Oh, sisters, how refreshing it is to come at last to the final chapter of our study. Not because it means that our time is drawing to a close, no, but because we see in chapter 14 of Hosea a model of true, mindful, heartfelt repentance and the Lord’s turning from his anger as a result. The outline of true repentance in the first 3 verses are instructive, and the promises of God to his repentant people are precious. These point forward to Christ, because of whom, ultimately, God’s anger is turned from his people, our apostasy is healed, and God therefore loves us freely and blesses us abundantly.
In Hosea 14:1-3 we find, at last, the full repentance to which God has been calling his wayward people. Now, remembering that the northern kingdom of Israel was carried away into exile by Assyria, never to return as a nation or even tribes, I don’t think we can read this as a national declaration on their part. The historical books don’t include such an account nor does it read as such. What we are reading here is God’s declaration through his prophet of the redemptive truth that despite the depth and horror of their sin God is not only willing to forgive—indeed, we have seen that he is longing to do so—but he himself opens the way for sinners to return to him in true repentance.
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all iniquity;
accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls
the vows 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.” — Hosea 14:1-3
The elements of true repentance found in this passage are:
Awareness and confession of sin. Hosea tells them to “take with [them] words” as they “return to the Lord.” What kind of words? Words expressing not a vague feeling of regret, but words labeling their specific sins, acknowledging and confessing their guilt for their sins. God knows what the sins are, and God knows the thoughts of their hearts before they express them with their mouths. So the speaking aloud in words is not for God’s sake, but for the sake of the repentant sinner. The words of true repentance aren’t empty words, but heartfelt and filled with conviction. Verbalizing our prayers focuses our attention, sometimes even, with the help of the Holy Spirit, increases our awareness of the seriousness of our sin as we speak, and displays to ourselves and to others with whom we may be praying the conviction of our guilt before our Holy God.
Turn from specific sins. Hosea lists the specific sins that Israel has been guilty of and how they should turn from them. “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.” They have turned to Assyria for salvation, trusted in military might, and crafted idols for worship. This pledge to forsake their sinful practices and beliefs is an essential element of repentance. Again, God knows what we’ve done, but we need to renounce our sins as we turn from them to the Lord. Doing so displays the genuineness of our repentance.
Appeal to the grace of God. In verse 2 Hosea instructs Israel to say to the Lord, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.” Another translation of this request reads: “forgive all our sins and receive us graciously.” They already know that their sins deserve death, and that in the sacrificial system God has provided a means of substitutionary atonement for their sins. Done rightly, they brought their sin offerings to the temple in Jerusalem and the priests killed the lamb, goat, or bull and offered it on the altar. The sacrifices were a means of grace, in which God accepted the death of an animal in place of the sinner, and did not demand the sinner die to pay for his own sins. And yet they knew that the blood of bulls and goats weren’t sufficient to repay their Holy God for the offense of their sins. The dead animals weren’t “the good” that they are asking God to accept in this plea from 14:2. “The good,” is what David pleads for the Lord to accept in his prayer of repentance:
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51:15-17
Though they pledge to bring bulls, it is the sacrifice of spirits broken over their sin and hearts broken in contrition—truly sorrowful for betraying their praiseworthy, steadfastly loving God—that is acceptable in his sight.
The Orphan Finds Mercy
Closing this prayer of repentance is the beautiful declaration that, “In you the orphan finds mercy.” Going back to the beginning of Hosea we remember that Israel’s apostasy had them running so far from the Lord and his ways that he declared that they were no longer his people and he was no longer their God (1:9). But this is the very God who made a covenant with this people to be their God, and he is as faithful to keep his word as his love is steadfast and everlasting. Verses 5-7 detail the blessing that God will pour out upon his people when they return to him in true repentance. Verse 4 tells us how and why the outpouring of blessings begins.
I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them. — Hosea 14:4
In this verse God declares his unilateral initiative to heal the apostasy of his wayward people, and his love for them which will no longer be hampered by their sins or overshadowed by his impending judgement. Throughout our study of Hosea we have seen the steadfast love of the Lord for Israel, but it was frustrated at every turn by their sin and apostasy. By healing their apostasy he removes the barriers they had erected to his love, so he will be able to love them freely. But how does he do this? How does he accomplish this healing which opens the floodgates of his love?
In Romans 3, Paul speaks of the hinge upon which the floodgates turn. Paul is writing about the righteousness of God in salvation, to which the Law and the Prophets (including Hosea) bear witness,—
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. . . . and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. — Romans 3:22-25
The key to the accomplishment of our healing, and the hinge upon which the floodgates of God’s love turn, is found in the word “propitiation,” which means “to turn away wrath.” The sins and apostasy of Israel, indeed, of all who through faith in Jesus Christ believe, don’t just disappear. All through Hosea we have seen God’s righteous judgement against sin building and building. By their apostasy his people have become deserving objects of wrath. They have earned his holy anger. Where will his wrath be spent, if not upon his sinful people?
The answer is: the cross. On a hill outside of Jerusalem, Jesus took upon himself the sins of his people and became the object of wrath for us. God punished his Holy, spotless Son in our place. Jesus died the hellish death we deserved, so that we would be spared the Father’s wrath, and instead receive mercy. And so, God is righteous in giving all who believe justification (being made right before him) by his grace as a gift—freely given—through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And God’s love wasn’t on hold, waiting for the cross, but was the reason for the cross—
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. — 1 John 4:9-10
Beloved, this love is how the orphan finds mercy in God. “In love [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5). Because of God’s love, Jesus propitiates God’s wrath; the apostate thus justified, God heals the apostate’s heart; and with the barriers to God’s love thus removed, God loves his child freely and the child loves God in return. Apostasy is turned to adoration through adoption in Christ.
The final chapter of Hosea opens with the prophet’s call to Israel—and to all who are far from God, whether wandering or truly lost—to return to the Lord. This is the call of the gospel down through the ages. Only through Christ can we return to God. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). How do we then come? When Peter preached the gospel on the day of Pentecost, those in the crowd who heard the call cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s answer echoes Hosea’s plea to wayward Israel and speaks to us today. Sisters, if this gospel call has cut you to the heart and you are filled with conviction of your sin and long for forgiveness in Christ, then hesitate no longer—
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” — Acts 2:38-39
And so we finish the book of Hosea. We still have one more class, summarizing and concluding our study, so don’t put your books away quite yet. See you in December.