What Shall I Do With You?

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.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
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.”

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.
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.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
    there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
    tracked with blood.
As robbers lie in wait for a man,
    so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
    they commit villainy.
10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
    Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. Hosea 6:1-10 ESV

In the opening verses of chapter six, Hosea envisions a highly unlikely scene: The humble and sincere repentance of the rebellious Israelites. It’s unclear what Hosea hoped to accomplish with this description of a contrite and penitent response on the part of the people. Was he attempting to illustrate how his stubborn audience ought to be responding to his messages, or were his words intended to mock their hard-hearted rejection of His message of warning?

From a historical perspective, there is no record of the Israelites ever uttering words of this nature. At no point did they cry out to God, acknowledging their guilt, confessing their sins, and asking for His forgiveness and healing. All the way back before God divided the nation of Israel into two kingdoms, He had allowed King Solomon to build a temple in His honor. This remarkable building in Jerusalem was meant to be the house of God, where the people would come to offer sacrifices and seek His forgiveness for the sins they had committed. And God made a series of promises to the people of Israel confirming His willingness to grace the temple with His name and honor their humble, heartfelt prayers with forgiveness and healing.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

Yet, by the time Hosea penned the words of his book, more than 150 years had passed since Solomon had dedicated the temple, and the people of Israel remained stubbornly unrepentant and unwilling to humble themselves before God. And exacerbating their problem was the fact that they no longer had access to the temple in Jerusalem. They had long ago forsaken Yahweh, choosing instead to worship at the shrines and temples dedicated to their false gods.

The scene of a repentant Israel calling out to God is meant to dramatize and accentuate the inexplicable hardness of their hearts. Hosea is portraying what their response ought to be when God brings His judgment against them. They will suffer greatly when God rains down His righteous indignation on them. But they will experience no healing because they will refuse to call out to Him in humble contrition.

Hosea even indicates that when the judgment of God comes, they will view it as short in duration and easily overcome.

In just a short time he will restore us,
    so that we may live in his presence. – Hosea 6:2 NLT

They won’t take His punishment seriously. They’ll end up underestimating the depth of their own depravity and mistakenly assume that any suffering they endure will be quickly remedied by God. Hosea seems to portray their repentance as a bit overconfident, and a bit too self-assured that God will quickly restore them.

He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
    or the coming of rains in early spring – Hosea 6:3 NLT

But none of this has ever happened. The people of Israel did not return to the Lord. They never did humble themselves before Him and confess their many sins against Him. Even their eventual defeat at the hands of the Assyrians did nothing to break their stubborn refusal to heed His call to repent. The prophet Amos delivered a sobering word from God concerning Israel’s inexplicable refusal to learn anything from the judgment they endured.

“I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire.
But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:11 NLT

And, in response, God asks the probing question, “What shall I do with you?” (Hosea 6:4 ESV). He has warned. He has threatened. He has disciples. Yet, they have not yet returned to Him. At no point has Israel or Judah lived out what Hosea described in the first three verses of this chapter.  In the face of all of God’s blessings and despite all of His warnings and past judgments, the people of Israel and Judah remain determined to live in disobedience to His commands. And their failure to faithfully observe His laws was nothing less than an expression of their lack of love for Him.

“…your love vanishes like the morning mist
    and disappears like dew in the sunlight.” – Hosea 6:4 NLT

He had repeatedly sent His prophets with words of warning, “to cut you to pieces—to slaughter you with my words, with judgments as inescapable as light” (Hosea 6:5 NLT), but the people had refused to listen. And God lets them know that what He wanted from them was love, not sacrifices. What He desired most was intimacy, not religious duplicity. He was sick of watching His people go through the motions, offering their meaningless, heartless sacrifices. He was no longer willing to put up with their sanctimonious and hypocritical displays of religious zeal. Mere obedience to His commands was never what God wanted. He desired faithfulness that emanated from the heart. That was something King David knew and understood.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

And the prophet Isaiah would communicate God’s displeasure with His peoples’ meaningless displays of ritualistic religious fervor. It has never been about the bulls and goats, the blood and smoke, or the pomp and circumstance. It had always been about the heart.

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.

“When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:11-13, 16-17 NLT

But God’s people, following in the footsteps of Adam, had been guilty of breaking their covenant agreement with Him. When God had placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He had surrounded them with beauty and provided them with everything they needed for life, including intimate fellowship with Him. The only condition God placed on the first couple was that they obey one command.

But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 NLT

God had given them every tree of the garden from which to eat. There was only one tree that was off-limits, and that happens to be the one tree they decided they had to have. They disobeyed God’s command and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In doing so, they displayed their lack of trust in God. They decided that they knew better than God. He had denied them that one tree and now, they had determined it was the tree they needed most. By eating the fruit of that tree Adam and Eve displayed their doubt of God’s love for them. He was denying them something they deserved and desired. He was withholding what they wanted.

And the Israelites were guilty of the very same thing. They had rejected God’s love and determined to live according to their own rules and standards. So, God described the unflattering outcome of their self-determination and blatant disregard for His love as expressed in His law.

“Gilead is a city of sinners,
    tracked with footprints of blood.
Priests form bands of robbers,
    waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
    and practice every kind of sin.
Yes, I have seen something horrible in Ephraim and Israel:
    My people are defiled by prostituting themselves with other gods! – Hosea 6:8-10 NLT

It was not a pretty picture. Sin had spread like cancer throughout the nation. No city was remained untouched. Every level of society had been infected, including the priesthood. God describes the people of Israel as practicing every kind of sin. Nothing was left to the imagination. Their idolatry had turned to gross immorality, and the entire land was now diseased and in need of God’s cleansing.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson