The last verses of the previous chapter tell us that the discipline of the LORD will finally have the effect desired by Him. Every member of the people who acknowledges his guilt will let hear the call with which Hosea 6 begins: “Come, let us return to the LORD” (Hos 6:1). Then they will be blessed. These individuals are a remnant who have confidence in God. He does not shame that confidence.
Unfortunately, the call will not be heeded by the majority of the people. That part is only externally religious, but has no real love for God. The loyalty of the people is compared to a promising cloud, but which dissolves into nothingness (verse 4). God is not concerned with outer forms, but with a goodness that comes from the heart. That is still true today.
1 A Call Full of Confidence
1 “Come, let us return to the LORD.
For He has torn [us], but He will heal us;
He has wounded [us], but He will bandage us.
When we have left God, we have to go back to where we left Him. There we can find Him back, there He has stayed and is waiting for us. With the call to return to the LORD, Hosea appeals to the conscience of the people. It is also possible that the faithful in the people speak those words to each other. They express acknowledgment and trust. Acknowledgment that the judgments are justified, that they have deserved them, and trust that the LORD heals and bandages. The call also means that they no longer go to the Assyrians for help.
Hosea, or the faithful of the people, connects with these words to the words of the LORD Himself in the previous chapter (Hos 5:15). By adopting in faith the words of the LORD they also acknowledge the truth of them.
It speaks of spiritual maturity when things that happen in our lives are accepted from the hand of the Lord, and are not attributed to people or circumstances. Job has accepted all the suffering that has befallen him out of the hand of God: “For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands [also] heal” (Job 5:18; 1:21; 1Sam 2:6).
After the experience of God’s wrath, faith also sees the greatness of His compassion and lovingkindness. They will acknowledge that His judgment is righteous. They will also express their faith as well as their hope for His mercy and the promised blessing of restoration. They will now see that they are sick and that only the LORD can heal them. To Him they go. They go in the confidence that God never ‘strikes’ to alienate His children from Himself, but rather to bring them to Himself.
God “tore” and “wound” the ten tribes when the Assyrians took them into scattering, and the two tribes when the king of Babylon took them into exile. The word “torn” is the word used for tearing them apart like a predator does (cf. Hos 5:14).
2 Revived, Raised Up, Live
2 “He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
When God’s people have honestly acknowledged that there is no longer any right to blessing because they have forfeited everything, He will go to work. That is why in verses 1-2 it says “He will” four times. He brings life into death. He is God and no one else (Deu 32:39). The third day in the Bible usually speaks of the resurrection from the dead. Just as Jonah is spit out by the fish on the third day (Jn 2:10), so for Israel there comes a third day of life and glory. It is important to also connect this verse with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (1Cor 15:3-4). He is the true Israel (cf. Hos 11:1; Mt 2:15).
Verse 2 holds a promise for the future. God will raise His people from the dead. This will happen in phases. Ezekiel gets to see this in his prophecy. He sees a valley full of dry bones (Eze 37:1-6). This represents Israel in the time of scattering. But he also sees how the bones join together, without any spirit in them (Eze 37:7-8).
This is the situation Israel has been in since May 14, 1948. There is a national existence, but not yet a connection with God. It is a state established by its own effort and maintained in trust on its own military strength and with the help of allies. God is not taken into account. Only when God pours out on them the spirit of grace and supplications and confessions of guilt (Zec 12:10-14) will the relationship with God be restored. Then the people will “live before Him”, i.e. live in His favor.
This can also be applied to the life of the Christian. A Christian only truly lives if he lives from confession of guilt and the certainty of forgiveness. Then there will and may be an awareness that he is living in God’s favor. That life is, so to speak, connected with the third day, with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. His resurrection is the proof that God no longer sees all the sins of those who believe in His Son. They are gone forever. Whoever really experiences this will enjoy real life in God’s favor and will no longer want it any other way. How to enjoy that life is made clear in the following verse.
3 Knowing and Going Forth
3 “So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.”
After the resurrection there is new life, a life that fits the resurrection. That new life has only one desire: To get to know Him. But, could one say, once you have new life, you already know Him? That is true. Yet it is only partly true, because in that knowing only one aspect of the Lord Jesus has come to the fore. The people of Israel will be redeemed by the Lord Jesus in the end time. They will get to know Him as Savior. This also applies to everyone who, as a sinner, now gets to know Him.
But the Lord Jesus is so much more than Savior. The richness of His Person is infinite. Well, every person who has come to know Him as Savior will long to discover more and more glories in Him. This longing is a proof of the new life. And the more knowledge we gain of God and His Son, the more the foundation will be laid for a life of faith and obedience.
If there is the desire to know the Lord, there will also come the effort to know Him. Without effort there will be no increase in knowledge. Truth must be ‘bought’ (Pro 23:23). A price must be paid for it. That can be a price in the form of time to study God’s Word. That is why it is added in this verse that they want to press on to know Him.
