Love That Will Not Let Me Go, part 2 (Hosea 14:4-9)

Today is our last day in the book of Hosea.  I’ve enjoyed this series.  Hosea is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  In it, God calls Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Why?  Because God wants to illustrate the pathos of His love for faithless Israel.  Israel would betray Yahweh’s love by running to the Baalim and would rather trust in political alliances to save them than Yahweh’s mighty power.

In Hosea 14 Yahweh calls them once again to repentance.  He has been faithful to forgive them time and time again, but He is also just and will bring discipline.  Vv. 4-8 of Hosea 14 describes what Yahweh will do for Israel when they do finally turn in true repentance.

That will happen right at the end of the tribulation period, as described in Zechariah 12 when “the nations of the earth” are gathered against Jerusalem (12:3).  But Yahweh will deliver them so undeniably that the clans of Judah outside the city of Jerusalem will say “The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the LORD of hosts, their God” (12:5).  “On that day the LORD will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them.  And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (12:8-9).

Then notice what happens in the hearts of those who are delivered.  Verse 10 says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

I believe that is the moment Paul speaks about in Romans 11:26 when he says “All Israel shall be saved.”  Those Jews who survive to the end of the tribulation period will see Yahweh’s deliverance and realize that they crucified their Messiah and they will repent and believe.  Then Yahweh will do for them what he describes here in Hosea 14:4-8

4 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew of Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; 6 his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you.  I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit.

Remember that the name “Ephraim” means “fruitfulness.”  Yahweh is reminding them, and they will finally realize, that their fertility does not come from themselves or from the Baalim, but from Yahweh alone.

Like many promises of God, verse 4 starts with two “I will…” statements:  “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely.”  Why?  “Because my anger has turned from them.”

When they turned, or returned, to Yahweh, His anger would turn away from them.  That anger had to be satisfied before he could heal them and love them freely.  And God did that by offering His own Son to take the place of sinners and satisfy the wrath of God against sins.  That is our only hope and it is their only hope.

When God’s wrath is satisfied, He is no longer angry, but can love them freely and heal them.

Warren Wiersbe notes:

“When a person collapses with sickness, it’s usually the result of a process that’s been working in the body for weeks or months.  First an infection gets into the system and begins to grow. The person experiences weariness and loss of appetite, then weakness, and then the collapse occurs.  When sin gets into the inner person and isn’t dealt with, it acts like an insidious infection: it grows quietly; it brings loss of spiritual appetite; it creates weariness and weakness; then comes the collapse.”

That is what had happened to Ephraim, to Israel.  Soon, Assyria would come and conquer their armies, ravage them land and destroy their idols.  These Jews would never see their homeland again.

But at a future time—still future even today (though growing closer)—Israel will begin to return to the land and will finally repent and Yahweh will be able to heal them.

Israel was wounded (Hos. 5:12-14; 13:7-8) but could now be healed.

He will also love them freely, without constraint.  His justice being satisfied He can lavish them with love, just as He does to us who have believed in His Son Jesus Christ.

Now, remember that the book of Hosea has been about a love story.  Hosea married Gomer to illustrate Yahweh’s marriage to Israel.  As did Gomer, a returning Israel would find their “Husband” receiving them freely because of His great love for them.

In the earlier imagery Hosea had been told to seek his erring wife and bring her back to the family (3:1).  By that action he would demonstrate God’s own intention to “allure” His wayward wife Israel into a return to covenant relation with Himself (2:14-20).

God had warned His people again and again of their certain judgment and that He would withdraw Himself and leave them to their fate for whatever time was necessary (5:15a), yet He never stopped loving His people (11:8-9).  The implication was clear. Through Hosea His prophet God has been appealing to His people.

Although Israel’s restoration lay in the distant future because God’s people must yet suffer their deserved punishment, they have had divinely sent encouragement for them to return to full covenant relation with the Lord (6:1; 14:1-3).

In the verses that follow, there is language that is very reminiscent of the language between the lovers in Song of Solomon.

Yahweh will be able to love them lavishly and it will produce great expressions of love towards Israel.

