Gracious Cleansing of Israel’s Infidelity, part 1 (Hosea 2:14-15)

Growing up at First Baptist Church here in Mena, one of the hymns we would sing was Philip Bliss’ Wonderful Words of Life.  The first verse goes…

Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of life,
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty
Teach me faith and duty.

And the last verse…

Sweetly echo the Gospel call,
Wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all,
Wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior,
Sanctify us forever.

This morning we turn the corner in Hosea chapter 2.  For the first thirteen verses Hosea has been the voice of Yahweh pronouncing judgment upon Israel for her idolatries.  His objective was always restorative.  He wanted Israel to repent and return to Him, but they would not.  They had forgotten Him.

Today we’re going to begin to look at the gracious cleansing of Israel’s infidelity.  God would act in their behalf.  Listen to these wonderful words of life in Hosea 2:15-23.

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. 16 “And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground.  And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the LORD. 21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, 22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, 23 and I will sow her for myself in the land.  And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'”

Like verses 6 and 9 verse 14 begins with the word “therefore,” showing that this is a consequence of the previous actions taken by Yahweh to bring Israel to repentance.  He had tried frustrating her ways, and that didn’t work; He had tried desolating her land and exposing her shame, but that didn’t work either.  Ultimately, Israel would go into captivity.

But thankfully, that isn’t he end of the story.  It is precisely at this juncture, at the depth of Israel’s degradation and debauchery, with no hope in sight, that Yahweh injects the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, the hope of a new beginning and a renewal of the “first love” relationship that had characterized Israel’s earlier days in the wilderness (cf. 2:1ff; 14-15).

The movement of the text leaves us unprepared for the surprise awaiting us in verse 14.  The accusations and the “and forgot me” at the end of v. 13 leaves us ready for the impending announcement: “I will forget her and her children.  I’m done with her.”

Instead, we are startled by a bouquet of promises which includes:

  • A second exodus and conquest (vv. 14-15)
  • An eradication of all mention of Baals (vv. 16-17)
  • An assurance of security from the attacks of both man and beast (v. 18)
  • A new betrothal and marriage (vv. 19-20) and
  • Cosmic prosperity as the sign of the renewed covenant (vv. 21-23)

This “therefore” and what follows is a word of miracle; it is a marvel, a wonderous act of God; a lightning bolt of grace from beyond the grave.

Mercy always triumphs judgment with God.  There is always good news, a gospel, with God.

Yahweh was fulfilling promises He had made centuries before.

To gain Israel, God did what Israel could not do; God did what no force on earth could do.  God destroyed the power of Egypt, the Lord broke the arm of the most powerful nation and ruler on the planet.  God humiliated the gods of Egypt.  Her husband having rescued her from Egypt prepared a place for his new bride.  He drove out the nations and gave her a land flowing with milk and honey.

Her husband remained utterly faithful, unchanging in his goodness. He never varied from the least promise.  Yet Israel proved herself again and again unfaithful. She showed herself unfaithful before she even entered the land.  She danced about a golden calf just after she entered into covenant with the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  It is as if she cheated on her husband on their wedding night.

And for hundreds of years she again and again strayed, denying her marriage, denying her covenant and chasing after gods who are no god.  All the while, her maker, her creator and husband did her good.

Her adultery was inexplicable; yet a madness gripped Israel.  Her children were monsters: she was married to the best of all husbands and yet claimed demons as the source of good.

And so, as we read in Hosea, God finally pronounces judgment upon his wicked bride. God condemns the wife whom he loved – unlovely as she was.  A husband with whom she could find no fault.

God says, he will have no mercy upon her children; he will hedge up her way with thorns; he will put an end to her mirth; he will “punish her for the feats days of the Baals”.  He will punish her, because she “forgot me, declares the LORD”.

This is the end, the resolution of the problem.  The wife has rejected the marriage; the husband has sent her away.  This is the end promised by God in the Covenant.  If Israel rejects the Covenant, there will be a curse.  And now the curse has come.

This is the end of the story: it is a sad end.  The marriage which began in a rescue ends in a rejection.  This is the end of the movie, the credits role.

But here we read the word

Therefore

We don’t expect this and so, as Matthew Henry says, “God’s thoughts and ways of mercy are infinitely above ours; his reasons are all fetched from within himself, and not from any thing in us; nay, his goodness takes occasion from man’s badness to appear so much the more illustrious…”

This word of grace is followed by a word of marvel, “behold.”  “Behold” Yahweh was about to do something wonderful, something marvelous.

