GOD LOVES FOR HIS PEOPLE TO BE LOYAL TO HIM

 

Week of February 13, 2011

 

Bible Verses:  Hosea 6:1-7:2.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about the loyalty God expects from His people.

 

God’s Loyalty Allows Us to Return:  Hosea 6:1-3.

 

[1]  "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. [2]  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. [3]  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."  [ESV]

 

The repentance with which these chapters open is ungenuine. Israel had rebelled against God and had suffered for it. A cry for repentance went out: Come, let us return to the Lord. This call was probably voiced with great intensity and even conviction, but it was not genuine. Look over 6:1-3 and see if you can detect what is wrong with this confession. Does Israel seem to be honest, forthright, orthodox? They have the right vocabulary. The two main verbs, return … know, are certainly what God had been calling on the people to do. There is recognition that the hand of God was in their calamities, for He is the One who has torn us … struck us down. These words even have a proper sense of God’s sovereignty and appeal to Him, not on the basis of Israel’s deeds, but of His mercy. If you are a careful reader and understand biblical theology, you will recognize that the essential elements of a true confession are missing. The first element that is missing – indeed, the obvious and almost inescapable element – is a reference to sin. There is acknowledgment of the consequences of Israel’s sin: injury and the absence of God Himself. But there is total non-acknowledgment of the sin that caused them. There is nothing of the acceptable prayer of the publican, referred to by Jesus, who cried out, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! [Luke 18:13]. This has great current application. Much of current American evangelicalism is shallow. It speaks of salvation, but it does not grapple with sin. And since it does not grapple with sin, there can be no true repentance. A second missing element in the alleged repentance recorded in 6:1-3 is a personal relationship with God. This is not as easy to detect as the first omission, the confession of sin, but it is there nonetheless. It is seen in the mechanical way the people conceive of God’s restoring them. The affirmation that Yahweh alone wounds and heals is part of the early confession of faith for the covenant people [see Deut. 32:39]. But the current Israelites twisted the ancient affirmation of faith to link the acts of wounding and healing together as though they were an automatic sequence, an expected cycle of divine work on which the people of God could continually rely upon. But there is no mention of the iniquity of the nation as in chapter 14, no word of the change that must be wrought through judgment. It is always an error to presume this on God. We try to force Him into our little boxes, thinking that in that way we can somehow control Him and get Him to do what we want. But God cannot be thus controlled, and it is the case rather that He conforms us to His wishes. We are never in greater danger than when we assume that He will always forgive us as long as we go through the outward forms of repentance. There are two terrible consequences of our doing this. First, we depersonalize God. Rather than allowing Him to be for us the great personal God who discloses Himself in history and in His written Word, He becomes for us something like a great scientific equation, which can always be expected to work so long as we get the ingredients of the chemical reaction right. We do not worship a God like that; we use Him. Second, we empty the biblical vocabulary – in this case, the words return … know – of meaning. Once Yahweh is thought of in this unhistorical impersonal fashion, the notions of return and know God lose their validity and power for reformation, because they have no focus on the saving history and covenant relation, and so can only stir the current religiosity of Israel. This is true for vast segments of so-called Christianity today. There is no real awareness of sin and turning from it; consequently the biblical terms lose meaning. Sin no longer means rebellion against God and His righteous law, for which we are held accountable, but rather ignorance or the kind of oppression that is imagined to reside in social structures. Jesus becomes our pattern or example, the highest evolutionary peak of humanity, rather than the incarnate God who came to die for our salvation. Salvation ceases to be God moving to redeem us in Christ. Rather it is liberation from the oppression of this world’s structures. Faith is awareness. Evangelism is helping people to become aware. Biblical terms will always lose their meaning until people see themselves as sinners before a holy God, and turn from that sin to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Until that happens our little repentances do not count. We can repent. We can go through all the rituals of religion – going to church, singing hymns, giving money, serving on church boards, even doing “good” deeds – but it will all be worthless so far as finding God is concerned without true repentance.

 

God Expects Loyalty from Us:  Hosea 6:4-6.

