COMMENTARY ON HOSEA
“ 6:4 O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. 5 Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth. 6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:4-6)
The Lord has declared the return of His people. They will rise up and return to Him, reasoning that He has torn them, and He will heal them. From the higher perspective, the Lord will raise them up, reviving them after a period of utter hopelessness. When this happens, the people will know, if they follow on to know the Lord. He will refresh them like the early and latter rain. Such promises are glorious, indeed. Yet, there is a wayward generation with which the Lord is dealing – a generation that has rejected Him. This rejection and consequent wandering has not been because the Lord neglected the people. He now reminds them of His faithfulness to summon them to repentance, and to awaken them from their lethargy. We are now exposed to the manner in which the Lord deals with His people. The Divine character is being displayed before us, and it is refreshing to see. From one point of view, He makes every effort to recover His people. From another point of view, He is showing the effects of hardheartedness. There is such a thing as a people who can no longer be influenced with Divine workings.
WHAT SHALL I DO UNTO THEE?
“ 6:1 O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” Here is a word that is addressed to both Israel and Judah, with Israel referred to as “Eprahim.” While the word is particularly to Israel, Judah has not been without fault.
WHAT SHALL I DO UNTO THEE? Other versions read, “What shall I do with you?” NASB “What am I to do to you?” BBE “What can I do with you?” NAB “What should I do with you?” NLT The promises were spoken to the remnant of the people – to those who had maintained their faith in spite to the massive falling away that was all around them. Now, lest the people begin to imagine that such marvelous promises were to the recalcitrant as well as the faithful, this word is given. It is God’s manner to sound a note of hope to the remnant when He upbraids an unfaithful body. It is also His manner to speak against the slothful when He has given a word of encouragement to the faithful.
The idea is that God has been longsuffering and gracious to the people. He has also dealt harshly with them, delivering them into the hands of their enemies, and taking away the very resources that He had given to them. Yet, the people have not responded to Him. They have maintained hard hearts, continuing to spurn His overtures. Now He asks, “What more, then, could I have done? What else can possibly be done for or to you?” You see, grace is not irresistible, and God’s goodness can be spurned. When iniquity is found among a covenanted people, it has not risen accidentally. A falling away is not inadvertent. It is the result of rejecting the love of God, disdaining His Word, and refusing to yield to His chastening. God does not allow His people to fall into sin without all manner of warning and chastening. That is why apostasy is so serious.
Here we are being exposed to the manner in which God works, and now He speaks to a people who have been given good things, and yet continue in their sin. Isaiah also delivered a similar word to the ancient people. Concerning their noble beginning he said, “Now will I sing to my Wellbeloved a song of my Beloved touching His vineyard. My Wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and He fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes” (Isa 5:1-2). Their beginnings were with every conceivable advantage. Tender care and firm purpose attended their start, and there was every reason to expect a good harvest. Yet the fruit that was yielded was the kind that comes from an uncultivated and neglected plant – “wild grapes.” Viewing the miserable harvest produced by His people, the Lord asks, “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (Isa 5:4).
God presses the unfaithful for an answer. What more could He have done, that He has not already done? There is no satisfactory answer to this question, for God is not really asking for an answer. He is demanding that the people see how unreasonable their conduct is. The point is that they have sinned in spite of all that God has done.
THE FRAILTY OF THEIR GOODNESS. “ . . . for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” Other versions read “your faithfulness,” NKJV “your loyalty,” NASB and “your love.” NIV This refers to their acceptable response to the Lord. It was the only thing good about them, when they saw their ways and turned to Him. However, such responses quickly disappeared, like a morning cloud vanishes in the heat of the sun, and the dew of the early morning disappears in the heat of the day. As it is written, “They soon forgat His works; they waited not for His counsel” (Psa 106:13). And again, “And forgat His works, and His wonders that He had showed them” (Psa 78:11).
The Lord is making a comparison of the people with Himself. He was faithful toward them, they were unfaithful toward Him. He acted consistently toward them, they acted inconsistently toward Him. There was nothing about His workings that promoted such an attitude. God did not will it, and did nothing to encourage it. That is why their waywardness was so unacceptable, bringing Divine indignation upon them.
This is characteristic of “an evil heart of unbelief” (Heb 3:12). It compels those into whom it enters to forget the word and works of the Lord. It moves them to despise the goodness of the Lord, frustrate His grace, and push His Word away from themselves. Whether we are speaking of wayward Israel, retrogressing Judah, or Christians that are drawing back, the cause of spiritual deafness and blindness is unbelief. Further, unbelief is always deliberate. It is the result of ceasing to love the Lord, and choosing this world.
THE ROLE OF GOD’S MESSENGERS AND WORD
“ 5 Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.”
This is God’s response to waywardness. He first makes every effort to turn the people from their ways. These efforts do not demonstrate Divine impotence, but confirm the hardheartedness of the people. There is a condition that cannot be corrected – a spiritual wound that is “incurable”(Mic 1:9). That condition, however, does not happen suddenly. It is the result of spurning the working of the Lord.
HEWED THEM BY THE PROPHETS. Because Israel did not respond to God’s goodness, “Therefore,” He “hewed them by the prophets.” Other versions read, “cut you in pieces,” NIV “cut down,” GENEVA “smote them,” NAB and “hacked them to pieces.” NJB The language is unusually strong because of the unusual sin of the people. The prophets of God cut the people down like a rotten tree, or broke them in pieces like a useless rock. This is another way of saying the prophets pointed out the sin, pronouncing judgments against them. Isaiah spoke of this ministry: “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isa 58:1). This was hewing the people. Jeremiah spoke similarly of this kind of work. “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (Jer 1:10).
