Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentHOSEA 14
This chapter elaborates the theme that appeared momentarily in Hos. 13:14, applies primarily to the godly and faithful remnant of the Northern kingdom which remained after the execution of the terminal penalties pronounced in the preceding chapters, and sets forth the glories of the New Israel to be achieved in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, that being the only way that even the righteous remnant could share in the marvelous promises of this chapter. This chapter is Messianic. It is the New Covenant that shines in every line of it. The forgiveness of sins (Hosea 14:2), indicated by "take away all iniquity" is an exclusive feature of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-35). "The offering of our lips" (Hosea 14:2) which was prophesied to replace animal sacrifice, was another feature of the New Covenant. The extravagant metaphors regarding the blessings to follow the "return" (Hosea 14:1) also were to be fulfilled, not by any literal restoration of the old Israel, but by the glorious spiritual blessings of the New. That there were indeed a few of the Ten Tribes who remained faithful to God is certain; because the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36) was of the tribe of Asher. Therefore, it was altogether proper for God to have spoken this message through Hosea to any part of his true Israel that remained after the vast majority had been destroyed. Those who heeded the message, of course, had their sins passed over (Romans 3:25) by the Father until Christ came; but their forgiveness was achieved, like all other sins, in the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is merely superstition that regards this chapter as a promise of a restoration of the old Israel in any racial or national sense. The divorce that Hosea pronounced against Gomer was final; and God's rejection of national Israel and its monarchy was just as final. There is no indication in Hos. 1--3 that Gomer ever repented; and neither has the state of Israel, or racial Israel, shown the slightest inclination toward repentance. Even the faithful and discerning Homer Hailey seems to have missed this in his comment that, "Gomer could only sit by the hearth of the home she had wrecked, and there, in the depth of her conscience-stricken memory of what might have been, come to repentance."F1 The truth is, there is not the slightest evidence in the word of God that any repentant thought ever entered Gomer's mind. There was a marriage afterward, of course, (Hos. 3), but it was not to Israel, but to Jezreel, the New Israel. Gomer had no part in it, nor can racial, national Israel ever be expected to have any part whatever in the Bride of Christ, the New Israel, except in the personal and individual sense of a righteous remnant, many of whom, it is to be hoped, obey the gospel of Christ and are saved like anyone else.
This chapter corresponds exactly to the new marriage of Hos. 3; and, in both of them, the Messianic kingdom of Christ is the object of the prophecy. Hindley seems to have received some impression of this, for he titled the chapter, "The Gospel of Grace," extolling the beauty of the New Ephraim."F2
A failure to discern the Messianic thrust of this chapter has led to efforts of some scholars to reject the chapter. "Many interpreters have denied the authenticity of this chapter because it appears to be out of line with the predictions of irrevocable doom set forth in the preceding chapters."F3 The utter lack of any internal or external evidence whatever that would support such denials has frustrated them. The chapter is clearly authentic. The chapter is not really surprising; for even the doctrine of the new birth was suggested in Hos. 13:13, and the promises of the resurrection in Hos. 13:14 were clearly received by Paul as New Covenant doctrine (1 Corinthians 15:55). Failing in all efforts to deny the chapter as authentic, some have resorted to the device of applying it to some earlier period of Hosea's ministry when repentance of the Northern kingdom might have been possible. McKeating, for example, said, "It may come from an earlier part of his ministry."F4 No such explanation is adequate. Viewing the whole chapter as a prophecy of the New Israel during the reign of Christ explains everything and accounts for its placement here as the climax of the entire prophecy.
O Israel, return unto Jehovah thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.
God's undying love for mankind underlies this plea for the return of the fallen people. Since the chapter is definitely Messianic and prophetic of the New Israel to be identified with the kingdom of Christ, how should the word "return" be understood? It is a word that implies the restoration of a lost and broken fellowship; and it is appropriate here in its primary application to the few faithful in the apostate Israel who would indeed heed the summons, continue to wait for the kingdom of God, and in the times of Christ become the solid nucleus of the New Israel. The apostles themselves, as well as persons such as Nathaniel and Anna, were among the old Israel who heeded the invitation and indeed returned to God in the higher and nobler relationship to the Father as the Bride of Christ. In the large implications of the word "return," it included the Gentiles who had long been in the darkness of paganism; but they too "returned" to God, for they also had "fallen by their iniquity," as evident from Rom. 1.
