Our passage for study falls within a section dealing with coming judgement, 4:1-10:5, and a smaller section, 4:15-6:6, which speaks of the inability of the people of Israel to turn from their religious adultery. In 6:1-6 Hosea begins by repeating the half-hearted words of repentance offered by the people of Israel, and then tells of the Lord's rejection of their shallow repentance. Finally, Hosea lays out the grounds for reconciliation.
v1. The wording of Israel's response to the Lord is indeed very subtle. We would probably regard it as a genuine statement of repentance, but it is certainly not accepted by the Lord. The opening verse indicates a response based on a desire to alleviate their distress. A parallel situation might be a response to Jesus based on his miracles. In the end, such limited faith cannot save.
v2. It may be a wild guess, but the reference to good times following an interval of a few days, possibly reflects the Baal fertility theology of abundance following dearth (seed planted, gestation, growth and harvest). Their hope that the Lord will "restore" them to "live in his presence", reflects their false optimism of good times coming. The phrase "live in his presence" is best translated as "live under his care".
v3. Rather than a call to acknowledge the Lord, "let us set ourselves to know the Lord", is probably a call to understand him. So, at least the people admit that they don't really know the Lord, but in the next breath state their expectation that the Lord will bless them. The blessing is within the framework of fertility. The winter rains of December (former rains) prepare the soil for plowing and sowing, and the Spring rains (latter rains) give growth.
v4. Hosea gives the Lord's response to Israel's religious expression of repentance. Israel's repentance is superficial; their love for the Lord is ephemeral. Probably the better reading for "Judah" is "Israel", although the Lord's words apply to both. "Love" here may be care of a neighbor, but it is more likely loyalty to the Lord (Yahweh). Israel is about as loyal to the Lord as an unfaithful marriage partner.
v5. The result of their disloyalty is judgement. Although the judgements are often translated in the past tense, it is most likely that they are prophetic futures. The Lord will do these things to them. What he will do is detailed in the words of his prophets.
v6. What the Lord wants from his people is not a superficial response, but true devotion.
The Lord "desires mercy not sacrifice". The word translated "mercy" is covenant-love (hesed). This represents an intention to stick with contractual obligations through thick-and-thin. It is best represented by the intention and determination that is often present in wedding vows - steadfast love. As for the implied criticism of "sacrifice", none of the prophets denounce the Levitical sacrificial system as such, but rather the danger that the symbol can replace the repentance that it symbolizes. Reconciliation with God comes through a genuine confession of sins and a genuine humility.
The Lord desires "acknowledgment" rather than "burnt offerings". The word "acknowledgment" is often translated "knowledge", but is best understood as meaning "communion" in the sense of a person "knowing" their marriage partner. God deplores an ignorance of his person, not in the sense of a knowledge about him, but of him. He desires of us an intimate association with his person (fellowship, oneness......) rather than "(whole) burnt offerings".
The notion of easy grace is one of those misnomers that has slipped into the Christian faith. It is used to argue against the idea of free grace - that our standing in the sight of God, both now and for eternity, is totally a gift of God's grace appropriated through faith. The nomist Christian wants obedience to the law of God included as a necessary element in the Christian walk, not for justification, but certainly for sanctification.
Of course, the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ is not "easy grace". Jesus died that we might live; nothing easy in that. Yet, it is easy to obtain the gift, in that it is freely given to those who ask. None-the-less, Hosea identifies a number of factors that are essential when it comes to the asking.
The asking needs to flow from a genuine intention and be based on a true knowledge of the one from whom we ask. Hosea uncovers the superficiality of Israel's approach. They may say, "come let us return to the Lord", but their "love", their affection and loyalty to the Lord their God is like the "early dew that disappears." They don't really care for the living God; they are not really interested in him; they have no steadfast-love (hesed - covenant love) in the Lord; they don't want to "acknowledge" (know, unite with) their God. Israel just wants to use him to bring in the good times - to "bind up our wounds", to "revive us", "restore us". Their repentance is not genuine. They ask, not for mercy, but for prosperity.
The problem we face today is not easy (cheep) grace for the asking, but an asking that is true and genuine.
1. Western Christianity is greatly influenced by the prosperity gospel - faith in Christ brings health, wealth and happiness. Compare the modern-day version with the Israeli version of Hosea's time.
2. If repentance involves turning to Christ, what are the factors that would make our response a fraud?