SLAIN THEM BY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH. This is another way of saying “hewed them by the prophets.” The first expression emphasizes the ones God used to chasten His people – the prophets. The latter accents the message delivered by the prophets – “the words of My mouth.” This kind of judgment is depicted as the Lord making war with His word, instead of saving with it. Thus we read, “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword” (Isa 49:2). Again, Jesus spoke of this kind of judgment being leveled against one of His churches: “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth” (Rev 2:16). Jesus is also said to smite the nations with a “sharp sword” that comes “out of His mouth” (Rev 19:15,21).
Normally, men “live by every word of God” (Lk 4:4), but here they are killed by that very word. This is the process described by Isaiah: “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Isa 28:13). The prophets were thus rough with the people because of their obstinate preference for sin. Had the people been sensitive to the Lord, they would have heard comforting words.
It is a sad day when the Word of the Lord, which ordinarily ministers comfort, hope, and illumination, becomes a sword that kills. However, that is what happens when the love and grace of God are spurned and His works forgotten. Those who see this realize it is on the part of wisdom to give heed to the Word of the Lord, ingest it, and meditate upon it. The Lord will speak gently to those who are sensitive to Him and love Him.
JUDGMENTS AS A LIGHT. “ . . . thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.” Other versions read, “the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth,” NASB “My judgments flashed upon you like lightning,” NIV and “My judgment shall strike you as surely as day follows night.” NLT The words “thy judgments” refer to the sentences that were executed against Israel and Judah – their judgments, or the ones directed toward them. The word “a light” refers more to the sun than to “lightning,” as the NIV suggests. The emphasis here is not swiftness, but openness, or judgments of a public nature – like the dawning of a day.
What the Lord is saying is this: “You sinned against Me publicly and without shame. I sent My prophets openly, and not in secret, and they exposed your sin. My word to you was not hidden, but was very apparent. My judgments against you were the same way. They were so obvious that you should have received their message. They were conspicuous enough that there is no acceptable excuse for not seeing what was being done to you. You should have quickly turned from your wicked ways and returned to Me.”
Thus the people of God are left without any excuse for their backsliding. They had a noble beginning. The Lord cultured them with special benefits and graces. He sent the prophets to them “early,” to point out their sin and call them, to repentance. His Word was clearly against them, and was clearly and frequently declared. And, His judgments against them were so apparent they had made Israel a “byword among the nations” (Deut 28:37). God was righteous in all of His doings, always preferring mercy, yet never condoning iniquity. It is imperative that we see this to be God’s nature – even with the church
MERCY AND KNOWLEDGE PREFERRED
“ 6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
This sentiment is voiced several places in Scripture. The truth of it was spoken by Samuel to Saul: “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22). Solomon spoke of this: “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Prov 21:3). Jesus told men to learn what this expression meant: “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13). Again Jesus said, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matt 12:7). This is, then, a saying worthy of special consideration.
MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE. Other versions say, “I delight in loyalty,” NASB “I desire steadfast love,” NRSV and “I delight in lovingkindness.” DARBY The “mercy” of reference is that exhibited by men, not the mercy that comes from God. The Lord is NOT saying, “I would rather show you mercy than you give Me a sacrifice.” The Lord delights more in the acceptable conduct of men than in their perfunctory and heartless sacrifices. When Israel continued to offer sacrifices to God, even though they had become heartless and disobedient, the Lord said to them, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer Me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts” (Amos 5:22).
The imperative of showing of mercy was declared by Isaiah. “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isa 58:6). The failure to do this voided all sacrifices, making them an abomination to the Lord. As it is written, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD” (Prov 15:8). A heartless religion will not be received by God. He will not be served by rote, or lifeless routine. When the heart is defiled, everything that is done is also defiled. Thus it is written, “but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Titus 1:15).
THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, NOT BURNT OFFERINGS. Other versions read, “acknowledgment of God,” NIV and “to know God.” NLT The phrase “the knowledge of God” does not refer to knowledge about Himself. Rather, it refers to personally knowing God, being acquainted with Him, and knowing His ways. Men, for example, who were expert ship men were said to have “knowledge of the sea” (1 Kgs 9:27). They could navigate upon it without being overcome by it. Those who “know the Lord” do so because they spend time with Him, like sailors spend time on the sea. They are acquainted with, and delight in, His ways. They have an understanding of both His word and His manners.
Under the Law, “burnt offerings” were the highest form of sacrifice. The whole sacrifice was consumed by fire, with the smoke ascending into heaven. Yet, God had rather be known than receive such sacrifices. David sensed this during the spiritually primitive time of the First Covenant. “For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psa 51:17). A “broken spirit and a contrite heart” result from an acute awareness of God – knowing Him. Under the Law, such knowledge was largely introductory. Yet, the Lord delighted more in that knowledge than even burnt offerings. This same sentiment was voiced by an insightful scribe. “And to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33).
God greatly delights when men know Him. Through Jeremiah He said, “But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD” (Jer 9:24). This is why the Son of God “is come” – “to give us an understanding that we might know Him” (1 John 5:20). There is no sacrifice or religious service than can compensate for a lack of the knowledge of God. When people are unacquainted with the Lord Himself, it makes little difference what else they may do.
In Christ, this circumstance is compounded. Now the way has been cleared for us to know the Lord. It is a part of the New Covenant, so that men no longer exhort one another to know Him, for all of the saved know Him from the least to the greatest – they are acquainted with Him (Heb 8:11). You see how serious it is to NOT know the Lord.