Enveloped By God

Hosea 14:4-8

James T. Dennison, Jr.

In 1922, Geerhardus Vos, Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, published six of the sermons which he had preached in the chapel of the seminary, in a volume entitled Grace and Glory. That volume contained, arguably, one of the greatest sermons ever written—"Rabboni"—an Easter message on the garden encounter between Mary Magdalene and her risen Lord as recorded in John chapter 20. When republished in 1994, in an edition with ten additional sermons, Grace and Glory, as in the first edition of 1922, began with a sermon on Hosea 14:8 entitled "The Wonderful Tree." What could one say on this passage that Vos has not already said? Would it not be a virtual sacrilege to suggest that there is more in Hosea's remarks than Vos drew out? Would it not be the height of presumption to revisit this text? Well, perhaps, fools do rush in . . . . An old pastor once said, "God hath yet more light to break forth out of his Word." Neither Geerhardus Vos nor Jim Dennison will have the last word 'til he comes—'til the eschatological prophet comes again.

Hosea's dramatic prophecy is set against the chaos in Israel, northern kingdom of the Palestinian dualism, in the second half of the 8th century B.C.—from about 750 to 722 B.C. You will recall that the united kingdom of David and Solomon was divided north and south by Solomon's recalcitrant son, Rehoboam. The dual kingdoms had dual kings, dual capitals (Jerusalem and Samaria), dual cult or worship centers (the temple on Mt. Zion, two golden calfs at Bethel and Dan), dual names: the northern kingdom was called Israel or Ephraim; the southern kingdom was denominated Judah. The history of the northern kingdom of Israel was a dreary catalogue of sin and iniquity. Baalism—fertility worship or the worship of sex via sacred prostitutes (what Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione, among other pornographers, have offered our enlightened culture). Political treachery—in the space of some thirty years, Hosea witnessed the rise and fall of no less than six kings, four of whom came to the throne by assassinating their predecessor: Shallum assassinated Zechariah; Menahem assassinated Shallum; Pekah assassinated Pekahiah (Menahem's son); and Hoshea, the last king of the northern kingdom of Israel, assassinated Pekah (the record of this blood lust is found in 2 Kgs. 15). The 20th century has not advanced much beyond this murderous agenda—Stalin, Mao-Tse-tung, Idi Amin, Pol Pot—Bosnians, Arabs, Rwandans—politics at the point of a gun—power through terror and bloodshed (read Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest, historians of the Red Guard, biographies of survivors of South East Asia's killing fields—and in the last two years, read your newspaper—we are living in the bloodiest century in human history).

Hosea's 8th century B.C. Israel was obsessed with foreign policy intrigues. As the northern kingdom sought to perpetuate her life-style and standard of living, she became squeezed between the two superpowers: Egypt and Assyria. So Israel's State Department played the one off against the other—Egypt versus Assyria, Assyria versus Egypt. But by her duplicitous foreign policy, Israel only succeeded in getting herself invaded—by the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Nations are still being duped by other nations at foreign policy conference tables—twenty-eight centuries after Hosea, nations still have not learned that their word is their bond. Hosea's 8th century B.C. Israel was a nation rampant with social injustice. Oppression of the powerless was commonplace; courts of justice were suborned by bribery; religious leaders were self-promoters of the good life—the good life of pleasure, power, prestige. As we approach the 3rd millennium, the powerless are still oppressed; the courts seem not to recognize justice; and the religious gurus—even Reformed religious gurus—are promoting themselves, they are not building up the body of Christ which is his church. Hosea's 8th century B.C. Israel was an era flooded with the sewage of vile debauchery—harlotry (Hosea's favorite word), illegitimacy, robbery, lewdness, insolence, idolatry—the list is an endless encyclopedia of depravity, perversity, debauchery. The decadence of our own culture has left us numb, our hearts and minds reeling at what newspapers and newsweeklies describe routinely. As one magazine described it, we are witnessing the descent of man. Actually we are witnessing the open heart and hand of human depravity increasingly unrestrained by natural or revealed law.

Hosea's dreary catalogue of Israel's sins produces a litany of divine judgment. Thus saith the Lord, says Hosea, I have instituted divorce proceedings against this nation; a covenanted lawsuit of divorce has been filed by God—lo-ammi (not my people). Monarchical assassination and bloodshed is judged by reciprocal counter-assassination; the lex talionis (law of just retribution) is applied by God to political assassins—they are assassinated in return. Foreign exploitation is the fruit of foreign footsy—God vows to bring the very powers down upon Israel that Israel has been duping at the conference table. Social decline brings social collapse—the society which has become essentially lawless is the society which God destroys by the sword of Assyria. And the debauchery, demoralization in turn on the general premise—what debauchery goes around is the debauchery that comes around.

