In this chapter we find a wonderful description about the future of Israel. This description is like the rainbow after a thunderstorm has disappeared. From verse 1 it can be deduced that the judgment announced by Hosea also came.
But then the turning point comes. The call to repentance has finally found resonance in the hearts of the people. The people come with confession, they repent to the LORD. The answer of the LORD is: glory for Israel, a glory that comes from God Himself.
Verse 9, the last verse, is a summary of the prophecy. In his prophecy Hosea has spoken of the right ways of the LORD mentioned in that verse, both in judgment and in blessing.
1 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
The long dispute the LORD has had with His people in the preceding chapters ends with a wonderful, positive dialogue. In the section that follows, we see the denouement of God’s ways with His people. Here we find no more judgments.
Without a return to God, there is no salvation for fallen man. Therefore, the blessing begins with the call to return or to repent and the answering of that call. It seems that Hosea has already seen in the spirit the fall of the people and from that position calls them to return. This can be deduced from the word “stumbled”, which is the actual, complete downfall of Israel.
Repentance means turning back on the path you are going and walking in the opposite direction. First a man walks with his back to God. When he repents, he turns his back and looks to God and asks Him what he has to do to be saved. In this way Israel also comes to repentance.
2 Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive [us] graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.
Repentance is the first step. Then confession must follow. This confession manifests repentance. Of course it will have to be words that really reflect what is in the heart. The heart must, as it were, dictate the tongue. Sin must be mentioned. The confession of the people clearly expresses the acknowledgment of iniquity. They have done things without taking God into account. The words with which they make their confession are given to them by Hosea. In the same way, we can help people to put their confession into words.
Their outspoken confession is compared to presenting sacrifices. Literally it says: “Then we will honor the young bulls of our lips.” This indicates the awareness that God will accept their confession as a sacrifice, with in their hearts the due respect that goes with it. They are aware that their sins are great and many and that a great sacrifice – a young bull is a great sacrifice – is necessary to be able to forgive all those transgressions. That sacrifice was in fact brought by the Lord Jesus. His sacrifice is great enough to be able to forgive all sins up to and including the greatest sin.
Paul quotes this verse from Hosea to exhort believers to praise God (Heb 13:15). In doing so, he says that God is truly worthy of always praising and glorifying Him, not only when confessing guilt or during certain services. We have every reason to do so, don’t we?
The people, and that goes for every person who knows he is guilty before God, are encouraged to go to God and ask Him for forgiveness. The people are, as it were, called upon to trust that they are dealing with a forgiving God. Even today, everyone may know that our God is a God of forgiveness (Neh 9:17b). Forgiveness is a mind that belongs to Him, that is present in Him. He is “a forgiving God” (Psa 99:8). He is “good, and ready to forgive” (Psa 86:5). “He will abundantly pardon” (Isa 55:7). He forgives and remembers no more (Jer 31:34).
The word “forgiveness” means, first, that the punishment that sinful behavior deserves is forgiven; second, that word means that the cause of the transgression is completely removed. God is able to deal with sin in this radical way because He has a righteous foundation for it, namely the substituting and reconciling offering of Christ. For “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).
After being so impressed by the forgiving God, admiration for Him cannot fail: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?” (Mic 7:18). Israel has to deal with such a God. That is how Hosea knows Him and that is why he can urge the people to go to that God. The people may also count on total forgiveness, where no sin remains that is not forgiven. “All iniquity” is forgiven.
3 The Break With the Past
3 “Assyria will not save us,
We will not ride on horses;
Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’
To the work of our hands;
For in You the orphan finds mercy.”
After confession and forgiveness, a radical break with the past is appropriate. Away with the former life, the life in sin! God does not forgive sins if we intend to continue with them. We really need to break with sin (Pro 28:13). It is important in the confession that sin is named. Israel does that here.
They will no longer look to Assyria for salvation (Hos 5:13; 7:11; 8:9), but to God. Also, they will no longer rely on their own strength or that of their (war) horses. Possibly riding horses refers to the support they have sought from Egypt (Deu 17:16; Isa 30:16; 31:1,3). By “the work of our hands” the people mean the idols. They also swear them off.
In his confession Israel compares himself to an orphan and counts on the mercy of God for a fatherless child (Exo 22:22; Deu 10:18). They will comfort themselves with the words of David: “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up” (Psa 27:10). With this confession the people show that they have forfeited every right to be a child and that only an appeal to God’s mercy remains. This appeal is not in vain. It is better to be an object of God’s grace than to stand in a relationship of justice with Him.
