The Glorious Outcome Of Revival
By Ted S. Rendall
Scripture Reading: Hosea 14
"They shall be revived…" (Hos. 14:7). This is the key that unlocks for us the treasures of revival truth in Hosea’s final chapter. It is God’s desire that His beaten, barren, backslidden people be gloriously revived, and this precious promise guarantees that with revival comes growth that is assured and abundant.
The Prophet Hosea ministered in Israel, the nation composed of ten tribes, the largest of which was Ephraim. As we learn from Genesis 41:52, Ephraim means the "fruitful" one. That is why Hosea incorporates many references in his preaching from the idea of being either fruitful or fruitless. Take the idea of being fruitless and think of Hosea 9:16, "Ephraim [the fruitful one] is stricken, their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit...."
Conversely, think of being fruitful. In another great revival text, Hosea preaches God’s demands: "Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord...." (Hos. 10:12). Now you can see why in chapter 14, Hosea expresses the message of revival in agricultural terms. The divine promise is that the one who has become barren through sin can be blessed and restored to a life of great fruitfulness for God.
If that is your need right now, I want to show you how you can be revived and restored to a condition where in terms of Jesus’ teaching, you bear fruit, more fruit, much fruit, and fruit that will remain (see John 15:2-5, 16). To experience this transformation from barrenness to blessing, we must grasp what the prophet is saying to us about revival, including how revival is the key to supernatural growth.
The Offer of Revival
First, we must accept the offer of revival. In verses 1-3 of Hosea 14, the God of grace offers His people a blueprint for blessing. Let me stress that significant truth: In our feebleness and fruitlessness God comes to us with an offer to restore us to the place of usefulness and fruitfulness. As Norman Grubb explained, "God Himself is the great Reviver." True revival consists in becoming rightly related to Him.
This offer of revival incorporates two essential features of the way to blessing. First of all, this divine offer recognizes the seriousness of our sin. See how the prophet begins: "O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity" (v. 1). Since God is able to keep us from stumbling (Jude 24), then it is sin alone that is responsible for our stumbling in the pathway of light. Have you stumbled recently? Then identify immediately what iniquity has caused you to stumble and fall.
In Israel’s case, it was her passion for false gods, for idols. These caused her to constantly stumble. The Apostle John closed his first letter with a warning and an appeal: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21), and by idols he was not necessarily referring to idols of gold and silver and stone. An idol for a Christian can be an ambition, an amusement, an association, an affection or an addiction that comes between God and myself and renders me fruitless.
Sadly, some of God’s people are not recognizing the seriousness of their sin against God. Some say glibly, "Oh, it’s nothing serious! God will overlook it." And even more saddening, they are being told Christians do not have to confess their sins. That is not what God is saying to His people here. Instead, He says, "...You have stumbled because of your iniquity" (Hos. 14:1).
But notice secondly, this divine offer reveals the steps to renewal and growth. This is the way back for the believer who has stumbled because of his sin. There are five simple steps here:
RETURN. We must return to the Lord our God. "O Israel, return to the Lord your God..." (v. 1). As we listen to this appeal, we must catch something of the passion and compassion of the Lord as He invites His people back into fellowship and fruitfulness. When we stumble on the highway of holiness, God does not leave us to get back on our feet alone; rather He lifts us up and strengthens us for the next mile of the journey.
REQUEST cleansing and acceptance: "Take words with you, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously...’" (v. 2). Here God is giving us a pattern prayer to pray when we come before Him. "Take away all iniquity…." Are you prepared for that? Are you ready to be set free not only from the guilt of your iniquity but the grip of your iniquity? Consider how Micah the prophet describes what God can do. He begins, "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?" (Mic. 7:18). That takes care of the guilt of our sin. Micah continues: "He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities..." (vv. 18-19). That takes care of the grip of our iniquities. Praise God! We are set free both from the condemnation and the control of our sins!
RESOLVE to give God praise: "...For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips" (Hos. 14:2). Now that is a most interesting phrase: "the sacrifices of our lips" – literally, the full calves of our lips. What does that mean? Well, God is comparing the praise and thanksgiving of our lips to the full calves that were offered on the altar of sacrifice. And because God is not content with animal sacrifices, the people are exhorted to offer the sacrifice of their lips. God still wants the sacrifices of our lips. In Hebrews 13:15 we read: "Therefore by Him [that is, the Lord Jesus] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."
RENOUNCE. There is a fourth essential step. In returning to God I must renounce all other sources of help. "Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses. Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods...’" (Hos. 14:3). It is important to see these words as involving a complete renunciation on the part of God’s people of everything they had trusted in during their backsliding. In Hosea’s time they trusted in two things: 1) alliances with world powers, such as Assyria; and 2) idols, especially the various Baals. And here they are called upon to renounce these flimsy, false resources once and for all.
RECOGNIZE God’s Fatherly mercy. The final step is given to us in the end of verse three – "…In You the fatherless finds mercy." Here is the reason why we gladly jettison the false gods. We sometimes observe that the revelation of God as Father is a New Testament doctrine, and certainly our Lord Jesus deepened that truth in His teaching, but there are hints of it in the Old Testament. Here is one such hint. Since God is the Father of His people, "the fatherless finds mercy" in Him. There is a lovely picture of God as the Father of His people in Hosea 11:3 – "I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms...." Can you picture Him, coaxing and coaching and cuddling His children? Oh, how merciful He is to us who fail Him so often!
The Origin of Revival
Having accepted the offer of revival and renewal, we must recognize the origin of revival. We read in Hosea’s message from the Lord: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel…" (14:4-5).
Now it is essential that we give careful thought to these promises, for many people have the idea that revival is somehow produced by man. There are those, for example, who believe that if we can come up with a new plan or program, a new formula or format, we can usher in the revival we long for. There are those who look to preachers and evangelists to stir and stimulate God’s people into revival blessing. But notice that in these verses from Hosea, the emphasis is on God’s part, God’s action. Here revival is seen as God’s work. The three "I wills" confirm this beyond a doubt. Look at them and the accompanying pictures of God:
The Great Physician. The first picture of God shows Him as the great Physician. God says, "I will heal their backsliding." Why "heal" their backsliding? Because backsliding results in all kinds of bruises and hurts and sores that need "the balm of Gilead" (Jer. 8:22). There is a remarkable picture of God in Hosea 5:14-15 in which He says about His people, "I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah [the southern kingdom]. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue. I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." The response of Israel and Judah immediately follows: "Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up..." (6:1-2). Have you ever heard of someone being seriously mauled by a lion and being raised up and healed completely in three days? That is supernatural healing, and when God heals us spiritually He raises us up to abundant life.
The Loving Parent. Along with the first gracious promise to heal our backsliding, the Lord gives this second promise: "I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him." Here is the response of the loving Parent. The Lord has just invited His repentant people to return to Him, for in God "the fatherless finds mercy." And now here is the Father’s promise: "I will love [you] freely." A good illustration of this is the story of the prodigal son who returned home. When he stammered out his confession, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son," his father loved him freely, and commanded his servants to bring the best robe, the golden ring, the comfortable sandals which spoke of his rank as a member of the family, and then held a great feast on his behalf (see Luke 15:11-32). When the backslider returns, the Lord loves him freely. Why not come and experience His blessing and bounty?
The Powerful Preserver. We have seen the Lord’s response as the great Physician and the loving Parent, but there is more. We see Him now as the powerful Preserver: "I will be like the dew to Israel." There is a whole message in this promise. Here is a summary of what the Bible says about dew both as a physical phenomenon as well as a powerful picture of spiritual influence:
• Farming, we know, in the land of Israel was dependent not only upon seasonal rains but upon recurring plentiful dews.
• Isaac prays for a blessing upon the one he thought was Esau: "May God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine" (Gen. 27:28).
• When God’s favor gave way to a frown, He withdrew the dew from the fields of His people. Elijah announced: "...As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except by my word" (1 Kgs. 17:1).
• When God smiled upon His people after their exile, the dew was restored, so we have His promise in Zechariah 8:12, "The seed shall be prosperous, the vine shall give its fruit, the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew..." (cf. Deut. 33:28).
• God’s people saw in the blessing of dew, a picture of various refreshing qualities. "[The king’s] favor is like dew on the grass" (Prov. 19:12). Moses says in Deuteronomy 32:2, "Let my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass."
Now we can see why God says to His repentant people, "I will be like the dew to Israel." He will grant to them His favor, and His word will act like refreshing dew in their minds and hearts.
One of the consequences of backsliding is barrenness caused by spiritual drought, when everything is spiritually dry. But when we return to the Lord we experience His favor as dew upon the grass. What a picture and what a promise! Herbert Lockyer, the English Bible teacher, put it this way: "Here we have represented in the dew the secret, unnoticed, yet effectual work of the Spirit."
The Order of Revival
We have listened to the offer of revival. We have identified the origin of revival. We must now grasp the order of revival. Hosea must have loved the fields and the forests, for in this next section, Hosea 14:5b-7, he draws heavily upon the world of God’s creation to set forth spiritual truth. Hosea had watched the farmers and the keepers of the vineyards going about their work. He saw the seed being sown, he understood the importance of the root system to a plant, he looked up at the branches of the great trees, he saw the buds bursting into flower on the fruit trees and vines, and at harvest time he rejoiced in the bountiful harvest supplied by God.
In all of this, Hosea saw a remarkable picture of God’s renewing work in the lives of His people, especially when they return to Him in true repentance. Consider the significance of some of these pictures.
Seed. The whole process begins, of course, with seed, and in 14:7 the prophet refers to grain: "They shall be revived like grain…." This was a symbol that our Lord Jesus used at a strategic point in His own life: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24). Of course, He was referring first to Himself as the grain of wheat and to us as the fruit of His falling into the ground and dying. But He now calls upon every one of His children to undergo this essential step to fruitfulness. If we avoid it or evade it, we remain alone – that is, our lives bear no fruit; but if we accept it and accede to it, we produce much fruit.
Roots. Next we come to the root system. In Hosea 14:5, the Lord promises Ephraim (the fruitful one) that He will lengthen his roots like Lebanon – that is, like the great cedar trees of Lebanon. We all recognize that the root system of a tree is absolutely essential for the growth of that tree, and that is true of all plants. One of my favorite promises in Scripture is Isaiah 37:31, "The remnant who have escaped...shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward." Have you got the picture? God wants you to develop your root system that you may be a fruitful Christian!
Did you notice the verb used in Hosea 14:5 – "lengthen" – "he…will lengthen his roots"? Oh that this were true of us, that we may be "rooted and built up in [the Lord Jesus]"! (Col. 2:7).
The Trunk. Now comes the trunk of the tree. In verse five, Hosea refers to the trees of Lebanon, specifically the great cedars of Lebanon. Once there must have been forests of these trees growing on the hills of Lebanon. In Scripture, cedars are described as tall (2 Kgs. 19:23), mighty (Psa. 80:10), goodly (Ezek. 17:22) and excellent (Song 5:15). You will discover promises such as: "The trees of the Lord are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which He planted" (Psa. 104:16). And it is instructive to note that in one place the cedars are described as being planted "beside the waters" (Num. 24:6), suggesting that their roots had reached out to the sources of water, enabling them to prosper – as Job said in Job 29:19, "My root is spread out to the waters...."
The Branches. But a tree is not just roots and trunk. In Hosea 14:6, there is a reference to the branches of the tree: "His branches shall spread" – literally, "His branches shall go!" On the branches of a tree appear buds for both leaves and for flowers. Perhaps the branches represent to us all the ways we can reach out to touch other lives. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the church branching out and going out in all directions to fulfill the Great Commission. That is still God’s program – the branches of the church "going out" to all nations.
The Buds. We have already alluded to the buds – the promise of leaves and flowers. These are the proof and promise of life, and in 14:6, we have a reference to "the beauty like an olive tree" – with its dark green leaves and flowers. But the Lord refers also to the fragrance of the cedars of Lebanon. This may refer to the needles, the cones, indeed to the trunks of the trees themselves. Beauty and fragrance – these are properties promised by God.
In winter some trees stand bare, bereft of leaves and flowers, and it is hard to tell whether the tree is dead or alive. But wait until springtime arrives, and a miracle takes place. On every branch and twig appear the signs of life with their promise of fruitfulness. How we need to pray, "Lord, bring back the springtime!"
The Fruit. All of this leads to the fruit on the tree. Responding to God’s promise of fertility and fruitfulness, Ephraim (the fruitful one) cries out, "What have I to do anymore with idols?" (14:8). That is the only decision that one who has become the recipient of God’s grace and goodness can make. The repentant believer gives up his love of idols and renews his covenant to love the Lord alone. God’s response to this fervent decision is captured in the rest of 14:8 – "I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; your fruit is found in Me." Here God offers Himself to the "fruitless one" as both stability (the cypress tree) and fruitfulness.
