Way of Grace Church
Pursuing Forgiveness (Hosea 14:1-7)
I. A Vocabulary for Forgiveness
If you came to my house a number of years ago, you may have heard this conversation:
Now, from what I can tell, most of the time in that kind of situation, the genuineness of our son’s apology is, on a scale of one to ten, about a 1.5.
It’s kind of funny what we did, isn't it? When he was only a couple years old, we would give our son the words to express conviction and remorse, the words to seek forgiveness.
Now wait a minute. Were we teaching him that if he just uses a certain formula of words, everything will be okay? No, I think what we were doing was instructing him through these words so that he will have a vocabulary for forgiveness when his heart catches up with his mouth; so that as his heart matures, it will affect the motivation behind those words.
Do you have a vocabulary for forgiveness? Whether you know it or not, forgiveness is something all of us are looking for. What we could call ultimate forgiveness is one of the most valuable things we can possess. But if we accept the fact that we need genuine forgiveness, who then, will teach us how to ask for it?
Well, this morning we are going back in time to discover the answer to that question. Look with me at Hosea 14:1-7.
II. The Passage: “Take with You Words” (Hosea 14:1-7)
The time is somewhere around 750 BC. A man named Hosea has been called by God to be a propeht, and so he is speaking to the people of Israel about their relationship with God. Now, to be clear, this Israel does not include everyone who could be called by that name. These are only 10 of the 12 tribes that descended from that man names Israel, also known as Jacob. These are the northern tribes who broke away from the south around 200 years before Hosea.
So let’s take a look at what Hosea tells the people about finding forgiveness.
14:1 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3
we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” 4 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
Do you see what Hosea has given them here? What God has given them through Hosea? He has given them instructions about pursuing and finding the precious gift of ultimate forgiveness.
A. The Object of Our Pursuit (14:1)
Look back at the first thing he tells us in verse 1. Hosea reveals to the Israelites the object of their pursuit. This might be somewhat obvious, but our pursuit of forgiveness must always be about returning to a relationship with God. What I mean is that our quest for forgiveness cannot simply be about us and our needs.
In some sense, it’s just like any relationship. Why do you seek someone’s forgiveness? It might be from purely selfish motives; it might just be about you feeling better. But it SHOULD be about restoring a relationship, about reconciliation, about being in a right relationship with someone else.
This is the same with ultimate forgiveness. We need to be restored to God. Away from God, we are like fish out of the water. We are gasping and flailing. We are dying. As verse 1 puts it, we are stumbling.
And as we just saw in verse 1. We are stumbling because of our iniquity. Iniquity? That’s a word we don’t hear much anymore. It sounds kind of old-fashioned, doesn’t it? Well let me assure you, iniquity is alive and well and still very, very much a part of our modern world. The Hebrew word used here is avōn which comes from the word for twist or bend or distort.
You see we distort, we twist what we know we should not do and do it anyway. We bend the rules about what we should do and make excuses for not doing it. And we do this because who we are deep down is twisted and distorted from who we were made to be.
And this desire to distort, this desire to play God, is what keeps us from God. Thus we need to return to the Lord. We need to be forgiven.
Pursuing forgiveness must always be about pursuing God. God is not simply offering us a blank slate, so we can turn around and fill that slate up again with our own desires and distortions. He wants to give us to be right with Him; to walk with Him.
If the forgiveness we’re seeking is not this kind of forgiveness, then what we’re looking for is nothing more than a band-aid. The right kind of forgiveness deals with what’s wrong deep down. It has to do with who we’ve wronged and who we desperately need.
B. The Heart of Our Pursuit (14:2, 3)
So if that’s genuine forgiveness, then how can we be sure we’re genuinely pursuing the forgiveness of God; this ultimate forgiveness? How can we be sure we have the right motives, the right heart?
Well verses 2 and 3 provide us with an amazing picture of a heart that is genuinely turning to God. What we see here is God, through Hosea, and like a loving parent, giving the people words to describe this heart. He’s giving them a vocabulary of forgiveness. Now let’s be clear, Hosea is not giving them a formula here. He’s not saying, just go to God and say these words and everything will be OK.
But as we see here, there is no formula that can do this because the real issue is not what we say, it’s who we are. The issue is our heart. So what does a heart that is genuinely seeking the forgiveness of God look like?
