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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
Hosea 14

 

 

Verses 1-4

Hosea

ISRAEL RETURNING

Hosea 14:1 - Hosea 14:9.

Hosea is eminently the prophet of divine love and of human repentance. Both streams of thought are at their fullest in this great chapter. In Hosea 14:1 - Hosea 14:3 the very essence of true return to God is set forth in the prayer which Israel is exhorted to offer, while in Hosea 14:4 - Hosea 14:8 the forgiving love of God and its blessed results are portrayed with equal poetical beauty and spiritual force. Hosea 14:9 closes the chapter and the book with a kind of epilogue.

I. The summons to repentance.

‘Israel,’ of course, here means the Northern Kingdom, with which Hosea’s prophecies are chiefly occupied. ‘Thou hast fallen by thine iniquity’-that is the lesson taught by all its history, and in a deeper sense it is the lesson of all experience. Sin brings ruin for nations and individuals, and the plain teachings of each man’s own life exhort each to ‘return unto the Lord.’ We have all proved the vanity and misery of departing from Him; surely, if we are not drawn by His love, we might be driven by our own unrest, to go back to God.

The Prophet anticipates the clear accents of the New Testament call to repentance in his expansion of what he meant by returning. He has nothing to say about sacrifices, nor about self-reliant efforts at moral improvement. ‘Take with you words,’ not ‘the blood of bulls and goats.’ Confession is better than sacrifice. What words are they which will avail? Hosea teaches the penitent’s prayer. It must begin with the petition for forgiveness, which implies recognition of the petitioner’s sin. The cry, ‘Take away all iniquity,’ does not specify sins, but masses the whole black catalogue into one word. However varied the forms of our transgressions, they are in principle one, and it is best to bind them all into one ugly heap, and lay it at God’s feet. We have to confess not only sins, but sin, and the taking away of it includes divine cleansing from its power, as well as divine forgiveness of its guilt. Hosea bids Israel ask that God would take away all iniquity; John pointed to ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ But beyond forgiveness and cleansing, the penitent heart will seek that God would ‘accept the good’ in it, which springs up by His grace, when the evil has been washed from it, like flowers that burst from soil off which the matted under-growth of poisonous jungle has been cleared. Mere negative absence of ‘evil’ is not all that we should desire or exhibit; there must be positive good; and however sinful may have been the past, we are not too bold when we ask and expect that we may be made able to produce ‘good,’ which shall be fragrant as sweet incense to God.

Petitions are followed by vows. On the one hand, the experience of forgiveness and cleansing will put a new song in our mouths, and instead of animal sacrifices, we shall render the praise which is better than ‘calves’ laid on the altar. Perhaps the Septuagint rendering of that difficult phrase ‘the calves of our lips,’ which is given in Hebrews 13:15, ‘the fruit of our lips,’ is preferable. In either case, the same thought appears-that the penitent’s experience of forgiving and restoring love makes ‘the tongue of the dumb sing,’ and it will bind men’s hearts more closely to God than anything besides can do, so that their old inclinations to false reliances and idolatries drop away from them. The old fable tells us that the storm made the traveller wrap his cloak closer round him, but the sunshine made him throw it off. Judgments often make men cling more closely to their sins, but forgiving mercy makes them ‘cast off the works of darkness.’ The men who had experienced that in God, the Israel, which by its sins had brought down the punishment of His repudiation of being its father [Hosea 1:9], had found mercy, would no longer feel temptation to turn to Assyria for help, nor to seek protection from Egypt’s cavalry, nor to debase their manhood by calling stocks and stones, the work of their own hands, their gods. What earthly sweetness will tempt, or what earthly danger will affright, the heart that is feeling the bliss of union with God? Would Judas’s thirty pieces of silver attract the disciple reclining on Jesus’ bosom? We are most firmly bound to God, not by our resolves, but by our experience of His all-sufficient mercy. Fill the heart with that wine of the kingdom, and bitter or poisonous draughts will find no entrance into the cup.

II. God’s welcoming answer.

The very abruptness of its introduction, without any explanation as to the speaker, suggests how swiftly and joyfully the Father hastens to meet the returning prodigal while he is yet afar off. Like pent-up waters rushing forth as soon as a barrier is taken away, God’s love pours itself out immediately. His answer ever gives more than the penitent asks-robe and ring and shoes, and a feast to him who dared not expect more than a place among the hired servants. He gives not by drops, but in floods, answering the prayer for the taking away of iniquity by the promise to heal backsliding, going beyond desires and hopes in the gift of love which asks for no recompense, is drawn forth by no desert, but wells up from the depths of God’s heart, and strengthens the new, tremulous trust of the penitent by the assurance that every trace of anger is effaced from God’s heart.