The Outcome of Revival
In the light of all this rich teaching we can now identify and specify what will be the outcome of revival, based on God’s Word and His work. We may expect five wonderful results when we return to God:
Growth. First there is growth. This is a key concept in the whole chapter, but it is specifically brought out in the promises, "He shall grow like the lily…and grow like a vine" (14:5b, 7c). Although there is a difference of opinion as to which flower is meant by the lily, this kind of flower had a bulb which supplied the plant with food even in times of drought, reminding us that God supplies His people with life even in the toughest times. To grow like the vine speaks of luxuriant growth, culminating in great fruitfulness. Taken together these figures teach us that spiritual growth as a result of revival is both assured and abundant.
Beauty. Then there is beauty: "His beauty shall be like an olive tree" (14:6b). An olive tree with its dark green leaves is said to be a most attractive tree. We sing – and rightly so – "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me." Moses teaches us to pray: "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us..." (Psa. 90:17), and we have the promise of Psalm 149:4, "[The Lord] will beautify the humble with salvation."
Fragrance. Growth, beauty and now fragrance. Twice the Lord assures His people that one of the results of revival is fragrance of life: "And his fragrance like Lebanon" (Hos. 14:6), and again in verse seven, "...Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon." In the Song of Solomon we read: "…The vines with the tender grapes give a good smell" (2:13). The reference is to that which is blown or wafted and suggests the attractiveness of our witness and influence for God. Referring to the Messiah, the psalmist says, "All Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, by which they have made You glad" (Psa. 45:8). And again in the Song of Solomon we read: "…The fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon" (4:11). If we spend time with our Lord, we too shall spread abroad the fragrance of His name, so that all we do will rise to God as a sweet-smelling aroma, acceptable, well pleasing to God (see Philippians 4:18).
Shade. In Hosea 14:7 there is an aspect most wonderful, but often overlooked. "Those who dwell under his shadow" – that is Ephraim, or perhaps God Himself – "shall return." Here is shade for the benefit of others. This is a very familiar figure in the Scriptures – all the way from Abimelech who invited others to make him king and said, "Come and take shelter in my shade" (Judg. 9:15), to the Shulamite who said concerning her beloved, "I sat down in his shade with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste" (Song 2:3), to that marvelous prophecy concerning the Lord Jesus found in Ezekiel 17:23 where He is described as a great cedar tree: "On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell." If you are united to Christ, are you providing shade for others? Do those who are weary and exhausted in the heat of life’s trials come to you for shade and shelter? God intends His people to offer shade for those needy people around us.
Fruit. We come to the last and greatest promise: "Your fruit is found in Me" (Hos. 14:8d). This is the preeminent outcome of revival. He who once was fruitless becomes fruitful [Ephraim!] through a living union with God. Whenever there is true revival God’s people are "filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11), and become "fruitful in every good work" (Col. 1:10). The ultimate purpose of a fruit tree is not foliage or flowers or even fragrance, but fruit, more fruit, much fruit, and fruit that will remain (see John 15).
In Daniel 4 we have the vision of King Nebuchadnezzar. I want to appropriate it and apply it to the message of Hosea 14. It is a description of a great tree: "I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong; its height reached to the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of all the earth. Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, the birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it" (Dan. 4:10-12).
Why should God’s people not be like that tree? If a pagan king’s kingdom could be described in such glowing terms, although it never offered all the benefits envisioned, why should not the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ be even more influential and beneficial?
And what is the great secret of such blessing? In describing the redwood trees, which grow to over 350 feet, Rutherford Platt in his book The Great American Forest states, "The extreme tallness of redwoods is the result of their location in deep valleys between steep mountainsides, where most of the sunlight comes from directly overhead. Everybody with house plants on a window sill has seen how they grow in the direction of maximum light. By the same token, redwood trees reach up and up, literally pulled by the light directly above them."
There is the secret! Living in the light, living in the light of God’s truth, living in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, constantly being pulled upward and homeward. We cry out with the psalmist to God who is Light: "Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy..." (Psa. 43:3-4).
"Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them..." (Hos. 14:9).
– Used by permission. Ted S. Rendall is Chancellor Emeritus of Prairie Bible Institute and a professor at the Stephen Olford Center.