"Return, O Israel"

The Timely Twelve——1

Leo R. Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an executive editor o/The Ministry.

GOD DOESN'T give up. Even when His people have become as faithless and as seemingly worth less as shopworn Comer, He still eagerly pays the redemption price and lovingly pleads, "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God" (Hosea 14:1, R.S.V.). Joyfully He anticipates their restoration—

"I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. . . . They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden" (verses 4-7, R.S.V.).

The Old Testament gospel of Hosea enables us to clearly grasp the infinite love and patient long-suffering God displays toward His erring children. In a startling way God's love is illustrated through the personal family experience of the prophet whose very name pro claims "Jehovah has saved."

In a time when Israel was outwardly prosperous but inwardly unsound and corrupt, probably some thirty to forty years before the final destruction of Samaria, God gave a seemingly strange order to the prophet Hosea. "Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord" (chap. 1:2, R.S.V.).

In order to teach Israel a lesson, God asked His prophet to marry Comer. There has been some question as to whether or not she was a practicing prostitute at the time God gave him this strange commission. Apparently not, as far as the Hebrew used in chapter 1, verse 2, is concerned. The kal passive participle zenunim, indicates that she was not actively engaged in such immoral pursuits at the time of her marriage. The plural indicates the abstract and may be understood to indicate that she came from a family of cult prostitutes.

Only the first of Comer's three children is mentioned as also be longing to Hosea. This probably indicates that the last two are the ones referred to in Hosea 1:2, K.J.V., as "children of whoredoms." The bitter heartbreak associated with the unfortunate results of his marriage undoubtedly helped the prophet understand, and the people of Israel to sense— if they stopped to think about it— how deep and steadfast God's love is for His unfaithful people.

Even the names given to Gomer's offspring are revelatory of God's concern for His children. What an object lesson it must have been to passers-by as they listened to the prophet call his children. "Jezreel—God will scatter; Lo-Ruhamah—not have mercy; Lo-ammi—not My people; come home!"

Yet prophet and people are pointed beyond the scattering to the time when "the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea" and instead of having to sadly pronounce, "Ye are not my people," the voice of God will cry out triumphantly "unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God" (verse 10).

In this way, the first chapter of the fourteen that make up this longest book among the minor prophets depicts the contents of the chapters that follow. The first three chapters detail Comer's unfaithfulness and the prophet's almost unexplainable love for his erring wife. They climax with the record of Comer's return to Ho sea and the anticipation of Israel's return to God.

In the next section of Hosea, chapters four through ten, the prophet becomes the mouthpiece for the Lord, declaring in unequivocal language the sinfulness of the people and the tragic results that must inevitably follow their unfaithfulness.

Right in the midst of these strong denunciations, however, is found an appeal to the erring to repent and return. The promise of healing and restoration revolves around three specific steps outlined in chapter 6:1-3 that also point to the essential steps in the revival and reformation to which God calls His remnant church:

chap. 6:1—RETURN

chap. 6:2—REVIVAL

chap. 6:3—RAIN (former and latter rain)

Just a few verses from the end of this second section of Hosea the call of revival is repeated in another challenge that deserves the careful attention of the Laodicean church. "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you" (chap. 10:12).

What message could be more timely or appropriate for God's people living in this age when the latter rain is to fall with unprecedented power?

There is, to my way of thinking, no more appealing section in the minor prophets than the last four chapters of Hosea. It begins with a summary of God's loving dealings with Israel. In these words are seen His incomprehensible, indefatigable love for His earthly children.

"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love" (chap. 11:1-4, R.S.V.). God doesn't compel. He draws us with the cords of love. In our work for others we need to follow this divine example.

In spite of it all, as verse seven points out, His people are still "bent" on turning away from God. Ephraim is singled out as a symbol of the corruption of the entire nation since this tribe was a leader in apostasy among the tribes of Israel. While denouncing Israel's corruption and lack of response, the Lord pleads for repentance and assures Ephraim of His continued love in one of the most sensitive and touching passages in the Scriptures.

"How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy" (verses 8, 9).

Admah and Zeboiim were among the cities of the plain destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah. Unrepentant Israel deserves such total annihilation, but God does not intend to give the apostate nation what it deserves. It's true that because of His love for His people He must punish the land, but He will not utterly destroy nor will He completely abandon His people.

The next two chapters again re turn to the theme of Israel's in gratitude and the resultant impending judgment. But then the message given through Hosea concludes with a classic appeal to repentance in chapter 14. God will not allow His people to go into captivity without pulling out all the stops in a majestic final appeal.

First, in verses 1-3 Hosea speaks for the Lord, urging the guilty nation to recognize its need and to "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God." They aren't to come with mere formal sacrifices, but with the deep expression of repentance, pleading, "Take away all iniquity."

Next God's voice is heard in verses 4-7 in response to the projected prayer of penitence, ex claiming, "I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. . . . They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden" (R.S.V.).

Once again, in verse 8, God ex presses the longing that fills His heart as He sees Israel turning from His love to idols of wood and stone. It is as though He is saying, "Oh, Ephraim, don't you under stand? It is I, not your idols, who cares for you and looks after you."

The prophet has the last word. "Whoever is wise," he admonishes, "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" (chap. 14:9, R.S.V.).

Hosea has learned through personal experience what it means for God to love us so in spite of our unresponsiveness. He knows what it is to sob out his heart as his careless wife throws herself away on those far less deserving of her attention. Yet true love cannot be turned off like a spigot. Powerfully he pleads with Israel, both ancient and modern, to wake up—to sense the course and inevitable results of carelessness and iniquity and to realize how much God truly loves His erring children. Those who are wise, he concludes, will respond to the compelling cords of love and will be drawn to the fullness of pardon and salvation God so eagerly longs to bestow.

The Old Testament gospel is the same as the New. Abundant, amazing grace is available to fully restore any and all of us when ever we become willing to respond to our Father's call, "Re turn, O Israel, to the Lord your God."

 


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Leo R. Van Dolson, Ph.D., is an executive editor o/The Ministry.

January 1975

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