The blessings consequent on the gift of God’s love are described in lovely imagery, drawn, like Hosea’s other abundant similes, from nature, and especially from trees and flowers. The source of all fruitfulness is a divine influence, which comes silently and refreshing as the ‘dew,’ or, rather, as the ‘night mist,’ a phenomenon occurring in Palestine in summer, and being, accurately, rolling masses of vapour brought from the Mediterranean, which counteract the dry heat and keep vegetation alive. The influences which refresh and fructify our souls must fall in many a silent hour of meditation and communion. They will effloresce into manifold shapes of beauty and fruitfulness, of which the Prophet signalises three. The lily may stand for beauty of purity, though botanists differ as to the particular flower meant. Christians should present to the world ‘whatsoever things are lovely,’ and see to it that their goodness is attractive. But the fragrant, pure lily has but shallow roots, and beauty is not all that a character needs in this world of struggle and effort. So there are to be both the lily’s blossom and roots like Lebanon. The image may refer to the firm buttresses of the widespread foot-hills, from which the sovereign summits of the great mountain range rise, or, as is rather suggested by the accompanying similes from the vegetable world, it may refer to the cedars growing there. Their roots are anchored deep and stretch far underground; therefore they rear towering heads, and spread broad shelves of dark foliage, safe from any blast. Our lives must be deep rooted in God if they are to be strong. Boots generally spread beneath the soil about as far as branches extend above it. There should be at least as much underground, ‘hid with Christ in God,’ as is visible to the world.

But beauty and strength are not all. So Hosea thinks of yet another of the characteristic growths of Palestine, the olive, which is not strikingly beautiful in form, with its strangely gnarled, contorted stem, its feeble branches, and its small, pointed, pale leaves, but has the beauty of fruitfulriess, and is green when other trees are bare. Such ‘beauty’ should be ours, and will be if the ‘dew’ falls on us.

In Hosea 14:7 there are difficulties, both as to the application of the ‘his,’ and as to the reading and rendering of some of the words. But the general drift is clear. It prolongs the tones of the foregoing verses, keeping to the same class of images, and expressing fruitfulness, abundant as the corn and precious as the grape, and fragrance like the ‘bouquet’ of the choicest wine.

Hosea 14:8 offers great difficulties on any interpretation. The supplement ‘shall say’ is questionable, and it is doubtful whether Ephraim is the speaker at all, and whether, if so, he speaks all the four clauses, and who speaks any or all of them, if not he. To the present writer, it seems best to take the supplement as right, and possible to regard the whole verse as spoken by Ephraim, though perhaps the last clause is meant to be God’s utterance. The meaning will then come out as follows. The penitent Israel again speaks, after the gracious promises preceding. The tribal name is, as usual in Hosea, equivalent to Israel, whose penitent cry we heard at the beginning of the passage. Now we hear his glad response to God’s abundant answer. ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’ He had vowed [Hosea 14:3] to have no more to do with them, and the resolve is deepened by the rich grace held forth to him. Hosea had lamented Ephraim’s mad adherence to ‘his idols’ [Hosea 4:17], but now the union is dissolved, and by penitence and reception of God’s grace, he is joined to the Lord, and parted from them. His renunciation of idolatry is based, in the second clause, on his experience of what God can do, and on his having heard God’s gracious voice of pardon and promise. If a man hears God, he will not be drawn to worship at any idol’s shrine.

Further, in the third clause, Ephraim is joyfully conscious of the change that has passed on him, in accordance with the great promises just spoken, and with grateful astonishment that such verdure should have burst out from the dry and rotten stump of his own sinful nature, exclaims, ‘I am like a green fir-tree.’ That is another reason why he will have no more to do with idols. They could never have made his sapless nature break into leafage. But what of the fourth clause-’From Me is thy fruit found’? Can we understand that to mean that Ephraim still speaks, keeping up the image of the previous clause, and declaring that all the new fruitfulness which he finds in himself he recognises to be God’s, both in the sense that, in reality, it is produced by Him, and that it belongs to Him? He comes seeking fruit, and He finds it. All our good is His, and we shall be happy, productive, and wise, in proportion as we offer all our works to Him, and feel that, after all, they are not ours, but the works of that Spirit which dwells in penitent and believing hearts. Some have thought that this last clause must be taken as spoken by God; but, even if so taken, it conveys substantially the same thought as to the divine origin of man’s fruitfulness.

The last verse is rather a general reflection summing up the whole than an integral part of this wonderful representation of penitence, pardon, and fruitfulness. It declares the great truth that the knowledge of the pardoning mercy of God, and of the ways by which He weans men from sin and makes them fruitful of good, makes us truly wise. That knowledge is more than intellectual apprehension; it is experience. Providence has its mysteries, but they who keep near to God, and are ‘just’ because they do, will find the opportunity of free, unfettered activity in God’s ways, and transgressors will stumble therein. Therefore wisdom and safety lie in penitence and confession, which will ever be met by gracious pardon and showers of blessing that will cause our hearts, which sin has made desert, to rejoice and blossom like the rose.


Verse 5-6

Hosea

ISRAEL RETURNING

THE DEW AND THE PLANTS

Hosea 14:5 - Hosea 14:6.

Like his brethren, Hosea was a poet as well as a prophet. His little prophecy is full of similes and illustrations drawn from natural objects; scarcely any of them from cities or from the ways of men; almost all of them from Nature, as seen in the open country, which he evidently loved, and where he had looked upon things with a clear and meditative eye. This whole chapter is full of emblems drawn from the vegetable world. The lily, the cedar, the olive, are in my text. And there follow, in the subsequent verses, the corn, and the vine, and the green fir-tree.

The words which I have read, no doubt originally had simply a reference to the numerical increase of the people and their restoration to their land, but they may be taken by us quite fairly as having a very much deeper and more blessed reference than that. For they describe the uniform condition of all spiritual life and growth,’ I will be as the dew unto Israel’; and then they set forth some of the manifold aspects of that growth, and the consequences of receiving that heavenly dew, under the various metaphors to which I have referred. It is in that higher signification that I wish to look at them now.

I. The first thought that comes out of the words is that for all life and growth of the spirit there must be a bedewing from God.

‘I will be as the dew unto Israel.’ Now, scholars tell us that the kind of moisture that is meant in these words is not what we call dew, of which, as a matter of fact, there falls, in Palestine, little or none at the season of the year referred to in my text, but that the word really means the heavy night-clouds that come upon the wings of the south-west wind, to diffuse moisture and freshness over the parched plains, in the very height and fierceness of summer. The metaphor of my text becomes more beautiful and striking, if we note that, in the previous chapter, where the Prophet was in his threatening mood, he predicts that ‘an east wind shall come, the wind of the Lord shall come up from the wilderness’-the burning sirocco, with death upon its wings-’and his spring shall become dry, and his fountain shall be dried up.’ We have then to imagine the land gaping and parched, the hot air having, as with invisible tongue of flame, licked streams and pools dry, and having shrunken fountains and springs. Then, all at once there comes down upon the baking ground and on the faded, drooping flowers that lie languid and prostrate on the ground in the darkness, borne on the wings of the wind, from the depths of the great unfathomed sea, an unseen moisture. You cannot call it rain, so gently does it diffuse itself; it is liker a mist, but it brings life and freshness, and everything is changed. The dew, or the night mist, as it might more properly be rendered, was evidently a good deal in Hosea’s mind; you may remember that he uses the image again in a remarkably different aspect, where he speaks of men’s goodness as being like ‘a morning cloud, and the early dew that passes away.’

The natural object which yields the emblem was all inadequate to set forth the divine gift which is compared to it, because as soon as the sun has risen, with burning heat, it scatters the beneficent clouds, and the ‘sunbeams like swords’ threaten to slay the tender green shoots. But this mist from God that comes down to water the earth is never dried up. It is not transient. It may be ours, and live in our hearts. Dear brethren, the prose of this sweet old promise is ‘If I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ If we are Christian people, we have the perpetual dew of that divine Spirit, which falls on our leaves and penetrates to our roots, and communicates life, freshness, and power, and makes growth possible-more than possible, certain-for us. ‘I’-Myself through My Son, and in My Spirit-’I will be’-an unconditional assurance-’as the dew unto Israel.’

Yes! That promise is in its depth and fulness applicable only to the Christian Israel, and it remains true to-day and for ever. Do we see it fulfilled? One looks round upon our congregations, and into one’s own heart, and we behold the parable of Gideon’s fleece acted over again-some places soaked with the refreshing moisture, and some as hard as a rock and as dry as tinder and ready to catch fire from any spark from the devil’s forge and be consumed in the everlasting burnings some day. It will do us good to ask ourselves why it is that, with a promise like this for every Christian soul to build upon, there are so few Christian souls that have anything like realised its fulness and its depth. Let us be quite sure of this-God has nothing to do with the failure of His promise, and let us take all the blame to ourselves.

‘I will be as the dew unto Israel.’ Who was Israel? The man that wrestled all night in prayer with God, and took hold of the angel and prevailed and wept and made supplication to Him. So Hosea tells us; and as he says in the passage where he describes the Angel’s wrestling with Jacob at Peniel, ‘there He spake with us’-when He spake, He spake with him who first bore the name. Be you Israel, and God will surely be your dew; and life and growth will be possible. That is the first lesson of this great promise.

II. The second is, that a soul thus bedewed by God will spring into purity and beauty.

We go back to Hosea’s vegetable metaphors. ‘He shall grow as the lily’ is his first promise. If I were addressing a congregation of botanists, I should have something to say about what kind of a plant is meant, but that is quite beside the mark for my present purpose. It is sufficient to notice that in this metaphor the emphasis is laid upon the two attributes which I have named-beauty and purity. The figure teaches us that ugly Christianity is not Christ’s Christianity. Some of us older people remember that it used to be a favourite phrase to describe unattractive saints that they had ‘grace grafted on a crab stick.’ There are a great many Christian people whom one would compare to any other plant rather than a lily. Thorns and thistles and briers are a good deal more like what some of them appear to the world. But we are bound, if we are Christian people, by our obligations to God, and by our obligations to men, to try to make Christianity look as beautiful in people’s eyes as we can. That is what Paul said, ‘Adorn the teaching’; make it look well, inasmuch as it has made you look attractive to men’s eyes. Men have a fairly accurate notion of beauty and goodness, whether they have any goodness or any beauty in their own characters or not. Do you remember the words: ‘Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, whatsoever things are venerable . . . if there be any praise’-from men-’think on these things’? If we do not keep that as the guiding star of our lives, then we have failed in one very distinct duty of Christian people-namely, to grow more like a lily, and to be graceful in the lowest sense of that word, as well as grace full in the highest sense of it. We shall not be so in the lower, unless we are so in the higher. It may be a very modest kind of beauty, very humble, and not at all like the flaring reds and yellows of the gorgeous flowers that the world admires. These are often like a great sunflower, with a disc as big as a cheese. But the Christian beauty will be modest and unobtrusive and shy, like the violet half buried in the hedge-bank, and unnoticed by careless eyes, accustomed to see beauty only in gaudy, flaring blooms. But unless you, as a Christian, are in your character arrayed in the “beauty of holiness,’ and the holiness of beauty, you are not quite the Christian that Jesus Christ wants you to be; setting forth all the gracious and sweet and refining influences of the Gospel in your daily life and conduct. That is the second lesson of our text.

III. The third is, that a God-bedewed soul that has been made fair and pure by communion with God, ought also to be strong.

He “shall cast forth his roots like Lebanon.” Now I take it that simile does not refer to the roots of that giant range that slope away down under the depths of the Mediterranean. That is a beautiful emblem, but it is not in line with the other images in the context. As these are all dependent on the promise of the dew, and represent different phases of the results of its fulfilment, it is natural to expect thus much uniformity in their variety, that they shall all be drawn from plant-life. If so, we must suppose a condensed metaphor here, and take “Lebanon” to mean the forest which another prophet calls “the glory of Lebanon.” The characteristic tree in these, as we all know, was the cedar.

