Repentance Makes the Difference
Ashur will not save us, we will not ride on horses, and we will no longer call what we made with our hands our gods. For it is only in you that the fatherless can find mercy. (Hosea 14:4; CJB [English: 14:3])
This verse is found near the end of the book of the prophet Hosea and is part of a section that refers to a time of great spiritual renewal for the people of Israel. These words express deep repentance. Repentance is the act of turning from living life our own way to living life God's way. Israel had been commanded by God to trust and obey him according to his directives given through Moses and affirmed by the prophets. This verse covers a wide range of ungodly attitudes and behaviors from which they will finally turn.
First, "Ashur will not save us". The Hebrew name "Ashur" refers to the then powerful Assyrian Empire. Hosea prophesies that the day would come when Israel would no longer look to foreign powers for protection and help. Small nations like Israel then (or now) have a difficult time fending for themselves without the good will of powerful, influential nations. But Israel was not alone. God promised to be with them. It was God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt. It was God who cared for them in the wilderness. It was God who enabled them to conquer the Promised Land. Yet they looked to political alliances instead of this same God to rescue them from trouble.
Second, "we will not ride on horses". This is not saying the Israelites would one day refuse for any reason to ride horses. It's not saying they would refuse to ride horses in battle. What it is saying is similar to the first statement. It's saying that Israel would no longer put their faith in the equipment of war to rescue them. We tend to think of our current era as the technological age, which is true to an extent. But humans from the beginning designed and developed innovative solutions for all sorts of reasons. This includes taming horses for work and for battle. The use of animals and objects as tools is not wrong in itself, but relying on our ingenuity instead of God demonstrates a gross misunderstanding as to the place of God in our lives. If God doesn't bless our technology and guide us in its use, we will find ourselves working against his plans and purposes.
Third, "we will no longer call what we made with our hands our gods." Certainly this is primarily a reference to the creation of idols to worship, but it represents much more than that. The prohibition against idolatry was designed not only to preserve a right understanding of the identity and nature of the true God, it also directed the people away from placing inordinate affection on things of our own making. Only God is God, something we have too easily forgotten.
And finally, "For it is only in you that the fatherless can find mercy." This is stating in the positive what the other three statements express negatively. The fatherless in ancient Israel were without means of natural protection and provision, making them along with widows the most vulnerable members of society. Declaring that the most vulnerable find mercy in God is a confident expression that God is capable, willing, and trustworthy to provide needed help to the society in general.
The essence of Israel's repentance is an acknowledgement that political and military power, human ingenuity, and man-made religion are insufficient to provide the kind of help they so desperately need as a people. All they ever needed is only found in God, the reality of which is available right now to not only Israel, but to all people through Israel's Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth.
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