In Hosea 4-5 we see God explaining to the people why they are not satisfied. The people do not know the Lord and because they do not know the Lord, they cannot have any life satisfaction. God’s people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (4:6). The people are not seeking to know the Lord and the priests are not teaching the people about God so that they can have a relationship with him. So you are not satisfied because you do not know the Lord. Now God is going to teach the people, and teach us, why we are not healed.
The Sound of Repentance (6:1-3)
Hosea 6 begins by describing the words of the people. They declare their hope in repentance. They say that they will return to the Lord and he will heal them. The Lord will bind up our wounds. “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (6:2). This is imagery that is used in the scriptures for revival and restoration. God appeared to Israel on the third day (Exodus 19:10-16). Jonah and Esther experienced deliverance on the third day (Jonah 1:17; Esther 4:16; 5:1). Hezekiah’s recovery was on the third day (2 Kings 20:8). Hosea is not prophesying the resurrection of Jesus. Rather, the third day is a day of renewal and giving of life. So they are hoping that God will bring new life to the nation after two days, on the third day.
They further declare that they will acknowledge the Lord and he will appear for their healing and rescue like the sun arises. Just as sure as the winter and spring rains come, it as just as sure that the Lord will return by acknowledging him. So they say to each other, “Let us press on to know the Lord.” It sounds like the people have listened to the prior prophecy. We are destroyed for lack of knowledge. So let us strive to know the Lord! This sounds like exactly what Hosea would hope for the people to do. This is exactly what God wants the people to do. But there is a problem. Look at Hosea 6:4-6.
Problematic Repentance (6:4-6)
The problem is that the people’s love is like a morning cloud and like the morning dew that disappears. The people say all the right words but their devotion does not last. Their love is short-lived. It sounds good on paper but nothing changes. This is the problem with verbal repentance. The people say that they need to make changes and appear to be convicted in their hearts. But then tomorrow comes and they are back to doing what they were always doing. No changes are actually made. The striking of the heart lasts for a moment and then the people are back to the spiritual mediocrity. The people say all the right things but nothing changes. Notice that God does not accept this. He hears our words but there cannot be healing because nothing changes. You are just saying words. You are saying what sounds good. You say all the right things to get people off your back or draw people to your side. But the next day you commit all the same sins and make all the same mistakes that you did the day before. Ultimately it is a half-hearted repentance. So judgment will still come even though the people say all the right words (6:5).
The reason is given in verse 6. God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” God wants our hearts. God wants our love. God wants our consistent covenant devotion. What God wants is our consistent desire to know him and draw near to him. Going through the religious motions is not what God wants. Saying the right words is not what God wants. God does not want your mere confession of sins or sorrow but life change. He wants to see fruit that exposes a true repentance of the heart. Knowing the law of God or saying that you love God is not what God is looking for. God wants a consistent, loyal devotion to him. Jesus quotes verse 6 two times as he walked the earth.
The first time Jesus quotes this verse is in Matthew 9:13. The context is that the Pharisees are complaining to Jesus’ disciples because Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus answers their complaint by first declaring that the sick need a doctor, not the well. Then Jesus tells the Pharisees to learn what this means: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” We see how Jesus’ message fits with Hosea’s message. The Pharisees obviously did not know God because they would have had compassion for sinners. They would have had the same love for the lost as Jesus did if they truly knew God. The Pharisees said godly things but did not show loyal love to God. The law of the Lord had not changed their hearts to love others.
The second time Jesus quotes this verse is in Matthew 12:7. The context is that the Pharisees are complaining against Jesus and his disciples again. They are complaining that Jesus’ disciples are breaking the Sabbath by plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. Jesus tells them, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Notice that the application of this passage is the same. You obviously do not know what God wants. You know the laws. You know the rules. You know the basics. But ultimately it is all words because you have not allowed your heart to change your behavior. Your confession and your claims are meaningless without complete life change and devotion to the Lord.
No Healing (6:7-7:10)
This is the reason why the people are defiled. They are like Adam. They transgress God’s covenant and are faithless to him. They are full of evildoers and bloodshed because the heart is not behind the words. True life change will only happen when we go beyond saying words that we think God and his people want to hear. So the people are full of sins and are completely defiled.
What is sad is that God would have healed and restored the people (7:1). The people said the words that the Lord would heal them and they were right. God would have healed them and restored them. So why were they not healed by the Lord? God would heal them but they kept sinning. The people would not stop their sins to receive the healing God could bring to their lives and to the nation. Their sins ever stood before God’s eyes (7:2) God saw what the people were doing and was not fooled by their words of repentance. God saw what happened in the darkness. God saw what happened in their homes. God saw the things that the people thought no one saw. God saw and he refused to heal because the people maintained their sins. “But they do not consider that I remember all their evil” (7:2).
This should be a fearful statement to every person. God remembers all your evil. This is the problem we have before God. We need our evil erased. When we think about how our evil stands before the eyes of the Lord, it is to cause us to truly repent and not just say the words. Saying the words will not erase our sins. Looking like a Christian does not remove the evil from before God’s eyes. True repentance will lead to true healing which leads to the erasing of our sins. The problem is described more clearly in 7:3-7. The people delight in wickedness. None of them call out to the Lord from sincere hearts (7:7). They are hot for sins. They want their sins and do not want God. So they are not healed. Their arrogance prevents them from returning to the Lord (7:10).
No Redemption (7:11-16)
The words of verses 11-16 are simply painful and stunning. Look at verse 13.
Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. (Hosea 7:13 ESV)
God cannot redeem his people because they are full of lies. God wants to redeem and deliver his people but they have run from God. They chose to run to their own destruction rather than running to the Lord. Look at verse 14.
They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me. (Hosea 7:14 ESV)
The people cry, but they do not cry from the heart. The people cry, but they do not cry for the Lord. They cry because they lost their possessions. The people cry about what they have lost. They do not cry about losing God. They are not crying about the loss of the relationship with God as God has declared that they are not his people. No, they are crying about their possessions. The time they cry is when they losing their stuff. What matters to the people is their prosperity, not their spirituality. In verse 16 God says that the people turn, but not to him. They turn to try to get their life back to the way it was. They turn to try to keep their possessions but they do not turn because they want God.
So God gives the picture of why we would not experience healing that he wants to give. God says he would heal and he would redeem the people. But there was a problem that keeps God from healing the people. The problem is false repentance. He does not want love that is like a morning cloud that quickly disappears. God does not words. God does not want external conformity. God wants steadfast love. God wants our hearts and wants our loyalty. God will restore and heal us if we would simply stop chasing our desires. God wants us to cry to him from our hearts, not for our stuff.
Think about the kind of healing we want. Do our prayers reflect that we want the restoration of our former life, whatever earthly thing that we have lost? Or do our prayers reflect that we want the restoration of God in our lives? Do we cry more about our sins or about the physical things we want or have lost? How steadfast is our devotion to the Lord? Do we say today that we will change and we will repent and that God will heal us only to then see us do what we have always done on Monday like we did the week before? Do we say we will change but not change? Or do we say that we will change and then truly change? God wants our faithful devotion to him that truly changes and does not say the things that we think God wants to hear. Jesus’ words must ring into our hearts. “I desire steadfast love and mercy, not sacrifice.”
Are we making it impossible for God to heal us and change our lives because we continue to run after our own desires? God can heal you. God wants to heal you. But you have to come to the great physician and follow his prescription, not your own. He will heal but you have to listen to what he says and take the medication he is prescribing you. False repentance keeps us from the healing God offers.