« Prev Chapter XXII. Repentance Next »




Hosea passim.

If we keep in mind what Hosea meant by knowledge—a new impression of facts implying a change both of temper and of conduct—we shall feel how natural it is to pass at once from his doctrine of knowledge to his doctrine of repentance. Hosea may be accurately styled the first preacher of repentance yet so thoroughly did he deal with this subject of eternal interest to the human heart, that between him and ourselves almost no teacher has increased the insight with which it has been examined, or the passion with which it ought to be enforced.

One thing we must hold clear from the outset. To us repentance is intelligible only in the individual. There is no motion of the heart which more clearly derives its validity from its personal character. Repentance is the conscience, the feeling, the resolution of a man by himself and for himself—"I will arise and go to my Father." Yet it is not to the individual that Hosea directs his passionate appeals. For him and his age the religious unit was not the Israelite but Israel. God had called and covenanted with the nation as a whole; He had revealed Himself through their historical fortunes and institutions. His grace334 was shown in their succour and guidance as a people; His last judgment was threatened in their destruction as a state. So similarly, when by Hosea God calls to repentance, it is the whole nation whom He addresses.

At the same time we must remember those qualifications which we adduced with regard to Hosea's doctrine of the nation's knowledge of God.723723   See above, p. 320. They affect also his doctrine of the national repentance. Hosea's experience of Israel had been preceded by his experience of an Israelite. For years the prophet had carried on his anxious heart a single human character—lived with her, travailed for her, pardoned and redeemed her. As we felt that this long cure of a soul must have helped Hosea to his very spiritual sense of the knowledge of God, so now we may justly assume that the same cannot have been without effect upon his very personal teaching about repentance. But with his experience of Gomer, there conspired also his intense love for Israel. A warm patriotism necessarily personifies its object. To the passionate lover of his people, their figure rises up one and individual—his mother, his lover, his wife. Now no man ever loved his people more intimately or more tenderly than Hosea loved Israel. The people were not only dear to him, because he was their son, but dear and vivid also for their loneliness and their distinction among the peoples of the earth, and for their long experience as the intimate of the God of grace and lovingkindness. God had chosen this Israel as His Bride; and the remembrance of the unique endowment and lonely destiny stimulated Hosea's imagination in the work of personifying and individualising his people. He treats335 Israel with the tenderness and particularity with which the Shepherd, leaving the ninety and nine in the wilderness, seeks till He find it the one lost lamb. His analysis of his fickle generation's efforts to repent, of their motives in turning to God, and of their failures, is as inward and definite as if it were a single heart he were dissecting. Centuries have passed; the individual has displaced the nation; the experience of the human heart has been infinitely increased, and prophecy and all preaching has grown more and more personal. Yet it has scarcely ever been found either necessary to add to the terms which Hosea used for repentance, or possible to go deeper in analysing the processes which these denote.

Hosea's most simple definition of repentance is that of returning unto God. For turning and re-turning the Hebrew language has only one verb—shûbh. In the Book of Hosea there are instances in which it is employed in the former sense;724724   vii. 16, They turn, but not upwards; xiv. 5, Mine anger is turned away. but, even apart from its use for repentance, the verb usually means to return. Thus the wandering wife in the second chapter says, I will return to my former husband;725725   ii. 9. and in the threat of judgment it is said, Ephraim will return to Egypt.726726   viii. 13; ix. 3; xi. 5. Similar is the sense in the phrases His deeds will I turn back upon him727727   iv. 9: cf. xii. 3, 15. and I will not turn back to destroy Ephraim.728728   xi. 9: cf. ii. 11. The usual meaning of the verb is therefore, not merely to turn or change, but to turn right round,336 to turn back and home.729729   This may be further seen in the very common phrase עמי שוב שבות, to turn again the captivity of My people (see Hosea vi. 11); or in the use of שוב in xiv. 8, where it has the force, auxiliary to the other verb in the clause, of repeating or coming back to do a thing. But the text here needs emendation: cf. above, p. 315. Cf. Amos' use of the Hiphil form to draw back, withdraw, i. 3, 6, 9, 11, 13; ii. 1, 4, 6. This is obviously the force of its employment to express repentance. For this purpose Hosea very seldom uses it alone.730730   Cf. xi. 5, they refused to return. He generally adds either the name by which God had always been known, Jehovah,731731   vi. 1, Come and let us return to Jehovah; vii. 10, They did not return to Jehovah; xiv. 2, 3, Return, O Israel, to Jehovah. or the designation of Him, as their own God.732732   iii. 5, They shall return and seek Jehovah their God; v. 4, Their deeds do not allow them to return to their God.

