Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Hosea 14:5 - 14:6

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Hosea 14:5 - 14:6


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

The Blessing of the Dew

I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.—Hos_14:5-6.

Hosea was a poet as well as a prophet. His little prophecy is full of similes and illustrations drawn from natural objects; scarcely any of them from cities or from the ways of men; almost all of them from Nature as seen in the open country, which he evidently loved, and where he had looked upon things with a clear and meditative eye. This whole chapter is full of emblems drawn from plant life. The lily, the cedar, the olive, are mentioned in the text. And there follow, in the subsequent verses, the corn, and the vine, and the green fir tree.

The words, no doubt, originally had reference to the numerical increase of the people and their restoration to their land, but they may be taken by us quite fairly as having a very much deeper and more blessed reference than that. For they describe the uniform condition of all spiritual life and growth—“I will be as the dew unto Israel”; and then they set forth some of the manifold aspects of that growth, and the consequences of receiving that heavenly dew, under the various metaphors which are employed.

I

The Dew

“I will be as the dew unto Israel.”

1. This points us to the source of fruitfulness, the secret of beauty, growth, and strength. Dew is so copious in Palestine that it supplies to some extent the absence of rain. It is of great importance to the agriculturist. In several passages of Scripture it is coupled in the Divine blessing with rain, or is mentioned as a chief source of fertility; and its withdrawal is attributed to a curse.

Dew is the water of the atmosphere deposited in minute globules upon the earth. It does not fall, in the ordinary sense of the term; but after the sun has set, and the supply of heat is cut off, vegetation that has been warmed by its rays and has absorbed them, radiates its heat back into space and becomes rapidly cooled, until it becomes lower in temperature than the surrounding air. The result is that the moisture from the lower stratum of air is condensed and forms dew. The water vapour which is being continually breathed out by plants also helps in the formation, for on a still night it is supposed that the amount of water deposited is more than could have condensed out of the air coming into contact with the leaves of the plants, and that the plant itself assists in the deposition of moisture on its leaves. Dew is deposited, not on plants alone, but on all objects that have become cooled by radiation. Plants radiate their heat more freely than other bodies, and so receive a greater proportion of moisture.

Dew falls freely in some parts. Where it seldom rains it falls heavily, and is natures only means of preserving vegetation in these thirsty regions of the globe, thus providing every leaf with its allowance of moisture, night after night, enabling it to grow and flourish.

“In the South American forests,” says Humboldt, “notwithstanding the sky is perfectly clear overhead, rain frequently falls in heavy showers, caused by the copious formation of dew by the radiating powers of the tops of the trees, in contact with the vapour-laden atmosphere of the tropics.”1 [Note: 1 W. Coles-Finch, Water: Its Origin and Use, 140.]

2. Often in Scripture the dew, so much needed and so beneficent in its operation as it distils on the dry and thirsty ground, stands as the image of the Divine Spirit, and His quickening, refreshing influences as He works in the moral world, on the otherwise arid and barren hearts and lives of men. It is evidently thus that the figure is here employed. It is the living and life-giving Lord Himself who speaks. He speaks of His own purposed action. He says, This is what I personally and powerfully will do. I will come to the hitherto lifeless, useless, fruitless Israel, and affect him as does the dew when it falls on the parched and profitless earth, in the rainless, scorching days of summer, and transforms deadness and sterility into life and beauty and fertility.

God envelops His people as an atmosphere by which they are revived as with fresh dew from on high. No man hath seen Him at any time, yet it is His invisible power that quickens and sustains us all; it is not the things that we can touch, taste, or handle, but that God who is “through all, and in you all, and over all.” As the air lies close to every living thing and enters into its being, so also does He; and the health and the joy of our souls depend on our receiving, in all its purity, that spiritual atmosphere which is the very breath of our life. But the special point suggested by the text is, that this God who is so near to us all brings with Him elements of tender refreshment, which are like dew to revive our hearts amid the wear and tear, the dust and weariness of existence.

