True Repentance, At Last

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
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.
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.
In you the orphan finds mercy.” — Hosea 14:1-3


We arrive at last to the final chapter of Hosea. In chapter 14 we find a model of true, mindful, heartfelt repentance and the Lord’s turning from his anger as a result. The outline of true repentance in the first 3 verses is instructive, and the following promises of God to his repentant people are precious. These point forward to Christ, because of whom, ultimately, God’s anger is turned from his people, our apostasy is healed, and God therefore loves us freely and blesses us abundantly.

The elements of true repentance found in this passage are:

Awareness and Confession of Sin:

Hosea tells them to “take with [them] words” as they “return to the Lord.” What kind of words? Words expressing not a vague feeling of regret, but words labeling their specific sins, acknowledging and confessing their guilt for their sins. The words of true repentance aren’t empty words, but heartfelt and filled with conviction.

Turn From Specific Sins:

Hosea lists the specific sins that Israel has been guilty of and how they should turn from them. “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.” This pledge to forsake their sinful practices and beliefs is an essential element of repentance. God knows what we’ve done, but we need to renounce our sins as we turn from them to the Lord. Doing so displays the genuineness of our repentance.

Appeal to the Grace of God:

In verse 2 Hosea instructs Israel to say to the Lord, “Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips.” Another translation of this request reads: “forgive all our sins and receive us graciously.” They know their sins deserve death, and in the sacrificial system God provided a means of substitutionary atonement for their sins. The sacrifices were a means of grace, in which God accepted the death of an animal in place of the sinner and did not demand the sinner die to pay for his own sins. And yet the dead animals weren’t “the good” that they are asking God to accept in this plea from 14:2. “The good” is the sacrifice of spirits broken over their sin and hearts broken in contrition—truly sorrowful for betraying their praiseworthy, steadfastly loving God—and acceptable in his sight (Psalm 51:15-17).

Closing this prayer of repentance is the beautiful declaration that, “In you the orphan finds mercy.” Remember, Israel’s apostasy had them running so far from the Lord and his ways that he declared that they were no longer his people and he was no longer their God (1:9). But God made a covenant with this people to be their God, and he is faithful to keep his word. Verses 5-7 detail the blessings that God will pour out upon his people when they return to him in true repentance. But first, verse 4 tells us how and why the outpouring of blessings begins.

I will heal their apostasy;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them. — Hosea 14:4

God declares his unilateral initiative to heal the apostasy of his wayward people, and his love for them which will no longer be hampered by their sins or overshadowed by his impending judgement. By healing their apostasy he removes the barriers they have erected to his love, so he can love them freely. But how does he do this? How does he accomplish this healing which opens the floodgates of his love?

Be Encouraged

The floodgates of God’s love turn upon the cross.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. — 1 John 4:9-10

On a hill outside of Jerusalem, God punished his Holy, spotless Son in our place. Jesus died the hellish death we deserved, so that we would be spared the Father’s wrath, and instead receive mercy. God’s love wasn’t on hold, waiting for the cross: it was the reason for the cross.

Beloved, this love is how the orphan finds mercy in God. “In love [God] predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5). Because of God’s love, Jesus propitiates God’s wrath; the apostate thus justified, God heals the apostate’s heart; and with the barriers to God’s love thus removed, God loves his child freely and the child loves God in return. Apostasy is turned to adoration through adoption in Christ.

Pray With Me

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. —
Psalm 51:15-17

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