top of page

Hosea 6:1-6

Lesson Focus

We cannot only offer acts of worship when we are in trouble. Our worship of God must be tied to concrete acts of righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand that God wants us to repent often, not just when it might save us from trouble.

  2. Understand that worship must be accompanied by a lifestyle of committed faithfulness to God and others.

Catching up on the story:

Hosea has just finished critiquing Israel’s blending of the worship of God with the worship of Baal. In chasing after things and gods that promise to protect and provide for her, Israel has forgotten all about God even though they continue to offer sacrifices to God. This blending of worship has caused Israel to become blind to how they are unfaithful to the covenant. Israel is unable or unwilling to see past their wrongdoings, which moves them farther away from God. On their own, Israel will not be able to return to a full relationship with the God who brought them up out of Egypt. Throughout the book that bears his name, Hosea reminds us that God has not and will not completely abandon Israel. He is working to draw Israel back to himself through grace, love, and forgiveness.

A Song of Repentance: 6:1-3

Chapter six begins with a song of repentance. Taken in the context of what has gone before in Hosea, the reason for this song may not be one of true repentance. It may be a song that Hosea overhears while proclaiming God’s message to the people. It may be genuine, or it may not be genuine. If this were a song on the lips of the people of Israel, it is likely genuine to a point. It may be that this song of repentance indicates that those in Israel know the right words to say during times of trouble.

Scholars believe that this portion of Hosea was written during a period known as the Syro-Ephraimite War. This crisis, which involved Israel to the north along with Syria and Judah to the south, resulted in Assyria's eventual overtaking of Israel. Syria and Israel wanted help keeping Assyria at bay and asked Judah to help. Judah refused, and when they did, Israel invaded. This conflict left Israel and Judah in seriously bad shape, weakening them and making it even easier for Assyria to invade and conquer. Things were getting bad, so some in Israel might have offered this song to avert trouble, much like someone today might do when faced with a potentially life-threatening situation. The repentance is not so much motivated by a desire to be faithful but by a desire to save one’s skin.

The song begins an imperative to come together to move back toward God. The song's tone indicates that the brokenness Israel is now feeling is a direct result of God’s action toward them and not just something that God has allowed to happen. God is the one who has torn them apart, but it will be God who heals them. God is the one who has struck them down, but it will be God who binds them up again. Hosea, throughout his ministry, has been mindful of the context that God’s covenant with Israel has provided. The things that have happened to Israel, God’s punishment toward them, have not been random acts but were stipulations set out by God and agreed to by Israel. The second half of verse one makes a direct connection to Deuteronomy 32:39, where God proclaims that he is the one who can kill and the one who can heal.

Verse two continues to express great confidence in God’s ability and willingness to rescue Israel. The phrase, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up…” may seem like a reference to Jesus’ resurrection, but it probably is not. Set in the context of Hebrew poetry, it probably means a set or specific amount of time. There may be a sense here, if we understand this song as something on the not truly repentant lips of Israel, that Israel believed even if things were to become very bad, God would not let the situation persist for a long time. Things will soon return to normal.

As the song moves on, the speaker encourages Israel to press on so they might increase their knowledge of God. After all, this is what Hosea has said Israel is lacking. Because Israel has chased after other gods, Israel has forgotten about who God is and what God has done for them in the past.

Again, great confidence is expressed in God's ability and willingness to act positively toward Israel. Israel confesses that God is someone to be relied upon. His coming to rescue them will be as sure as the sun's dawning on a new day. The sun consistently rises every day, so it is believed that God will be consistent like the sun. His coming will be like the coming of the spring rains on dry land. In places like Israel, which do not receive very much rain during periods of the year, the land becomes very dry. When the rain does come, plant life springs forth. God’s coming will be a refreshing shower that gives life to a dry and lifeless Israel.

Israel here seems to know all the right things to say. Israel is in a bad spot; war and catastrophe are all around. There is at least some acknowledgment that the impending doom is the result of faithlessness on Israel’s part, and so Israel offers up this song which might help alleviate the pain. As we will see in the next section, the song seems to have been offered without a corresponding change in heart or action. These are the right words to speak at the right time, but they are empty because Israel will not couple their worship and repentance with a true change in action.

What Ever Will I Do With You? 6:4-6

The tone changes as we move into a new section in verse four. God is now speaking in response to the previous song. The section begins with a question, wondering what is to be done with both Ephraim (Israel) and Judah. Keep in mind that while Hosea speaks mostly against Israel in the north, Judah in the south is not innocent and will not escape judgment at God’s hand in the future. In the current political and military crisis with Assyria looming, Judah is in as much hot water as Israel.

The question concerns an exasperated parent who loves his children but has tried every conceivable action to reform their behavior and inspire them to a faithful relationship. Most parents can identify with this question at some point in their parenting journey. The child’s behavior, from small things like incessant whining to poor choices in friends to all-out drug addiction, can cause this type of questioning. God has tried various tactics to reform his people.