It is peculiarly true of the dew that it moistens everything where it falls; it leaves not one leaf unvisited; there is not a tiny blade of grass on which the diamond drops do not descend; every leaf and stem of the bush is burdened with the precious load. Just so it is peculiarly true of the Spirit, that there is not a faculty, there is not an affection, or power, or passion of the soul on which the Spirit does not descend, working through all, refreshing, reviving, renewing, re-creating all.1 [Note: R. M. McCheyne.]

Sarah Smiley, in speaking of the preciousness of early communings with God, says: “It is one of the rarest exceptions when no dew falls in my garden, and perhaps it is nourished even more in this way than by the rains. As I go to my morning work among the flowers, the dew rests everywhere, often as heavily as though a shower had fallen—that is, everywhere that there is life to receive it; for I do not find the dew upon the garden paths, nor on any barren spot. But every leaf is laden and every flower is fresh from this baptism by the hand of God. And as I lightly stir the soil around my flowers, where it is becoming hard and impervious to air, these heavy dews contribute their small quota of rich refreshing to the soil itself.” Then Sarah Smiley applies the spiritual lesson of the early dew, “Oh, blessed dew of the Spirit of God! How faithful and constant is Thy coming! How Thou visitest us in the still hours and in the hours of shadow! How dost Thou utter Thy wisdom almost inaudibly! We see no cloud, we hear no sound, and yet Thy presence is with us and our souls are rejoicing. Thy love bathes our souls with delight. We bow down beneath its pressure in adoring gratitude. The fragrance of our souls goes forth to Thee as every pore of our being opens at this soft touch. We are alone with Thee, and Thou speakest to our hearts. Thou canst not come to us thus in the broad light of the busy day. We bless Thee for the still hours in which our souls are charged anew with life.”1 [Note: F. E. Marsh, Emblems of the Holy Spirit, 200]

3. The dew is a fit emblem of God. It is one of His own creations. Like all the works of His hand, it was made in the love of it, and in the joy of the mission on which He was to send it. It therefore pictured the heart which begat it. In itself it is a truth as to God. He needed but to say, “I will be as the dew,” to tell us that He Himself would bless us, even as, in the dew, He blesses the plants. To slake our thirst, to feed our life, to touch us into loveliness, and to thrill us into fruitfulness, we need God Himself. No angel is mighty enough to undertake the task; no gift is of any avail. God does not therefore send: He comes: “I will be as the dew.” The fitness of dew as an emblem of God may easily be seen.

(1) The appearance of the dew has always filled men with a sense of mystery. The dew neither rises nor falls. It neither comes down from heaven nor rises out of the earth; it is distilled from the air. As the sun sets, the air cools and deposits on the place of need the vapour it can no longer hold. The dew is thus ever at hand—hidden yet becoming more intimately manifest when evening falls. Both the Old Testament and New Testament assure us that God is not far from us—“He is very nigh thee.” Wonderful is His appearing, as on some Emmaus road, when the heart is bruised and life is exhausted; in the gloaming of the day He comes to heal us.

On the poor heart worn out with toil Thy Word

Falls soft and gentle as the evening shower.

And yet how mild and familiar this wonderful economy of Nature has become, inspiring no dread, arousing no suspicion, creating no fear, but simply accepted as a gracious, providential arrangement that, despite the fact that it seems so incomprehensible, may be safely left to its close and constant contact with our earthly life! And God Himself, who does all these things, is not more easy of comprehension. Though, like the dew, He is in close and familiar contact with us, He is infinitely beyond the grasp of our understanding, and before His great and glorious attributes our penetration is baffled and our apprehension confounded. Everywhere we may discern the evidence of His existence and the manifestations of His glory; yet to mortal eye He is invisible, and we can nowhere discover the place where His honour dwelleth.