The climax of this downgrade of divine judgment was the conquest and destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, together with the simultaneous deportation and absorption of the ten tribes in 722 B.C. "O Israel, you have played the harlot, you will not remain in the Lord's land" (Hosea 9:1, 3). "Yet a little while and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel." (Hos. 1:4). "Ephraim mixes himself with the nations, strangers devour his strength, like a silly dove they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria, woe to them destruction is theirs for they have rebelled against me" (Hos. 7:8-13). "There is no faithfulness in the land: there is swearing, deception, murder, stealing, adultery—bloodshed touches bloodshed" (Hos. 4:1, 2). "O Israel, your harlotry is before your face, your adultery between your breasts, you have loved harlots wages. I will uncover your lewdness in the sight of your lovers—I will strip you naked and lay you bare as the day you were born" (Hosea, passim).

And thus the covenant Lord becomes the instrument of the covenant curse. I will punish the house of Israel. I will not have compassion; I am not your God. I will remember your iniquity. I will punish your sins. The eternal first person—the eternal first person personal pronoun: I—I—I will judge. The divine retribution—your sins will be punished; and the fury of this wrath is expressed in similes of vengeance. Now a simile is a way to liken a thing to something similar—it is used in all types of literature. Here are God's similes of vengeance revealing the eternal first person and his terror as recorded in Hosea 13:7,8: "I will be like a lion to them, like a leopard, I will lie in wait. I will meet them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will devour them like a lioness." God becomes like a raging beast embodying his vengeance in the reversal of the harmony which existed between man and the beasts in the garden. Even as man's fall alienated the wild animals, so God, as it were, incarnates his enmity against sin like a wild beast. But Hosea is not through with his similes—the similes of condemnation (God as a wild animal) reciprocally yield similes of consequence; that is, here are the results of God's furious judgment in simile (form). Israel is like the morning cloud. Israel is like the dew which soon disappears. Israel is like the chaff which is blown from the threshing floor. Israel is like smoke from a chimney (Hos. 13:3). Similes of judgment reciprocated by similes of being judged. Transcendent equity reciprocated by transient mutability.

The arena of the prophet's vision is obsessed with the eternal I—the eternal I in his vindictive fury and the evanescence—the disappearance of the nation—the eternal I and passing away of Israel in God's wrath.

But in chapter 14, verses 4-8, a marvellous change—a marvellous reversal has transformed the obsession of the prophet. The eternal I—first person, personal pronoun—the eternal I now will heal, now will love, now will be a benediction, not a malediction to his people (ammi, no longer lo-ammi; ruhammah, no longer lo-ruhammah). And as the face of the everlasting I AM has been turned in grace and mercy toward his people, even so there is a reversal in similes: "I will be like the dew" (v. 5); "I will be like a luxuriant cypress" (v. 8). No longer—I will be like the dew which goes away early—like Southern California's summertime night and morning low clouds vaporized by 90 to 100 degree desert sun. No longer, says the Lord, will I be like the dew which burns off, but now, says the Lord, I will be like the dew which hangs on the lily—I will be like the dew which clings to the cedars—I will be like the dew which cleaves to the olive tree—I will be like the dew which sticks to the vine. In Hosea 14, verse 5, God says I will be like the dew which drenches the garden of God like a mist rising up from the ground to water the whole face of the earth. No longer, the simile—I will be like the desert, like the arid wilderness; but now, God says, I will be like a verdant paradise—a lusk microcosm of beauty and fruitfulness and sweet fragrances and delicious tastes.

This eschatological reversal in Hosea 14 is a protological recapitulation superimposed upon the land of milk and honey. Let me unpack that statement: Hosea forsees a reversal of judgment by salvation in the future—the eschatological age to come, but he describes the future reversal by looking back to the beginning—the protological age that once was; and he does this eschatological-protological reversal from the viewpoint of the promised land. Now, in Hosea's day, languishing under the curse of human iniquity and nature's groaning travail, the promised land becomes a paradigm—an example—of a garden paradise—an eschatological garden of Eden. In fact, this land of milk and honey blighted by the curse is to become a veritable heavenly land when transformed by the divine initiative. Note carefully the triplicate I will, I will, I will (verses 4 and 5)—they are a triune affirmation that only God can!—Only God can transform the land, the nation, the people, the curse. Hosea 14:4, 5 affirm there will be no remission of the curse unless God acts to take away the curse. Hosea 14:4, 5 are a revelation that there will be no heavenly garden—there will be no eschatological garden—unless God ordains it. Hosea has shut up the eschatological Israel of God to the divine initiative—divine monergism in which God alone works—a monergistic initiative with a wondrous assurance: I will heal your iniquities; I will love you freely; I will bring you in to my very own paradise garden.

