Originally posted March 13, 2015. Video from Aug 29, 2018.
When we began our study of Hosea over a year ago, we noted that the book was among the most difficult in the Bible to read because of its tragic, satirical tone and graphic imagery. And yet the meaning of Hosea’s name points to a purpose beyond mere punishment: “Salvation.” God did not enjoy giving this message to his prophet, nor would he rejoice in seeing its fulfillment. Instead, the Lord speaks in hope that his people might once again listen to his voice and respond to his call. As Theodoret observed, “The reason that the God of all threatens punishment . . . is not to inflict it on those he threatens but to strike them with fear and lead them to repentance, and by ridding them of their wicked behavior extend to them salvation” (Commentary on Hosea, “Introduction”; see our first post for Works Cited). God judges in order to save, but accepting his salvation means rejecting the sins that bring judgment in the first place.
Hosea begins this last portion of his work calling Israel to give the fruit of her lips to the husband of her youth: “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (14:1 ESV). Though their sin had separated them from their God (Isa 59:1-2) and they had felt the wrath of his hands, there was only one step back to grace: “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (6:1). If she would remember her marriage vows, and put away her harlotries, God would have Israel back as his own: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (12:6; see 2:19-20; 3:3). God’s holiness had sent his bride away, but his love now called her back to his side.
Israel’s restoration, however, could only begin by confessing her own sinfulness, and the sinlessness of the God she had left: “Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay the fruit of our lips. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, “Our God,” to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy’” (14:2-3; words in italics follow the LXX and Syriac; see ESV margin; Heb 13:15). Israel had first turned away from God in adultery at the altar, and then sought glory through their own political and military might. But Israel could not simply show back up in the temple and pretend nothing had happened. God did not want her songs, her prayers, or even her offerings; he wanted to see her broken heart and grateful mind transformed through sacrificial living (Psa 51:13-19; 69:30-31). He would not accept their worship or restore fellowship with her until she had confessed her sins before her God.
And when Israel returned in confession and repentance, the Lord would forgive his people and restore to them the fruit of his fellowship. If they would reject apostasy for a life with him, his anger would flee and they would feel his loving embrace; rain and dew would return to their parched land; flowers would again blossom, and fields and vines would bear their fruit (Hos 14:4-7; see 13:15). If Israel would return and dwell with her God once more, he would be her Provider and Rest—a Husband only he could be (2:16). With her life of sin behind her, she could smile through her tears as God restates his own vows, “It is I who answer and look after you. . . . from me comes your fruit” (Hos 13:8).
In that fellowship, she would once again experience the grace enjoyed by one who walks with God. As John Cassian writes, “Holy people have never testified that they attained by their effort the right path to travel on as they made their way to the increase and perfection of virtue. Rather they would plead to the Lord and say, ‘Direct me in your truth’ [Psa 25:5] and, ‘Direct my way in your sight’ [Psa 5:8]” (Conference 3.13.1). As Paul would later point out, the fruits of obedience were themselves gifts of God and evidence of his work in our lives: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Php 2:12-13, emphasis added). But if our faith is not visible through a life of loving obedience, we are dead in our sins because God is no longer working within us (Jam 2:17, 26).
Israel’s confession to God would have been both lengthy and difficult, but that would not excuse her failure to give God the fruit of her lips. She had left the husband of her youth and borne him illegitimate children (1:1-2:1), she had traded the blessings of marriage for a half-life of harlotry (2:2-13), and had been driven to debt slavery by the depth and breadth of her whoredom (2:14-3:5). And rather than bringing her back to God, Israel’s leaders failed in every way (4:1-19): they convinced the people they could hide from the One who is everywhere (5:1-6:10), that their hearts of pride, lust and greed would be not only tolerated but commended (6:11-7:16), and that their alliances with Egypt and Assyria would keep them safe from any coming conflict (8:1-9:9).
But God’s wrath could no longer wait; they would be crushed as grapes in the winepress (9:10-10:10), harnessed and put to work like a common farm animal (10:11-11:11), punished for their complete devotion to the deceitfulness of sin (11:12-12:14), and for rejecting the Only One who could provide for them in times of feast and famine (13:1-16). Unfortunately, Israel’s repentance came only after retribution. Soon after Hosea completed his work, his prophecies were fulfilled through “at least six incursions into Palestine and its neighbors by an unstoppable Assyrian army” (ESVSB). The day of the Lord had come, and God’s own people had found themselves on the wrong side of the cataclysm.
For the church of Jesus Christ, the message is clear: we must repent of our harlotries and live once again as the bride of Christ. We cannot pretend to make disciples apart from the watery womb of rebirth (Mat 28:18-20; John 3:3, 5; Tit 3:4-7), we cannot follow men and wear their names without giving up our place as disciples of Christ (Mat 15:7-8; Luke 14:26-27), and we cannot excuse or return to the very sins from which we’ve been freed by Christ’s own blood (2Pe 2:20-22; 1Pe 1:17-21). Instead, we need elders, preachers, and deacons who understand their role as servant-leaders (1Pe 5:1-4; 2Ti 2:24-26; Acts 6:1-7), who point the church outside of herself and to her Lord and Savior (Php 3:30-21; 2Pe 3:18), and who cultivate a living faith to combat the sensual thinking of this age (Eph 3:14-19; Rom 8:9-17).
And if we do not, our names will be scrubbed clean from the book of life (Rev 20:11-12; 22:17), we will experience the fury of the wrath of God’s winepress (Rev 14:18-20), we will feel the pain of eternal chains of fire and the corruption of an undying death (Rev 20:13-15; Mark 9:43-48), and we will suffer an eternity without the One who makes eternity worth living (2Th 1:6-9).
Hosea’s name and work shows the depth of God’s steadfast love for his people, but he is not the only child of God with this name, much less the most important. For Hosea (Hebrew) shares his name with the one and only Son of God: the Lord Jesus (Greek). “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mat 1:21, emphasis added). But such a salvation comes only from a conviction of sin that pierces the heart and cries out for the Lord’s deliverance (Acts 2:36-37; Rom 10:8-10), a visible repentance through baptism and sanctified living (Acts 2:38-41; Rom 6:3-4), and a life of grace among God’s people in worship and work, faithfulness and fellowship (Acts 2:42-47).
We cannot merely show back up to worship; we cannot hide or ignore our sin. If we want to be free of it, we must give it to God in confession. “Through [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb 13:15). Only then will we see the beauty of Christ’s love and radiate his own splendor as his bride. And then we shall sing in that great multitude: “‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:6-8). Amen.