It is named in Hebrew by a word which is connected with that for “strength.” It stands as the very type and emblem of stability and vigour. Think of its firm roots by which it is anchored deep in the soil. Think of the shelves of massive dark foliage. Think of its unchanged steadfastness in storm. Think of its towering height; and thus arriving at the meaning of the emblem, let us translate it into practice in our own lives. “He shall cast forth his roots as Lebanon.” Beauty? Yes! Purity? Yes! And braided in with them, if I may so say, the strength which can say “No!” which can resist, which can persist, which can overcome; power drawn from communion with God. “Strength and beauty” should blend in the worshippers, as they do in the “sanctuary” in God Himself. There is nothing admirable in mere force; there is often something sickly and feeble, and therefore contemptible in mere beauty. Many of us will cultivate the complacent and the amiable sides of the Christian life, and be wanting in the manly “thews that throw the world,” and can fight to the death. But we have to try and bring these two excellences of character together, and it needs an immense deal of grace and wisdom and imitation of Jesus Christ, and a close clasp of His hand, to enable us to do that. Speak we of strength? He is the type of strength. Of beauty? He is the perfection of beauty. And it is only as we keep close to Him that our lives will be all fair with the reflected loveliness of His, and strong with the communicated power of His grace-“strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” Brethren, if we are to set forth anything, in our daily lives, of this strength, remember that our lives must be rooted in, as well as bedewed by, God. Hosea’s emblems, beautiful and instructive as they are, do not reach to the deep truth set forth in still holier and sweeter words; “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.” The union of Christ and His people is closer than that between dew and plant. Our growth results from the communication of His own life to us. Therefore is the command stringent and obedience to it blessed, “Abide in Me, for apart from Me ye can do”-and are-“nothing.” Let us remember that the loftier the top of the tree and the wider the spread of its shelves of dark foliage, if it is steadfastly to stand, unmoved by the loud winds when they call, the deeper must its roots strike into the firm earth. If your life is to be a fair temple-palace worthy of God’s dwelling in, if it is to be impregnable to assault, there must be quite as much masonry underground as above, as is the case in great old buildings and palaces. And such a life must be a life “hid with Christ in God,” then it will be strong. When we strike our roots deep into Him, our branch also shall not wither, and our leaf shall be green, and all that we do shall prosper. The wicked are not so. They are like chaff-rootless, fruitless, lifeless, which the wind driveth away.

IV. Lastly, the God-bedewed soul, beautiful, pure, strong, will bear fruit.

That is the last lesson from these metaphors. “His beauty shall be as the olive-tree.” Anybody that has ever seen a grove of olives knows that their beauty is not such as strikes the eye. If it was not for the blue sky overhead, that rays down glorifying light, they would not be much to look at or talk about. The tree has a gnarled, grotesque trunk which divides into insignificant branches, bearing leaves mean in shape, harsh in texture, with a silvery underside. It gives but a quivering shade and has no massiveness, nor symmetry. Ay! but there are olives on the branches. And so the beauty of the humble tree is in what it grows for man’s good. After all, it is the outcome in fruitfulness which is the main thing about us. God’s meaning, in all His gifts of dew, and beauty, and purity, and strength, is that we should be of some use in the world.

The olive is crushed into oil, and the oil is used for smoothing and suppling joints and flesh, for nourishing and sustaining the body as food, for illuminating darkness as oil in the lamp. And these three things are the three things for which we Christian people have received all our dew, and all our beauty, and all our strength-that we may give other people light, that we may be the means of conveying to other people nourishment, that we may move gently in the world as lubricating, sweetening, soothing influences, and not irritating and provoking, and leading to strife and alienation. The question after all is, Does anybody gather fruit off us, and would anybody call us ‘trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified’? That is lesson four from this text. May we all open our hearts for the dew from heaven, and then use it to produce in ourselves beauty, purity, strength, and fruitfulness!


Verses 7-9

Hosea

ISRAEL RETURNING

Hosea 14:1 - Hosea 14:9.

Hosea is eminently the prophet of divine love and of human repentance. Both streams of thought are at their fullest in this great chapter. In Hosea 14:1 - Hosea 14:3 the very essence of true return to God is set forth in the prayer which Israel is exhorted to offer, while in Hosea 14:4 - Hosea 14:8 the forgiving love of God and its blessed results are portrayed with equal poetical beauty and spiritual force. Hosea 14:9 closes the chapter and the book with a kind of epilogue.

I. The summons to repentance.

‘Israel,’ of course, here means the Northern Kingdom, with which Hosea’s prophecies are chiefly occupied. ‘Thou hast fallen by thine iniquity’-that is the lesson taught by all its history, and in a deeper sense it is the lesson of all experience. Sin brings ruin for nations and individuals, and the plain teachings of each man’s own life exhort each to ‘return unto the Lord.’ We have all proved the vanity and misery of departing from Him; surely, if we are not drawn by His love, we might be driven by our own unrest, to go back to God.

