Hosea 6:1–7:2comment (0)
February 10, 2011
By Scott McGinnis
Related Scripture: Hosea 6:1–7:2
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
God Loves for His People to be Loyal to Him
Last week, we were introduced to the language of the prophet Hosea, who explored the covenant between God and Israel primarily through the lens of the family: God was husband to the faithless spouse Israel or parent to the wayward child. Beyond the family metaphors, Hosea also depicted God in a variety of nonpersonal images that would have been familiar parts of life in ancient Israel: God was a lion that tears away (5:14) and rottenness that despoils (5:12) but also refreshing rains (6:3), a sturdy tree (14:8) and gentle dew (14:5). The sum of all these vivid and contrasting images is to portray something of the intensity and complexity of the divine emotions as God contemplated Israel’s fate. In Hosea, God is revealed as a passionate partner in covenant with Israel who desired nothing less than the intimate communion only found in a relationship marked by loyalty and trust.
God’s Loyalty Allows Us to Return (6:1–3)
Chapter 6 was written in the form of a dialogue between the people and God, with the first three verses voicing Israel’s decision to repent for all the sins outlined in the previous chapters. Commentators are divided on whether the repentance was genuine or Hosea was simply presenting a mocking parody of people who said the right words but continued living in the same way. Both interpretations hold value. Taken at face value, the words reveal that Israel learned a hard lesson: Its political turmoil and agricultural failures were tools used by God to draw the people back to faithfulness to Him alone. The good news lay in the realization that the same one who had torn also would bind up. The desire to “press on to know the Lord” represents a change of heart for a people previously criticized as lacking knowledge (2:8; 4:1, 6; 5:4). Sincere or not, the people certainly knew the words of repentance. But did they embrace it?
God Expects Loyalty From Us (6:4–6)
The strongest evidence for those who argue that Hosea was depicting the insincere repentance of Israel is God’s response to what sounds like an earnest appeal. Anyone who has ever struggled to find fidelity in a relationship can hear the sigh behind the response of an exasperated God, “What shall I do with you?” Perhaps things would be different this time around, but in the Lord’s experience, Israel’s covenant love was like the morning cloud or dew that dissipates quickly. In contrast, God desired a “steadfast love.” Lying behind this English phrase is the rich Hebrew word “khesed,” used frequently in the Old Testament to refer to God’s love. No one English word captures all the nuances of meaning: love, loyalty, lovingkindness. God showed steadfast love toward Abraham in keeping His promise to provide him with descendants (Gen. 24:27). The Psalmist sang, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep His covenant and decrees” (Ps. 25:10). Isaiah recounted the mercy God showed Israel “according to the abundance of His steadfast love” (Isa. 63:7). The khesed of God is never exhausted, never gives up, always gives more than asked, goes the extra mile, overflows. Thus the challenge to Israel and us is to learn to love as God loves. Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 to the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 when they condemned Him for calling a tax collector as a follower. It is possible for a person to believe that he or she is meeting his or her religious obligations — making sacrifices, avoiding certain classes of people — and miss the point altogether.
Our Loyalty Is Expressed in Right Actions (6:7–7:2)
That Israel had not been successful in upholding its covenant faithfulness to God is demonstrated by the laundry list of items that follows. These verses condemn several incidences in Israel’s history that speak of treachery or faithlessness. The Lord’s frustration is heard in the lament “when I would heal Israel, the corruption of Ephraim is revealed” (7:1). This passage gives poignant voice to a God who stands ready to re-establish the covenant with Israel, a lover ready to forgive and take back the beloved.