COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
LESSON NUMBER 63
“ 14:1 O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. 2 Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. 3 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.” (Hosea 14:1-3)
It is essential that we perceive the Lord’s desire to be merciful, as well as His hatred for sin and rebellion. He prefers to show mercy, and therefore calls upon the people to come within the perimeter of that mercy by acknowledging their sin. Even in the revelation of His intolerance with sin, and determination to judge those insisting on remaining it, the Lord holds out the candle of hope. We learn from this that truth itself has a compelling nature about it. If only a person will listen to the Lord, bending forward, as it were, with great eagerness, a certain stirring will occur within. The person will be drawn to the Lord, for He is, in truth, “the God of salvation” (Psa 68:20). He is a “God of judgment,” or “justice” NKJV (Isa 30:18), but is nowhere said to be the “God of damnation,” or “the God of condemnation.” While He is “a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29), the Lord has chosen to make His “eternal purpose” (Eph 3:11) one of salvation, redemption, justification, and bringing the people to Himself. This is foreshadowed in our text. It becomes clear that while Israel is abundantly worthy of Divine indignation, yet the great heart of God holds out mercy, calling for the people to awaken, and come back to Him.
THE FALLEN ARE SUMMONED TO RETURN
“ 14:1 O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.”
RETURN TO THE LORD. Other versions read, “Come back to your God,” BBE and “turn back.” YLT Here is a fundamental point of spiritual understanding: Sin moves people away from the Lord. On the surface, this may seem very apparent, but in human experience it is not that easy to grasp. The only way Satan can lure an individual or a nation into sin is to convince them there is some advantage to it, and that it will not separate them from the Lord. Throughout human history, he has had remarkable success in doing this among those to whom God has revealed Himself – first in Israel, then in the church.
The reality of the separation caused by sin is particularly revealed. “Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa 59:1-2). The failure of God to interact mercifully with His people is not owing to any change in His character or objectives. Rather, it is because sin causes a chasm to form between God and those to whom He has made Himself known. Again, speaking through Isaiah, God accounts for His severity against the people. “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid Me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart” (Isa 57:17). Early in Israel’s history Gold warned the people through Moses of the consequences of sin. “Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?” (Deu 31:17). Now, all of this is coming upon Israel, just as Moses said.
Yet, the Lord calls out – His heart is speaking – “RETURN to the Lord!” With the word comes the power to it. That is God’s manner. Isaiah said, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:7). A return to the Lord involves abandoning sinful manners, or ways. It involves a new way of thinking. Not an inch of progress can be made toward the Lord until this is done. Earlier, Hosea had said the people would seek the Lord early in their affliction saying, “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us” (6:1).
Now, the Lord calls for a return BEFORE they are afflicted – BEFORE they are punished for their iniquity! This is an index to the Lord’s desire to bless His people. He extends Himself in patience and longsuffering, urging His people to give up their waywardness and return to Him.
THY GOD. The Lord refers to Himself as Israel’s God – not because they have chosen Him. Actually, they are forsaking Him, and have chosen to serve other gods. He is their God by HIS choice, not theirs – just as the disciples were Jesus’ choice (John 15:16). He made Himself known to them, called them, delivered them, led them, and brought them into the promised land. He did so because of “the fathers,” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 26:4; 28:14; Lev 26:42; Deut 4:31). As he succinctly stated when they were on the border of the promised land, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that He may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people” (Deut 9:5-6). This is the God to whom they are summoned to “return.”
FALLEN BY INIQUITY. Other versions read, “you have stumbled,” NKJV “your downfall,” NIV “you have collapsed,” NAB and “brought you down.” NLT Israel was in a “fallen” state – fallen from a state of blessing and acceptance. The reason for their fall was their own sin, for sin causes one to fall – fall from grace (Gal 5:4), and fall from steadfastness (2 Pet 3:7). There is a lofty height to which Divine favor brings one, where He works things together for man’s good, and carries them on “eagles wings” to Himself (Ex 19:4). There is a place where the Lord “feeds His flock like a Shepherd,” gathers “the lambs in His arms,” and carries them “in His bosom” – a place where He “gently leads those that are with young” (Isa 40:11). But when a person or a nation (Job 34:29) chooses iniquity, they forfeit all of these benefits. Then they are in the category of “the fallen,” having no access to the sustaining grace of God. While this is very apparent within the context of Divine fellowship, it is not at all apparent to those who are living in sin. Therefore, God reminds them of this fact.
