4. God here confirms what we have observed respecting his gratuitous reconciliation, nor is the repetition useless; for as men are disposed to entertain vain and false hopes, so nothing is more difficult, than to preserve them in dependence on the one God, and to pacify their minds, so that they disturb not nor fret themselves, as experience teaches us all. For when we embrace the promises of free pardon, our flesh ever leads us to distrust, and we become harassed by various fancies. “What! can you or dare you promise with certainty to yourself that God will be propitious to you, when you know that for many reasons he is justly angry with you?” Since, then, we are so inclined to harbour distrust, the Prophet again confirms the truth which we have before noticed, which is, that God is ready to be reconciled, and that he desires nothing more than to receive and embrace his people.
Hence he says, I will heal their defections. The way of healing is by a gratuitous pardon. For though God, by regenerating us by his Spirit, heals our rebellion, that is, subdues us unto obedience, and removes from us our corruptions, which stimulate us to sin; yet in this place the Prophet no doubt declares in the person of God, that the Israelites would be saved from their defections, so that they might not come against them in judgment, nor be imputed to them. Let us know then that God is in two respects a Physician while he is healing our sins: he cleanses us by his Spirit, and he abolishes and buries all our offences. But it is of the second kind of healing that the Prophet now speaks, when he says, I will heal their turnings away: and he employs a strong term, for he might have said, “your faults or errors,” but he says, “your defections from God;” as though he said, “Though they have so grievously sinned, that by their crimes they have deserved hundred deaths, yet I will heal them from these their atrocious sins, and I will love them freely.”
The word נדבה, nudebe, may be explained either freely or bountifully. I will then love them bountifully, that is, with an abounding and not a common love; or I will love them freely, that is, gratuitously. But they who render the words, “I will love them of mine own accord,” that is, not by constraint, pervert the sense of the Prophet; for how frigid is the expression, that God is not forced to love us; and what meaning can hence be elicited? But the Lord is said to love us freely, because he finds in us no cause of love, for we are unworthy of being regarded or viewed with any favour; but he shows himself liberal and beneficent in this very act of manifesting his love to the unworthy.
We then perceive that the real meaning of the Prophet is this, that though the Israelites had in various ways provoked the wrath of God, and as it were designedly wished to perish, and to have him to be angry with them; yet the Lord promises to be propitious to them. In what way? Even in this, for he will give proof of his bounty, when he will thus gratuitously embrace them. We now see how God becomes a Father to us, and regards us as his children, even when he abolishes our sins, and also when he freely admits us to the enjoyment of his love. And this truth ought to be carefully observed; for the world ever imagines that they come to God, and bring something by which they can turn or incline him to love them. Nothing can be more inimical to our salvation than this vain fancy.
Let us then learn from this passage, that God cannot be otherwise a Father to us than by becoming our physician and by healing our transgressions. But the order also is remarkable, for God puts love after healing. Why? Because, as he is just, it must be that he regards us with hatred as long as he imputes sins. It is then the beginning of love, when he cleanses us from our vices, and wipes away our spots. When therefore it is asked, how God loves men, the answer is, that he begins to love them by a gratuitous pardon; for while God imputes sins, it must be that men are hated by him. He then commences to love us, when he heals our diseases.
It is not without reason that he adds, that the fury of God is turned away from Israel. For the Prophet intended to add this as a seal to confirm what he taught; for men ever dispute with themselves, when they hear that God is propitious to them. “How is this, that he heals thine infirmities? for hitherto thou hast found him to be angry with thee, and how art thou now persuaded that his wrath is pacified?” Hence the Prophet seals his testimony respecting God’s love, when he says that his wrath has now ceased. Turned away then is my fury. “Though hitherto I have by many proofs manifested to thee my wrath, yet I now come to thee as one changed. Judge me not then by past time, for I am now pacified to thee, and my fury is from thee turned away.”
4  Receiving punishment from God is likened to being wounded or sick, conditions that only the divine Judge-Physician can heal (cf. 5:12–14; 13:7–8). This healing Yahweh promises to bring out of his great love for Israel. The reestablishment that the nation too cavalierly had assumed in its arrogant rebellion (6:1; cf. 6:11–7:1; 11:3) is grounded in his infinite grace (cf. Oestreich, 57–155). Love within a renewed relationship, not anger in judgment, is God’s design for his people. There are two wordplays with the verb “return” (šûb): When they “return” to Yahweh (vv. 1–2), he will heal their “turning away” (mešûbâ; often translated “apostasy” or “waywardness”; cf. 11:7) and his wrath “turns” from them.
