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Saturday, 11 December 2004 17:29

Studies in Hosea (3) (Hosea 2:14)

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Study Number 3

(Hosea 2:14)

We have seen that Hosea's wife, Gomer, left him for other men. Neither his own nor his children's pleading made any impact on her. She was determined to go her own sinful way.

This was only an illustration of Israel's spiritual adultery. She too had left her Husband, Jehovah, to serve the idol gods. So great was Israel's sin, that even when the Lord continued to bless her with abundant harvests, she attributed all to Baal, as if he was her benefactor. The Lord complains, She did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold which hey prepared [or used] for Baal (2:8).

This calls for correction or discipline and in this chapter the Lord spells out what form this discipline will take. There are basically three corrective measures the Lord will use to bring His sinful people to their senses. Each of these is introduced with the word therefore. The first one is found in verse 6. There the Lord says, Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns and make a wall that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them but shall not find them.

Israel had said, I will go after my lovers, Assyria and Egypt, and try to get a commitment from them to protect me against my enemies. But the Lord will frustrate her plans so that nothing will come of it.

The second therefore occurs in verse 9, where the Lord announces Israel's economic ruin in these words: Therefore I will return and take away my corn in the time thereof and my wine in the season thereof and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness. Because Israel has abused God's gifts to her, the Lord will take them all back. Her food and clothing, her joy and even her religious festivities--all these will come to an end. This removal of Israel's blessings is described very graphically in terms of a vile woman being stripped naked to bring her to shame.

By hedging up Israel's way and hurting her in the "pocket book" so to speak, the Lord, of course, seeks to bring His people to repentance. As it turned out, these afflictions which the Lord brought upon His people, did not bring about Israel's repentance. Sure, there were moments when it looked as though a change of heart was about to take place. In verse 7 we read that Israel's troubles forced her to admit that she was in a bad way and that she should go back to the Lord: I will go and return to my first husband, she resolved, for then it was better with me than now.

Apparently she changed her mind again. A sinner is usually very stubborn and will keep on trying to find happiness apart from God. What will it take to bring Israel to her senses? What awful judgment will the Lord now have to bring upon His people? We find the answer in verse 14. There the Lord explains what other measures He will take to persuade His Bride to return. Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak comfortably unto her.

This is truly amazing! The word therefore seems to be altogether out of place here, because it does not follow logically from what we read in the previous verse. In verse 13 the Lord complains about Israel that she went after her lovers and forgot Him, and then, right after that, He says, therefore I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak comfortably to her. One would expect Him to say, therefore I will destroy her or punish her in some other dreadful way.

Some have tried to solve this problem by rearranging the sequence of these verses, for instance, by putting verse 14 right at the beginning of chapter 2, or by placing the therefore after verse 7. But there is no need to do this. If we know something of the fullness and the riches of God's covenant of grace this is not so difficult to understand. Certainly, we will still be amazed, but we know experientially that there is a connection between these two things: the greatness of man's sin and the riches of God's grace, and that this connection can be expressed by the word therefore.

God's grace is so amazing that the greatness of our sin can be the occasion for Him to display His grace all the more abundantly. The Lord does that here also. Therefore, behold, I will allure her. The word behold draws attention to something most unusual and very amazing. Behold, the Lord means to say, despite the fact that you have forsaken Me in favour of other lovers, I will deal with you in mercy and allure you.

The Hebrew word translated allure means "to entice" or even "to seduce." It has a rather pejorative connotation. Yet the Lord makes use of this word to express the tender and gracious ways in which He intends to deal with His sinful people.

What the Lord means may be paraphrased this way. My people Israel have left Me for other lovers who have enticed them away from Me by showering gifts on them. At least, My people think that these lovers have given them these things. In reality it was I Who gave them everything they attribute to My rivals. Be that as it may, I will enter the competition and outbid them and in this way persuade Israel that I have more to offer than any of these idols.