BRING WORDS, AND TURN TO THE LORD
“ 2 Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.”
TAKE WITH YOU WORDS, AND TURN. It is not enough to turn to the Lord in your heart,” as some are wont to say. With Israel, their sin involved their mouths, as they gave honor to false gods; now their return to the Lord must affect their mouths also. When they returned to the Lord, they were to bring “words” with them – appropriate and insightful words. Babbling and foolish talk are always out of order, but especially when they are done before the Lord.
These are to be sincere and pure words, not religious pretension, which was their manner at this time: “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isa 29:13). Now the Lord summons them to adjust their language, taking appropriate and acceptable words when they “turn to the Lord.”
They were not to come seeking the Lord “with their flocks and with their herds” – a vain pursuit according to Hosea 5:6. God could not now be sought by ordinary means. Their sin was extraordinary, and their return must be also. It will not be enough to go through an ordained routine, imagining that would please the Lord. This time, they had to bring words with them – words that would be “acceptable” in His sight (Psa 19:14).
SAY UNTO HIM. What is more, the Lord will tell them WHAT to say, for their sin has so dulled their minds they no longer know how to speak before the Lord.
When David had repented of his sin with Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife or Uriah, he brought insightful words “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest” (Psa 51:4). Behold how God-conscious he was! The priests of Joel’s day took words with them – words given to them by God: “Spare Thy people, O LORD, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?” (Joel 2:17). Jesus taught His disciples how to approach the Father with words (Matt 6:9-13). Jesus spoke of a publican that came to the Lord with acceptable words, and went away “justified” (Matt 18:13).
TAKE AWAY. Now the Lord tells His people HOW to speak in His presence. These are the words they are to bring with them: “Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, “Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.” These words are in their proper order: first iniquity is removed, then the people are received graciously, or in great love. What is more, the iniquity will not be removed unless God takes it away. This involves more than forgiveness. It parallels the prophetic expression of Paul: “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom 11:26). This involves the removal of the love of and commitment to sin, as well as of the heavenly record of the sin and a defiled conscience. Iniquity is NOT taken away until the love and preference for it are removed.
Here is an excellent example of the people asking God to do what He has already promised to do. God had already promised, “I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth” (Hos 2:17). Now the Lord calls upon the people to ask Him to do it. That also is according to His promise. “Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the wastes shall be builded. . . . Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them . . . ” (Ezek 36:33-37). This is a wonderful Kingdom secret that needs to be proclaimed to the church. It has to do with our prayers capitalizing on obtaining the things God has promised – praying “according to His will” (1 John 5:14).
WE WILL. The Lord continues to tell WHAT to say when they return to Him – the “words” they are to bring with them. “We will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” NKJV This is the Old Covenant equivalent of the New Covenant expression, “the fruit of our lips” (Heb 13:15). Of such praise the Lord says, “This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs” (Psa 69:31). When, for example, both David and Asaph said, “give ear to the words of my mouth” (Psa 54:2; 78:1), they were offering the calves of their lips. When David expressed the desire for the words of his mouth to be acceptable to God (Psa 19:14), he was asking for his lips to be like sacrificial “calves” to the Lord. How dramatically this differs from the corruption of natural lips, of which it is written, “the poison of asps is under their lips” (Rom 3:13; Psa 140:3). When our “lips” are offered to the Lord, our speech is sanctified, making our lips “the lip of truth,” or “truthful lips” NASB (Prov 12:19).
THE RESOLVE OF THE PENITENT
“ 3 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.”