(2) The dew comes quietly. It has a great work to do, but it uses no force, makes no noise, shows no sign. Gardens, fields, forests are to be revived. Gems, with a secret of life in them, are to be laid into each uplifted hand of grass, and leaf, and spray. There is an infinitude of business, but no token of the worker. We witness the vast result, but not the operation. The whole meadow and mountain have been baptized into a fresh, pure life, but no one caught a glimpse of the finger from which the dewdrop fell; and the foot that bore the blessing has left no print.

When God comes to our soul, as to His field, He comes thus quietly. We hear no footfall; we feel no touch; we mark no motion of the miracle that is being done. We are born again; and we may note it, and remember it no more than in the case of our first birth. Gods work on us is a secret with Himself. We recognize it only by its result. Our spirit is quickened: we are alive with the life of God. With eager faith we draw in the refreshing, strengthening truths which bathe our soul. In each of these, as the sun in a dewdrop, we see the shining Sun of heavenly love. We are glorious with a glory which is all the gift of God.

(3) There is power in the dew. “Only a dewdrop,” we carelessly say—a thing of light and beauty, quivering in our sight for a little space with ephemeral radiance, and then lost in the sunbeam, scattered by an insects flight, or wafted to destruction by a breath of morning air. Yes; but there is power in the dewdrop. It represents a force far transcending the potency of mechanical contrivance or dynamic agency—the force that gladdens the wilderness and the solitary place, and causes the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. For though it is only a dewdrop it sparkles with the glory of a new creation, and hides within its jewelled bosom the freshening might that maketh all things new. And God will be as the dew unto Israel—uniting in Himself this gentleness and force, and in all the relations He sustains to us, giving to them glorious manifestation.

There is more energy imprisoned in a drop of dew than is liberated by a thunderstorm.1 [Note: Sir Michael Faraday.]

(4) The dew comes seasonably. It comes when it is needed, and when it can gain its end. The very existence of the dew indicates a loss sustained by Nature and a provision in Nature for repairing that loss. The absorbing effects of the suns heat not only tell upon the earth in stimulating its demand for moisture, but they likewise produce those variations of temperature which ensure its supply. They cool the surface of the earth, on the one hand, and warm the volume of the atmosphere, on the other; and as the ambient air, laden with generous gifts, broods over the soil, where the springs of life have been drained and the energies of growth are flagging, it feels the cool touch of lips that plead for refreshing, and of faces upturned for benediction, and at once the pearly drops condense and gather that they may afford the fertilizing supply.

There are seasons in our religious experience when the chill of fear or of failure changes our spiritual state; seasons, too, in the Church, when the low and lifeless tone of its fellowship is a true index of its spiritual dearth. Life is not lost, but it has become torpid; and we need that energizing touch of Divine grace which our very benumbed condition provokes to quicken us.

The principal seasons when a provision of the nature of dew is needed in the Holy Land, and when it is so abundantly given, are summer and autumn. Then six consecutive months of drought occur regularly, even under the most favourable circumstances. From about the first week in May to the middle of October, in the usual course, no drop of rain falls, and throughout the twelve hours of each day the sun shines with great strength, unveiled by a single cloud. In the autumn the thermometer has been known to register 118° Fahrenheit in the shade of the hot plains. In other words, the dew comes in just where and when it is most needed, adding greatly to its benefits by the timeliness of its coming.

I am glad to believe that this is in accordance with the modes of Divine working amongst the children of men. The souls who most need the Masters tender care are those whom He most seeks to bless. The moments of our life which are most barren of ordinary joys and blessings are those moments in which we may most securely depend upon the answering help of our Almighty Father. When the heart is parched by drought, and scorched by the sun; when the rain-laden clouds refuse to gather, or gather only to deceive our hopes; when the showers fall not, and we lie barren of hope and joy before God, then—even then, yes, especially then, will He come to us if we truly seek Him.1 [Note: H. C. McCook, The Gospel in Nature, 38.]