The Prophet anticipates the clear accents of the New Testament call to repentance in his expansion of what he meant by returning. He has nothing to say about sacrifices, nor about self-reliant efforts at moral improvement. ‘Take with you words,’ not ‘the blood of bulls and goats.’ Confession is better than sacrifice. What words are they which will avail? Hosea teaches the penitent’s prayer. It must begin with the petition for forgiveness, which implies recognition of the petitioner’s sin. The cry, ‘Take away all iniquity,’ does not specify sins, but masses the whole black catalogue into one word. However varied the forms of our transgressions, they are in principle one, and it is best to bind them all into one ugly heap, and lay it at God’s feet. We have to confess not only sins, but sin, and the taking away of it includes divine cleansing from its power, as well as divine forgiveness of its guilt. Hosea bids Israel ask that God would take away all iniquity; John pointed to ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ But beyond forgiveness and cleansing, the penitent heart will seek that God would ‘accept the good’ in it, which springs up by His grace, when the evil has been washed from it, like flowers that burst from soil off which the matted under-growth of poisonous jungle has been cleared. Mere negative absence of ‘evil’ is not all that we should desire or exhibit; there must be positive good; and however sinful may have been the past, we are not too bold when we ask and expect that we may be made able to produce ‘good,’ which shall be fragrant as sweet incense to God.

Petitions are followed by vows. On the one hand, the experience of forgiveness and cleansing will put a new song in our mouths, and instead of animal sacrifices, we shall render the praise which is better than ‘calves’ laid on the altar. Perhaps the Septuagint rendering of that difficult phrase ‘the calves of our lips,’ which is given in Hebrews 13:15, ‘the fruit of our lips,’ is preferable. In either case, the same thought appears-that the penitent’s experience of forgiving and restoring love makes ‘the tongue of the dumb sing,’ and it will bind men’s hearts more closely to God than anything besides can do, so that their old inclinations to false reliances and idolatries drop away from them. The old fable tells us that the storm made the traveller wrap his cloak closer round him, but the sunshine made him throw it off. Judgments often make men cling more closely to their sins, but forgiving mercy makes them ‘cast off the works of darkness.’ The men who had experienced that in God, the Israel, which by its sins had brought down the punishment of His repudiation of being its father [Hosea 1:9], had found mercy, would no longer feel temptation to turn to Assyria for help, nor to seek protection from Egypt’s cavalry, nor to debase their manhood by calling stocks and stones, the work of their own hands, their gods. What earthly sweetness will tempt, or what earthly danger will affright, the heart that is feeling the bliss of union with God? Would Judas’s thirty pieces of silver attract the disciple reclining on Jesus’ bosom? We are most firmly bound to God, not by our resolves, but by our experience of His all-sufficient mercy. Fill the heart with that wine of the kingdom, and bitter or poisonous draughts will find no entrance into the cup.

II. God’s welcoming answer.

The very abruptness of its introduction, without any explanation as to the speaker, suggests how swiftly and joyfully the Father hastens to meet the returning prodigal while he is yet afar off. Like pent-up waters rushing forth as soon as a barrier is taken away, God’s love pours itself out immediately. His answer ever gives more than the penitent asks-robe and ring and shoes, and a feast to him who dared not expect more than a place among the hired servants. He gives not by drops, but in floods, answering the prayer for the taking away of iniquity by the promise to heal backsliding, going beyond desires and hopes in the gift of love which asks for no recompense, is drawn forth by no desert, but wells up from the depths of God’s heart, and strengthens the new, tremulous trust of the penitent by the assurance that every trace of anger is effaced from God’s heart.

The blessings consequent on the gift of God’s love are described in lovely imagery, drawn, like Hosea’s other abundant similes, from nature, and especially from trees and flowers. The source of all fruitfulness is a divine influence, which comes silently and refreshing as the ‘dew,’ or, rather, as the ‘night mist,’ a phenomenon occurring in Palestine in summer, and being, accurately, rolling masses of vapour brought from the Mediterranean, which counteract the dry heat and keep vegetation alive. The influences which refresh and fructify our souls must fall in many a silent hour of meditation and communion. They will effloresce into manifold shapes of beauty and fruitfulness, of which the Prophet signalises three. The lily may stand for beauty of purity, though botanists differ as to the particular flower meant. Christians should present to the world ‘whatsoever things are lovely,’ and see to it that their goodness is attractive. But the fragrant, pure lily has but shallow roots, and beauty is not all that a character needs in this world of struggle and effort. So there are to be both the lily’s blossom and roots like Lebanon. The image may refer to the firm buttresses of the widespread foot-hills, from which the sovereign summits of the great mountain range rise, or, as is rather suggested by the accompanying similes from the vegetable world, it may refer to the cedars growing there. Their roots are anchored deep and stretch far underground; therefore they rear towering heads, and spread broad shelves of dark foliage, safe from any blast. Our lives must be deep rooted in God if they are to be strong. Boots generally spread beneath the soil about as far as branches extend above it. There should be at least as much underground, ‘hid with Christ in God,’ as is visible to the world.

