“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud, like dew that disappears in the morning. Therefore I have struck them down by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth. And my judgments of you are a light shining forth. For I desire loyalty and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:4-6)
I want to take some time and look at this passage in the book of Hosea – the Lord God is speaking to the nation of Israel as a whole, speaking to Ephraim, the northern kingdom, and Judah, in the south.
God speaks with Israel, asking them, “What shall I do with you?” Everything I have done to bring you to your senses, to bring you back to me have failed – look at your history!
I loved you before you were a people, I did not choose you because you were the greatest nation on earth – No! You were the smallest! You didn’t even exist as a nation before I founded you! (Deuteronomy 7:7)
You were made slaves in Egypt after Joseph died, and you cried out for help, and I delivered you through Moses. I laid waste to the great nation of Egypt, when Pharaoh’s army pursued you, I caused the Red Sea to part, and you walked through in safety, and then watched as I destroyed Pharaoh and his whole army.
But it was only a few days in the wilderness that you began to complain, and said that it would have been better if you were back in Egypt as slaves, for though you rejoiced greatly in the salvation I wrought, your loyalty was like a morning cloud, it was, and it is. For you are quick to turn your back on me, as a morning cloud – it is there one moment, but when the heat of day appears, the cloud flees, disappearing without a trace.
What shall I do with you? Your faithfulness is like dew – it covers everything in water, and yet, it takes almost nothing for it to fade away, the slightest amount of heat will make it evaporate.
The Lord says that Israel’s loyalty is worthless, and fickle. Though He has made provision for them, though He has loved them, and been faithful to them – they don’t care, because their love for God only goes skin deep.
We’ve all seen this before: we’re in the grocery store or the mall, and a little child is on the floor wailing and screaming, pounding his fists on the ground in an all-out temper tantrum. And why? He wants some toy he saw, or some candy. Many times we see the mother give in, telling the child she’ll buy whatever he wants just as long as he stops yelling, and as quick as a switch, the child stops crying, looks up at his mother and says, “I love you mommy”
But really those words are empty – the child only loves his mother for what she gives him, he doesn’t truly love her – he loves what she gives to him.
God sees Israel just like we see that child – for Israel says with their mouth that they love God – they rejoice when the Lord delivers them out of trouble, but the moment they feel things are not as good as they should be, they scream at God and complain. They don’t love God – they only love His gifts – they only love what He can do for them.
They are as a morning cloud, their loyalty is like the dew that quickly fades when the heat of the day comes.
And so, what did God do? “Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth” (Hosea 6:5a)
Think back to Moses – how many thousands died because of their disobedience, because they did not believe in God? Hundreds of thousands! Because of their disbelief the Lord made them wander in the wilderness for forty years – killing all those who did not believe. Think of Elijah and Elisha – how they prophesied against the kings of Israel, how Elijah caused a great drought in the land, and Elisha inciting rebellion in the kingdom and the cutting off of an entire kingly family.
“And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth.”
All of these judgments make it clear, as light shining to make the darkness light – Israel had not done what God desired of them. They had done things their own way – they had lived their lives for themselves – ignoring God, ignoring his warnings, and ignoring their past – ignoring how God had killed so many of them for their disbelief. They thought they were righteous – they didn’t think that there was a problem – after all, they are the chosen people of God!
But God reminds them – their evil deeds are out in the open, the judgments He has placed upon them make it clear – though they commit their deeds in darkness, the light of God’s judgment on them and now their evil deeds are seen.
For God doesn’t care about the outward appearance of righteousness – God sees deeper than our actions – He looks at our hearts – Listen to what the Lord says:
“…I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
Why does God say he doesn’t want Israel’s sacrifices? Isn’t He the one who told them through Moses, that they should offer sacrifices to Him? Isn’t that what He told them He wanted?
But you see, while it is true that God did establish the sacrificial system, He never intended for sacrifices to make the worshiper clean apart from their faith in God. The sacrifices were to be an outflow of a heart full of love for God.
Israel might have thought they had God in their pocket – that everything would turn out alright in the end, for they were God’s people! But God says that if they have loyalty towards Him, if they do not know God, if they have no true knowledge of him – their outward religious expressions are worthless. Their sacrifices are not desired by God! For their hearts are wicked. They might say they love God with their mouths, but their actions prove they don’t even know Him (Jeremiah 22:16 – pronouncing judgment on Jehoiakim son of Josiah).
Their sacrifices were just like the words of the rebellious child, who tells his mother that he loves her, and then the next moment throws a fit when he doesn’t get his way. Words are empty – religious conformity is empty.