Thou hast fallen
is translated stumbled in some versions, leaving the impression from the way the word is used in current English that only a momentary slip, a near-mishap, occurred; but as Keating pointed out, To stumble in the Bible means to `come to utter disaster.'F5 These verses (Hosea 14:1-3) appeal for repentance.F6 Therefore, the Messianic kingdom is projected by this. The great mark of the emergence of the gospel age lay in this very thing. The Great Herald, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, cried, Repent ye for the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt. 3); the first sermon Jesus ever preached was, Repent ye, and believe the gospel (Mark 1:14); and the first sermon of the gospel age found the apostle Peter commanding the people in the name of Christ to Repent and be baptized, etc. (Acts 2:38). Thus, the very outset of this chapter is a signal that the New Israel is the one in focus here. Myers also agreed that Hos. 14:1 in this place is a simple and unqualified demand for repentance.F7
Mays interpreted the demand for repentance in this verse as an appeal addressed to "the corporate Israel."F8 However, such a view must be considered inaccurate. Nations of people as corporate units are not the objects of God's commands which are invariably addressed "to all men," to "every one of you," to "every creature," and to "whomsoever." The "seed of Abraham" who were the heirs of the promise of God were never in any sense the corporate Israel, the secular state, or the earthly domain of any of their monarchs; they were the people of like mind and faith with Abraham. The Pharisees claimed to be the "sons of Abraham"; but in reality, they were the sons of the devil, as Jesus said (John 8). Those who are looking for and expecting the secular nation of Israel to be converted and turn to God are looking for something that is absolutely impossible, or at least something that is nowhere promised in God's Word. Of that apostate nation, Christ through Paul declared that "they are hardened, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Romans 11:25); and the last nineteen centuries have verified the truth of what the Scriptures say. Some go beyond what is written and project a "return of Israel" (meaning the hardened secular portion of it) at some point during the end times; but the weakness of that projection lies in the impossibility of showing that there will be any "end times" at a point in the future beyond the period of "the fullness of the Gentiles," which may very well be, as many believe, another expression denoting the end of the gospel age and the end of the world.
Take with you words, and return unto Jehovah: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and accept that which is good: so will we render [as] bullocks [the offering of] our lips.
Despite some uncertainties regarding the text, the meaning is certified to us by the New Testament references to this very place (Heb. 13:15; 1 Pet. 2:5), leading to our absolute confidence that "fruit from our lips" are the new sacrifices God will receive, that animal sacrifices would be offered no more, and that "spiritual sacrifices" (1 Peter 2:5) would alone be offered, and that "that is all that would be needed."F9 It would be impossible accurately to associate any of this with Judaism. This was destined to be a characteristic of the gospel age and the kingdom of Christ.
Take away all iniquity
There is a positive reference in this to the forgiveness of sins, as indicated in the New English Bible margin (b) which renders it, Thou wilt surely take away iniquity. The great prophecy of the New Covenant in Jer. 31:31-35 clearly made the forgiveness of sins to be the distinctive hallmark of the New Covenant; and thus this is another sure and certain indicator that Hosea in this chapter has that New Covenant and the New Israel of God in Christ Jesus in constant view. He was prophesying of Christianity. Ward rendered these words, Forgive all guilt, that we may receive what is good and offer the fruit of our lips.F10 We believe that catches the thought exactly.
Take with you words
Mauchline commented thus: Do not take with you lambs and rams for sacrificial offerings as you have been wont to do ... but take words.F11 The cessation of animal sacrifice never occurred until the proclamation of the gospel after Pentecost and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. It is of those later times, the present dispensation of God's grace, that the prophet wrote in these lines. Butler's brilliant and eloquent summary of the meaning of this chapter is as follows:
"The idyllic portrait of the Messianic Age now comes to a climax from the artist Hosea. God's gracious invitation is responded to by the New Israel who finds God able to do exceeding abundantly above all that can be imagined."F12
Assyria 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 word is Asshur in the Hebrew text; but the two terms were almost synonymous. The Semitic name served for the god Asshur as well as for the city and empire. In the present context, this dual meaning is particularly appropriate.F13
True repentance involves abandoning known sin; and here the double sins of relying on nations and idolatry are confessed.F14 We will not ride upon horses
is supposed to be a metaphorical way of declaring that, neither can Egypt help us. Egypt was the principal source of the world's war horses in those times.
There are some further strong suggestions of the New Covenant in this verse: (1) the projected abandonment of idolatry, and (2) the mercy extended to the fatherless, perhaps a prophecy of the adoption of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God after Pentecost. In fact, the rejection of the reliance upon secular states may also be viewed as an ear-mark of Christianity, making three witnesses of the New Covenant in this single verse. We shall note each of them:
(1) The reliance upon having their own state with their own chosen rulers was the original sin of the Old Israel; and this passage indicates that in the period of the New Covenant, God's people would not set up their own governments, or rely upon states, Assyria and Egypt, cited here, being the greatest states of that era. Christ flatly declared that his followers would not trust in such things, saying, "It shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:25,26). This has been a characteristic of Christianity throughout the ages. Christians have not set up their own earthly governments, but submitted to whatever government presided over the place where they lived. Only the Mormons, the apostate Church, and a few others ever departed from this. But how about secular Israel? This very day they are back again in the secular state business!
(2) The projected abandonment of idolatry would become in time a characteristic of the New Israel. Paganism has disappeared wherever Christianity is known. No Christian religion of any name or creed ever sanctioned idolatry; and even the consecration of sacred images has vanished from the earth wherever true Christianity abounds. The lapses of the Medieval Church in this particular do not deny the general truth.
