4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim?
What can I do with you, Judah?
Your love is like the morning mist,
like the early dew that disappears.
5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets,
I killed you with the words of my mouth—
then my judgments go forth like the sun.
6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
7 As at Adam, they have broken the covenant;
they were unfaithful to me there.
8 Gilead is a city of evildoers,
stained with footprints of blood.
9 As marauders lie in ambush for a victim,
so do bands of priests;
they murder on the road to Shechem,
carrying out their wicked schemes.
10 I have seen a horrible thing in Israel:
There Ephraim is given to prostitution,
Israel is defiled.
11 “Also for you, Judah,
a harvest is appointed.
(Hosea 4:6-11a NIV)
In our last time together, we saw God’s discipline prophesied to both Israel (also called Ephraim after the largest tribe in the northern kingdom) and Judah. Israel realized they were sick, but ran to Assyria for help, rather than to the Lord.
The Lord knew there would be a day that Israel would realize that the same God who was disciplining them was also the same God who could and would heal them as a nation. But it would take the confession of their sin and repentance (the changing of their mind and actions) for the Lord to transform their hearts.
As we pick up today’s passage, the Lord sees both Israel and Judah had failed in love for Him (v. 4) and had failed in their worship of Him (v. 6).
Verse 4 begins with the Lord describing Israel and Judah’s love as a light dew that immediately evaporates when the sun comes up, and a thin, wispy cloud that disappears into the surrounding blue sky when the heat of the day arrives.
God has spoken to both Israel and Judah (v. 5) through the prophets and through His Word, but neither has impacted them. So if God’s Words and God’s messengers were not effective, then God must take the next step of discipline.
So what does God want of His people (v. 6)? He wants relationship, not ritual, and love, not legalism. The people wanted to “check the box” and say they were connected to God because they did something for Him, rather than be in connection with Him.
Have you ever had a friend that is always doing things for you, but does not want to spend any time with you? They will send a card for a birthday or anniversary, they will bring a meal when you’re sick, and their family will mow your grass while you’re on your summer vacation, and they are always friendly and stop to say hi at church and the grocery store. But when you invite them over to your home to get to know them, they seem to be too busy or have an excuse why they can’t make it.
After a while, you begin to question the nature of their friendship. Are they friends with you because they have a genuine interest in you, or because they are doing what they do out of duty to earn “brownie points” with God, or you, or themselves?
That is how God felt about His people, and why He said He desired a deeper relationship with them above all else (v. 6). And who better to communicate this truth than Hosea, with his love for his wife and her abandonment of him as told in chapters 1 – 3?
In verses 7 – 9, the Lord lists three locations where the people had broken their covenant with the Lord:
- At Adam, a town in the trans-Jordan area, located about 20 miles north of Jericho. The Lord does not specify a particular sin there, other than to say the people were unfaithful to Him there. If we were to speculate based on the context of the rest of the book, it would likely have been a place of idol worship.
- At Gilead, another town in the trans-Jordan area. Here the Lord brings an even more serious charge, that of bloodshed. Again, the Lord does not specify the particulars, but it may have been either the bloodshed in and around Gilead over the centuries, or it could have been a place where child sacrifice was carried out.
- At Shechem, up in the mountains, east of the Jordan River, between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Here the Lord is much more specific. The priests, the very ones who were to protect and guide the people of Israel, were now the ones being called out for their evil deeds. The Lord had designated Shechem as a “city of refuge”, a safe place for people to go while they awaited trial or while a serious life-and-death matter was investigated (Joshua 20:1-7). Instead of Shechem being a place of refuge as the Lord intended, it was exactly the opposite, a place of thievery and murder.
In summary, the Lord sees the terrible sin in Israel, and judgment will come to Judah as well. The time had come for the Lord to intervene at a much more serious level.
May we take the time to ask the Lord about our love for Him and our worship of Him.
May we listen well, and if have strayed or are just going through the motions to “check the box” in our commitment to the Lord, may we return to the relationship with Him that He desires, that is genuine and dedicated to Him alone.