We must emphasise this point if we would appreciate the thoroughness of our prophet's doctrine, and its harmony with the preaching of the New Testament. To Hosea repentance is no mere change in the direction of one's life. It is a turning back upon one's self, a retracing of one's footsteps, a confession and acknowledgment of what one has abandoned. It is a coming back and a coming home to God, exactly as Jesus Himself has described in the Parable of the Prodigal. As Hosea again and again affirms, the Return to God, like the New Testament Metanoia, is the effect of new knowledge; but the new knowledge is not of new facts—it is of facts which have been present for a long time and which ought to have been appreciated before.

Of these facts Hosea describes three kinds: the nation's misery, the unspeakable grace of their God, and their great guilt in turning from Him. Again it is as in the case of the prodigal: his hunger, his father,337 and his cry, "I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight."

We have already felt the pathos of those passages in which Hosea describes the misery and the decay of Israel, the unprofitableness and shame of all their restless traffic with other gods and alien empires. The state is rotten;733733   v. 12, etc. anarchy prevails.734734   iv. 2 ff.; vi. 7 ff., etc. The national vitality is lessened: Ephraim hath grey hairs.735735   vii. 7. Power of birth and begetting have gone; the universal unchastity causes the population to diminish: their glory flieth away like a bird.736736   ix. 11 ff. The presents to Egypt,737737   xii. 2. the tribute to Assyria, drain the wealth of the people: strangers devour his strength.738738   vii. 7. The prodigal Israel has his far-off country where he spends his substance among strangers. It is in this connection that we must take the repeated verse: the pride of Israel testifieth to his face.739739   v. 5; vii. 10. We have seen740740   See above, p. 261. the impossibility of the usual exegesis of these words, that by the Pride of Israel Hosea means Jehovah; the word "pride" is probably to be taken in the sense in which Amos employs it of the exuberance and arrogance of Israel's civilisation. If we are right, then Hosea describes a very subtle symptom of the moral awakening whether of the individual or of a community. The conscience of many a man, of many a kingdom, has been reached only through their pride. Pride is the last nerve which comfort and habit leave quick; and when summons to a man's better nature fail, it is still possible in most cases to touch his pride with the presentation of the facts of his decadence. This is probably what Hosea means. Israel's prestige suffers. The civilisation of338 which they are proud has its open wounds. Their politicians are the sport of Egypt;741741   vii. 16. their wealth, the very gold of their Temple, is lifted by Assyria.742742   x. 5. The nerve of pride was also touched in the prodigal: "How many hired servants of my father have enough and to spare, while I perish with hunger." Yet, unlike him, this prodigal son of God will not therefore return.743743   vii. 10. Though there are grey hairs upon him, though strangers devour his strength, he knoweth it not; of him it cannot be said that "he has come to himself." And that is why the prophet threatens the further discipline of actual exile from the land and its fruits,744744   ii. 16, etc.; ix. 2 ff., etc. of bitter bread745745   ix. 4. and poverty746746   xii. 10. on an unclean soil. Israel must also eat husks and feed with swine before he arises and returns to his God.

But misery alone never led either man or nation to repentance: the sorrow of this world worketh only death. Repentance is the return to God; and it is the awakening to the truth about God, to the facts of His nature and His grace, which alone makes repentance possible. No man's doctrine of repentance is intelligible without his doctrine of God; and it is because Hosea's doctrine of God is so rich, so fair and so tender, that his doctrine of repentance is so full and gracious. Here we see the difference between him and Amos. Amos had also used the phrase with frequency; again and again he had appealed to the people to seek God and to return to God.747747   iv. 6, 8, 9, 10, 11. But from Amos it went forth only as a pursuing voice, a voice crying in the wilderness. Hosea lets loose behind it a heart, plies the people with gracious339 thoughts of God, and brings about them, not the voices only, but the atmosphere, of love. I will be as the dew unto Israel, promises the Most High; but He is before His promise. The chapters of Hosea are drenched with the dew of God's mercy, of which no drop falls on those of Amos, but there God is rather the roar as of a lion, the flash as of lightning. Both prophets bid Israel turn to God; but Amos means by that, to justice, truth and purity, while Hosea describes a husband, a father, long-suffering and full of mercy. "I bid you come back," cries Amos. But Hosea pleads, "If only you were aware of what God is, you would come back." "Come back to God and live," cries Amos; but Hosea, "Come back to God, for He is Love." Amos calls, "Come back at once, for there is but little time left till God must visit you in judgment"; but Hosea, "Come back at once, for God has loved you so long and so kindly." Amos cries, "Turn, for in front of you is destruction"; but Hosea, "Turn, for behind you is God." And that is why all Hosea's preaching of repentance is so evangelical. "I will arise and go to my Father."