Look at verses two and three again:
Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3
we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”
Notice here that we have two sets of three related phrases, phrases which describe the very heart we’re talking about. The first three aspects in verse 2 are expressed positively. The second three aspects from verse 3 are expressed negatively. Let’s look at these aspects one by one:
First, the heart that is genuinely pursuing God’s forgiveness is a heart that acknowledges the seriousness and scope of its distortion. Hosea instructs them in verse 2 to say, “Take away all iniquity.”
It only seems obvious that seeking forgiveness begins with acknowledging that you’ve done something wrong. But sometimes, we struggle with this idea. Sometimes there are other reasons we seek forgiveness: someone else may compel us to do so, we may have something to gain if we’re on good terms with someone else, or we may just not like the tension that exists in a relationship. And so, we ask for someone’s forgiveness simply so we can clear the air.
But as God teaches us here through Hosea, our heart in coming to God for forgiveness should be able to genuinely say, “take away all my iniquity”. Are you being honest with yourself about your true condition?
But notice that Hosea’s words are comprehensive: “take away ALL iniquity”. Hosea is telling them that they cannot cling to any justifications, to any notion that there are just a few things wrong; that it can be a mixed bag, half confession and half rationalization. Hosea calls them to recognize the scope of their condition.
Do we understand the extent of our condition before God? The psalmist declared to God in Psalm 143, “no one living is righteous before you.” The Apostle Paul would later accept this personally in Romans 7, “I know that nothing good dwells in me”.
We not only need to recognize that what we do, say, and think is disorted in light of God’s character and desires, but more importantly, we need to recognize that who we are is distorted before God. Are you clinging to the notion that, apart from God, there is still some part of you that is OK, a part that really doesn’t need to be forgiven and fixed?
You see, to truly receive God’s forgiveness, we need to recognize our desperate need for God’s forgiveness.
Now, the second thing we see in these verses is the heart that is pursuing God’s forgiveness is a heart that looks fully to the mercy of God. The words we find here in the middle of verse 2 are, “accept what is good”.
Now in the Hebrew, it may be better to take this word “good” more like an adverb, as a term that is modifying the way in which God accepts something. So we could translate this, “accept pleasantly”, or “accept favorably”, or “accept graciously”.
But accept what? Well, just like in the first statement, we could translate this second phrase as “accept us favorably” or “receive us graciously”. You may have a translation that expresses it this way.
When we come to God, with a recognition of our desperate condition, we cannot come with any sense that there is some deal we can make with God. We have no leverage with God. God does not have to forgive us because we have some secret knowledge that forces Him to do so.
No, when we come to God, genuinely seeking forgiveness, we come looking fully in faith to the sheer mercy of God. Remember the cry of the tax gatherer in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer in the temple? The tax-gatherer had this same heart. He unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, said ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ (Lk. 18:13)
God is not compelled to show us forgiveness. He does so because of grace. So when we come to him for forgiveness, with sincerity, we come humbly appealing to His mercy.
Our third phrase here in Hosea 14:2 reveals that the heart of our pursuit is a heart that desires to worship God. The prophet calls them to speak to God and say, “We will pay with bulls the vows of our lips”.
This is kind of strange phrase isn’t it? Now, this could simply describe a certain kind of peace offering, an animal sacrifice the people would bring.
But it also could be a word picture about offering a sacrifice of praise. Listen to how the New English Translation puts it: that “we may offer the praise of our lips as sacrificial bulls” (NET) “
What Hosea is telling the northern kingdom is that when we seek the forgiveness of God, we should come with a recognition and a readiness: a recognition of God’s greatness and a readiness to praise Him. This is why were coming to Him, coming to God, in the first place. We recognize that we have not worshiped Him as we should; that we have been playing God instead of praising God.
This desire to worship God is simply part of what it means to be reconciled to God. Being reconciled to God by His forgiveness means that we are in a right relationship with God that puts each side of that relationship in its proper place: God as the one worthy of our adoration, and we as the ones who adore Him. Now let’s see how this idea will be developed in the next verse.
So fourth and finally, looking at verse 3, we see that the heart that is genuinely pursuing God’s forgiveness is a heart that rejects every other alternative as false in light of the goodness of God.