This is reminiscent of the desire of the apostle Paul. In his letter to the Philippians he also writes about getting to know the Lord Jesus and pressing on to it (Phil 3:8,10,14). We could say: But Paul already knows the Lord very well, doesn’t he? He does. Yet Paul also knows about the infinite glory of his Savior and Lord and he wants to discover more and more of that. He does anything for that. How is that with us?
But there is something additional. Precisely the lack of knowledge is the cause of their downfall (Hos 4:6). If, however, there is a longing for the true knowledge of God, the result will not be downfall and that God withdraws, but just the opposite. Instead of the night that had to come over the people, “the dawn” will come. The desire of the people will be answered by the fact that the Lord Jesus goes forth as the rising Sun at the dawn, which is the dawn of the millennial realm (Mal 4:2; cf. Psa 19:6a).
The result is an abundant rain, through which the land will produce an abundant fruit. A renewed outpouring of the Spirit will take place for the people that ‘came to life’ nationally in 1948 (Joel 2:28-30). Then the stone heart will be taken from the people and instead God will give them a heart of flesh and also His Spirit (Eze 36:26-27). From then on they will live under the blessing and grace of God in Christ Who will reign as King (Pro 16:15).
4 The LORD Consults With Himself
4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
For your loyalty is like a morning cloud
And like the dew which goes away early.
With this verse begins a new part, a new prophetic speech. Probably we can place this part in the time of King Pekah, who by the assassination of King Pekahiah takes control of the government over the ten tribes (2Kgs 15:25; cf. Hos 6:8; 7:7). After an ‘in-between sentence’ – which runs from Hosea 5:15-6:3 and deals with the repentance and restoration of Israel – Hosea here again takes up his normal task of warning. The LORD speaks. He asks in holy wrath what He will do with Ephraim and Judah, just as someone in utter indignation asks how He will punish a discovered evil righteous.
This verse shows how God struggles, as it were, with Himself to reach the heart of the people. The message moves back and forth between the affection of the Divine heart and the depravity of man. It seems as if God no longer knows what to do. Of course He speaks humanly (cf. Isa 5:4).
Ephraim and Judah now fall under a common judgment. Their love is only volatile and superficial, like the dew that lies over the fields early in the morning. A beautiful sight, that glitter. But how quickly the dew has disappeared again. What a contrast is the dew that disappears quickly with the LORD Who is like the rise of the dawn (verse 3). The sun rises steadily and continues to shine all day. Thus is the love of the LORD for His people. They may continue to enjoy it. However, their love is short-lived.
When the people declare their love for God at the birth of the nation under Moses (Jer 2:2), it is also only temporary. In their history there have always been certain moments that they want to live with God, but they are only flicks, temporary expressions of love, which have disappeared. Often our love is the same, changeable, up and down. Thank God that His love for us is not like that.
The love that is meant here can be the love for God, but it can also be the love for neighbor. In any case, their expressions of love are merely appearances.
5 What the Word of God Effects
5 Therefore I have hewn [them] in pieces by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of My mouth;
And the judgments on you are [like] the light that goes forth.
Now follows the answer to the question from the previous verse: “What shall I do with you?” God has sent His prophets to His people. They have come with words of judgment instead of comfort. They were conceived by Him to bring the hearts of the people back to Him. The language of this verse shows that God’s Word is a word of power, acting with force upon the hearer.
God speaks clear language. He does not want to be misunderstood. Every hearer must feel its power. The Hebrew word means beating or hammers out stones in a quarry. It also contains a beautiful thought. It reminds us that God with His Word works on us like a sculptor works on a piece of stone. The sculptor hammers away more and more of the rough stone, so that the image he has in mind becomes more and more visible.
Prophets and other servants are God’s ‘tools’ for working His people. Paul also wants Christ to be formed in the believers (Gal 4:19). Because with Israel God’s Word does not have the effect that God desires, for them the preaching of the Word means death. Whoever accepts what God says will live through it, but whoever rejects it will be judged by it.
6 Loyalty and Knowledge Are Better Than Sacrifice
6 For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
God does not let Himself be deceived if there are only outer forms and no inner relationship with Him. In serving God it does not come down to outward tribute, but to the mind of the heart. This verse is quoted twice by the Lord Jesus. The first time He quotes this verse to indicate that His grace goes out to sinners and not to people who think they are righteous (Mt 9:13). The second time He does so to indicate that the innocent should not be judged (Mt 12:7).
In the same sense as Hosea, some of his contemporaries also prophesied (Isa 1:11-17; Amos 5:21-24; Mic 6:6-8). Several prophets have pointed out that God longs for real faith and not for meaningless sacrifices.
This does not mean that God despises sacrifices as such, but He does if they are brought without sincere faith in Him. God desires a heart that goes out to Him and the neighbor. He has commanded His people to sacrifice. But this sacrifice must be brought from a sincere heart, otherwise the sacrifice is meaningless and worthless (Jer 7:22-23; Mk 12:33; Psa 51:18-19). God wants people to live to His honor. If their sacrifices connect to that, they get real value for Him. In idolatry it is the other way around. The idol wants his altar to be overloaded with sacrifices and then man may live as he wants.