God is always ready to help the helpless. He wants to protect those who have no protection. He cares for those for whom no one cares and takes care of those who are left to themselves. In this situation Israel will be in the end time and they will find in God what is needed.
4 God’s Answer to the Confession
4 I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them.
After their confession, God assures them of His love. He has accepted them back as His people. He takes away all the consequences of their sins and replaces their misery with the blessings that belong to the new life. His love was always there, but He could not show it because of their aversion. Now His love can go out to them again without hindrance.
Their forsaking of the LORD has been the cause of all misery. He puts an end to that forever. He does this by cleansing them and giving them a new heart and a new spirit (Eze 36:25-26).
In verses 4-5 the LORD says “I will” three times. The first “I will” has to do with the past, with the sin He has taken away. The second “I will” has to do with the present, with His love they may experience at that moment. The third “I will” has to do with the future glory of Israel, when they will blossom and be established in the millennial realm of peace through His refreshment.
5 Future Glory for Israel
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
He will blossom like the lily,
And he will take root like [the cedars of] Lebanon.
For the third time Hosea uses the picture of the dew. In Hosea 6 he uses it as a picture of the volatility of Israel’s love (Hos 6:4) and in Hosea 13 in view of their judgment (Hos 13:3). Both times it says that it is a dew that perishes early in the morning. Here the dew is a picture of blessing and God Himself is like the dew. He is the eternal God, with Whom it is always morning, with Whom the dew never leaves. When God will be like the dew to His people – the people who have been without a drop of moisture for so long – it will blossom like a lily. Then there will be an end to the period when the east wind scorches all that blooms and grows (Hos 13:15).
If the Christian has dry periods in his spiritual life, this is also often the result of a sinful way. After confession and forgiveness there is a longing to read the Word of God again. This is then like the dew (Deu 32:2), through which his life starts to grow and blossom again. With the dew also the manna came (Exo 16:14; Num 11:9). The manna is a picture of the Lord Jesus (Jn 6:48-51).
Israel will blossom like the lily. The lily is a picture of charm and elegance, of the glory that Israel will radiate in the realm of peace. But that is not the only thing. A lily is a delicate, fragile flower. That is why it also says that it will “take root like [the cedars of] Lebanon”. With the Lebanon the picture emerges of stability, immobility. Israel’s visible glory is carried by the unshakable foundation of Christ’s reign that has no end (Dan 2:44). The glory of Israel will be like the lily and that people will be as unshakable as the Lebanon for a thousand years through Him Who then reigns.
6 Israel the Olive Tree
6 His shoots will sprout,
And his beauty will be like the olive tree
And his fragrance like [the cedars of] Lebanon.
The glory that Israel will then possess will not be for him alone. His shoots will sprout and go to others to be a blessing for them as well. After the lily as a picture of glory (Mt 6:28-29) another beautiful picture now appears: the olive tree. This also means Israel (Jer 11:16a). The olive tree has to do with being a witness for God on earth (Rom 11:17-24). The olive tree shows the value of Israel for the LORD: green, always fresh, with beautiful, good fruits.
God desires that Christians now give the same testimony of Him in the world as Israel will give in the realm of peace. The scent that emanates from such a testimony is attractive. What the olive tree produces in fruit is the olive oil. When it is poured out, it spreads a pleasing fragrance (Song 1:3). The fragrance that Israel will spread will also be pleasant.
Again, as in the previous verse, the Lebanon is mentioned, this time to emphasize the unchanging and enduring character of the fragrance that Israel will spread around it. All the time that the people will be under the blessed reign of Christ, they will remain fragrant.
To us Christians already living under the reign of Christ, the question comes: What fragrance are we spreading? It is to be hoped that the fragrance we spread is similar to what is said of the believers in Rome (Rom 1:8). Those believers really spread the fragrance of their faith around them. Do the people around us know us as people who live by faith? Then we spread a good fragrance. The same is said of the believers in Thessalonica (1Thes 1:8).
7 Israel the Vine
7 Those who live in his shadow
Will again raise grain,
And they will blossom like the vine.
His renown [will be] like the wine of Lebanon.
The “those” with whom this verse begins, are individual Israelites. “His shadow” is the shadow of the whole people, the nation of Israel. Israel will offer shelter and protection to its inhabitants because the blessing of the LORD rests upon it. They will be able to sow in that time and enjoy the fruits of the land themselves (cf. Hos 2:9,21-23).
In the vine we have yet another picture of Israel that we have encountered before (Hos 10:1). For a long time, it has produced only bad fruits, despite the care given to it by the LORD (Isa 5:1-7). Now it is a blossoming vine, that produces pure wine. This is because of its connection with Christ, “the true vine” (Jn 15:1). Wine represents joy, rejoicing (Psa 104:15). Israel will be a source of joy for the whole earth in the future, but above all for God and the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus refers to that time with what He says about the wine of the Lord’s Supper (Mt 26:29). The moment He says that, He is about to be killed by His people. His death at the same time means the atonement for every single person for whom He has shed His blood. The wine in the cup of the Lord’s Supper speaks of His blood (1Cor 10:16a; 11:25). That cup filled with wine also speaks of the glorious result that results from the shedding of His blood.
This applies not only to the individual who comes to faith, but also to the people when they as a whole accept Him in the future. The latter is what we are talking about here. The Lord Jesus and God will rejoice over them with joy (Zep 3:17). That joy is as firm as Lebanon. No one takes that joy away (Jn 16:22).
8 A Two-Way Conversation
8 O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like a luxuriant cypress;
From Me comes your fruit.
In this verse we listen to a two-way conversation between the LORD and Ephraim. In the first sentence Ephraim speaks. He who has been devoted to the idols (Hos 4:17) will say this. If someone is truly converted, he is satisfied with the Lord Jesus Christ. What could his former idols still mean to him?
In the second sentence the LORD gives a twofold answer to this attitude of Ephraim. In the first place there is talk of an answer. The LORD answers, which means that indeed Ephraim no longer resorts to idols, but asks everything of the LORD. He who goes to Him in confidence receives what he needs.
Secondly, the answer of the LORD has to do with looking after Ephraim. That has to do with the position of favor in which Ephraim may know himself to be placed. God looks at him with love and goodness and Ephraim may be aware of that (cf. Job 35:13). This also applies to the Christian who wants nothing to have to do with idolatry and only wants to trust in God. He may also know that God will give him what he needs and that God has made him acceptable in the Beloved (Eph 1:6) and thus looks upon him in favor.
Then we hear Ephraim speak again. Following on from what the LORD has said, he can say that living in the favor of God is the best breeding ground to be “like a luxuriant cypress”. The cypress is the tree that in the realm of peace will replace the thorn bush (Isa 55:13). A thorn bush usually does not have lush. It is a symbol for death as a result of sin. The fact that Ephraim here compares to “a luxuriant cypress” or an evergreen cypress, means that he will symbolize life in the realm of peace. Of the previously mentioned greyness (Hos 7:9) nothing can be discerned anymore. There is eternal freshness and strength, without decay.
Then the LORD is speaking again. Everything comes from Him. Nothing of what is found on or at Ephraim, he owes to himself. The last part of the verse shows this clearly. Everything that Israel brings forth comes from the LORD. It is only through fellowship with Him that all that good is found in Israel and will be maintained.
9 Wise and Discerning
9 Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
[Whoever] is discerning, let him know them.
For the ways of the LORD are right,
And the righteous will walk in them,
But transgressors will stumble in them.
“These things” are the things Hosea mentioned in the previous chapters. The short content of those things reads: “The ways of the LORD are right.” Those ways are what God has determined about the course of human history. God has given fixed rules for that. On that basis everyone’s ups and downs are determined. Everyone can know the rules according to which God acts. Whether we walk or stumble is determined by our attitude towards the right paths of the Lord. In other words: whether we walk well or deviate from the way is determined by God’s standard, His rules, or by ‘the right way’ of the Lord.
A wise and discerning person is one who has been taught in a divine way in his heart about the ways of God (cf. Psa 84:5). The way along which the LORD performs His actions always has to do with right. All His ways go right, no matter how great His mercy. It is therefore just like with the ‘chariot of God’s government’ we read about in Ezekiel 1. That chariot does not deviate, but always goes straight forward and can be stopped by nothing or no one. His ways are straight. We can see this in the punishment God exerts over sin and in the honor He gives them who serve Him.
God’s government over the world leads to the glorification of those who fear Him and to the downfall of the wicked. All these actions will above all be for the glorification of God and of His Son Jesus Christ. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him [be] the glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:36).