In the familiar threefold literary style of the book the Lord uses three similes employing imagery of refreshment and revitalization (v. 5).

The Lord first promises to be “like the dew to Israel.”  Earlier Israel’s faithfulessness toward the Lord was declared to be as lasting and fleeting as the morning dew (6:4).  Subsequently, both Israel’s idolaters and idols were soon to disappear “like early morning dew” (13:3).  In a reversal of imagery the dew becomes symbolic here of a life-giving vitality that provides the source of renewed life and strength for Israel—God Himself—“I will be like the dew to Israel.”

Renewed water sources can bring health, beauty, and fragrance to a landscape.  A second simile promises that as once again in fellowship with the true Rain-giver (NOT Baal) Israel will “blossom like a lily.”  The image speaks of a renewed spiritual life that brings fresh blessings from the Lord of the covenant.

The lily may well also speak of the restored love relationship between wife Israel and “Husband” Yahweh, as we read in Song of Solomon 2:2; 5:13.  This spiritual restoration gives them life and health, true shalom.

In a third simile future Israel’s new strength and prosperity is compared to a cedar tree and its strong root system.  Although the word “cedar” does not appear in the Hebrew text, it is generally assumed that the reference is to the cedars of Lebanon.

It was those very cedars whose strength and fragrance were famous that were utilized in the building of the Temple complex (1 Kings 6:9; 7:2; 10:17; 1 Chron. 22:4).

Walton, Matthews & Chavalas (Bible Background Commentary, p. 760) remark that the cedars of Lebanon were “considered the most useful of the large growth trees in the ancient Near East” and sought after for their lumber as a “source for construction and a symbol of wealth in Mesopotamian literature, including the Gilgamesh Epic and the Annals of many kings from the Sumerians through the Assyrians.”

The idyllic imagery is furthered in verse 6 by stressing in yet another threefold list the growth and progress that will occur in a restored Israel.  New “shoots” testify that the nation is alive and well again.  That they are spreading out indicates that the nation is once again growing and expanding.

As Laetsch says

“No longer shall she be like a withered, dying, heath in the desert, but like a vigorous, flourishing plant spreading its shoots ever farther and farther” (Minor Prophets. P. 109).

 Israel’s prominence and influence will be felt far and wide (Jer. 16:19; Zech. 14:6).

In that day Israel’s splendor will be “as majestic as the olive tree, and will have the fragrance of Lebanon’s cedars.  Such will be the position of God’s people among the nations.“

Here, the attractiveness of Israel would appeal to both the eye and the nose.

Thus, “The three lines of the triplet allude to three aspects of Israel’s future status: stability (‘his shoots’), visibility (‘his splendor’), and desirability (‘his scent’)” (Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, p. 216).

This image also finds reflection in Song of Solomon 4:11, where the bride is addressed with the words “the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.”

God’s portrait of Israel’s grand future concludes with scenes of living once again in the Promised Land.  The people will find protection and rest under the shade of the new tree that is Israel.  Others will also seek to find their blessings in connection with the renewed Israel.

As Garrett observes, “If Israel is the metaphorical tree in whose shade others dwell, the conceptual unity of the text is maintained and the implied expectation, that Gentiles would in the eschaton would find blessing in Israel, agrees with many other prophecies of the future of the people of God.”

The remainder of verse 7 points to further productivity in the land.  Together with the previous mention of the olive tree, grain, and wine signifying God’s renewed blessings upon a newly faithful covenant people (cf. Hos. 2:8-9; Deut. 7:12-13; 11:13-14) the mention of the vine testifies to Israel’s fruitful condition.

Earlier Israel was likened to a luxuriant vine that had become wayward (Hos. 10:1-2).  In the future Yahweh would replant them and they would be luxurious.

The metaphor of Israel as a vine is quite familiar in the Scriptures (e.g., Isa. 5:2-6).  Together with the fig tree the vine often symbolized the blessedness of Israel’s covenant relation with Yahweh.  These included such things as security and serenity (cf. 1 Kings 4:25).  All of this God’s people will once again enjoy (Mic. 4:3-4).