Notice also the continuation of the “I wills” of God.  For salvation to happen to Israel, God takes the initiative and does most of the work.  Our salvation is the same.  God takes the initiative to make a sacrifice for us and draw us, doing all the work in Christ on the cross, so all we have to do is receive it by faith, trust in the finished work of Christ.  So notice all the “I wills” in this passage…

I will allure her (2:14)
I will…bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her (2:14)
I will give her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope (2:15)
I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth (2:17)
I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field (2:18)
I will betroth you to me (2:19)
I will betroth you to me forever (2:19)
I will betroth you to me in righteousness (2:19)
I will betroth you to me…in judgment (2:19)
I will betroth you to me…in lovingkindness (2:19).
I will hear (2:21).
I will sow her for myself in the earth (2:23)
I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy (2:23)
I will say to them which were not my people, You are my people (2:23)

So the first two “I wills” at the beginning of verse 14 is “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.”  How different these words, words of grace, than the previous words of stripping her naked and exposing her shame!

I will allure her and speak words of comfort to her are the words of a lover, seeking to do all He can to bring her back home.

These are words of pursuit, of initiative, or reckless love.  Here is the stark contrast, “she forgot me, but I, for my part, will allure her.”

“Allure” can be as strong as to suggest enticement (Judges 14:15; 16:5) or even seduction (Exodus 22:16).  Albert Barnes says…

God uses, as it were, Satan‘s weapons against himself.  As Satan had enticed the soul to sin, so would God, by holy enticements and persuasiveness, allure her to Himself. God too hath sweetnesses for the penitent soul, far above all the sweetnesses of present earthly joys; much more, above the bitter sweetnesses of sin.

God would show her something of His Beauty, and make her taste of His Love, and give her some such glimpse of the joy of His good-pleasure, as should thrill her and make her, all her life long, follow after what had, as through the clouds, opened upon her.

God will allure her into the wilderness.  Here “allure her” is paralleled with “speak tenderly,” , or endearingly, which can also be used in romantic contexts, such as in Genesis 34:3 and Ruth 2:13.  It also calls to mind Joseph’s words of kindness to his brothers, comforting them that he would not take vengeance upon them but look after them (Genesis 50:21)…

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 8 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?  20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Albert Barnes compares this to the new covenant promises of a new heart, new spirit and a new ability to obey the law (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Hebrews 8:10).

Isaiah also calls out to Judah with the kind words of Yahweh in Isaiah 40:

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

“He will allure them with the promises of his favour, as before he had terrified them with the threatenings of his wrath, will speak friendly to them, both by his prophets and by his providences, as before he had spoken roughly” (Matthew Henry).

Judgment had been public–exposing her to her lovers; but these inviting words are spoken in privacy, to her heart.

One might see some parallels here with the prodigal son.  There the father receives the son back without probation and will full privileges of sonship.  But here, instead of waiting upon his wife to return, Yahweh actually goes into the wilderness and pursues her.

He longed to have Israel back; therefore, He refused to give her up.  He would pursue her without ceasing.  He would use every avenue, every means, to help her to see that He should  be the object of her affection, and that she would never find the longings of her heart met in another.

The “wilderness” (v. 14) and “door of hope” in the “valley of Achor” (v. 15) take Israel back to the “honeymoon” period where Israel was first betrothed to Yahweh.  It takes Israel back to the Exodus and conquest.

The wilderness, of course, had a double meaning.  It could either signify her life in ruins, as back in vv. 3 and 12, or it could speak of her first days with Yahweh.  Here, it offers the second by way of the first.  Life would come through death, restoration would come through exile.

“He had destroyed her vines (v. 12), but now he will give her whole vineyards, as if for every vine destroyed she should have a vineyard restored, and so be repaid with interest…Note, God has vineyards of consolation ready to bestow on those who repent and return to him; and he can give vineyards out of a wilderness, which are of all others the most welcome, as rest to the weary. ” (Matthew Henry).

Jeremiah expresses this yearning to return to the “honeymoon” time in Jeremiah 2:2-3:

2 “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: “This is what the LORD says: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown. 3 Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’ ” declares the LORD.

The wilderness was not only the place, historically, of first love, but it was a place where there would be no Baals to seduce her.

What is the significance of the “valley of Achor”?  If we go back to the book of Joshua, we know that the “valley of Achor” stood between conquering Israel and the Promised Land.  They had just defeated Jericho and were marching into the highlands of Canaan, through a valley.  Most people believe it was the Wadi Qilt.  It would be the most natural valley for them to travel from Jericho.

