), immovability, uprightness.
3. Spreading magnificence. "His branches shall spread." Depth of root leads to wide-spreading branches. The life of grace has breadth and expansiveness as well as depth and growth upwards.
4. Olive-like freshness. "His beauty shall be as the olive tree." "Like a green olive tree in the house of God" (Psalms 52:8; cf. Psalms 92:14). Fresh, unfading, evergreen, fruit-bearing.
5. Widely diffused fragrance. "His smell as Lebanon" Character has its aroma. Cf. what Christ says of Mary of Bethany (Matthew 26:13); what Paul says of Epaphroditus (Philippians 4:18). The renown of good deeds flows forth like spices.
6. Fruitfulness. "They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; the scent ['glory'] thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon." Corn and wine are symbols of the highest material blessings—of plenty, comfort, nourishment, invigoration, joy. The soul possessed by grace is at once fed with bread of heaven, and becomes itself a fruit-producer. In holy deeds, in useful service, in efforts for the advancement of the kingdom of God, in the cherishing of noble and God-like affections, it yields both corn and wine.
IV. EPHRAIM AND GOD. (Hosea 14:8)
1. God's goodness confirms Ephraim in his renunciation of idols. "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?" This time the goodness is not abused. It does not make Ephraim haughty. It does not lead him to forget God. He no longer attributes his prosperity to Baal. Taught by experience, he loves God more the more God bestows on him.
2. Ephraim's renewed vows are observed by God. "I have heard him, and observed him." God takes notice of every stage of our advance in grace. He takes pleasure in our progress, m our renewed vows, in our deepening consecration.
3. Ephraim, as the result of his renewed vows, becomes yet more fruitful. "I am like a green fir [cypress] tree. From me is thy fruit found." The first words are (as we understand them) Ephraim's; the last words are God's. The cypress is an evergreen, but it does net bear fruit. God, however, will give fruit to Ephraim as well as unfadingness.
(1) Ephraim derives his fruit from God. His fruit is spiritual. It is only as he abides in God that he is able to bring forth fruit at all.
(2) Ephraim "finds" his fruit in God. Fruitfulness is maintained by active fellowship, by constant trust, waiting, watchfulness, and prayer. "Abide in me," Christ says (John 15:4). "Without me," he adds, "ye can do nothing" (Hosea 14:5).—J.O.
The lesson of the book.
The lesson may be summed up in few words, but it is so comprehensive that the acceptance or rejection of it makes all the difference between supreme wisdom and supreme folly. The lesson simply is that "the ways of the Lord are right." Men prefer their own ways to God's, but what the history of Israel teaches is that, if they do so, it is to their own ruin.
I. GOD'S WAYS ARE RIGHT. They are:
1. Bight in themselves. They are the ways of absolute rectitude. They are marked out for us by perfect wisdom, spotless holiness, and unchanging goodness. Equally right are God's own ways, the principles of his government, the modes of his action. His commands are just, his requirements reasonable, his doings wise, his intentions kind.
2. Bight as conducting to a right end. God desires the good of every one. He has no pleasure in the death of any. He sets before us the way of life. "See," he says, "I have set before you life and death" (Deuteronomy 30:15, Deuteronomy 30:19). God knows better than any other wherein our true good lies. Taking the way he prescribes, we shall infallibly attain to blessedness.
II. WISDOM IS TESTED BY THE ACCEPTANCE OR REFUSAL OF GOD'S WAYS. "Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them?"
1. The wise recognize the rightness of God's ways. They are taught of God to recognize this rightness. Plain as the truth seems that God's ways alone are right, the natural heart is incapable of receiving it (1 Corinthians 2:14).
2. The wise show their wisdom by walking in God's ways. "The just shall walk in them." Wisdom is a practical thing. It implies the adoption of that which we know to be right. Wisdom is connected with uprightness. It is the upright in heart—the just—who choose the right ways.
3. The unwise show their folly by rejecting God's ways. This is their ruin. "The transgressors shall fall therein."—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hosea 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20