Yesterday, we left Israel accused of idolatry – worshipping the Canaanite fertility gods and goddesses – largely because they had been led astray by the priests. After two chapters of strong words, it ended with this frightening image – along with a tinge of hope:Hosea 5:14-15 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. Then I will return to my lair until they have borne their guilt and seek my face—in their misery they will earnestly seek me.
So is this what happens? Does Israel earnestly seek God in repentance?
Hosea 6:1-3 “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.
Israel responds almost parroting God’s words of judgement in 5:14 (“he has torn us to pieces”), yet they seem to miss their severity: they jump straight to a presumption that God will heal them! Give him two days. Three at the most. A quick bit of repentance – maybe the odd sacrifice – and God won’t be able to help himself, welcoming us back into his presence like the old softy that he is.
It’s a bit like an abusive husband returning for the hundredth time, promising he won’t do it again – and thinking he may have to spend a couple of nights on the couch; three at most.* If there is any repentance, it’s shallow – we see this in how hasty it is, and how the focus is not on the extent of their sin but on the speed with which they expect restoration to come.
But God’s not that easily fooled.Hosea 6:4 What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.
Your “repentance” is going to last as long as it did the previous hundred times! That’s why this time it was different. This time God pressed charges:Hosea 6:5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth—then my judgments go forth like the sun.
In this instance, the one thing that’s as certain as sunrise, says God, is not mercy (see verse 3), but judgement.
Why? Because Israel’s repentance is shallow and insincere. It’s going through the motions of sacrifice, without the change of heart:Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
It’s the Fall all over again:Hosea 6:7 As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to me there.
Some supporting evidence for the accusation, probably referring to the assassination of Pekahiah by Pekah in Gilead (2 Kings 15:25):Hosea 6:8-9 Gilead is a city of evildoers, stained with footprints of blood. As marauders lie in ambush for a victim, so do bands of priests; they murder on the road to Shechem, carrying out their wicked schemes.
And on the way to the religious centre of Shechem, priests lie in wait to “murder” – either literally, or perhaps they “murder” the true worship of God. To sum up the situation:Hosea 6:10 I have seen a horrible thing in Israel: There Ephraim is given to prostitution, Israel is defiled.
To think about
We need to approach this by keeping in mind that we have been forgiven in Christ once-and-for-all. We have been declared right-with-God on the basis of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. All of our sins – past, present, and future have been nailed to the cross; their penalty has been borne in Jesus. So in one sense we can be supremely confident that God will restore us when we return to him in repentance:1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
However, this chapter in Hosea reminds us not to move to the “confidence in restoration” phase so quickly that we lose sight of the seriousness of our sin. That we forget how much it cost God to forgive us. That our repentance is trite and perfunctory, rather than deep and genuine. Godly sorrow over sin should never be short-circuited because of our confidence that God has promised to forgive us: otherwise we make the same error that Israel did, thinking that a few “sacrifices” (glibly uttered prayers of repentance) are what God is looking for.Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
* Thanks to Dr. Andrew Sloane for that metaphor.