GOD’S MOST IMPORTANT WARNING
Hosea speaks God’s words to the people of Israel: God is indicting the whole population of the northern kingdom. God has two charges against them: No one loves him, and everyone is sinful. God faults the priests most of all because they have stopped living out God’s ways and teaching those ways to his people, so that no one knows the ways of goodness. God’s people are addicted to idols.
God rebukes Israel—which he calls Ephraim because it is the largest tribe—for running to Assyria for help. He tells them Assyria is a worthless helper because he himself is coming against them like an attacking lion. He shares that he hopes when life for his people gets as bad as it can they will come back to him.
“Come, let us return to the Lord,” the Israelites say. But it’s a shallow repentance; what they’re really after is God’s favor. God knows that the people’s love is short-lived, “like the early dew that disappears.” God declares that he wants their hearts, not their go-through-the-motions actions.
The King’s Heart
It was a terrible tragedy. While God’s people were worshiping other gods, they were still coming to his temple and offering sacrifices. Burnt offerings were completely consumed by fire on the altar, and as the smoke rose to the heavens, a worshiper’s praise and love for God was supposed to be symbolically rising to his throne. “I love you, God,” an offerer was supposed to be joyfully saying as the smoke wafted to the heavens.
But God’s people were just going through the motions. They were giving offerings without passion, empty of adoration for him. And that wasn’t what he wanted: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
“You’re getting this wrong,” God was saying. “I want your hearts, not your offerings.” God’s people thought that he was a God of rules and requirements. But he is a God of passion and relationship. God’s people thought he wanted only blood and smoke, but that was really just an avenue for him to give them love and closeness. Tragically, the people who were supposed to know him best didn’t know him at all.
Hosea 6:2 includes the only Old Testament reference to being restored “on the third day.” This passage, along with Jonah being in the fish’s belly for three days (see Jonah 1:17), might have been what Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 15:4 when he talked about Jesus being “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
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