But the third element of the new knowledge which means repentance is the conscience of guilt. My Father, I have sinned. On this point it might be averred that the teaching of Hosea is less spiritual than that of later prophets in Israel, and that here at last he comes short of the evangelical inwardness of the New Testament. There is truth in the charge; and here perhaps we feel most the defects of his standpoint, as one who appeals, not to the individual, but to the nation as a whole. Hosea's treatment of the sense of guilt cannot be so spiritual as that, say, of the fifty-first Psalm. But, at least, he is not satisfied to exhaust340 it by the very thorough exposure which he gives us of the social sins of his day, and of their terrible results. He, too, understands what is meant by a conscience of sin. He has called Israel's iniquity harlotry, unfaithfulness to God; and in a passage of equal insight and beauty of expression he points out that in the service of the Ba'alim Jehovah's people can never feel anything but a harlot's shame and bitter memories of the better past.

Rejoice not, O Israel, to the pitch of rapture like the heathen: for thou hast played the harlot from thine own God; 'tis hire thou hast loved on all threshing-floors. Floor and vat shall not acknowledge them; the new wine shall play them false.748748   ix. 1. See above, p. 279. Mere children of nature may abandon themselves to the riotous joy of harvest and vintage festivals, for they have never known other gods than are suitably worshipped by these orgies. But Israel has a past—the memory of a holier God, the conscience of having deserted Him for material gifts. With such a conscience she can never enjoy the latter; as Hosea puts it, they will not acknowledge or take to749749   See above, p. 279, n. 560. her. Here there is an instinct of the profound truth, that even in the fulness of life conscience is punishment; by itself the sense of guilt is judgment.

But Hosea does not attack the service of strange gods only because it is unfaithfulness to Jehovah, but also because, as the worship of images, it is a senseless stupidity utterly inconsistent with that spiritual discernment of which repentance so largely consists. And with the worship of heathen idols Hosea equally condemns the worship of Jehovah under the form of images.


Hosea was the first in Israel to lead the attack upon the idols. Elijah had assaulted the worship of a foreign god, but neither he nor Elisha nor Amos condemned the worship of Israel's own God under the form of a calf. Indeed Amos, except in one doubtful passage,750750   v. 26. never at all attacks idols or false gods. The reason is very obvious. Amos and Elijah were concerned only with the proclamation of God as justice and purity: and to the moral aspects of religion the question of idolatry is not relevant; the two things do not come directly into collision. But Hosea had deeper and more wide views of God, with which idolatry came into conflict at a hundred points. We know what Hosea's knowledge of God was—how spiritual, how extensive—and we can appreciate how incongruous idolatry must have appeared against it. We are prepared to find him treating the images, whether of the Ba'alim or of Jehovah, with that fine scorn which a passionate monotheism, justly conscious of its intellectual superiority, has ever passed upon the idolatry even of civilisations in other respects higher than its own. To Hosea the idol is an 'eseb, a made thing.751751   עֵצֶב from עָצַב, which in Job x. 8 is parallel to עשה. It is made of the very silver and gold with which Jehovah Himself had endowed the people.752752   ii. 8. It is made only to be cut off753753   viii. 4. by the first invader! Chiefly, however, does Hosea's scorn fall upon the image under which Jehovah Himself was worshipped. Thy Calf, O Samaria!754754   viii. 5. he contemptuously calls it. From Israel is it also, as much as the Ba'alim. A workman made it, and no god is it: chips shall the Calf of Samaria become! In another place he mimics the anxiety of Samaria for342 their Calf; his people mourn for him, and his priestlings writhe for his glory, why?—because it is going into exile:755755   x. 5. the gold that covers him shall be stripped for the tribute to Assyria. And once more: They continue to sin; they make them a smelting of their silver, idols after their own modelling, smith's work all of it. To these things they speak! Sacrificing men actually kiss calves!756756   xiii. 2. All this is in the same vein of satire which we find grown to such brilliance in the great Prophet of the Exile.757757   Isa. xli. ff. Hosea was the first in whom it sparkled; and it was due to his conception of the knowledge of God. Its relevancy to his doctrine of repentance is this, that so spiritual an apprehension of God as repentance implies, so complete a metanoia or change of mind, is intellectually incompatible with idolatry. You cannot speak of repentance to men who kiss calves and worship blocks of wood. Hence he says: Ephraim is wedded to idols: leave him alone.758758   iv. 17.

