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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Returning to God (Hos. 6:1-3)

(1) Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. (2) After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. (3) Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.

It is possible to interpret these verses as a response from the people to the threat of divine judgement that Hosea had announced. Certainly this is the way they have been understood by those who make use of the paraphrase based on them (‘Come, let us to the Lord our God, with contrite hearts return...’). If this is the meaning, then we have a good example of corporate repentance as believers exhort one another to return to the Lord whom they have sinned against.

Yet it is more likely that the verses are Hosea’s appeal as a preacher to the people of Israel to return to the Lord from whom they have departed and suffered some consequences, with the prospect of more to come if they do not repent.

The prophet, although he lived a different lifestyle from his listeners, identifies himself with them (‘let us return to the Lord’). This identification is an essential element in meaningful preaching. Hosea, while not guilty of the particular sins for which Israel was being punished, was still a sinner who personally needed ongoing divine restoration from the effects of his own sins. His outlook in identifying himself with his listeners was an expression of brotherly love.

In the previous chapter, the Lord had described himself as a lion capturing his prey (Israel). Hosea continues that image in verse 2 which means he was preaching to people who were experiencing the Lord’s powerful judgement. Yet the prophet encourages his hearers by stressing that the One who had torn is the only One who can heal. The Lion will become a Physician for penitent people.

An attack by a lion usually means death for the victim. Israel was facing extinction, the prospect of national death. Yet the Lord could recover them very quickly, even in a short period depicted by three days. So the prophet extols the Lord’s rapid mercy – an Old Testament anticipation of how the father welcomed the returning prodigal son.

The prophet wants an eager response – ‘press on to know the Lord.’ This describes the behaviour of those who have returned to God, they persist in finding out more about him and his grace. The Lord is likened to the warm sun and to refreshing rain – Israel needed them in order to have good harvests. In using these illustrations, the prophet is highlighting that the Lord can give to a penitent people all that they will need to produce fruitful lives in a spiritual sense.

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