Take words with you – Friday, 14th Week in ordinary time – Hosea 14:1-9
The conclusion of Hosea chapter 14 is not very long. It’s all of nine verses that take a little more than a minute to read. It is compact and dense poetry, marked with signposts that point to all that has gone before in the book; yet it still finds a way to say something of its own in the final crescendo.
Hosea brings a rather prickly book to a flowery end. It is not that God has forgotten the iniquity, its just that the last words are those of the hope and restoration; someday there will be a new land a new people who reject their wooden images that they have made their god. So Hosea, like an elder sibling prodding an errant brother to find the right words to apologise, prods Israel on. “Take words with you and return to the lord.” Israel can no longer pull a sorry face and get away with it. In returning to the LORD, Israel must come back on God’s terms and not their own; as must we.
Israel, having been prodded by the prophet not only finds its feet but loosens its arrogant tongue. In Hosea 10:3 they said “we do not fear the Lord.” So the first words of Israel, as should be ours and which are the words of the Church when we gather at the Eucharist is the admittance of our sin. “Take away all guilt, accept that which is good (in us)” say the people of Israel. Israel now renounces her dependence on her neighbours for protection and her love for her ‘gods’ made by hand in wood and metal. Their contrition acknowledges their devastation for they are but ‘orphans’, orphaned by all the things they once thought brought them comfort and it is as orphans that they return to a God who was father to them (11:1)
And just like that, God’s anger melts. The words we hear are no longer the words of wrath and destruction. The first thing that God wants to do is to ‘heal’ their disloyalty or as some translations put it, ‘heal their backsliding.’ This line is so appropriate for every generation and every worshiper. It is that slippery slope of sin that makes us backslide; yet it the hand of God that we grab on to when all else fails and He is always waiting to save us.
Interestingly God does not say I will ‘pardon’ their backsliding or I ‘might’ pardon it or I ‘could’ pardon it but he chooses his words carefully and says I WILL HEAL their backsliding. Curious words indeed; why heal and not pardon? God looks at our backsliding more as a disease than a crime. Disease need healing not a whipping.
Interestingly this love of God does not come with any conditions or a ‘return back policy’ for he says he will love us freely (11:4). It is the very nature of God to love us freely. There is nothing we can do to earn this love. However, to obtain this healing we need to admit to our backsliding. Sin cannot be masqueraded by a bouquet of sweet smelling excuses!
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 that knows that every alternative to Gos is a dead end. This is what the Bible calls repentance.
So ask your self this question, are you backsliding? The signs may not be so obvious to others. When you see a tree broken over in a storm, it’s easy to think that it was the wind. If you look closer, you will often see that insects had been at work a long time on the tree, making it weaker and weaker. It really wasn’t the wind that did it because other trees around it withstood the wind. It was the slow decline of strength, as insects nibbled away month after month.