The Lord continues to instruct the people what they are to say when they return to Him. It should be obvious that this is not to be a mere mechanical, or perfunctory, exercise. It is not possible to return to the Lord while spouting some religious formula or memorized speech. These are words that are to come from the heart. The point is that when their hearts are intent upon coming to the Lord, these words will make sense to them, and they will utter them in true repentance, with real understanding, and with good expectation.
ASSHUR SHALL NOT SAVE US. The word “Asshur” is what is called a “transliteration” – a letter-for-letter rendering of the Hebrew word (ash-shoor) in the English. The translation of the word is “Assyria,” “Assyrian,” and “Assyrians.” NKJV/NASB/NIV
“Asshur” is mentioned as the place where Nimrod built Nineveh (Gen 10:11), and the people of Asshur are said to be descendants of Shem, the second son of Noah (Gen 10:22). These are the “Assyrians” of Scripture. Although the Assyrians had been consistent opponents of Israel (2 Kings 17:3-23; 19:35), yet Israel sought alliances with them (Hos 5:13; 7:11; 12:1; 2 Kgs 15:19; 16:7). For this, the Lord severely judged them, for they should have depended upon Him alone, for He had repeatedly proved His faithfulness to them.
Now they must say with their lips, “Assyria shall not save us.” NKJV They are to acknowledge with their mouths what God had already declared to them: “the Assyrian . . . yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound” (Hosea 5:13). This too is God’s manner.
WE WILL NOT RIDE UPON HORSES. Another version reads, “we will not mount war-horses.” NIV The idea is that they cease to depend upon horses, and their own military strength. The Psalmist declared there are some who trust “in horses” (Psa 20:7), even though “a horse is a vain thing for safety” (Psa 33:17).
But Israel not only was prone to depend upon horses in battle, but for running away as well – as though the horse could carry them to a place of safety. Therefore Isaiah wrote, “But ye said, No; for we will flee upon horses; therefore shall ye flee: and, We will ride upon the swift; therefore shall they that pursue you be swift” (Isa 30:16).
Now the Lord calls upon them to renounce their dependency upon “horses,” declaring that renunciation with words to the Lord. He had already pronounced a woe upon those who trusted in horses: “Woe to them that . . . stay [rely] on horses” (Isa 31:1). In their return to the Lord, it was necessary for them to verbalize the renunciation of such trust.
WE WILL NOT SAY ANY MORE. The people are also instructed to say, “neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods.” The “work of our hands” refers particularly to the idols in which they were trusting. It all started at Sinai where they said to a golden calf, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Ex 32:4). Isaiah said of the people, “They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods” (Isa 42:17). And again, Isaiah said the crafter of the idol said to it, “thou art my god” (Isa 44:17).
Now the practice of giving credit to other gods must come to a grinding halt. The people are to say to God they will do it no more: “We will never again say 'Our gods' to what our own hands have made.” NIV We should be able to see some parallels in our generation.
For those who would recover from their wayward state, the times comes when they must return to God with the verbalized commitment that they will never again serve anyone but the true God. Such expressions are to be considered essential and most serious.
THE FATHERLESS FIND MERCY. The people are to continue, “for in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.” The words may appear on the surface to have little to do with returning to the Lord. But such a view is a total delusion. The truth of the matter is that those who leave the Lord become “fatherless,” or “orphans.” NASB Sin brings the individual into a place where there is no safety, no protection, and no sustenance. It cuts people off from God, who is the sole Provider and Sustainer. All other helps are only imaginary.
In this text, “the fatherless” is not a mere technicality. Rather, it speaks of a condition that is perceived – a condition in which mercy is sought, for that is the only way mercy can be “found”: “in Thee the fatherless FINDETH mercy.”
Those who discover they have sinned themselves into an isolated state are to gather up words, and make their way back to the Lord whom they forsook in order to commit iniquity. The very fact that God gives them words to say when they return is a sort of promise that those words will, if uttered whole-heartedly, surely be answered. God will be merciful to them, forgiving, cleansing, and restoring to a place of Divine favor.