(3) The mercy to the fatherless as a hallmark of the New Covenant has been fulfilled in two ways. Never before in the world's history has so much time, money, and thoughtful care been expended upon behalf of orphan children as by the saints of God's holy church. But there is likely something else also inherent here. The pre-Christian Gentiles were "fatherless" as far as their relation to God was concerned; but they were adopted "in Christ Jesus." Paul wrote to a Gentile church, saying, "Ye received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15).
Could there remain any doubt of the pertinence of this chapter to "the kingdom of heaven in Christ"?
I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him.
The reference here is to the rich mine of spiritual benefit for the devoted Christian who has access to the Father "in Christ," who through repentance and prayer may be forgiven of every sin, who if he walks in the light "as he is in the light," is continually cleansed by the blood of Christ, who has an advocate with the Father, who enjoys the earnest of the Holy Spirit within himself, and for whom the Spirit maketh intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered, and who also adores a Saviour who is at the right hand of God interceding for the redeemed, and who is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God through him!
I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
is to be understood here not as transitory, but as refreshing. In that climate it was a valuable agent in the agricultural productiveness of the land.
He shall blossom as the lily
The New Israel will have the beauty of the lily (Matthew 6:28-29), and the noble strength and stability of the poplar (literally `Lebanon').F15
His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
"The loveliest of figures are here employed to describe the consequences"F16 of union with the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Covenant. God's goodness will not merely forgive and restore, but also beautify .and make fruitful and fragrant the NeW Israel of God.
They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive [as] the grain, and blossom as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon.
"This, of course, cannot be applied in any ultimate sense to the restoration of the Jews in the days of Ezra and Zerubbabel, for the subsequent history of the Jews does not bear this description out. This is Hosea's way of expressing God's promise to fulfil the covenant God made with Abraham and Abraham's spiritual posterity (Christians). It is evident that Hos. 14 is entirely Messianic in its "terminus ad quem" (end). It is a prophecy describing the spiritual inheritance that was to come in Christ."F17
Ephraim [shall say], What have I to do any more with idols? I have answered, and will regard him: I am like a green fir-tree; from me is thy fruit found.
It should be noted that God is the speaker in the last part of the verse where a very unusual Biblical comparison extols the Father as the source of fruit and safety. The metaphorical structure of much of this chapter, in which spiritual blessings appear under the terminology of material and earthly prosperity should not obscure the actual meaning. Butler's quotation from Keil explains it thus:
"The salvation which this promise sets before the people when they shall return to the Lord is indeed depicted according to the circumstances and peculiar views prevailing in the Old Testament, as earthly growth and prosperity; but its real nature is such that it will receive a spiritual fulfillment in those Israelites alone who are brought to belief in Jesus Christ."F18
Who is wise, that he may understand these things? prudent, that he may know them? for the ways of Jehovah are right, and the just shall walk in them; but transgressors shall fall therein.
Most of the commentators set this verse at naught, making of it a somewhat insipid comment by some later editor; but we will have none of that. Hosea had just written a chapter that doubtless appeared enigmatical even to himself, one that seemed totally at variance with practically the entire message of previous chapters in his prophecy. It was the astounding prophecy of the ultimate Israel of God to be attained in the church of Jesus Christ; but the homely metaphors of it seemed to him no doubt to be impossible of understanding in the light of all God had previously revealed to him. This ninth verse is the proof that Hosea very well knew that something lay in this chapter which was totally beyond the reach of his earthly vision; yet he faithfully declared it, uttering the warning in this verse, to the effect that there was a lot more in it than met the eye. Hosea was profoundly correct. Most of the commentators we have read regarding this chapter do not even now have any adequate understanding of it, applying it to all kinds of millennial theories, restorations of secular Israel in Palestine and otherwise missing totally the glimpse of the Church of Christ which shines in every line of it. How wonderful are the words of the Lord.
Footnotes for Hosea 14
1: Homer Hailey, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), p. 184.
2: J. B. Hindley, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 175.
3: Jacob M. Myers, Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 14 (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1959), p. 67.
4: Henry McKeating, Cambridge Bible Commentary, Amos Hosea, and Micah (Cambridge: University Press, 1971), p. 152.
7: Jacob M. Myers, op. cit., p. 68.
8: James Luther Mays, Hosea (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), p. 186.
9: Henry McKeating, op. cit., p. 152.
10: James M. Ward, A Theological Commentary on Hosea (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 226.
11: John Mauchline, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VI (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 717.
12: Paul T. Butler, The Minor Prophets (Joplin: The College Press, 1968), p. 582.
13: James M. Ward, op. cit., p. 227.
14: J. B. Hindley, op. cit., p. 715.
16: Jacob M. Myers, op. cit., p. 70.
17: Paul T. Butler, op. cit., p. 582.
18: Ibid., p. 583.