God has given them prosperity, and they have ignored him (4:10). In times of crisis and calamity, they have turned to other things and people for help (5:11). God has promised hope (2:23-25), and he has threatened wrath (5:1-7) to no avail. The question is genuine in that God seems to be at his wits end with his chosen people. In the end, however, the question is rhetorical (Stuart, 109). God knows what must be done, both in the immediate time and in the future. Israel’s coming exile will help, but it will not be the full and final solution to her unfaithfulness. That final remedy will only come with the death, resurrection, and second, coming of Christ.

God moves on to describe Israel’s faithfulness. The images used here are strikingly powerful when juxtaposed with those used to describe God in verses 1-3. Israel and their faithfulness are like the morning clouds, like the dew that falls in the morning: they are here one moment but go away as quickly as they came. Clouds and dew are nothing like the consistent nature of the rising sun. Hosea is directly speaking about Israel’s faithfulness. When you stop to think about it, though, the nature of faithfulness is that it remains for a long time. Faithfulness is not faithfulness in the truest sense when it comes and goes like the morning dew.

In verse six, we return to references to the covenant made in Deuteronomy. The phrase, “I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth…” refers to the curses found in Deuteronomy 32 and 33. The covenant curses Moses presents in poetic form are the words of God’s mouth. The more general meaning is that God’s judgments come from the force of his covenantal agreement with Israel. As we have already said, the judgments that Israel receives are acts of God’s justice (Stuart, 110).

Verse six nicely sums up most of Hosea’s message to Israel. The judgment that Israel has and will experience results from Israel’s living without steadfast love toward God and those around them and true knowledge of God. Israel has understood worship in the ways that their Canaanite neighbors have understood it: as a limited ritual act that needs no connection to an ethically or morally lived life. They have worshiped Baal in this way and have begun to believe that this attitude was appropriate for worshiping God, too (Stuart, 111). God declares unequivocally that what he wants is not sacrifice and burnt offerings but steadfast love and faithfulness that lead to a fuller and greater knowledge of God.

We get a clear picture of God's complaint when we place verse six alongside the song of repentance in verses 1-3 and how it was probably uttered. When the trouble comes, Israel knows the right things to say so that God might intervene. The reality is that God desires Israel not just to say the right things, not just to offer the right things, but to do the right things and live in covenantal faithfulness toward God and towards others.

So What?

There are a couple of temptations that this passage can help us avoid. The first temptation this passage helps us defend against is the temptation to only seek God’s provision and help when we find ourselves in trouble. It doesn’t need to be life-threatening trouble, but how often have you turned toward God when things have not gone your way, only to abandon your efforts at a consistent relationship with God and covenantal faithfulness when things return to normal? To some extent, this was Israel’s tactic. God shows his frustration with this move, and we find that, in the long run, it does not keep us from experiencing God’s judgment.

The second temptation we can avoid is the temptation to think that our consistent and ritualistic engagement in religion is enough. We get caught in the trap of thinking that if we attend worship services regularly, read the bible, and pray regularly, we are doing what we need to do. These things are vital to our growth as Christians, but if we engage in those things without a corresponding engagement in practicing steadfast love and faithfulness toward God and our neighbors, then those religious activities won’t matter much.

In the past, we’ve talked about God’s promise to renew his covenant with Israel. The bride price he would pay was to live with them in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness. Our response is to live, letting those characteristics permeate our lifestyle. Only then will our engagement in the ritual side of religion be acceptable.

Discussion Questions

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. What is the tone of the call to repentance in the first three verses? Who is speaking these words?

  2. Verse two states, “after two days, he will revive us; on the third day, he will raise us up.” It doesn’t appear that Israel believed their trouble would last very long. Why do you think they thought that? What kind of state do they believe they will be returned to?

  3. Verse three calls Israel to “press on to know the Lord.” Why would it be important for Israel to know the Lord? What does it mean to know the Lord?

  4. How does this word picture attempt to depict whom Israel believed God to be? What is God’s nature according to the song?

  5. The tone of the passage changes in verse 4. Who is speaking now? Why would the question that is posed there be asked?

  6. Compare and contrast how God is described in verse four with how Israel is described in verse four. Are they similar or different?

  7. Israel had a problem with failing to live properly but still thought that their engagement in the worship of God through sacrifices and burnt offerings were enough. This leads God to proclaim, in verse 6, that he would rather have steadfast love (love that is eternally faithful and committed) and growth in knowledge of God rather than sacrifice. What does living in steadfast love toward God and our neighbor look like?

  8. Are we ever guilty of participating in our routine acts of worship but not living properly? If this is true for you, how might you move toward living in steadfast love toward God and your neighbor?

Works Cited

Stuart, Douglas. Hosea-Jonah: Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 31 [WBC]. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.