Regardless of what Israel does outwardly towards God, if their heart is not in it then it is despicable in His sight. There is no sacrifice that covers the sin of unbelief, for a sacrifice offered in unbelief is worthless – God does not desire it – nor does it aid the one who offers it, for God will reject the sacrifices offered from hearts who do not know Him.
King David affirms this truth in his Psalm which he wrote after he had sinned against the Lord by committing adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband – he writes:
“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)
Sacrifices do not make the worshiper clean – they only point to the fact that the worshiper is a sinner.
God doesn’t desire sacrifice, but what God does desires is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart because of ones own sin. Acknowledging that we are sinners and we cannot pay God back for our sin, we cannot do enough good to outweigh the bad.
The Law was never intended to save anyone. God did not give the Law so that Israel would be saved by it – for by the Law no person is made perfect! Rather, God gave the Law as a shadow of His ultimate provision – the Messiah.
Therefore David waits for God’s salvation, he waits for God’s provision, knowing that sacrifices don’t cleanse his conscience before God – rather David must come before God, in expectation that God will make provision, make a way for his sins to be forgiven.
Think about what it would be like, living in Israel when the temple was still standing and the priests ministered there.
Every morning the priests would offer a lamb on the alter, to cover the sins of the people. But they didn’t just do it once a day, no, it was twice a day, there was a morning sacrifice and an evening sacrifice – as dictated by the Law of Moses (Numbers 28:3-4). Do you see what this is saying? It is saying that we are sinners! It is saying that sacrifice cannot make us pure, it cannot make us love God, it cannot make us loyal. It cannot change our hearts This should cause us to fall on our knees before God, crying out to Him for mercy – as David did – Lord, there is no sacrifice I can make! If there was one, I would give it! I am broken before You and wait for Your salvation.
The Lord does not desires sacrifice – Rather, He desires our love, our affections, our life, our loyalty. He desires us to know Him, to truly know Him.
Is there hope? If we wait on the Lord for salvation with broken and contrite hearts, will we be saved?
“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah?”
Here Israel stands – in opposition to God, and God asks what He should do. Israel has broken the covenant, they have proven themselves unfaithful – what shall God do with them?
I tell you, my friends, I tell you the truth: God has declared the solution to Israel’s sinfulness, for all our sins – in order that we might be reconciled to God.
God has acted on Israel’s behalf, on behalf of the world – He has proclaimed hope, the hope of Abraham, the Hope of Isaac and Jacob, the Hope of Moses, the Hope of David – for although they waited and died without their Savior being revealed – we now live in a time where the salvation of God has been revealed:
“Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. ‘And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ “And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ “For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”” (Acts 3:22-26)
You see, God was not, and is not surprised by Israel’s rebellion, He made provision before even Israel existed, before Abraham even had his son Isaac. The Lord made provision even before the foundation of the world.
Moses declared that a prophet would come. That prophet has come and He tells the way for our sins to be forgiven, for our hearts to be cleansed.
The Law was given so that sin would be made evident, and that all would come under the sentence of death, making sin utterly sinful (Romans 7:13). This prophet comes and declares the righteousness of God apart from the Law.
Rather than search for righteousness in the Law, understand that no one is justified by the Law – Do you not see there is no righteousness to be had in sacrifice – for sacrifices must be offered continually, each day, for they do not take away our sin.
But this is the salvation of God, that He would make a sacrifice, one that would be made only once – not every day like in the Law of Moses, but once for all time, to take away the sins of the world – for none of us can offer a sacrifice to make ourselves acceptable to God, otherwise we would offer that sacrifice and we would be made perfect, and no other sacrifice would be needed. But under the Law, sacrifice must be made multiple times a day – making sin utterly sinful.
None of us can make a sacrifice to make our consciences clean, to cleanse us from our sins – being an Israelite or a Gentile, it doesn’t matter – for the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away our sins!
There is no hope in our sacrifices, there is no hope on our own. The only hope we have is in the provision of God, the provision of a Messiah, a Savior.
Isaiah prophesied of this Messiah, who would come and become the perfect sacrifice to take away our sins:
“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
I tell you, and proclaim that this suffering servant, the Messiah of Israel, is Jesus, the Nazarene. Today is the day of salvation – all who believe will in no way be cast out.
There is hope for you – for what sacrifices of the blood of bulls and goats could not do, Jesus, the Messiah, did – offering Himself as our sacrifice, perfect and blameless – being God in flesh, being one with the Father and the Spirit, and now having died and risen from the dead, He sits at the right hand of the Father.
“…The things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. ‘Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord’” (Acts 3:18-19)