Israel’s Faulty Repentance (Hosea 5:14-6:3)

Thank you for joining me again in our study of this great book of Hosea—this tragic love story played out on the human level between Hosea and Gomer, a story which is heartbreaking in itself—but also a story which illustrates the relationship between Yahweh and Israel, a much deeper betrayal in the spiritual realm.

Throughout Hosea we see Yahweh’s heart revealed—a heart that deeply desires to see genuine repentance from Israel, yet devastated by her continual unfaithfulness.  It reminds us how deeply God loves us as well, and how often He is disappointed by our own idolatries.

Today open your Bibles to the end of Hosea 5.  Yahweh has been predicting the destruction of Israel, judgment against their idolatries (turning to Baal rather than Yahweh for blessings and guidance) and their dependence upon other nations for protection rather than upon Yahweh.

Throughout chapter 5 it seems very obvious that Israel is on a path of destruction.  Despite many sacrifices, they would not longer be able to find Yahweh.  He would be to them the slow and gradual destruction illustrated by the “moth” and “dry rot” in v. 12 and the violent and ultimate death illustrated by being torn apart by a lion in vv. 14-15.

Let’s pick up our text in Hosea 5:14…

14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue. 15 I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.

1 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” 4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Verse 14 adds another dimension to the judgment Yahweh would bring upon Israel.  Not only was there the slow, hidden, gradual process of destruction represented by the moth and dry rot, but there is also the ferocious and purposeful attack of a lion.

As a lion, He would tear them to pieces and carry them away in judgment, and there would be no one who could deliver them.  Egypt couldn’t.  No one could.

Israel fell to the Assyrians, in 722 B.C., after two previous Assyrian invasions (in 743 and 734-32 B.C.).  Judah escaped Assyria in 701 B.C., due to King Hezekiah’s trust in the Lord, but Babylonia finally fulfilled this prophecy to her in 586 B.C.

In verse 15 Hosea describes the lion retreating to its lair to finish off Israel.  All is lost.  All is hopeless.  No one and nothing could rescue them from this fate.  Just as no one could rescue an animal from the lion’s den, so Israel’s fate was sealed.

But notice that God’s judgment is not punitive, but restorative.  What is God’s purpose, God’s desire?  It is “until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.”

Now, the big question in this passage is whether Hosea 6:1-3 expresses a genuine return by Israel?  Verses 4-6 show God’s disappointment in how shallow and transient it would be.  Does that mean it is not genuine, or just that it was short-lived?  I believe that it was genuine, at least among a remnant, but that, like us, their faithfulness was short-lived and shallow.  It was genuine, but not permanent.

Their return to Yahweh, pictured in vv. 1-3 of Hosea 6, seems to lack an acknowledgement of guilt.  They sought Yahweh to relieve them of their distress, but did not admit their sins and curry His forgiveness.  Many today want Jesus to fix their problems—to save their marriages, restore fulfillment in their jobs, to recover from sickness, but don’t come to Jesus desiring forgiveness for sins.

Some believe that vv. 1-3 represent the encouragement of the priests to the people.  They had failed to instruct the people in righteousness, which would have kept them from judgment, and now that judgment was upon them they urgently appeal to the people to turn back to Yahweh.  It would be too little, too late.

Again, the focus seems to be upon their wounds and seeking relief from national disaster, rather than focusing upon their sins and seeking forgiveness for their sins.  As David Garland says, “It did not reach to the real problem, sin, which could not be cared for in the healing and binding up.  It could only be cared for through genuine repentance.”

They do believe, however, that God can do what no one else could do.  No one could rescue them or help them, but Yahweh will heal them and bring them back to life.

Like us, they wanted this healing to come in a relatively short time “after two days…and on the third…”  They believed that God would speedily restore their former status.

This will eventually happen, but not so speedily as they hope.  This national resurrection, for resurrection is what they ask for…”he will raise us up that we may live before him” would also be prophesied by Ezekiel in the famous vision of the valley of dry bones and Daniel’s prediction…

12:1 “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble [the 7-year tribulation period], such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.  But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

That passage is speaking about a general resurrection at the end of the millennial kingdom.

Ezekiel 37 begins with Ezekiel seeing a valley full of bones, but they were dry as dust and really, fully dead.  There was no flesh upon them.

When Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones, they began to come together and then be clothed with sinew and flesh and then skin.  But they were still dead bodies because they had no breath, no life in them.  Ezekiel then called for the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, to fill these still dead bodies, and they would come to life.

Yahweh interprets this vision for Ezekiel, saying…

11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.  Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.

The nation of Israel will someday come to life and return to the land of Israel.  At this time, God will forgive them their sins.  Although a partial fulfillment occurred in 1948 when the Jews returned from around the world to live in Israel, the fullest fulfillment of these verses will come in the end times when Israel en masse returns to the Lord through genuine repentance and spiritual cleansing.

The reference to three days, although not a direct reference to the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, seems to be the only place Paul could be referring to when he says that Jesus rose “on the third day, according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).

