“Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6.1-3.
Here, the prophet Hosea was putting words into the mouth of Israel — words that were not yet there. He was looking forward to some future day when Israel would do what she was steadfastly refusing to do in Hosea’s day — turn to the Lord in penitence and love and longing and faith.
Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel in the years leading up to the conquest of Israel by Assyria in 722 BC when thousands of Israelites were taken into exile. Like Amos before him, Hosea saw and spoke out against the materialism, corruption, idolatry and godlessness he saw all around him, but to no avail. He saw that a time was coming when Israel would be “torn” and “struck down” but he knew that, because of God’s great love for his people, it would be only so that the Lord could “heal” them and “bind up” their brokenness. He looked forward to a day when the Lord would come to his penitent people and be as welcome as the dawn after the darkness, as the spring rains after the winter drought.
Perhaps, Hosea saw this restoration as following immediately upon the exile, but neither the Assyrian captivity nor the Babylonian one that followed it produced any real change of heart in the children of Israel as a whole. Even after 750 years, John the Baptist is still calling to this recalcitrant nation, “Repent!” (Matthew 3.2).
And that is the glorious moment when there comes to John the Baptist, as he stands waist-deep in the Jordan, the one man who alone has ever been capable of true repentance and the one man who alone has never had any need of it — the sinless, righteous, holy Son of God … Jesus. John knows that Jesus has no need of the “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1.4) that he is offering, and he tries to refuse him, but Jesus insists: “Let it be so …” (Matthew 3.14-15).
Let it be so because Jesus comes as what C S Lewis has called “the Perfect Penitent”. Let it be so because he has come to do what Israel cannot do … and what I cannot do. Let it be so because he has come to take all my sin upon himself and then to utterly turn from it, repudiate it, renounce it, and allow it to be judged and dealt with on the cross. Let it be so because he has come to be torn and struck down in my place. Let it be so because he has come to die and to go into the exile and abandonment of the tomb.
But after two days, what happened? The Father revived him, and on the third day he raised him up, and Jesus now lives before him — seated at his right hand in glory. Thus, in Jesus — representative Israel, representative man — all Hosea’s hope is fulfilled. There, in the going-to-the-cross of Jesus, is true repentance; and there I share in it as I come to Christ. In him, too, I live before the Father. In him, I know the LORD. And he does indeed lighten my darkness like the dawn. He does indeed come to me as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.
Thanks be to God!