There was more than idolatry, however, in the way of Israel's repentance. The whole of the national worship was an obstacle. Its formalism and its easy and mechanical methods of turning to God disguised the need of that moral discipline and change of heart, without which no repentance can be genuine. Amos had contrasted the ritualism of the time with the duty of civic justice and the service of the poor:759759   Amos v. Hosea opposes to it leal love and the knowledge of God. I will have leal love and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.760760   vi. 6. It is characteristic of Hosea to class sacrifices with idols. Both are senseless and inarticulate, incapable of expressing or343 of answering the deep feelings of the heart. True repentance, on the contrary, is rational, articulate, definite. Take with you words, says Hosea, and so return to Jehovah.761761   xiv. 2. Perhaps the curious expression at the close of the verse, so will we render the calves of our lips, or (as a variant reading gives) fruit of our lips, has the same intention. Articulate confession (or vows), these are the sacrifices, the calves, which are acceptable to God.

To us who, after twenty-five more centuries of talk, know painfully how words may be abused, it is strange to find them enforced as the tokens of sincerity. But let us consider against what the prophet enforces them. Against the kissing of calves and such mummery—worship of images that neither hear nor speak. Let us remember the inarticulateness of ritualism, how it stifles rather than utters the feelings of the heart. Let us imagine the dead routine of the legal sacrifices, their original symbolism worn bare, bringing forward to the young hearts of new generations no interpretation of their ancient and distorted details, reducing those who perform them to irrational machines like themselves. Then let us remember how our own Reformers had to grapple with the same hard mechanism in the worship of their time, and how they bade the heart of every worshipper speak—speak for itself to God with rational and sincere words. So in place of the frozen ritualism of the Church there broke forth from all lands of the Reformation, as though it were birds in springtime, a great burst of hymns and prayers, with the clear notes of the Gospel in the common tongue. So intolerable was the memory of what had been, that it was even enacted that henceforth no sacrament should be dispensed but the Word should be given to344 the people along with it. If we keep all these things in mind, we shall know what Hosea means when he says to Israel in their penitence, Take with you words.

No one, however, was more conscious of the danger of words. Upon the lips of the people Hosea has placed a confession of repentance, which, so far as the words go, could not be more musical or pathetic.762762   vi. 1-4. In every Christian language it has been paraphrased to an exquisite confessional hymn. But Hosea describes it as rejected. Its words are too easy; its thoughts of God and of His power to save are too facile. Repentance, it is true, starts from faith in the mercy of God, for without this there were only despair. Nevertheless in all true penitence there is despair. Genuine sorrow for sin includes a feeling of the irreparableness of the past, and the true penitent as he casts himself upon God does not dare to feel that he ever can be the same again. I am no more worthy to be called Thy son: make me as one of Thy hired servants. Such necessary thoughts as these Israel does not mingle with her prayer. Come and let us return to Jehovah, for He hath torn only that He may heal, and smitten only that He may bind up. He will revive us again in a couple of days, on the third day raise us up, that we may live before Him. Then shall we know if we hunt up to know the Lord. As soon as we seek Him we shall find Him: and He shall come upon us like winter-rain, and like the spring-rain pouring on the land. This is too facile, too shallow. No wonder that God despairs of such a people. What am I to make of thee, Ephraim?763763   For the reasons for this interpretation see above, pp. 263 ff.

Another familiar passage, the Parable of the Heifer,345 describes the same ambition to reach spiritual results without spiritual processes. Ephraim is a broken-in heifer—one that loveth to tread out the corn. But I will pass upon her goodly neck. I will give Ephraim a yoke, Judah must plough. Jacob must harrow for himself.764764   x. 11. Cattle, being unmuzzled by law765765   See above, p. 288. at threshing time, loved this best of all their year's work. Yet to reach it they must first go through the harder and unrewarded trials of ploughing and harrowing. Like a heifer, then, which loved harvest only, Israel would spring at the rewards of penitence, the peaceable fruits of righteousness, without going through the discipline and chastisement which alone yield them. Repentance is no mere turning or even re-turning. It is a deep and an ethical process—the breaking up of fallow ground, the labour and long expectation of the sower, the seeking and waiting for Jehovah till Himself send the rain. Sow to yourselves in righteousness; reap in proportion to love (the love you have sown), break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek Jehovah, until He come and rain righteousness upon us.766766   x. 12.

A repentance so thorough as this cannot but result in the most clear and steadfast manner of life. Truly it is a returning not by oneself, but a returning by God, and it leads to the keeping of leal love and justice, and waiting upon God continually.767767   xii. 7.

« Prev Chapter XXII. Repentance Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection