Hosea 11; 14: I Will Heal Their Backsliding
The prophet Amos, as we shall see, belonged to Tekoa in Judah but was sent by the Lord to prophesy to Israel. We cannot tell to which kingdom Hosea belonged. From the exclusive way in which he speaks of Israel, it appears as if he were a native of the north. All the places mentioned by him are in Israel, such as Jezreel, Gilgal, Gibeah, Shechem, Samaria, Mizpah in Gilead, Tabor in Galilee, Lebanon, Ramah, and Bethel. It is worthy of note too that the word Ephraim occurs thirty-seven times. This is specially characteristic of his prophecy, and a key note to the understanding of it. (T. 247) On the other hand, Jerusalem is not referred to once. Amos and Hosea both prophesy to Israel. Their messages are, however, quite distinct. The leading feature of Amos' prophecy is the emphasis that he places upon the inevitable judgment which the Lord will bring upon Israel for their sins. "I will punish you for your iniquities: prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (Amos 3:2; 4:12) is the burden of his teaching. It is condemnation without mercy. Hosea condemns the nation in equally strong terms. His indictment is just as severe as that of his contemporary. But he also gives expression to the Lord's pity for the sufferers. Amos expresses sympathy for the poor of the land who were trodden under foot by their wealthy brethren, but not a word does he say on behalf of the fallen nation hastening to its doom. Hosea lays equal stress upon the love of the Lord, how that love is affected by the waywardness of His people. This is especially noticeable in chapter 11. Another marked distinction between the two prophets lies in their treatment of the restoration. Amos closes with the simple statement of the fact. (Amos 9:11-15) He does not say how it is to be accomplished. But what is taken for granted in reading Amos is most touchingly expressed by Hosea. The restoration follows the repentance of Israel. (Hos. 14) The messages then are distinctly different, as different as were the two men. Each of them was chosen by the Lord for that which he was qualified to furnish toward the completeness of His own Divine Word.
In Hos. 11:2, it is said that the people "sacrificed unto Baalim." These Baals were idols who represented the lords of the land. The word Baal means lord or master. When the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they were dependent upon the fruits of the soil for their maintenance. The heathen tribes who lived there worshiped Baalim whom they supposed able to control the crops. The Israelites readily followed their example, thereby manifesting their lack of trust in the Lord. This is especially clear from Hosea. (Read Hos. 2:6-13; "her lovers" are the Baalim.) "She [Israel] did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and her gold."
The reference in Hos. 11:4 to "lifting up the yoke on their jaws, and gently giving them to eat," is probably to the loosening of the yoke on the team of oxen after a hard pull, and feeding them, patting them gently, full of thankfulness for their patient labor. It furnishes a beautiful analogy of the Lord's treatment of His people in temptation.
Chapter 11 reveals to us that touch of Divine sympathy in our Heavenly Father which He holds toward frail humanity. There is no less love in the relentless condemnation spoken through Amos. The stern voice of truth is needed at times to awaken us from spiritual lethargy. At other times, however, we need to realize the "love that will not let us go," to strengthen the weak heart that clings helplessly to the Divine mercy. The knowledge that the Lordís love and patience cannot be exhausted renews our strength to persevere even when we are in the greatest distressómost conscious of our weaknesses, and the way in which these affect the Lord Our Savior.
The first verse of chapter 11 describes the beginning of spiritual life, an experience upon which we can all look back with satisfaction. As the prophets point Israel to the Lord's mercy in leading it out of Egypt, so the Lord now directs our attention to His goodness toward us in opening to us the heavenward path. Then our love is warm and full. But soon our interest wanes. "The more they were called, the more they went from Me." (Hos. 11:2) Then follows the worship of selfish and worldly ideals. In verse 3, the Lord describes how He cares for us, opening our understanding of the Word, supporting our weakness, and healing the ill effects of stumbling in the way. He treats us like children who often do wrong and suffer through ignorance. But even as children fail to appreciate what their parents do for them in saving them from the consequences of their mistakes, so do we lose sight of the Lord's kindness to us in healing our iniquities. "They knew not that I healed them." What thankless creatures we are! "Though I have redeemed them, yet have they spoken lies against Me." (Hos. 7:13) "I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness - they went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto shame." (Hos. 9:10) How little do we realize that the Lord feels and is pained by our perversity! Surely He is not indifferent when we do wrong! No parent who loves his or her children is indifferent when they go astray. The greater the love for the children and the keener the sense of wrong done by them, the greater the suffering on their account. Human pain caused by the wrong doing of others is often mixed with anxiety. This does not exist in the Lord, for He knows the issue, and works accordingly for the ultimate good of all. If children knew how their parents suffer when they do wrong, they would, if they love their parents, be more ready to give up their own way and do right. So if we could know and feel how it pains the Lord to see us bent on backsliding (Hos. 11:7), we would surely respond more readily to His will. How encouraging it is to feel that no degree of perversity on our part can ever shake His love for us. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim; how surrender thee, O Israel."" (Hos. 11:8) And He is ready to forgive at any moment, on the very slightest indication of repentance. "I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim, for I am God and not man." (Hos. 11:9)
The subsequent chapters (Hos. 12 and 13) again attack the evils in humanity, especially those consequent upon the misunderstanding of the Word arising from evil doing (Ephraim). But the fourteenth chapter again resounds with the unquenchable love of the Lord manifested in the richest gifts to His repentant children. What will not the Lord do to those who return unto Him? Through ignorance, thoughtlessness, and willfulness we fall. We reach the lowest depths of distress, depicted in Israel's captivity. We have slowly been gathering courage to renounce all that is selfish in spirit and wrongful in act. Now when we see all we are ready to renounce all, "and take words and return unto the Lord." (Hos. 14:2) We are prepared to acknowledge that all life is from Him. Neither reasoning from self, nor self-derived intelligence can avail us any longer: nor shall we glory any more in our deeds. The Lord giveth us the power to do good. (Hos. 14:3; Deut. 8:16-17) How beautiful the promise of the life from the Lord freed from further oppression! "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for Mine anger is turned away from him." (Hos. 14:4) This refers to Ephraim. It pictures the state of people who have learned to take their understanding of the Word from the Lord, instead of following the dictates of their own will. And the words in which the blessing is framed all express qualities of a pure understanding of truth, namely, dew, lily, Lebanon (the rational), branches, beauty, corn, and vine. Ephraim's last confession, "I am like a green fir tree" (after parting with all idolatry), gives utterance to the perception on our part that when cleansed of pride in self-derived intelligence, our thoughts from the Lord are perennially fresh. The force of the phrase, "From Me is thy fruit found," lies in the word "fruit," the Hebrew for which is piri, from which the word Ephraim is taken. Ephraim means fruitful. "From Me is thy fruit found" means here, all intelligence is from the Lord alone. "Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein." (Hos. 14:9)