I will allure or seduce her and bring her into the wilderness. What does the Lord mean by this? Why would He bring His sinful Bride, whom He is trying to woo or entice, to such a place? You would think a wilderness is the last place where a Lover would want to bring his beloved in an effort to win her over. Yet that is exactly what the Lord does as He seeks to conquer Israel's heart!

The question we need to answer first is, what is meant by the wilderness? Some commentators say the reference is to the Babylonian captivity where Israel would soon find herself. While there, in this figurative wilderness, the Lord would visit her and show mercy to her, thus winning her back to Himself. Others think that Hosea here alludes to the wilderness years, which Israel spent after her deliverance from Egypt. At Sinai Jehovah had married Israel and during those early years the relationship had been good. By bringing His unfaithful wife back there, He would remind her of that honeymoon period.

There is also another interpretation, which commends itself to me. The prophet may be alluding to a custom in Israel whereby a bridegroom would lead his bride-to-be out of the city or village into the surrounding fields. This would be done just before the wedding ceremony was to take place. The groom would take his bride to this "wilderness" and express his love to her in private, away from family and friends. They would exchange kisses and other expressions of endearment. After that they would rejoin the wedding party and present themselves for the official ceremony in the house of the groom's father. The guests would be on the lookout for them and see them coming up out of the "wilderness," the bride leaning upon her beloved (Song of Solomon 7:5).

The wilderness here is not to be taken literally. It was called that, perhaps, to remind the couple of Jehovah's love for His Israel as she became His Bride in the literal wilderness of Sinai. Just as the bridegroom brought his bride up through this "wilderness," so the Lord Jesus brings His people through the wilderness of this life into His father's house, where the wedding will take place. As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so Jehovah says here, I will rejoice over my people, even my sinful people that went after other lovers. I will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfortably to her. Literally it says: I will speak to her heart. That is, I will speak words that will gladden her heart, that will encourage her and assure her of My love for her.

We find many expressions in Scripture that refer to this kind of speaking of the Lord. For instance in Isaiah 40:2, where we have these well-known words: Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God, Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem. There too, the meaning is of speaking to her heart. To mention just one more example, in Judges 19 we have the story of the Levite who was willing to be reconciled to his wife although she had been unfaithful to him. He went after her and spoke to her in a friendly way. He spoke to her in such a way that her heart was touched by his willingness to forgive her everything she had done wrong.

I'm sure you have already made the application. This is what the Lord does every time He brings a sinner to Himself, for the first time when He draws him or her away from Satan and other rivals, but also His people after they have backslidden from Him. This is the only thing that will persuade a sinner. Only when the Lord speaks tenderly to his or her heart. Why? Because when the Lord speaks to the heart of His own, He has already spoken to their conscience, convincing them of their sins, so that they fear they can never be forgiven. When they hear God's voice speaking words of peace, assuring them of His pardoning love, the heart is melted and hope is born that the ruptured relationship can still be healed.

The wilderness, therefore, can also refer to a place--any place--where the Lord brings His own, where He is alone with them and deals with them face to face and heart to heart. This could be a sickbed or some other affliction which the Lord in His wisdom uses to speak comfortably to us.

What the Lord reveals about Himself through Hosea is pure Gospel. God, the Holy One, Who cannot condone sin, nevertheless comes to us in Christ Who was made to be sin for us--although He knew no sin--that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor.5:21). Because of what took place at Calvary, God can speak comfortably to a sinful people that deserves eternal damnation. Instead of coming in judgment using harsh language, He comes with tender words, enticing words, persuasive and reassuring words.

Because the Lord speaks like that, His servants, the prophets and ministers of the Gospel, must also learn to speak like that to sinners. True, we cannot speak to the heart---only to the ear. But if we faithfully bring the Gospel as God intends it--He will make use of our poor words and bring them from the ear to the heart by His Holy Spirit. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved (Jn.3:17).

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