Saturday, March 12, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (18)

When God disciplines his people under either Old or New Covenants, it is not simply an expression of righteous anger. It is not merely a case of giving people what they deserve. Reproof and discipline in this life are acts of love designed to produce repentance, not an early preview of the torments of hell — though that is what certainly awaits the unregenerate if God’s warnings are ignored. But we have a God who declares he is not willing that any should perish, and he behaves consistently with that statement.

I like to think that if more people understood this we might see more repentance.

Hosea 6:1-3 — Hosea’s Appeal

“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. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 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.”

Returning and Pressing On

Chapter 5 ended with God saying that he would judge Israel, tear them like a young lion and carry them away, after which he would withdraw himself and wait for a time of corporate repentance. Chapter 6 now begins with a twofold appeal to a grievously injured nation: (1) to return to the Lord, and (2) to press on to know the Lord. Since the Lord has already said that he would withdraw himself, these first three verses would appear to be the prophet’s voice to the fallen northern kingdom, encouraging them to take the opportunity to repent.

This is a man who understands the patience and love of his God, something that could not be said for his fellow Israelites. Hosea didn’t have in his mind some angry caricature; he understood who his God really is. So Hosea can say confidently that God’s purpose is to revive repentant Israel in order that the nation may live before him. Times of refreshment are guaranteed if only Israel would heed God’s prophet. God’s determination to keep his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to make something good out of their offspring is well established and his intentions are not changeable.

Moreover, Hosea’s desire is that his fellow Israelites come to understand the character of God as he does. “Let us press on to know the Lord,” he appeals. The Lord Jesus expressed similar desires for personal communion and relationship to an unrepentant Jerusalem: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” This comes right on the heels of seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees, and demonstrates that harsh language and threats of judgment need not be expressions of hatred, but are rather expressions of a love that stretches far beyond normal human limits.

On the Third Day

Hosea promises his nation revival. Again, he can do this with confidence because he knows the Lord. It is amazing how modern readers of the Old Testament claim to find themselves confronted by a wrathful deity pouring out judgment after judgment, and in their minds they set this God in opposition to the Jesus of the New Testament as if they are completely different entities. Yet in passing judgment on the God of Israel, they never stop to ask what Israelites under God’s discipline had to say about him, and this is really the only thing that matters.

The Psalms are full of the words of men who experienced God’s righteous disciplinary judgment in this life but had come to understand that he is characterized not by undying wrath, but by love and patience. The rebels of Psalm 107, who had “spurned the counsel of the Lord” thank him for his steadfast love. Fools who “suffered affliction” for their sinful ways go on to thank the Lord for his steadfast love. In Psalm 32, David acknowledges his sin after experiencing the heavy hand of God. His conclusion is not bitterness, but gladness and shouting for joy.

The “third day” revival Hosea promises his fellow Israelites is difficult to read without thinking about the resurrection of Christ. While the New Testament does not explicitly quote this passage as being fulfilled in his rising from the dead on the third day, it’s hard to imagine there is not an obscure prophetic reference in there to be considered. I mulled this idea over at some length a few years ago in another post if you are interested.

Hosea 6:4-6 — Morning Cloud, Morning Dew

“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. 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. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Steadfast Love and Not Sacrifice

From verse 4 on, I believe we have switched voices again, back to the voice of God, as in most of the previous two chapters. After all, it is not up to Hosea to decide what to do with Ephraim or Judah, nor can the “me” in “my judgment goes forth as the light” be Hosea.

Here it is evident that the prophet’s pleading to his nation will not be heard in his generation. There is a deep moral inconsistency afflicting Israel. There are occasions when they use the name of YHWH and offer sacrifices to him, but their love for their God does not go below the surface. It does not go beyond religious routine into day-to-day obedience. So he compares their expressions of devotion to a morning cloud or the morning dew: things that appear for a moment then disappear as the day wears on.

The word translated “mercy” in the KJV, “steadfast love” in the ESV, and “loyalty” in the NASB may cause the reader some confusion. Let’s just say these are not precisely equivalent concepts. What we can say about the Hebrew ḥeseḏ is that it is not the least bit sentimental. Feelings of affection or pity may give rise to ḥeseḏ, but the way the word is used in the Old Testament shows it really refers to the active response to one’s emotions rather than to any particular emotion itself. So Abraham’s servant received “mercy” from God in the form of divine guidance, Joseph in prison enjoyed “steadfast love” in the form of favorable treatment from his guards, and Rahab’s “dealing kindly” with the spies involved hiding them from the people of Jericho. All these diverse terms reflect the same concept: active benevolence. Do something good for me, don’t just have pleasant feelings about me.

The Measure of Love

Jesus taught repeatedly that the measure of a person’s love for him is obedience. Obedience under the OT religious system would certainly result in the occasional sacrifice or burnt offering, but these outward displays of devotion were only of value to God to the extent they reflected an ongoing to desire to know God and walk in his ways. Obedience to religious routines needed to go hand in hand with obedience to God in the field, in the workshop, in the home, in the community, in the financial realm and across every area of life.

John would later write, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” Steadfast love does not restrict itself to the realm of public religious display. Here we find all the same elements we find in Hosea: the knowledge of God tied to love, and love displayed through obedience.

Slain by the Word

We also find here an early reminder of the devastating power of the word of God. Hosea speaks here of hewing and slaying through the prophetic word. In Hebrews, we read that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In Ephesians, the “sword of the Spirit” is the word of God. It is able to pierce the human conscience, demolish the pleasant, self-indulgent fictions we entertain about our own characters, and show us who we really are.

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