Hosea 14:4-8 I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. 5 I will be like the dew to 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.
Can you think of a time when you were promised a gift of significance; something you were really excited about? Do you remember the feeling of anticipation and excitement? We’ve all had that at some point in our lives and we’ve all experienced the joy it brings—both the anticipation and then the gift itself. What’s even more exciting is when something like our birthday comes along and we know that we’re likely to get not one, but several such gifts. That’s another level of joy, such that it’s often as fun to create it for someone as it is to receive it. Like all parents, I loved being around the birthday anticipation of our kids when they were little.
We’ve come to the final verses in Hosea and in them we find the promise of not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not ten, but fourteen amazing gifts from God; the kind of gifts that make everything else we’ve ever received—as good as they may have been—absolutely pale in comparison. There are few passages in the entire bible in which God offers more to his people.
If you were not here last week, you would do very well to go back and read or listen to that message. The reason it’s so critical is because last week we saw (in vs.1-3) the condition for receiving the promises of this week (in vs.4-8). In other words, if you don’t know the kind of repentance call for by Hosea (coming to God as he truly is, as he commands, acknowledging the sinfulness of our sin, and accepting their just consequences), you won’t know the blessings he promises. Repentance is God’s requirement for his gifts. What’s absolutely amazing, however, is that the ability to truly repent, like the ability to obey rest of God’s commands, is itself a gift of God. We saw last week that God always gives what he requires to his people!
What’s more, if you were not here for the past 11 months, you would do well to go back and read or listen to all of those messages too. The reason that is so critical is because our ability to appreciate the blessings of God offered in this morning’s passage is directly proportional to our experience of the depth of the sinfulness of our sin. The point of the first thirteen chapters of Hosea is largely to help us with that—with seeing how deep our sin really goes and how fiercely God really opposes them.
With all of that having been said, regardless of how long you’ve been with us, I’m really glad you are here today. I’m glad that you can hear in clear and awe inspiring terms that which God offers to all who would put their hope in Him through Jesus. Let’s pray that God would help us to appreciate the remarkable nature of the gifts he offers, and that we’d all actually receive them—all 14 of them, and the countless others mentioned throughout the rest of the bible—in faith.
GOD’S RESPONSE TO GENUINE REPENTANCE (1-7)
Before getting to the list itself, I want to say a quick word about God’s gifts. They are not just an offer of blessing, they are also an instruction on blessing. What I mean is this: where God offers a reward, he is also teaching us about what is truly valuable and (therefore) desirable.
It’s a lot like the food parents’ give their kids. We give them what they should want even though it rarely is what they do want. The wise child knows they need to learn to like what their parent gives them since it’s likely what’s best for them. The wise child knows that what they want is rarely what they need.
With that in mind, if I were to ask you to make a list of the 14 things you’d most like to receive as gifts, would it look anything like Hosea’s list? If not, you’ve likely found the need to reconsider your priorities. God offers the things in these verses because they are the things we should want. They are the gifts that are most valuable. Let’s make sure that we ask God for these gifts, then, and that he would make them our genuine desires.
With that, let’s consider the 14 blessings God for the genuinely repentant.
1. He will heal (4a).
At the beginning of v.4 we see God’s promise: “I will heal their apostasy.” Repentance is to turn from sin to God. Apostasy is to turn from God to sin. In turning from God to sin, in apostatizing themselves, Israel earned sin’s wages: spiritual disease and death. But here God promised to heal all who would return to him.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to honor God, to do what he says, to love what he loves? It’s because sin has made us spiritually sick; and our spiritual sickness corrupts every part of us, even our base desires. Why don’t you like good food when you’re physically sick? It’s because the physical sickness taints your physical appetite. Why don’t you like the things of God when you’re spiritually sick? It’s because the spiritual sickness taints your spiritual appetite. Worse yet, however, sin doesn’t merely make us spiritually sick; it makes us spiritually dead under the just wrath of God.
The problem laid out in Hosea is that we’ve all turned away from God. We are all apostate. But in this passage Hosea promises that for all who truly turn back to God, by the grace of God, in spite of the horrendous nature of the sins we’ve committed against God, God will heal all that sin has deteriorated and killed. What a gift! His first audience did not know that God could offer this gift because he had already determined to send his Son, Jesus, to die in the place of sinners. They didn’t know that, but we do; and therein we know that this offer to heal is infinitely greater than Israel ever could have imagined.
2. He will love freely (4b).
To be healed by God is an entirely amazing and undeserved gift. But it gets better still (better 13 more times). God not only heals the repentant, he also loves those who turn back to him. Hosea declares the words of the LORD, “I will love them freely.”
Our daughter needs surgery to correct her eyes. What if we’d recently slashed the tires, burned the house, and insulted the mother of the only eye surgeon around? Can you imagine our gratitude if the surgeon was willing to overlook our attacks and heal our daughter? We’d be crazy to even consider that after what we’d done to the surgeon. But what if that same surgeon not only agreed to perform the surgery, fixing Presley’s eyes, but also turned her genuine affection on our family? It’d be preposterous to ask for that kind of treatment, much less expect it. And yet, that’s exactly what God promises in this passage to all who would return to him. He will heal us and love us freely; without any cost whatsoever to us, save placing our hope in God.
3. He will turn his anger away (4c).
All of this, Hosea says, comes because “[God’s] anger has turned from [the repentant]”. All of these promises are for the future, but they are spoken of as if they have already been fulfilled. At the time of Hosea’s prophecy Israel had not yet turned back to God and God’s anger was still upon her, so what gives?
To understand what’s going on, we must not miss the turning language here—it’s critical if we are to feel the full weight of this blessing. In Hosea 1-13 we see that God’s people have turned from God. In 14:1 we see the invitation for God’s people to turn back to God. Here in 14:4 we see that God will enable his people to turn back to him by turning first to them!!! Grace, if you can’t see already see it, let me point it out: that is amazing grace! God would turn to the Israelites so they could return to him. He would love them so they could love him.
And so it is for you and me. God turned to us so we could return to him. He loved us so that we could love him. And, once again, he did so by putting all his anger for our sin on Jesus, who willingly offered himself as a substitute sacrifice for our sins. God did not just decide one day that our sins weren’t that big of a deal after all. Instead, he decided before the foundation of the world that they were such a big deal that they would require the death of his Son to cover them. God’s third gift is that he would turn his anger away from his people, by turning it on Jesus, so that his people could return to him. Awesome! Your birthday list has nothing on this!
4. He will nourish (5a).
God will heal, he will love, he will turn his anger away, and he will nourish the repentant. “I will be like the dew to Israel…”. Dew isn’t a big deal to you and me. In Minnesota (and most of the U.S.) dew is common. In general we don’t live in deserts where water is scarce. But for those who do, the promise of water (as dew or any other form) is a sweet, sweet gift. Israel lived in an arid land. Water wasn’t certain but it was necessary for their survival, Their regular lack of it was a constant source of fear. God’s promise of this gift, the gift of constant, entirely sufficient nourishment, would have been spectacular to the Israelites, and it should be to us as well. This promise means that we do not need to look for provision in anything but God. He will provide for us all we need. Find the peace that comes only from knowing this deep in your being.
5. He will make flourish (5b).
Again, though, God’s gifts never stop with mere survival; with merely providing the necessities. Such is the case here. God did not stop with mere nourishment. God would give water, but he would do more than simply keep his people alive; he would cause them to flourish. Israel, God promised, “shall blossom like the lily.”
This does not mean, as some argue, that God will give his people lots of money or things or health or comfort in this life. It does not mean that we will get promotions at work or have lots of kids or avoid cancer. We may experience those things as expressions of God’s kindness, but true flourishing is the gift of delight in God in all circumstances. When we have that, when God grants that, times of comfort and pain (and everything in between) become glorious opportunities to celebrate and share the supremacy of God in all things. Flourishing in this sense means being so satisfied in God that everything becomes an opportunity to grow in and spread satisfaction in God.
6. He will establish (5c).
There’s more still. God promises the gift of nourishment, flourishing, and establishment. God’s people, those who return to God, will be preserved in life and flourishing. Flourishing won’t just come to the repentant, it will eternally remain on the repentant. Indeed, “[Israel] shall take root like the trees of Lebanon.” The trees of Lebanon were famous for their size and roots which drove deep into the ground through soil and rock. Repentant Israel’s flourishing would be like that—established and immovable by the trials of life. And for you and me, we find in Jesus a rock, an anchor, a foundation that cannot be moved or shaken. In Christ we will not be blown and tossed by the circumstances of life. He will establish us. What a gift that is to those who have known trials and pain; who have known uncertainty and brokenness; who have known suffering and struggle.
7. He will expand (6a).
There’s still more. The flourishing of the people of God would be established and expansive. “…his shoots shall spread out.” Israel’s delight in God will remain steadfast/established and it will grow and spread. God’s blessings don’t tend to stay put. They weave their way into the world through the blessed. God means for us to not only have his light, but to be his light to the world. God means for us to not only have his love but to share his love with everyone we meet. God means for us to not only have his salvation, but to proclaim it to the ends of the earth. How do the blessings of God expand out from his people? The next two promised gifts begin to answer that question.
8. He will make beautiful (6b).
The next gift of God was the promise to make his people beautiful. “…his beauty shall be like the olive…”. This might need a little explaining. When I think of beauty, probably the last thing that comes to mind is an olive. Olives are gross. To me they are ugly and disgusting. To the ancient Israelite, however, “Olives [were] a staple…providing food and oil and commodities for trade” (Dearman, 342). They were a symbol of abundance and blessing. A bountiful olive crop was a beautiful thing to the Mediterranean people.
The world would look at Israel’s delight in God, her established flourishing, and see the goodness and rightness of her life and relationship with God. That is, the nations around Israel would see the glory and blessings of her God and marvel at the beauty of it all. And in their marveling comes humility and a desire to share in the blessing. That is always what God meant his blessings to be. He means for you and me to walk in a kind of peace and love and grace and fullness of joy that all who see it desire. And then we can tell them that they too can have it, but only in God…as he truly is, as he has commanded, and having forsaken our sin.
9. He will make desirable (6c).
God would make Israel desirable to look at and he would make her a pleasing aroma, “…and [Israel’s] fragrance [shall be] like Lebanon.” Again, the point is that Lebanon was an area of fruitfulness and bounty in an arid region. It produced all kinds of aromatic fruits and flowers. The surrounding nations were jealous of Lebanon’s lush land and all it produced.
In short, Grace, these first nine gifts are collectively a demonstration of the superiority and sufficiency of God to provide all that Israel had sought elsewhere; most notably in pagan gods and rituals. Israel had left God for his blessings. Worse still, she had sought God’s blessings in things other than God. God was effectively declaring here that he is supreme over every other god. He was effectively declaring that in him alone can mankind find that for which he so longs and for which he was made. Amazing! But that’s not all either. There’s more.
10. He will welcome (7a).
The remarkableness of this next blessing is hard to overstate. Hosea simply states, “They shall return…”, but the reality is that this is a promise that some will return. Israel had entirely hardened her heart to God. The surrounding nations had hardened their hearts to God. In the entire world there were none at that time who were seeking God. Seen through right eyes, it would have looked like all was lost; that humanity was doomed.
Maybe you’ve felt that way. Maybe you’ve felt like it’s too late. Maybe you’ve felt like there’s no way back to God. This passage however, first spoken thousands of years ago, is a promise to all of us that while we have breath it is never too late. Right now, by the grace of God, return to God by hoping in Jesus alone and you will be received back with open arms and everlasting love. He will welcome you today and fill you with blessing beyond measure, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, if you come as he has called.
11. He will bring rest and peace (7b).
There’s more. God will heal, love, nourish, flourish, establish, expand, beautify, clean, welcome, and bring peace and rest. All who return to God shall “dwell beneath [God’s] shadow.” In a world that was very much in chaos, this was quite a promise to the Israelites. They had spent so many years making desperate alliances and paying fearful tributes and serving fake gods to get empty rewards. Israel had not known true rest in a long time. But all who would return to God will know only the joy of life beneath the shadow of God’s wings. In this life, this is not a promise of comfortable circumstances (although it is in the next). It is, however, a promise of peace in the midst of whatever life throws at us; resting in the presence and promises of God. Return to God, Grace, and know this rest and peace that surpass understanding.
12. He will make flourish (7c).
The final three gifts we’ve already seen. Hosea mentions again that the repentant people of God will flourish.
…they shall flourish like the grain;
13. He will make fruitful (7d).
They will have abundant and fruitful life.
…they shall blossom like the vine…
14. He will make famous.
And as a result of all of this, “their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.” As God blesses his people, everyone will know of the glory of God and his people. People will see the blessings of God and be amazed. In every street and in every shop and in every home, people will marvel at the power and might and goodness of the God of Israel. And in that way God’s people will be famous in all the land. What a gift. What gifts!
THE CERTAINTY OF GOD’S RESPONSE (8)
All of this probably sounds too good to be true. How can we know this isn’t just a pile of empty words by a long-dead man who fancied himself God’s spokesman? How do we know this isn’t just a fairytale?
There are two answers to that question. The first is found in v.8. All of this is certain because God is holy and promises these things in his mighty name.
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.
God’s blessings are certain because it is God who promised them. Israel looked to idols which could not deliver, but God is no idol. He is the creator and sustainer and savior of heaven and earth. It is from God alone that blessings come, and it is from God that the promise comes.
The second way we can know that these promises are certain would not be known for a number of years after Hosea’s prophecy. It is found not in words, but in the Word. It is found not in teaching, but in the Teacher. It is found not in a conquering king, but in the slain Christ, the Lord Jesus. We can know the blessings of God for certain because, “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). And for that reason, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). We can know for certain that these (and every one of the) promises of God are certain because, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all…will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)? These promises are as certain as the hairs on your head because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. “So I ask, did [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean” (Romans 11:11-12)!
Jesus is the reason that God could make all of these promises of blessing. He is the reason we (those not in the line of Abraham) are included in them. And he is the reason we can know they are certain and believe them even for eternal life.
God returned to man so man could return to God—in all his fullness and blessing. May it be so for every one of us today. May we all return to God and receive all that we’ve seen in this passage and limitless more in Jesus. Amen.