Wadi Qilt

Photo: Wadi Qilt. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands

Their next target was the city of Ai, a much smaller city than Jericho, an easy target, or so they thought.  They were defeated.  Joshua was told by Yahweh that the reason for their defeat was that someone had taken articles from Jericho that had been declared “devoted” to the Lord.  So Joshua searched and discovered that it was Achan had taken a cloak and some silver and gold.

And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor.  25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us?  The LORD brings trouble on you today.”

Achan’s sin was in seizing things that God had said were “taboo.”  By analogy, the Israelites of Hosea’s day were calling “mine” God’s gifts and believing them to given by the Baals instead.  But the grace of God here in Hosea He reverses the meaning of Achor; instead of signifying punishment for greed, it would become a place of restoration.

The word “Achor” means trouble.  So this valley, a valley of hope that would lead them into the promised land to conquer it and possess it, had, right here at the beginning, become a valley of trouble.

But, this valley, the valley of trouble, would again become a “door [or portal] of hope.”  It would not just be forgotten, but forever renamed.  It signified that Yahweh would again bring Israel to their inheritance, and this time finally and completely.  Though they must go through trouble (their exile), they would once again be restored to their inheritance.

When sin was eradicated in Achan’s death, Israel’s fortunes turned, and they went on to conquer the land.  The valley which formerly had blocked the way to successful entry now becomes the highway to it.

Andersen and Freedman make a connection between “hope” here in Hosea 2:15 with a similar sounding word “cord” in Joshua 2:18 and 21 in relation to the scarlet cord that Rahab put out to indicate her allegiance and faith to Israel.  Is it possible that in promising “hope” to fallen Israel, Hosea is making a wordplay that alludes to salvation of another prostitute, Rahab?

This reminds us that often we have to go through a time of trouble in order to come to our door of hope.  Thank God that we don’t end in the valley of trouble, but walk through that into the door of hope!  Just like David says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” so we will walk through that valley into eternal life.

Isaiah 65:10 also refers to the Valley of Achor and explains that the Valley of Achor would become a place of rest.

“Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.”

What a great irony that a valley filled with rocks would become a place where the weary went to rest.  God, in His grace, can transform a rocky path into a resting place.

And God promises that when he brings Israel into the wilderness and when judgment is done and hope is renewed that “there she shall answer,” she will respond, she will renew her loyalty to her husband Yahweh.

For Hosea, Yahweh’s memories of the wilderness are poignant.  For example, in Hosea 9:10 we see

10 Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.

There was a time when God looked upon Israel and could see their love for Him, fleeting and fickle as it was.

Also, in Hosea 13:5 we read…

5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought;

So yes, the desert can be a place of deprivation, but it can also be a place of renewal.  In fact, the annual feast of Tabernacles, in which Israel was to re-enact their time of wilderness wanderings, was to be a time of joyful celebration and should have protected them, if they would have practiced it meaningfully, from moving to the Baals.

The festival was a reminder to Israel that they were aliens in the land and depended upon Yahweh for everything and everything they had was a gift from Yahweh who had conquered the gods of Canaan.

Israel’s “coming out” of Egypt speaks of the exodus, embracing the wilderness wanderings and possession of Canaan in the past.

The mention of Egypt also prepares the way for the role that Egypt will play in Hosea’s messages.  As in verse 13, Egypt serves as a reminder of God’s loving rescue of an enslaved people (11:1; 12:9, 13; 13:4).  In contrast, Egypt for Hosea’s hearers carried the threat of return to that house of bondage, an eradicating of the exodus (cf. 7:16; 8:15; 9:3, 6; 11:5, 11).  In all of those passages, except for the first, Egypt is paired with Assyria as the land of potential captivity.

Both Egypt and Assyria were sought as allies against one another.  To court either country at the price of disloyalty to Yahweh was to court disaster.  Poised between her past deliverance from Egypt and her threatened return to Egypt (Assyria), Israel must pursue a wiser course than political maneuvering.

One sign of hope on Israel’s part are the words “there she shall answer.”  Israel will respond.  Some versions translate the verb “sing,” although it is usually translated reply or respond.

So Matthew Henry explains:

This plainly refers to that triumphant and prophetic song which Moses and the children of Israel sang at the Red Sea, (Exod. 15:1) .  When they are delivered out of captivity they shall repeat that song, and to them it shall be a new song, because sung upon a new occasion, not inferior to the former.  God had said (v. 11) that he would cause all her mirth to cease, but now he would cause it to revive: She shall sing as in the day that she came out of Egypt.  Note, When God repeats former mercies we must repeat former praises; we find the song of Moses sung in the New Testament, Rev. 15:3.

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Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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