We talked about two sets of three phrases here, the first set, as we’ve just seen is all expressed in positive language. The next three are put in negative terms. Notice these three elements listed in verse 3: Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.
What we see here is Hosea calling the people to forsake their false hopes. Instead of recognizing the worthiness of God, the people had been looking other places for help and deliverance.
- At times, they believed their problems were merely political, and so they sought to ally themselves with nations like Assyria in order to be safe and secure.
- At other times, they believed the issue was a lack of military strength, and so they sought to acquire horses from Egypt or elsewhere to bolster their armies and accomplish their own deliverance.
- And still, at other times, they looked beyond themselves and others to the divine. But instead of worshipping the true God, they served false gods, idols fashioned by the hands of men, idols they thought would satisfy their twisted desires.
Hosea tells the people here that if they are going to return to God, then they must fully abandon these alternative paths; they must believe that these other paths are dead-ends if they are to believe that God ALONE is worthy of their love and adoration.
Sometimes, we talk about being right with God, but we are unwilling to give up OUR alternatives. We still believe that some kind of human relationship will give us the very thing we won’t trust God for. We still believe that if we just had this or that to make us stronger, or smarter, or sexier, we could handle life all by ourselves. We still believe that the gods of power, and pleasure, and possessions, and position are able to satisfy us; or we still believe that most religions are essentially the same and all eventually lead to the same place. That everything will just pan out somehow in the end.
But as God tells us through Hosea, we must reject all of those ideas if we are to be reconciled to God. Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.
How can we make such a bold break with all of these alternatives? Because of what we see in verse 3: In you [O God]..In you the orphan finds mercy.” In our iniquity, because of our rejection of God, we are nothing but spiritual orphans; alone, with no hope. And the only one who can open up His door to us and give us the home we need is God.
The heart that is truly seeking ultimate forgiveness, the forgiveness that comes from God, is a heart that recognizes that THIS God is our only hope. And so again, these “words” that the people were called to take to God, these words are a window into the heart of the one who is truly seeking the forgiveness of God.
C. The Assurance of Our Pursuit (14:4-7)
Now, a question we may be asking, especially if we’ve really understood the seriousness of our desperate condition before God; a question we may be asking is, even if we come with this heart, how can we know that God will forgive us?
Look again at verses 4-7. Hosea goes on to give them a direct word about His mercy, an assurance that when they seek, they will find forgiveness. God declares:
I will heal their apostasy [or their “turning away”-comes from the same root as re-turn in verse 1]; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned [here’s that root word] 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.
Isn’t that beautiful? “I will love them freely”. This is God’s assurance to us that when we genuinely seek His forgiveness, with that heart that is characterized by what we saw in verses 2 and 3, that He will pour out His forgiveness on us, and we will flourish.
For an agrarian nation like Israel, the images here of growth and moisture and the blossoming of the land, these are images of unimaginable blessing. So how could God, in light of the people’s iniquity and stubbornness, how could God offer them such blessings?
Well turn with me back to chapter 3, verse 5: there we read God’s foretelling: Afterward [after their turning away] the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days.
So the assurance of God’s forgiveness and lavishing love was connected their confession and their restoration under the leadership of David their king. But since David had been dead for about 300 years by Hosea’s time, this reference to David must be a reference to a king from David’s line, a son of David.
Listen to what the Apostle Peter announced about forgiveness and this coming Son of David:
34 “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all…39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-36, 39-43)
Your greatest need, my greatest need is forgiveness because forgiveness reconciles us to God, the One who is truly our greatest need. And only Jesus Christ can make that possible.
But the forgiveness of God cannot be ours unless we receive it with the right heart; a heart that understands the extent of its own sickness, a heart that is throwing itself on God’s mercy, a heart that acknowledges that God alone is worthy of our worship AND thus, a heart than knows that every alternative to God is a dead-end. This is what the Bible calls repentance.
Is that your heart this morning? Whether this all sounds new to you, or you have walked with God for 10 weeks or 10 years, is that your heart? This morning? Every day?
The heart we need is the heart that believes that Jesus did it all for us. That He is our only hope. And when we have this kind of heart, the heart described by Hosea, we can know the assurance of God’s love through Jesus Christ: everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
Return to the Lord this morning, and take words with you.
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