II

The Blessing of the Dew

The prophets familiarity with Nature, however, carried him a long way past the point of merely accepting the dew as a symbol of Gods relationship to Israel. He knew that fertility was begotten of the dew. Where it was given it was natural to expect growth. The response of fields and vineyards to its productive presence was fruitfulness and plenty; and so, in a figure, the result is applied to Israel in this splendid picture of human responsiveness to Gods gracious influence: “He shall blossom as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.”

1. When God heals the backsliding of Israel, “he shall blossom as the lily.” Long after this word was spoken by the lips of the prophet, Jesus walked our fields and pointed to the purple-crowned flower. He bade us see, in its curving petals and rich tints, the very perfection of beauty. No show that even Solomon could make, when decked in royal robes, was equal to the glory of the lily-bloom. But Gods heart cannot rest there. To create and to behold even such exquisite loveliness is not enough. Soon the lily fades; and it dies, having had no joy in its own beauty, and no communion with its own Creator. God yearns for a deathless flower, whose grace shall ever grow under His smile, and whose heart shall understand and answer His.

The white Julienne was a special favourite with the unfortunate Marie Antoinette. She was shut up in the most loathsome apartment of the Conciergerie, and a soldier was stationed in a corner of the room to watch over her night and day. Madame Richard, a keeper of the prison, who pitied the poor queen, brought her every day bouquets of the flowers she loved, thus tempering the putrid miasmas of the place with sweet perfumes.1 [Note: J. N. Norton, The Kings Ferry Boat, 136.]

2. As the result of Gods presence, Israel “shall cast forth his roots as Lebanon.” This does not refer to the roots of that giant range that slope away down under the depths of the Mediterranean. That is a beautiful emblem, but it is not in line with the other images in the context. As these are all dependent on the promise of the dew, and represent different phases of the results of its fulfilment, it is natural to expect this much uniformity in their variety, that they shall all be drawn from plant life. If so, we must suppose a condensed metaphor here, and take “Lebanon” to mean the forests which another prophet calls “the glory of Lebanon.” The characteristic tree in these, as we all know, was the cedar. It is named in Hebrew by a word which is connected with that for “strength.” It stands as the very type and emblem of stability and vigour.

Galilee is literally the casting forth of the roots of Lebanon. As the supports of a great oak run up above ground, so the gradual hills of Galilee rise from Esdraelon and Jordan and the Phoenician coast upon that tremendous northern mountain. It is not Lebanon, however, but the opposite range of Hermon, which dominates the view. Among his own roots Lebanon is out of sight; whereas that long glistening ridge, standing aloof, always brings the eye back to itself. In the heat of summer harvesters from every field lift their hearts to Hermons snow; and heavy dews by night they call his gift. How closely Hermon was identified with Galilee, is seen from his association with the most characteristic of the Galilæan hills: Tabor and Hermon rejoice in Thy name.2 [Note: G. A. Smith.]

3. “His branches shall spread.” The branches of the cedar are spreading branches, and their grateful shade makes welcome provision for rest, for shelter, and for social assembly. It is this aspect of the cedar that makes it so worthy a type of friendliness and protection, and clothes it with the special attribute of genial sociability; and it is this characteristic in the human response to Divine impulse and blessing that needs special attention from Christian men and Christian Churches. The Christian life is a spreading life.

One of the strange freaks of Japanese horticulture is the cultivation of dwarf trees. The Japanese grow forest giants in flowerpots. Some of these strange miniature trees are a century old, and are only two or three feet high. The gardener, instead of trying to get them to grow to their best, takes infinite pains to keep them little. His purpose is to grow dwarfs, not giant trees. From the time of their planting they are repressed, starved, crippled, stunted. When buds appear, they are nipped off. So the tree remains only a dwarf all its life.

Some Christian people seem to do the same thing with their lives. They do not allow themselves to grow. They rob themselves of spiritual nourishment, restrain the noble impulses of their nature, shut out of their hearts the power of the Holy Spirit, and are only dwarf Christians when they might be strong in Christ Jesus, with the abundant life which the Master wants all His followers to have.1 [Note: J. R. Miller, Our New Edens, 68.]