And when, by his monergistic grace, you come into this garden, you, even you, will blossom like the lily, lovely before him who has planted you, beautiful to his eye who has shaped you—you who are now yearning, bursting, maturing before the face of this eternal gardener who has tended and nurtured you. When, by his electing grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will take root like the cedars of Lebanon—deeply twined roots embedded in the eschatological garden—roots permanent, immovable, anchored deep in the heart of God—roots displaying the glory like the glory of Lebanon—her mountain-crowning cedars, verdant, fragrant, evergreen, a sweet-smelling savor. When, by his predestinating grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will sprout like the splendor of the olive tree—perennially fruitful year after year after year. When, by his foreordaining grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will dwell under his shadow; he will stretch forth his canopy over you so that under the shadow of his free love, under the cover of his healing grace, you will not wither, nor shall you ever be blown away like the chaff. When, by his all-sufficient grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will blossom like the vine, like the wine of Lebanon—lush, sweet in his presence—this eschatological gardener who has made you like the sweet wine of Lebanon.

But there can be no reversal without an instrument. There can be no covenant restoration without one to bind the covenant to himself. There can be no eschatological garden paradise without an eschatological Adam—a second Adam—a man from heaven. This lovely portrait of Hosea repeats so much of the imagery in the history of redemption looking backwards—the history of redemption retrospectively looking backwards to the land of Canaan, a land of milk and honey like the garden of God—the Edenic paradise. You see, Hosea ends where Genesis begins—in a garden. But the vision from Hosea looking back to the original garden must not forget that Hosea is not the last word from God about his garden. Hosea's garden in chapter 14 is succeeded and superseded by another garden—a garden in front of him—prospectively projected into the future to appear in Revelation 21 and 22. With the whole Bible, we have the whole story. What a man lost in a garden is now restored by a God-man in a garden. The garden returns because the Lord of the garden opens the way to its lush trees, its delicious fruits, its fragrant aromas—the eschatological Lord of the garden opens the way to the heavenly, paradisiacal, Edenic garden of God. And it is that garden—that heavenly garden which intrudes itself into the prophetic vision of Hosea 14:4-8. More than typology, the heavenly garden of God intrudes itself into the 8th century B.C. and under the images and similes of that era in the history of redemption, that heavenly garden embodies itself—incarnates itself through the land. But this land is more than Canaan—this land is more than Lebanon—this land is more than the earth; this land is the eternal land of the eternal I, first person personal pronoun. The I who in these last days has revealed himself in the flesh as the I AM. Only this One—God in the flesh—is able to possess the garden—to go through the flame and under the knife so that you—you—may have free access to the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations—Jew and Gentile alike.

Hosea's garden is more than he knew, but his vision is an invitation to you to possess the heavenly arena as you possess the heavenly gardener; nay, as you are possessed by the eschatological gardener.

I conclude with a comment on the structure of our passage Hosea 14:4-8. Glance again at v. 5—"I will be like the dew," says the Lord; and now down at v. 8—"I am like a luxuriant cypress." In literary terms, we call this an inclusio. An inclusio begins and ends a text in similar fashion. Here we have the same first person personal pronoun followed by a simile from the world of nature. At the end of the book of Hosea, God himself becomes the simile—like the boards or the cover of a book, God himself becomes the binding—the bracket to this garden prophecy. God himself the inclusio—God himself bracketing his garden—God himself enveloping his Israel—God himself enfolding an Israel of God which is like a lush garden, a milk-and-honey land, an Eden-paradise.

You who love him, you who have been healed of your sins by him—you—you are enveloped by God himself. And he—he—he has made you like a beautiful garden in his presence. Through Jesus Christ, you are the Israel of God—through Jesus Christ, you are the garden of God; through Jesus Christ, you are the fruitful vine, fragrant blossoms, luxuriant cedars of this present age. May you revel in his free love—this one who brackets your whole being—this one who enfolds you, surrounds you, includes you in his eschatological garden.

Escondido, California