7 Transgressed Like Adam
7 But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;
There they have dealt treacherously against Me.
As soon as God gives a man responsibility for something, he fails. That already started with the first man, Adam. And this fact has been repeated many times in the history of man. We find it with the people of Israel, to whom God holds up the example of Adam. But the church did not do any better.
“There” means in transgressing the covenant the people made with God at Sinai. “There” can also refer to the land of Israel and perhaps even more specifically to Bethel. In Bethel they have placed a golden calf and bowed down before it, while God has strictly forbidden idolatry.
Adam is expelled from the garden because of his transgression, Israel is expelled from the promised land because of his transgression. Gentiles are always called ‘sinners’ and not ‘transgressors’. There is talk of “transgressors” when there is a commandment. God has placed Adam under a ‘law’, a certain commandment that He has imposed on him. He violates that commandment. Israel is under the law that God has given them at their own request.
God has clearly written on the two tablets of the law what He wants. But the people have not obeyed it. They have deliberately and consciously broken His law and thereby openly shown their faithlessness against Him. They have personally wronged God to a great extent.
8 Gilead is a city of wrongdoers,
Tracked with bloody [footprints].
Gilead is a region on the east side of the Jordan. The whole area is a stronghold full of crime. It is assumed that Shallum, the murderer of King Zechariah (2Kgs 15:10), comes from Gilead. Pekah, who murdered king Pekahiah, uses a gang of assassins of fifty Gileadites (2Kgs 15:25) to carry out his plans.
Gilead is known for his balm (Jer 8:22) to heal wounds and soothe pain. They did not honor that name. Instead of bringing enlightenment and healing, they spread death and destruction around them. Instead of blood stemming, there is blood shedding activity.
9 Priest Gangs
9 And as raiders wait for a man,
[So] a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem;
Surely they have committed crime.
Shechem is on the route from the capital Samaria to the religious center of Bethel. The idea here is that it is precisely the priests – appointed by Jeroboam from all layers of the population (1Kgs 12:31) – who rob and murder the pilgrims. The priests have become ordinary street robbers.
It is not only the Gilead from across the Jordan that is guilty of crimes, but also in the land itself they commit many crimes. It is one great gang of robbers. The priests operate in gangs. The mutual unity in evil is great. What someone alone would not dare to do, they dare to do together with others. That has always been and still is the case.
They operate in a mean and sneaky way, they are lurking. Once the prey is caught, they also act violently, they murder and commit misdemeanors. They do that “on the way to Shechem”. Shechem is one of the cities of refuge for manslayers (Jos 20:1-7). On the way to the city where someone can flee to find protection from the manslayer, there are these homicidal people.
10 What God Has Seen
10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
Ephraim’s harlotry is there, Israel has defiled itself.
If the evil described in these verses would refer to the Gentiles, then that is understandable. But God has seen this horrible thing in His people. And what evil is at stake? Fornication, harlotry. This can be understood both literally and spiritually.
Literally there is a lot of unfaithfulness in the marriages in Israel. Even today it is painful to see that unfaithfulness increases in Christian families. Statistics indicate that the percentage of divorces among Christians is just as high as among non-Christians.
This literal unfaithfulness is a consequence of the spiritual unfaithfulness. Many Christians no longer live their lives according to biblical standards, they live according to what is common in the world. That is spiritual adultery. “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1Cor 15:33). Bad company is the result of not knowing God. Christians should be ashamed of this (1Cor 15:34). They should work hard to undo that ignorance by studying God’s Word with a desire to know His will.
By committing harlotry, Israel has defiled itself (Hos 5:3). As a result, God cannot have any connection with them. That defilement can only be made undone through confession of guilt and sacrifice. If there is no cleansing, God can no longer acknowledge His people as His people and must judge them. Ultimately, this judgment comes when the Assyrians invade Israel and scatter the people.
11 The Restoration
11 Also, O Judah, there is a harvest appointed for you,
When I restore the fortunes of My people
It is not immediately clear what is meant by “a harvest”. The most plausible thing is to see here again such a sudden ray of hope that becomes visible in the midst of other judgments. The harvest for Judah is then the blessing of the land they will receive after the judgments. This does not mean the return from Babylon, but we can see a reference to the realm of peace in it. Judah is the core and around Judah the whole of Israel, “My people”, will share in the promised blessing.
Whatever “a harvest” may mean, bringing a change in the captivity of God’s people at least refers to the situation that all unfaithfulness and the associated judgments have come to an end. Then the time has come for enjoying all the promises God has made and will give to His people. The people will receive those promises because all conditions have been fulfilled by the Lord Jesus. In Him all God’s promises are yes and amen (2Cor 1:20).