Just as Christ rose and we will rise, so Israel will one day rise.  We will rise to eternal life in new resurrection bodies.  Israel will rise to endure the tribulation period (although seven years a relatively brief time) and then reign with their Messiah in the millennial kingdom of Christ.

Verse 3 contains the exhortation to “press on to know the Lord.”  The desire was there: “Let us know” and the recognition was present that it required personal effort, “let us press on to know the Lord.”  This makes up for what was previously lacking (any real life-changing knowing of God) and displaces their previous passionate pursuit of the Baals.

This, of course, was the essential element that was lacking in Israel’s corporate life at this time.  Back in 4:6 Hosea had said that they “rejected knowledge,” which verse 1 had clarified was “no knowledge of God in the land.”  With no knowledge of God—in other words they banished God from their thoughts, they had plunged into moral chaos, just as our culture has reaped the consequences of the “death of God” as proclaimed by Nietzsche.

Romans 1 indicates that when we deny God—His existence and His authority over all—then we reap the consequences of immorality, homosexuality and a depraved mind that readily excuses any and every sin.  We live in that culture today.

Although we may not be able to turn the tide in our culture, we certainly can pursue the knowledge of God in our own lives.  This is what Paul prayed for the Colossian when he made “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10) one of his prayers for them.

A.W. Tozer once said that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

What we believe about God has practical impact on our lives here and now, and throughout eternity.  In fact, the very essence of eternal life is “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

As Steve Altrogge probes…

When you go through a hard time, what you think about God will affect how you do.  Do you think God is sovereign and loving and good?  Do you think God is in control and always faithful?  Do you believe he loves you and is using this for your good?  Or do you think he’s uninvolved and uncaring?

When you’re tempted to sin, what you think about God will affect how you respond.  Do you believe God knows your every thought and sees your every action?  Do you believe he is holy and hates sin?  Or do you believe God doesn’t really know or care?

See, it makes a difference what we know and believe about God.  It would have made a difference in the way Israel had lived as well.  There is nothing more important than knowing God.  Jeremiah said…

23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

In life and on our deathbeds, it doesn’t matter what we know, how powerful or how rich we are, if we know not Jesus Christ, we have everything to lose.  Paul was willing to give up all the former advantages he had inherited or achieved in Judaism, everything that had made him who he was, for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ.  Listen to his impassioned words in Philippians 3:

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

All the trophies of his past life—things to really be proud of—he tossed in the trash.  They were worthless now, compared to knowing Jesus Christ.  Graham Kendrick wrote a song, entitled Knowing You.  It goes like this:

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die

So let us press on to know the Lord.  And let it be our lifelong pursuit, seeking every day to know Him better and deeper so that our present lives are shaped and conformed by what we know and our eternity is enriched by what we have begun.

Nothing brings us more pleasure, joy and delight both now and throughout eternity than knowing Jesus Christ.

As we pursue Him, He comes to us.  Hosea says, in verse 2 “his going out is sure as the dawn.”  Although it is a difficult sentence to translate, the use of “light” or “dawn” is surely positive in this context and it matches our pursuit.  Before, he had drawn away into his lair, now he comes out—not to tear again, but to heal.

The words “is sure” matches the certainty of the judgment that would come first.  Back in 5:9 the day of punishment upon Ephraim “is sure.”  Both the impending judgment and the ultimate reconciliation are sure and certain.  Thus as the dawn arises every morning, so He is sure to come.

Israel understood the benefits of this personal, intimate relationship with Yahweh.  It would be “as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”  Adam Clarke remarks, ““The first, to prepare the earth for seed; this fell in autumn: the second, to prepare the full ear for the harvest; this fell in spring.”

And this is just God’s way.  He doesn’t just give us grace, he “lavishes us with grace.”  He wastes grace upon us like the prodigal’s father did.

One of the judgments, or figures of judgment that was soon to come was “drought.”  Certainly, without both the Fall and Spring rains, the early and latter rains, crops would dry up.  As significant as rain was for crops, so the coming of Yahweh would be for them—blessing and fruitfulness.

But, as David Hubbard reminds us, “They have faced their woundedness (v. 2; cf. 5:12-13) but not their waywardness.  Healing is sought, even resurrection, but not specific sin is mentioned.  This absence of repentance and failure to confess sins by name contrast with Hosea’s closing song of penitence (14:1-3).  And God’s complaint (vv. 4-5) seems to indicate His dismissal of the song as inadequate, whereas Israel’s final song is followed by Yahweh’s promise of love and healing and then by his own love song (14:4-7).

As noble as were the exhortations and encouragements found in 6:1-3, an essential factor was missing.  There was no clear word of repentance.  Though they may have intended their actions to convey an attitude of repentance, they seem to have reflected no more than sorrow and regret because they had suffered….Their only concern was with being healed and bound up—restored to their former wholeness.  There were not interested in being restored to a proper relationship with Yahweh. (David Garland)


Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s