 

[4]  What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. [5]  Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. [6]  For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.  [ESV]

 

God acknowledges that the people are crying out. But they are not crying out to Him from their hearts [7:14]. They wail, but they do not turn from their evil way. In 6:4-7 there is a reiteration of the charge God brought against the people in 4:1: There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land. Now, in spite of the protests of repentance with which chapter 6 began, God says that the charge still stands. Look at the accusations that God makes against the people. The first one is a lack of love for God [4]. God says that their love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. This does not mean that the people have a genuine love for God but only that what they do have does not stand the test of time. It means that this love is inadequate and cannot really be called love at all. What the people of Israel probably had in this period was an emotional attachment to the ancient God of their fathers, much the way some people today consider themselves “Christians” because of the genuine faith of their parents or grandparents. The second item in God’s charge is the absence of any true knowledge of Himself [6]. The people claim to want to know God but they want to wrongly define this knowledge in their own way, that is, ritualistically but without any true transformation in their lives. What they want is sacrifice … burnt offerings [6], a ceremony. God wants confession of sin and practice of righteousness and justice by those who claim to know Him. In these ancient days sacrifice was the essential religious act. So it must have sounded strange indeed for Hosea’s hearers to be told that God loves steadfast love and knowledge of Himself rather than burnt offerings. Still, it was true then and is also true today. In fact, we find the same emphasis at many other points in the biblical revelation [see Amos 5:21-24; Isaiah 1:11-17; Psalm 51:16-17]. Outward forms of religion are not accepted by God apart from a repentant heart that seeks God out of a true, steadfast love and faithfulness. The third and final item in God’s charge against the people is unfaithfulness shown in their breaking God’s covenant with them just like Adam [7]. The point is that the rebellion of Israel is something that lies deep in human nature, having been inherited from Adam, and therefore does not surprise God. This does not excuse Israel; for it is they who have broken the covenant. It is merely that they have inherited their unfaithful nature from Adam and may therefore also be said to have broken the covenant in Adam. What is the consequence? It is the same twofold consequence seen in the early history of our race. On the one hand, there was an attempt to cover up sin. On the other hand and at the same time, sin began to abound. One of sin’s tragedies is that it causes us to think it can be hidden. It cannot. God reminds us that it is ever before Him. The only escape from judgment for sin is a true repentance and a turning to God for salvation through the death of Christ.

 

Our Loyalty is Expressed in Right Actions:  Hosea 6:7-7:2.

 

[7]  But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. [8]  Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. [9]  As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. [10]  In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim's whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. [11]  For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people. [1]  When I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed, and the evil deeds of Samaria; for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside. [2]  But they do not consider that I remember all their evil. Now their deeds surround them; they are before my face. [ESV]

 

[7-11]  The concern of verse 7 is how Israel has betrayed Yahweh Himself by transgressing the covenant and dealing faithlessly with Yahweh. The stipulations of the Mosaic covenant were Israel’s law. When broken wholesale, the covenant was negated and Israel brought under its curses. The people were guilty of treason. Gilead is a city of evildoers. This term occurs widely in the Psalms to indicate the enemies of the righteous and of Yahweh. They are here accused of manslaughter, but no further specifics are given. Some brutal uprising must lie behind the accusation against Gilead. The scene shifts in verse 9 to the way to Shechem. Shechem was a major religious and political center, important since patriarchal times [Gen. 33:18-20]. Bands of priests are here condemned for committing premeditated murder there. The scene shifts again to the entire house of Israel rather than any specific location. The two citations of outrageous sins – presumably well known to Hosea’s audience – in verses 8 and 9 are but examples of generalized corruption. God sees a horrible thing, Ephraim’s whoredom and the fact that Israel is unclean, all terms associated with covenant infidelity. The idea that Israelite covenant-breaking was openly visible prepares the way for the descriptions of open sin in 7:1-2, but is also a conclusion based on the incriminating evidence presented in verses 4-9. The corollary concern for the status of Judah and Israel in the restoration period receives attention in verse 11. The foregoing accusations against Ephraim, apart from the particular citations in verses 8-9, must be understood as applying to Judah as well. But Hosea’s message follows the covenantal sanctions with predictions of restoration after punishment. So for the third time in the passage the reader receives a reminder that God will never finally abandon His people. The coming restoration is described as a harvest. This term is occasionally symbolic of either reward or punishment in the Old Testament and can function metaphorically to describe a decisive intervention of God. In light of the pentateuchal blessings in which abundant harvests are a sign of God’s favor, it is likely that harvest here has positive rather than negative connotations. The second half of the promise emphasizes restoration of prosperity and healing.

