I will heal their backsliding. (Hosea 14:4)
One word describes Israel’s history: backsliding. Two words describe God’s response: chastising and healing. Most of Hosea’s message was about the backsliding and the chastising, but here his theme moves on to the healing.
Hosea’s prophecies tell us that backsliding is very common. Octavius Winslow said, “There is a tendency to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God.” Backsliding requires no effort. You don’t need to do anything to slip away; it is such a gradual process that it is usually unnoticed until it is too late. And this despite preachers like Hosea pointing it out so clearly.
It usually begins in the heart. Love for God and His people diminishes. Reverence for the Bible decreases. Enjoyment of prayer evaporates. Delight in the Lord’s Day fades. It is like an ant removing sand, one grain at a time, from one side of a set of scales to the other. No change is noticed until suddenly the scales tip. Church activity and service may cover up the worrying inward reality for a time, but when the scales eventually tip, outward moral catastrophe is usually imminent. And, as Israel discovered, backsliding and its eventual chastisement is a miserable experience.
Remember Bunyan’s erring pilgrim who had to go back for his mislaid scroll—he ended up covering the same road three times, and it was dangerously late and dark when he finally arrived exhausted at his lodgings. Ask Naomi how bitter backsliding is (Ruth 1:20-21). Ask the prodigal son how depressing backsliding is (Luke 15:17).
But, and here is great encouragement, backsliding can be healed—not by the backslider but by the Lord. “I will heal their backsliding.” No one can return from backsliding except through the merciful intervention of Christ. Look at Peter weeping bitterly over his declension and desertion. Who can restore him? “Go tell the disciples, and Peter…” (Mark 16:7). The Lord intervenes to heal his backsliding. So Israel, and so you, backslidden Christian, look to Christ as the great Healer of backsliding. True grace is indestructible. It may decay but it can never die. Bring your faint embers and remaining sparks to the Lord and say, “Heal my backsliding. Fan my embers into flame.”