If there be some weaker one,

Give me strength to help him on;

If a blinder soul there be,

Let me guide him nearer Thee.

Make my mortal dreams come true

With the work I fain would do;

Clothe with life the weak intent,

Let me be the thing I meant;

Let me find in Thy employ

Peace that dearer is than joy;

Out of self to love be led,

And to heaven acclimated,

Until all things sweet and good

Seem my natures habitude.2 [Note: J. G. Whittier, Andrew Rykmans Prayer.]

4. “His beauty shall be as the olive tree.” Anybody who has ever seen a grove of olives knows that their beauty is not such as strikes the eye. If it were not for the blue sky overhead that rays down glorifying light they would not be much to look at or talk about. The tree has a gnarled, grotesque trunk which divides into insignificant branches, bearing leaves mean in shape, harsh in texture, with a silvery underside. It gives but a quivering shade and has no massiveness or symmetry. Ay! but there are olives on the branches. And so the beauty of the humble tree is in what it grows for mans good. After all, it is the outcome in fruitfulness that is the main thing about us. Gods meaning, in all His gifts of dew, and beauty, and purity, and strength, is that we should be of some use in the world.

The glory of the tree—with all its spreading boughs and glistening leaves—would have been but a poor boast, if it had been of no use. Its true majesty was the homelier glory of serving well the heaven that bathed it and the earth that bore it. Its “goodly” fruit yielded oil for the lamps in the house of God, and even for the sacrifices on the holy altar. It no less ministered in many ways to man. It was used for food and for medicine, and also for ointments to cheer and beautify.

There is a story that when the foundations of what was afterwards the capital of Greece were laid a dispute arose between Neptune and Minerva as to which should have the honour of naming it. The council of the gods decided that it should be given to the one who bestowed the most useful gift. Thereupon Neptune, striking the ground angrily with his trident, produced a horse, but Minerva, copying his action and smiling with disdain, struck the earth with a spear and called forth an olive tree. That was agreed to be the more useful gift, and so Minerva gave the city one of her own names, Athena; hence we have Athens to-day.1 [Note: T. Hind, The Treasures of the Snow, 66.]

I know a nature like a tree;

Men seek its shade instinctively.

It is a choir for singing birds,

A covert for the flocks and herds.

It grows and grows, nor questions why,

But reaches up into the sky,

And stretches down into the soil,

Finding no trouble in its toil.

It flaunts no scar to tell of pain,

Self-healed its wounds have closed again

Unaided by its pensioners;

And yet I know that great heart stirs

To each appeal and claim, indeed

Leans to their lack and needs their need.1 [Note: Alice W. Bailey.]

5. “His smell as Lebanon.” There is something very mysterious about perfume. No one can describe it. You cannot take a photograph of it. Yet it is a very essential quality of the flower. The same is true of that strange thing we call influence. Influence is the aroma of a life. The most important thing about our life is this subtle, imponderable, indefinable, mysterious element of our personality which is known as influence. This is really all of us that counts in our final impression on other lives.

Growth is to be felt as well as seen. Our advancement in the Divine life is not always proclaimed as the addition of cubits to a mans stature may be told, or by such tokens as are hailed as proofs of material increase. No; but by other media and through an appeal to other senses. For, just as in the palmy days of the Temple service at Jerusalem there were gorgeous ceremonies of worship that riveted the worshippers eye and touched the worshippers soul, while only the pungent sweetness of the frankincense, as it filled the courts of the sanctuary, could fix the blind mans attention and move his heart: so in the great service of life the precious fragrance of a holy walk and conversation will indicate the presence of a hidden sanctity, and tell of growth Godward and heavenward even more convincingly than any other evidence of which we can boast.

