29 January 2013

Hosea 5:8 - 6:6

"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (v. 6)


In the second half of Hosea chapter 5, the prophet describes the divine punishment that is coming upon unfaithful Israel (also called Ephraim). As well as the problem of idolatry, the prophet accuses Israel of relying on foreign powers rather than God, criticising Israel's appeal to Assyria for protection against its neighbours (verse 13). Even though the southern kingdom has threatened Israel (verse 10), this gives the nation no right to consort with foreign powers.

The places named in verse 8 were cities close to the border with Judah, and the prophet dramatically imagines the noise and commotion that will accompany the coming judgement. By pursuing foreign alliances - going "after vanity" (v. 11) - Israel has turned its back on God. God will become like a "lion" to the northern kingdom - and a "young lion" to Judah (v. 14) - but the aim is ultimately restorative. God's desire is that Israel and Judah return to the Covenant (verse 15).

Hosea 6:1-3 is probably best interpreted as Hosea's summary of Israel's inadequate cry to God, inadequate because it lacks the repentance and genuine contrition necessary for change. These verses also include the hope that the Lord would 'raise them up' on the third day, a phrase later read as prophetic of Jesus' resurrection. For the Israelites, the Lord's salvation would come as inevitably as "the rains that water the earth" (v. 3).

The Lord's response is to reflect on the temporary love of the Israelites, whose love is like a "morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early" (v. 4). The Lord has sent prophets - and declared by the 'word of his mouth' what he requires (verse 5). Salvation is not inevitable, as the Israelites think, but requires "steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (v. 6). The prophet is not proposing the end of the cultic system, but rather the centrality of love and knowledge of God for genuine worship.

To Ponder

  • What 'foreign powers' do you think might tempt the church away from God today?  
  • How can you cultivate "steadfast love" as part of your discipleship?
  • Why is it important to have the right "knowledge of God"? How can such knowledge change us?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the Discipleship Development Officer for the Methodist Church and an Associate Lecturer at Cliff College. He lives in Derbyshire with his wife Ali and their two sons.