But beauty and strength are not all. So Hosea thinks of yet another of the characteristic growths of Palestine, the olive, which is not strikingly beautiful in form, with its strangely gnarled, contorted stem, its feeble branches, and its small, pointed, pale leaves, but has the beauty of fruitfulriess, and is green when other trees are bare. Such ‘beauty’ should be ours, and will be if the ‘dew’ falls on us.

In Hosea 14:7 there are difficulties, both as to the application of the ‘his,’ and as to the reading and rendering of some of the words. But the general drift is clear. It prolongs the tones of the foregoing verses, keeping to the same class of images, and expressing fruitfulness, abundant as the corn and precious as the grape, and fragrance like the ‘bouquet’ of the choicest wine.

Hosea 14:8 offers great difficulties on any interpretation. The supplement ‘shall say’ is questionable, and it is doubtful whether Ephraim is the speaker at all, and whether, if so, he speaks all the four clauses, and who speaks any or all of them, if not he. To the present writer, it seems best to take the supplement as right, and possible to regard the whole verse as spoken by Ephraim, though perhaps the last clause is meant to be God’s utterance. The meaning will then come out as follows. The penitent Israel again speaks, after the gracious promises preceding. The tribal name is, as usual in Hosea, equivalent to Israel, whose penitent cry we heard at the beginning of the passage. Now we hear his glad response to God’s abundant answer. ‘What have I to do any more with idols?’ He had vowed [Hosea 14:3] to have no more to do with them, and the resolve is deepened by the rich grace held forth to him. Hosea had lamented Ephraim’s mad adherence to ‘his idols’ [Hosea 4:17], but now the union is dissolved, and by penitence and reception of God’s grace, he is joined to the Lord, and parted from them. His renunciation of idolatry is based, in the second clause, on his experience of what God can do, and on his having heard God’s gracious voice of pardon and promise. If a man hears God, he will not be drawn to worship at any idol’s shrine.

Further, in the third clause, Ephraim is joyfully conscious of the change that has passed on him, in accordance with the great promises just spoken, and with grateful astonishment that such verdure should have burst out from the dry and rotten stump of his own sinful nature, exclaims, ‘I am like a green fir-tree.’ That is another reason why he will have no more to do with idols. They could never have made his sapless nature break into leafage. But what of the fourth clause-’From Me is thy fruit found’? Can we understand that to mean that Ephraim still speaks, keeping up the image of the previous clause, and declaring that all the new fruitfulness which he finds in himself he recognises to be God’s, both in the sense that, in reality, it is produced by Him, and that it belongs to Him? He comes seeking fruit, and He finds it. All our good is His, and we shall be happy, productive, and wise, in proportion as we offer all our works to Him, and feel that, after all, they are not ours, but the works of that Spirit which dwells in penitent and believing hearts. Some have thought that this last clause must be taken as spoken by God; but, even if so taken, it conveys substantially the same thought as to the divine origin of man’s fruitfulness.

The last verse is rather a general reflection summing up the whole than an integral part of this wonderful representation of penitence, pardon, and fruitfulness. It declares the great truth that the knowledge of the pardoning mercy of God, and of the ways by which He weans men from sin and makes them fruitful of good, makes us truly wise. That knowledge is more than intellectual apprehension; it is experience. Providence has its mysteries, but they who keep near to God, and are ‘just’ because they do, will find the opportunity of free, unfettered activity in God’s ways, and transgressors will stumble therein. Therefore wisdom and safety lie in penitence and confession, which will ever be met by gracious pardon and showers of blessing that will cause our hearts, which sin has made desert, to rejoice and blossom like the rose.

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Hosea 14:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/hosea-14.html.

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