 

[7:1-2]  Verse 1 pairs Ephraim and Samaria: the whole nation, capital and countryside, will be healed. This prediction of the future ability to be faithful is central to Hosea’s restoration forecasts. The many sins for which the northern kingdom was so guilty will simply disappear. Just as Yahweh purified Israel during the forty years in the wilderness, He will eventually purify Israel via destruction and exile. Then an obedient remnant, forcibly but happily conformed to the covenant will reap the blessings of the restoration age. Deal falsely states the general situation of Israel’s wickedness, and the following two lines illustrate this deceit, Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant while thinking to honor Yahweh via outward religious practices. The twin crimes of breaking and entering are cited in evidence, emphasizing the blatant nature of the violations. The two crimes represent civil and social injustices in general. God is lamenting the society’s toleration of open evils of all sorts, while hypocritically maintaining its religious rituals. In verse 2, the stress continues upon the openness of the nation’s sins. Ephraim’s guilt is not hidden; God has watched it all. The fact that Israel is blissfully unaware of its behavior reflects the influence of Canaanite religion on Israelite thought patterns. The Canaanite approach tended to ignore the divine rule over history, and thus allowed for a personally indulgent ethical system. But even if Israel did not remember God’s revelation, He remembered their sin. Now introduces the conclusion to verses 1-2. Their transgressions concern general covenant unfaithfulness. These evil ways now are so rife as to surround Israel, the people’s iniquity being right before God’s face. As Yahweh looks at Israel He sees not people but sins – filling His field of vision, as it were.

 

EXPLANATION.  Matthew 9:13 records Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees to learn the real meaning of the statement in Hosea 6:6, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. Jesus linked this prophetic word with His own ministry, suggesting that if the Pharisees could understand and practice Hosea’s words they would not only support His work of compassion, but do likewise. The Pharisees made a mistake similar to that made by the Israelites, 750 years earlier, in the assumption that a formal, ritualistic religion would please God, regardless of their mode of life or condition of heart (a mentality that plagues God’s people still). Such an approach to pleasing God is illusory [6:4]. Central to the passage is the hurtful, angry proclamation by God in verses 6-7. God rejected Israel’s partial fulfillment of the covenant as no fulfillment at all. By concentrating only on the rituals, the people treated the covenant faithlessly [7]. It was covenantal treason to permit disloyalty to God both politically and ethically. Part of the law could not be obeyed to the exclusion of the rest. War provided the proximate punishment in this case for the guilty nation. The outrageous crimes in cities on both sides of the Jordan [6:4-10] may all have been related, directly or indirectly, to the circumstances of the war and its aftermath. But these bitter times in turn set the stage for the mention of a day of restoration, indefinite as to its timing, but certain to come because of Yahweh’s unfailing love for His people [6:1-3; 6:11-7:1]. The passage is thus a forceful statement of divine rejection of Israel, mollified by intrusions of hope. Israel’s infidelity, summarized as so often in Hosea by the curse term “prostitution,” meant that the nation was defiled. God would no longer protect Israel, but would withdraw from them. In trouble and having no hope in any other, they would then finally come to their senses and return to Him. No other passage so thoroughly involves Israel and Judah in tandem. Their interrelationship in the war occasions their close connection but is not the sole explanation for it. Here especially Judah’s sinfulness is at issue. In contrast to the occasions where Judah’s relative righteousness is compared with Israel’s corruption [4:15] or Judah’s deliverance is vouchsafed as against Israel’s destruction [1:7], the equally damning evidence against both Judah and Israel is now stressed. This is not a new theme here, but is somewhat unique in the pervasiveness and emphasis we find in these verses.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         What is missing from the people’s confession in 6:1-3? What does this tell you about the nature of true repentance? What examples can you give of today’s church empting the biblical understanding of key doctrinal terms by redefining them?

 

2.         How does God respond in 6:4-7 to the people’s confession in 6:1-3? What three accusations does He make? What does God desire from us? How can we grow in these two things so that we can please our God?

 

3.         Why is sin treason against God? In the midst of this treason, God promises three things: a harvest, a restoration, and a healing. What must first take place before these three promises are realized by the people? Who will experience these three promises? [Note in this passage that God will punish sin. He cannot overlook the unrepentant sins of His people. But His promises remain true for those who are convicted of their sin by means of God’s discipline and return to God seeking Him with a steadfast love, a desire to know more of Him, and a faithfulness expressed in obedience to His covenant demands.]

 

4.         In Matthew 9:13 Jesus challenges the Pharisees to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6: I desire mercy (or steadfast love), not sacrifice. The Pharisees made the same mistake that the people of Hosea’s time were making. What is this mistake? Do you see many in today’s church making this same mistake? What can you do in your own life to avoid making this same mistake?

 

References:

The Minor Prophets, James Boice, Kregel Publications.

Hosea, Thomas McComiskey, Baker.

Hosea, Douglas Stuart, Thomas Nelson.