Verses 1–3

These may be taken either as the words of the prophet to the people, calling them to repentance, or as the words of the people to one another, exciting and encouraging one another to seek the Lord, and to humble themselves before him, in hopes of finding mercy with him. God had said, In their affliction they will seek me; now the prophet, and the good people his friends, would strike while the iron was hot, and set in with the convictions their neighbours seemed to be under. Note, Those who are disposed to turn to God themselves should do all they can to excite, and engage, and encourage others to return to him. Observe,

I. What it is they engage to do: “Come, and let us return to the Lord, Hos. 6:1. Let us go no more to the Assyrian, nor send to king Jareb; we have had enough of that. But let us return to the Lord, return to the worship of him from our idolatries, and to our hope in him from all our confidences in the creature.” Note, It is the great concern of those who have revolted from God to return to him. And those who have gone from him by consent, and in a body, drawing one another to sin, should by consent, and in a body, return to him, which will be for his glory and their mutual edification.

II. What inducements and encouragements to do this they fasten upon, to stir up one another with.

1. The experience they had had of his displeasure: “Let us return to him, for he has torn, he has smitten. We have been torn, and it was he that tore us; we have been smitten, and it was he that smote us. Therefore let us return to him, because it is for our revolts from him that he has torn and smitten us in anger, and we cannot expect that he should be reconciled to us till we return to him; and for this end he has afflicted us thus, that we might be wrought upon to return to him. His hand will be stretched out still against us if the people turn not to him that smites them,” Isa. 9:12, 13. Note, The consideration of the judgments of God upon us and our land, especially when they are tearing judgments, should awaken us to return to God by repentance, and prayer, and reformation.

2. The expectation they had of his favour: “He that has torn will heal us, he that has smitten will bind us up,” as the skilful surgeon with a tender hand binds up the broken bone or bleeding wound. Note, The same providence of God that afflicts his people relieves them, and the same Spirit of God that convinces the saints comforts them; that which is first a Spirit of bondage is afterwards a Spirit of adoption. This is an acknowledgement of the power of God (he can heal though we be ever so ill torn), and of his mercy (he will do it); nay, therefore he has torn that he may heal. Some think this points particularly to the return of the Jews out of Babylon, when they sought the Lord, and joined themselves to him, in the prospect of his gracious return to them in a way of mercy. Note, It will be of great use to us, both for our support under our afflictions and for our encouragement in our repentance, to keep up good thoughts of God and of his purposes and designs concerning us. Now this favour of God which they are here in expectation of is described in several instances:—

(1.) They promise themselves that their deliverance out of their troubles should be to them as life from the dead (Hos. 6:2): “After two days he will revive us (that is, in a short time, in a day or two), and the third day, when it is expected that the dead body should putrefy and corrupt, and be buried out of our sight, then will he raise us up, and we shall live in his sight, we shall see his face with comfort and it shall be reviving to us. Though he forsake for a small moment, he will gather with everlasting kindness.” Note, The people of God may not only be torn and smitten, but left for dead, and may lie so a great while; but they shall not always lie so, nor shall they long lie so; God will in a little time revive them; and the assurance given them of this should engage them to return and adhere to him. But this seems to have a further reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and the time limited is expressed by two days and the third day, that it may be a type and figure of Christ’s rising the third day, which he is said to do according to the scriptures, according to this scripture; for all the prophets testified of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. Let us see and admire the wisdom and goodness of God, in ordering the prophet’s words so that when he foretold the deliverance of the church out of her troubles he should at the same time point out our salvation by Christ, which other salvations were both figures and fruits of; and, though they might not be aware of this mystery in the words, yet now that they are fulfilled in the letter of them in the resurrection of Christ it is a confirmation to our faith that this is he that should come, and we are to look for no other. And it is every way suitable that a prophecy of Christ’s rising should be thus expressed, “He will raise us up, and we shall live,” for Christ rose as the first-fruits, and we revive with him, we live through him; he rose for our justification, and all believers are said to be risen with Christ. See Isa. 26:19. And it would serve for a comfort to the church then, and an assurance that God would raise them out of their low estate, for in his fulness of time he would raise his Son from the grave, who would be the life and glory of his people Israel. Note, A regard by faith to a rising Christ is a great support to a suffering Christian, and gives abundant encouragement to a repenting returning sinner; for he has said, Because I live, you shall live also.

(2.) That then they shall improve in the knowledge of God (Hos. 6:3): Then shall we know, if we follow on to know, the Lord. Then, when God returns in mercy to his people and designs favour for them, he will, as a pledge and fruit of his favour, give them more of the knowledge of himself; the earth shall be full of that knowledge, Isa. 11:9. Knowledge shall be increased, Dan. 12:4. All shall know God, Jer. 31:34. We shall know, we shall follow to know, the Lord, (so the words are); and it may be taken as the fruit of Christ’s resurrection, and the life we live in God’s sight by him, that we shall have not only greater means of knowledge, but grace to improve in knowledge by those means. Note, When God designs mercy for a people he gives them a heart to know him, Jer. 24:7. Those that have risen with Christ have the spirit of wisdom and revelation given them. And if we understand our living in his sight, as the Chaldee paraphrast does, of the day of the resurrection of the dead, it fitly follows, We shall know, we shall follow to know, the Lord; for in that day we shall see him be perfected, and yet be eternally increasing. Or, taking it as we read it, If we follow on to know, we have here, [1.] A precious blessing promised: Then shall we know, shall know the Lord, then when we return to God; those that come to God shall be brought into an acquaintance with him. When we are designed to live in his sight, then he gives us to know him; for this is life eternal to know God, John 17:3. [2.] The way and means of obtaining this blessing. We must follow on to know him. We must value and esteem the knowledge of God as the best knowledge, we must cry after it, and dig for it (Prov. 2:3, 4), must seek and intermeddle with all wisdom (Prov. 18:1), and must proceed in our enquiries after this knowledge and our endeavours to improve in it. And, if we do the prescribed duty, we have reason to expect the promised mercy, that we shall know more and more of God, and be at last perfect in this knowledge.

(3.) That then they shall abound in divine consolations: His going forth is prepared as the morning, that is, the returns of his favour, which he had withdrawn from us when he went and returned to his place. His out-goings again are prepared and secured to us as firmly as the return of the morning after a dark night, and we expect it, as those do that wait for the morning after a long night, and are sure that it will come at the time appointed and will not fail; and the light of his countenance will be both welcome to us and growing upon us, unto the perfect day, as the light of the morning is. He shall come to us, and be welcome to us, as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth, which refreshes it and makes it fruitful. Now this looks further than their deliverance out of captivity, and, no doubt, was to have its full accomplishment in Christ, and the grace of the gospel. The Old-Testament saints followed on to know him, earnestly looked for redemption in Jerusalem; and at length the out-goings of divine grace in him, in his going forth to visit this world, were [1.] As the morning to this earth when it is dark for he went forth as the sun of righteousness, and in him the day-spring from on high visited us. His going forth was prepared as the morning, for he came in the fulness of time; John Baptist was his fore-runner, nay, he was himself the bright and morning star. [2.] As the rain to this earth when it is dry. He shall come down as the rain upon the mown grass, Ps. 72:6. In him showers of blessings descend upon this world, which give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, Isa. 55:10. And the favour of God in Christ is what is said of the king’s favour, like the cloud of the latter rain, Prov. 16:15. The grace of God in Christ is both the latter and the former rain, for by it the good work of our fruit-bearing is both begun and carried on.