4 (5) YHWH speaks as if he has accepted every word of the proposed prayer of repentance from the previous verses. The verse is a classic tricolon in which each clause (colon) interprets the others. In v. 1 Hosea summarized Israel’s plight as stumbling in iniquity. Here in v. 4 their predicament is encapsulated in the term apostasy (mĕšûbâ). It is a noun formed from the root šwb and has the basic meaning of “turning” or “turning one.” Hosea also employs the term in 11:7 with the nuance of Israel as “turning” from YHWH. It is a favored term with Jeremiah, who uses it to describe both Israel and Judah as backsliding, treacherously turning, and faithless (2:19; 3:6, 8, 11, 12, 22; 5:6; 8:5; 14:7). The appeal of YHWH through Jeremiah to Israel in 3:22 is likely dependent upon Hosea’s prophecies: “Return (šûb) faithless children, I will heal (rāpāʾ) your apostasies (mĕšûbōtêkem).” The connection in Jer. 3:22 is explicit between the return to YHWH and the exercise of his forgiveness as “healing.” This follows Hosea’s point of view. YHWH’s healing has been active since Israel’s youth, even if Israel did not acknowledge it formerly (Hos. 11:3). And YHWH will heal Israel’s corporate failures when they turn to him. Apparently some of Hosea’s contemporaries believed that Assyria could heal them in the complexities of their historical predicament, although the prophet strongly contradicted them (cf. 5:13).
The second clause in v. 4 reinforces what YHWH’s healing of Israel entails. It is an uncoerced love. The root ʾhb (“love”) plays a significant role in the book, but nowhere a more important one than in YHWH’s own speech in v. 4. In 9:15 YHWH declared that he would drive his people out of his house and love them no longer. That declaration and its subsequent effects are reversed by YHWH’s declaration in v. 4. YHWH’s love will be freely extended to a penitent Israel. The adverb nĕdābâ refers to giving that is spontaneous and/or voluntary. When used as a noun, the term represents a “freewill offering” (Exod. 35:29; 2 Chr. 31:14). It is sometimes used with the noun “vow” (nēder; Num. 15:3; Lev. 22:18; 23:38) and the verb “to make a vow” (nāder; Deut. 23:23). As an adjective it indicates abundance or voluntariness (Pss. 68:9 [MT 10]; 110:3). Perhaps the term nĕdābâ is employed here as an echo of the vow language in v. 2. The confession that Hosea urges on Israel is that they will “present [šālam, Piel] the fruit of their lips” to YHWH. The Piel of šālam is often used in the paying or carrying out of vows. In YHWH’s response in v. 4, it is as if he makes a freewill vow of his own.
The third clause of v. 4 also contains a wordplay. In Israel’s invited return to YHWH, there is also a divine counterpart in the turning (šûb) of YHWH’s anger (ʾap) from them. That fierce anger is mentioned explicitly in 13:11, and its turning from Israel here in 14:4 is a reversal of its deadly effects.
Thus v. 4 reinforces the compassion that is predicated of YHWH at the conclusion of v. 3. The tricolon is made up largely of terms used elsewhere in the book. They are employed here as YHWH’s already-given response to the repentance urged upon Israel.
14:4 / Hosea does not compose such a prayer for his people because he thinks they are capable of such repentance and renunciation of their apostasy. As he has stated before, Israel has no power in itself to return to its God (cf. the comment at 5:4). Rather, he envisions Israel uttering such a prayer because he believes God will heal and recreate them. And that is the central announcement of this passage, in verse 4. “I will heal their turning away; I will love them freely; for I will turn my wrath from them” reads the Hebrew of that verse. God here promises to remake Israel, to heal it (cf. 6:11), to love it freely, apart from any condition or repentance and turning on Israel’s part. What Israel cannot do for itself, God will do. That is the primary good news of the message of Hosea.
4. God’s gracious reply to their self-condemning prayer.
backsliding—apostasy: not merely occasional backslidings. God can heal the most desperate sinfulness [Calvin].
freely—with a gratuitous, unmerited, and abundant love (Ez 16:60–63). So as to the spiritual Israel (Jn 15:16; Ro 3:24; 5:8; 1 Jn 4:10).
14:4. In response to Israel’s contrition, God promised to heal and love the nation without their sin causing any hindrance to the relationship (2:13–23). Characterizing Israel’s apostasy as in need of healing suggests that the nation’s waywardness was caused by an underlying spiritual condition requiring divine restoration. Though Hosea did not mention it explicitly here, in the new covenant God will finally remedy this ailment by giving believers a new heart of flesh through the Holy Spirit (Ezk 36:27).
14:4 As so often happens with calls to repentance, there follow astounding promises to entice Israel to return. The Lord will heal their apostasy. As noted in 5:13–14, the prophets often depict sin as a sickness and renewal as healing. I will love them freely. It is not that the Lord had stopped loving Israel, but now he will love them without the prospect of imminent judgment.
14:4 I will heal their disloyalty Yahweh responds to Israel’s confession. He promises to heal the people, reassuring them of His love and the temporary nature of His wrath.
14:4 I will heal. The promise of healing began to be realized when Israel returned from its sixth-century exile in Babylon. It finds much greater fulfillment in Jesus Christ and His church, and is consummated at His Second Coming.
apostasy. Israel’s characteristic unfaithfulness (4:10–12; 5:4; 7:4; 11:7) will be healed by the great Healer, whose anger is now turned away.
love them freely. In this love song, we hear again the deep affection of God for His elect. This undeserved love is what the New Testament calls grace (Rom. 5:15; Eph. 2:5, 8).
14:4 A believing remnant will experience restoration and blessing. God’s promise to heal their apostasy, as Duane Garrett noted, “implies that apostasy is more than an act of the will, but is also a kind of mental derangement … that God himself must cure.”
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