Summary: God’s purpose in judgment is to give us a chance to make a "comeback." Here is an invitation to repentance in the midst of "negative" prophecies.
This week, I heard a radio interview with a fellow who has built a business on invitations to Super Bowl parties. He calls his business, “Man-vite.” It’s an online invitation service that helps men organize social events. The whole reason this service exists is because the first such service, “e-vite,” had invitation forms that were so flowery, ornate, and pretty that most men didn’t want to use their forms to invite their buddies to a sports event, hunting expedition, bowling tournament, golf outing, ski trip, or Super Bowl party using such feminine materials as flowers, balloons, fancy calligraphy, etc.
Now, I normally would have thought that this was such a dumb idea that it couldn’t possibly work, but the site is doing pretty well for the guy (though it isn’t his only revenue-making site). I laughed for a moment and then, I realized that we all like special invitations. We like those gilt-edged invitations to weddings, anniversary parties, graduations, and award ceremonies. We may complain about the implied obligation to purchase a gift for some of these, but deep-down we enjoy being important enough to be on the “A” list. We like feeling wanted. It makes us feel special.
There was a time when I was doing some work with the film industry and had a membership in a professional organization so that I regularly received invitations to film premieres. Now, let me just say up front that I never attended any of them. They were charity events and cost hundreds of dollars (per person) to attend (just in case you’ve ever wondered what it would be like). Yet, even though I wasn’t about to spend the money necessary to attend such an event, I secretly savored the fact that I was receiving invitations to premieres of films directed by Eastwood or starring Costner. I felt special just because of those invitations mailed to those in a certain organization.
Today’s text is a special invitation where God’s prophet throws his listeners a “change-up.” After all those words of accusation and judgment, he invites them to become something special. Let me share with you from my translation of the Hebrew while you study from your regular study Bibles.
v. 1 Come, let us return to Yahweh
Because He has torn [like predators rend their prey] and He will heal us,
He struck and He will bandage us.
v. 2 He will revive us after two days.
On the third day, He will cause us to stand
And we will live in His presence.
v. 3 Let us know and let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh:
Like the dawn, His going forth is fixed [God is as dependable as the sunrise]
And He will come like a rain shower for us, like spring rain falling upon the land.
Wow! That’s a lot different than the images of God as the cuckolded husband, throwing Israel out in the wilderness to die. That’s a lot better than the idea of God’s presence serving as a disgusting reminder of Israel’s sin and rebellion to show her sickness and impurity.
Healing, bandages, resurrection, dawn, and rain are much more delightful images than maggots, pus, and adulterous spouses. Did you know that there was a time in scholarly circles where academics were skeptical of any passage like this in the 8th century prophets that offered such hope? They were so locked into their idea that each prophecy could only apply to the prophet’s immediate situation that they couldn’t accept any messages of hope as authentic for the prophet. They figured that Israel would have to experience all of the punishment prescribed before the prophet could legitimately offer hope. I think that’s ridiculous—especially for Hosea. Hosea constantly balances judgment and hope, punishment and healing. For Hosea, God’s “NO!” and God’s “YES!” are part and parcel of the same thing—negative for that which is against God and positive for those who are with God in attitude and action.
So, the prophet offers an astounding invitation. “Come on down!” “Ya’all come!” and “Everybody’s welcome!” is the implication of Hosea’s command. But the invitation isn’t to somewhere God’s people have never been. The offer invites the populace to return to a place of safety, comfort, and relationship. They are to come and “return.” The word translated return could just as easily be translated as “repent” because it is the idea of admitting that one has been traveling in the wrong direction and demonstrating a will to turn around and go in the right direction. It means to “turn around.”
And who wouldn’t want a “turn around” in their lives if they were being torn apart like a lion rends his prey? Israel had one enemy raiding from one direction and another enemy extorting her for “protection money” [only in those days, it was known as “tribute”] in order to guarantee a powerful ally. Assyria on one side and Egypt on the other had Israel (and Judah, too) in the middle. In desperation, Israel felt like she had to turn to one or the other, but Hosea was giving her another choice: UP!