We’ve made it to the final chapter of Hosea. So let’s recap the big picture of what we’ve seen so far:
Israel (the northern kingdom) has been persistently rebellious against God – chasing after other gods (to provide food) and other nations (to provide security), rather than trusting God. You know, the one who led them into the promised land full of food – giving them tasty desert snacks along the way – and who fought their battles for them. So God is about to hand them over to the consequences of their actions: drought (let’s see how Ba’al goes at providing for you) and conquering armies (how’s that whole Assyrian alliance going?)
Although these consequences will last for some time (many centuries of exile, as it turned out), there are also brief glimpses of hope. Despite being a spurned husband, God will go back out to the wilderness, where it all began, and romance Israel back to himself (ch2), reuniting Israel and Judah in the process. Despite being a rejected parent, God won’t completely give up on his wayward son, bringing him back from exile (ch11).
But still, you have to ask: when God does this, will it be any different next time around? Will his wife still cheat on him? Will his son still rebel?
To address this problem, Hosea uses another image of God, drawn from agriculture, in chapter 14. A chapter in which the good news of God’s saving activity shines through.
Hosea 14:1-3 Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount warhorses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.”
To begin with, God takes the initiative. Much like a parent of a two-year-old who’s learning how to respond when they’ve done the wrong thing, God gives Israel the words to say. Rather than taking the passive-aggressive approach (“If you don’t know what you’ve done, I’m not going to tell you!”), he spells out exactly what they should be sorry for. He makes the path to repentance clear.Hosea 14:4 “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.”
At the heart of this message is, unsurprisingly, grace. God will love them freely, even though they deserve his anger. He loves them despite their sin.
There are two other important ideas in this verse, too:
For my anger has turned away from them – How? Did he just need time (a few centuries) to cool off? What has happened that allows a righteous God no longer to be angry with his sinful, rebellious people? Although repentance and animal sacrifice forms some part of this picture, I think you can join the dots to Jesus by yourself.
I will heal their waywardness – God isn’t just going to patch things up; somehow, he’s going to change their propensity to wander away from him. But how will that happen?
The life-giving dewHosea 14:5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily
Rather than simply sending rain on Israel, God himself becomes the water that will make Israel bear fruit. Perhaps a little hint of the incarnation that was to come, in which God became one of us in order to save us. And certainly a hint of the indwelling Spirit that would produce that heart-transformation God’s people so desperately needed.
Elsewhere, the Old Testament connects the coming Spirit of God with the imagery of water, which cleanses God’s people from impurity and idolatry, and enables them to respond to God from the heart. Most famously in Ezekiel:Ezekiel 36:24-28 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
Jesus himself (the life-giving Jew*) uses water imagery a number of times in connection with new life and the giving of the Spirit. For example:John 4:14b Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 7:38-39 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
But here in Hosea it’s only a hint. That God would become like dew to a field; he would dwell in amongst his people, and provide what they needed to become fruitful. Instead of expecting Israel to do it in their own strength, he becomes part of them, doing in them what they never could have done themselves. As God says in verse 8:Hosea 14:8b “I am like a flourishing juniper; your fruitfulness comes from me.”
And the result is that God’s people, finally, will do what they were intended to do all along:Hosea 14:5b-7 Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine—Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.
God’s people will once more be “a light to the nations,” as Isaiah famously said. But we’re not studying Isaiah; Hosea’s image remains agricultural and peaceful. A shady tree where the nations can come and find God’s rest. Their fame will spread (like Psalm 72 envisioned under Solomon) as they get to work living as God’s people under God’s rule.
And that’s where we come in. Although this is less spectacular than some of the other “ingathering of the nations” passages we find in Old Testament prophecy – there’s no picture of us all streaming to Mt Zion to be taught by God – it’s still that same theme. When God acts to bring his people back from exile, deal with the sin problem once and for all, and give them a new heart that enables them to keep his laws – the nations will notice, and turn up. People like us, who are now dwelling in the shade of Israel’s tree. Which is why we still study under the shadow of the Old Testament, remembering that Jesus didn’t begin a new story – he radically transformed the next chapter of a very old one. (See our Why Jesus? series we began in February.)
* Note to non-Australian readers: if you say “life-giving dew” in a lazy, Australian way, it works on two levels #AccentSpecificPuns. Similarly, the US slogan for Mountain Dew, “Do the dew,” doesn’t work here. In fact, it can sound ominously anti-Semitic.