Natures forces carry their atmosphere. The sun gushes forth light unquenchable; coals throw off heat; violets are larger in influence than bulk; pomegranates and spices crowd the house with sweet odours. Man also has his atmosphere. He is a force-bearer and a force-producer. He journeys forward, exhaling influences. Scientists speak of the magnetic circle. Artists express the same idea by the halo of light emanating from the Divine head. Business men understand this principle; those skilled in promoting great enterprises bring the men to be impressed into a room and create an atmosphere around them. Had we tests fine enough we would doubtless find each mans personality the centre of outreaching influences. He himself may be utterly unconscious of this exhalation of moral forces, as he is of the contagion of disease from his body. But if light is in him, he shines; if darkness rules, he shades; if his heart glows with love, he warms; if frozen with selfishness, he chills; if corrupt, he poisons; if pure-hearted, he cleanses. We watch with wonder the apparent flight of the sun through space, glowing upon dead planets, shortening winter and bringing summer, with birds, leaves, and fruits. But that is not half so wonderful as the passage of a human heart, glowing and sparkling with ten thousand effects, as it moves through life. Gentle as is the atmosphere about us, it presses with a weight of fourteen pounds to the square inch. No infants hand feels its weight; no leaf of aspen or wing of bird detects this heavy pressure, for the fluid air presses equally in all directions. Just so gentle, yet so powerful, is the moral atmosphere of a good man as it presses upon and shapes his kind.1 [Note: N. D. Hillis, The Investment of Influence, 13.]

In his reply to the addresses of appreciation which were delivered at the meeting held to celebrate his seventieth birthday, Dr. Miller said: “My one purpose is to fill the years so full of humble, loving service that every birthday shall mark a year of complete consecration to the Master. I feel as Louis Kossuth said: I would like my life to resemble the dew, which falls so noiselessly through the night, and just as silently passes away, soon as the rays of the mornings sun beam upon the earth. Unnoticed by mens eyes, save for an occasional iridescent sparkle here and there upon some blade of grass, it is drawn upward and passes away—but all that it has touched is freshened and beautified by its silent yet potent presence. ”2 [Note: J. T. Faris, Jesus and I are Friends: The Life of Dr. J. R. Miller, 251.]

It is not growing like a tree

In bulk, doth make man better be;

Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,

To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:

A lily of a day

Is fairer far in May,

Although it fall and die that night,—

It was the plant and flower of Light.

In small proportions we just beauties see;

And in short measures life may perfect be.3 [Note: Ben Jonson]

The Blessing of the Dew

Literature

Burns (D.), Sayings in Symbol, 151.

Comrie (A.), Memorial Sermons, 158.

Farncomb (Dora), In the Garden with Him, 17.

Gibbon (J. M.), In the Days of Youth, 52.

Gregory (J. R.), in Thanksgiving Sermons, 77.

Henry (P.), Christ All in All, 201.

Hind (T.), The Treasures of the Snow, 56.

Lambert (J. C.), Three Fishing Boats, 79.

Litchfield (G.), The House of the Potter, 40.

McCook (H. C.), The Gospel in Nature, 30.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Ezekiel to Malachi, 134.

Miller (J. R.), Our New Edens, 63.

Norton (J. N.), The Kings Ferry-Boat, 135.

Pearse (M. G.), Parables and Pictures, 95.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, iii. 57.

Purves (P. C.), The Gospel according to Hosea, 29.

Raleigh (A.), Quiet Resting Places, 23.

Ritson (J.), Life, 193.

Sadler (M. F.), Sermon Outlines, 285.

Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 135.

Smith (W. C.), Sermons, 66.

Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, vi. (1860), No. 342.

Thompson (J.), Words of Hope and Cheer, 109.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xii. (1875), No. 919.

Watkinson (W. L.), Studies in Christian Character, i. 237.

Childrens Pulpit: Nature Talks to the Young, xvii. 58 (G. Calthrop).

Christian World Pulpit, xxviii. 20 (W. H. Tetley).

Churchmans Pulpit: Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, xiii. 260 (H. Greene).

National Preacher, xl. 253 (J. M. Sherwood).