My Come, Follow Me studies for this week took me to Hosea and Joel. The lesson for this week was titled “I Will Love Them Freely” and was about Israel’s covenant with the Lord. The lesson was introduced by the following information.
Israel’s covenant with the Lord was meant to be so deep and meaningful that the Lord compared it to a marriage. The covenant, like a marriage, included eternal commitment, shared experiences, building a life together, exclusive loyalty, and most of all, wholehearted love. This kind of devotion came with high expectations—and tragic consequences for infidelity. Through the prophet Hosea, God described some of the consequences the Israelites faced for breaking their covenant. And yet His message was not “I will reject you forever for being unfaithful.” Instead it was “I will invite you back” (see Hosea 2:14-15). “I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness,” the Lord declared (Hosea 2:19). “I will heal their backsliding; I will love them freely” (Hosea 14:4). This is the same message He gives us today as we seek to live our covenants with love and devotion.
Joel shared a similar message: “Turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:13). “The Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel” (Joel 3:26). As you read Hosea and Joel, ponder your own relationship with the Lord. Think about how His faithfulness inspires you to be faithful to Him.
There are numerous principles contained in this scripture block, but I will discuss just one of them: “Devotion to God must be felt inwardly, not just expressed outwardly” (Hosea 6:4-7; Joel 2:12-13). The Lord had commanded His people to offer animal sacrifices. The people in Hosea’s day were obeying this commandment, but they were breaking more important commandments. Through His prophet Hosea, the Lord called to Israel to return and be healed (Hosea 6:1). Then He told them what they were doing wrong (Hosea 6:4-7).
4 O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
5 Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.
6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
7 But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me.
The Lord compared Israel to an adulterous, a wife who left her husband to seek other lovers. Bernhard W. Anderson explained fickle Israel in this way.
Israel’s fidelity, then, was that of a fickle woman. It lacked the steadfastness, the trustworthiness of true covenant love. In Hosea’s native language, Israel lacked hésed. This word is exceedingly difficult to render into English. (The Revised Standard Version usually translates it “steadfast love.”) It is a covenant word that refers to the faithfulness or loyal love that binds two parties together in covenant. When a person shows hésed to another, he is not motivated merely by legal obligation but by an inner loyalty which arises out of the relationship itself. Such covenant love has the quality of constancy, firmness, steadfastness. In Hosea’s vivid figure, Israel’s hésed was like a transient morning cloud, or like the morning dew that evaporates quickly (6:4). Hence Yahweh [Jehovah] scorned the existing forms of worship: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6
We probably should not press Hosea’s words to mean that he was opposed to formal worship. But clearly he was opposed to forms that were devoid of the spirit of true faithfulness to the God of the covenant. Jesus twice asked his hearers to go and reread Hosea 6:6 when he was accused of breaking the formal rules of orthodoxy (cf. Matt. 9:13 and 12:7). (Understanding the Old Testament, p. 248, as quoted in the Old Testament Student Manual.)
The Savior used wording from Hosea 6:6 to instruct the people during His ministry. Notice the similarity of wording in Hosea 6:6 “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” and Mathew 9:13. See Matthew 9:10-13 below.
10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Through His prophet Joel, the Lord gave a similar message to Israel: return to me and I will show you mercy. However, Joel tells them to present a broken heart rather than tearing their clothing to show their repentance. (See Joel 2:12-13.)
12 Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.
The Lord requires us to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. He does not care about our clothing. A person could tear their clothing in public and continue to be wicked in private. Even though a broken heart cannot be seen in public, the Lord can see the humble soul and will bless them.
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