Verses 4–7

We have here an answer of peace to the prayers of returning Israel. They seek God’s face, and they shall not seek in vain. God will be sure to meet those in a way of mercy who return to him in a way of duty. If we speak to God in good prayers, God will speak to us in good promises, as he answered the angel with good words and comfortable words, Zech. 1:13. If we take with us the foregoing words in our coming to God, we may take home with us these following words for our faith to feast upon; and see how these answer those.

I. Do they dread and deprecate God’s displeasure, and therefore return to him? He assures them that, upon their submission, his anger is turned away from them. This is laid as the ground of all the other favours here promised. I will do so and so, for my anger is turned away, and thereby a door is opened for all good to flow to them, Isa. 12:1. Note, Though God is justly and greatly angry with sinners, yet he is not implacable in his anger; it may be turned away; it shall be turned away, from those that turn away from their iniquity. God will be reconciled to those that are reconciled to him and to his whole will.

II. Do they pray for the taking away of iniquity? He assures them that he will heal their backslidings; so he promised, Jer. 3:22. Note, Though backslidings from God are the dangerous diseases and wounds of the soul, yet they are not incurable, for God has graciously promised that if backsliding sinners will apply to him as their physician, and comply with his methods, he will heal their backslidings. He will heal the guilt of their backslidings by pardoning mercy and their bent to backslide by renewing grace. Their iniquity shall not be their ruin.

III. Do they pray that God will receive them graciously? In answer to that, behold, it is promised, I will love them freely. God had hated them while they went on sin (Hos. 9:15); but now that they return and repent he loves them, not only ceases to be angry with them, but takes complacency in them and designs their good. He loves them freely, with an absolute entire love (so some), so that there are no remains of his former displeasure, with a liberal bountiful love (so others); he will be open-handed in his love to them, and will think nothing too much to bestow upon them or to do for them. Or with a cheerful willing love; he will love them without reluctancy or renitency. He will not say in the day of thy repentance, How shall I receive thee again? as he said in the day of thy apostasy, How shall I give thee up? Or with an unmerited preventing love. Whom God loves he loves freely, not because they deserve it, but of his own good pleasure. He loves because he will love, Deut. 7:7, 8.

IV. Do they pray that God will give good, will make them good? In answer to that, behold, it is promised, I will be as the dew unto Israel, Hos. 14:5. Observe,

1. What shall be the favour God will bestow upon them. It is the blessing of their father Jacob, God give thee the dew of heaven, Gen. 27:28. Nay, what they need God will not only give them, but he will himself be that to them, all that which they need: I will be as the dew unto Israel. This ensures spiritual blessings in heavenly things; and it follows upon the healing of their backslidings, for pardoning mercy is always accompanied with renewing grace. Note, To Israelites indeed God himself will be as the dew. He will instruct them; his doctrine shall drop upon them as the dew, Deut. 32:2. They shall know more and more of him, for he will come to them as the rain, Hos. 6:3. He will refresh them with his comforts, so that their souls shall be as a watered garden, Isa. 58:11. He will be to true penitents as the dew to Israel when they were in the wilderness, dew that had manna in it, Exod. 16:14; Num. 11:9. The graces of the Spirit are the hidden manna, hidden in the dew; God will give them bread from heaven, as he did to Israel in the dew in abundance, John 1:16.

2. What shall be the fruit of that favour which shall be produced in them. The grace thus freely bestowed on them shall not be in vain. Those souls, those Israelites, to whom God is as the dew, on whom his grace distils,

(1.) Shall be growing. The bad being by the grace of God made good, they shall by the same grace be made better; for grace, wherever it is true, is growing. [1.] They shall grow upwards, and be more flourishing, shall grow as the lily, or (as some read it) shall blossom as the rose. The growth of the lily, as that of all bulbous roots, is very quick and speedy. The root of the lily seems lost in the ground all winter, but, when it is refreshed with the dews of the spring, it starts up in a little time; so the grace of God improves young converts sometimes very fast. The lily, when it has come to its height, is a lovely flower (Matt. 6:29), so grace is the comeliness of the soul, Ezek. 16:14. It is the beauty of holiness that is produced by the dew of the morning, Ps. 110:3. [2.] They shall grow downwards, and be more firm. The lily indeed grows fast, and grows fine, but it soon fades and is easily plucked up; and therefore it is here promised to Israel that with the flower of the lily he shall have the root of the cedar: He shall cast forth his roots as Lebanon, as the trees of Lebanon, which, having taken deep root, cannot be plucked up, Amos 9:15. Note, Spiritual growth consists most in the growth of the root, which is out of sight. The more we depend upon Christ and draw sap and virtue from him, the more we act in religion from a principle and the more steadfast and resolved we are in it, the more we cast forth our roots. [3.] They shall grow round about (Hos. 14:6): His branches shall spread on all sides. And (Hos. 14:7) he shall grow as the vine, whose branches extend furthest of any tree. Joseph was to be a fruitful bough, Gen. 49:22. When many are added to the church from without, when a hopeful generation rises up, then Israel’s branches spread. When particular believers abound in good works, and increase in the knowledge of God and in every good gift, then their branches may be said to spread. The inward man is renewed day by day.

(2.) They shall be graceful and acceptable both to God and man. Grace is the amiable thing, and makes those that have it truly amiable. They are here compared to such trees as are pleasant, [1.] To the sight: His beauty shall be as the olive-tree, which is always green. The Lord called thy name a green olive-tree, Jer. 11:16. Ordinances are the beauty of the church, and in them it is, and shall be, ever green. Holiness is the beauty of a soul; when those that believe with the heart make profession with the mouth, and justify and adorn that profession with an agreeable conversation, then their beauty is as the olive-tree, Ps. 52:8. It is a promise to the trees of righteousness that their leaf shall not wither. [2.] To the smell: His smell shall be as Lebanon (Hos. 14:6) and his scent as the wine of Lebanon, Hos. 14:7. This was the praise of their father Jacob, The smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed, Gen. 27:27. The church is compared to a garden of spices (Song 4:12, 14), which all her garments smell of. True believers are acceptable to God and approved of men. God smells a sweet savour from their spiritual sacrifices (Gen. 8:21), and they are accepted of the multitude of the brethren. Grace is the perfume of the soul, the perfume of the name, makes it like a precious ointment, Eccl. 7:1. The memorial thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon (so the margin reads it), not only their reviving comforts now, but their surviving honours when they are gone, shall be as the wine of Lebanon, that has a delicate flavour. Flourishing churches have their faith spoken of throughout the world (Rom. 1:8) and leave their name to be remembered (Ps. 45:17); and the memory of flourishing saints is blessed, and shall be so, as theirs who by faith obtained a good report.

(3.) They shall be fruitful and useful. The church is compared here to the vine and the olive, which brings forth useful fruits, to the honour of God and man. Nay, the very shadow of the church shall be agreeable (Hos. 14:7): Those that dwell under his shadow shall return—under God’s shadow (so some), under the shadow of the Messias, so the Chaldee. Believers dwell under God’s shadow (Ps. 91:1), and there they are and may be safe and easy. But it is rather under the shadow of Israel, under the shadow of the church. Note, God’s promises pertain to those, and those only, that dwell under the church’s shadow, that attend on God’s ordinances and adhere to his people, not those that flee to that shadow only for shelter in a hot gleam, but those that dwell under it. Ps. 27:4. We may apply it to particular believers; when a man is effectually brought home to God all that dwell under his shadow—children, servants, subjects, friends. This day has salvation come to this house. Those that dwell under the shadow of the church shall return; their drooping spirits shall return, and they shall be refreshed and comforted. He restores my soul, Ps. 23:3. They shall revive as the corn, which, when it is sown, dies first, and then revives, and brings forth much fruit, John 12:24. It is promised that God’s people shall be blessings to the world, as corn and wine are. And a very great and valuable mercy it is to be serviceable to our generation. Comfort and honour attend it.