The Lord’s final word through Hosea to His people is an impassioned one (v. 8).  Once more the most responsible tribe of Ephraim is singled out for rebuke.  It is expressed in terms of a rhetorical question (MT): “O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?”

The expected answer is: “Absolutely nothing!”

Duane Garrett clarifies

“God’s parting word … does not mean that God once had business with idols but no longer does.  Rather, the point is that he has already spoken as much as he can endure to speak about the gods of Canaan” (Hosea-Joel, p.

Even more to the point is the fact that God and the false gods, which the idols represent, have nothing in common.  God has been patient with Israel’s idolatry even though this has been an affront to His holy character.  When Israel has been chastised and corrected, all traces of idolatry will disappear.

Israel has never needed or benefited from its fascination with idolatry.  As a matter of fact, it is Yahweh who has cared for Israel all along. That provision will be especially true of the promised future.

The promise that God would “answer” Ephraim is predicated upon Israel’s words of confession and petition for forgiveness, which Hosea has just urged his people to communicate to God (14:2-3).

God’s promise to answer is reminiscent of the familiar call-answer motif that so often speaks of intimate communion between God and His people.  The call-answer motif underscores the fact of God’s ready availability to come to the aid of His people for refuge and deliverance from danger or distress (Pss. 20:6-9; 81:6-7; 102:1-2; 138:8).

Unfortunately, Israel has failed to do so (Hos. 7:7), choosing rather to call upon human resources (7:11).

As here, the motif also has an eschatological setting (cf. Zech. 13:7-9).  So sweet will be that future restored fellowship between Yahweh and His covenant people that, “Before they even call out, I will respond; while they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24).

Israel must realize that its only basis for life lived on the highest plain is the Lord.  Previously Israel’s future blessing would make it “like an olive tree” (v. 6). In a reversal of imagery and in an unusual simile Yahweh compares Himself to a luxuriant tree with strong roots.

He alone is Israel’s true and unfailing source of power and success and it is He who provides real “fruit” to those who follow Him.

Ephraim was previously shown to be a fruitless plant (9:16), even though it had once been a fruitful vine.  For it had misconstrued and misused its God –endowed blessings by attributing its “fruit” to pagan deities such as Baal (10:1) and to raw military power (10:13).

Yet there is hope.  A repentant forgiven Israel could and will once again be fruitful for it will receive and acknowledge that its fruit comes from the Lord.  The life of God’s people will be lived out in true spiritual success that comes from their relation to Yahweh and surrender to Him as Lord of their lives.

The similes likening both Israel (v. 7) and Yahweh (v. 8) to trees is instructive.  If Israel is to be a productive, fruitful tree, it is because its character reflects and partakes of that of the Divine Tree.

The principle here anticipates Jesus’ teaching concerning the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8). Christian believers produce “fruit” (Gal. 5:22-23) on the basis of their union with the risen Christ (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27).

Hosea’s closing maxim provides the epilogue of the book.

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 upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Here Hosea is calling Israel to hear and give heed to what he has been preaching to them.  Whether they are wise and discerning is proven by their ability to understand and respond positively to his teachings.

Throughout the book Hosea has charged Israel with lack of knowledge and discernment.

As the recipient and transmitter of divine revelation Hosea issues here a final challenge.  The people should understand that it is God’s ways that are right.  Indeed, “The message of this wisdom saying and the entire Book of Hosea hinges on the categorical assertion that ‘the ways of the LORD are right’” (Charles H. Silva, “The Literary Structure of Hosea 9-14,” BibSac 164 (2007): 435-453).

But like the parables of Jesus centuries later, some would find those ways and walk in them, and others would stumble.

Unlike the rebellious or wicked person (cf. Ps. 1:6) who will stumble and bring on his own punishment (Prov. 16:25; 18:6-7), the wise man will succeed and avoid evil (Prov. 16:16-17), and also experience the Lord’s rich blessings (Ps. 119:1-3; Prov. 16:20).

Hosea’s advice is still relevant to today’s believers who walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7) and in the light of God’s revealed truth (1 John 1:5-7).

I hope that you have enjoyed the book of Hosea and will stay with me as we begin the book of Philippians next week.

Published by

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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