What God desires of You (Hosea 6:1-10)

Life is full of requirements.

Those of you sitting examinations at the moment – or if you can remember back – or if your involved in one of those vocational qualifications – will know all about this.

In a few weeks time I’m going to be ordained again – and in order to be ordained, I have to fulfil certain requirements – make certain promises – agree to certain things.

Now there’s no problem with this.  The requirements are clear at the outset.  Nothing should come up on an exam paper that you haven’t already been taught.  (Whether or not you know the answer of course, is a different matter).

If you agree to do a certain job, take on a certain role – the requirements are there for you to see.

But that is not where our requirements end is it.

What about our relationships.  Those of you who are married promised certain things to each other when you go married – loving, honouring, obeying, and so forth.  You agree to do certain things – because you love someone.

We also have other relationships.  With friends, brothers, sisters, parents – and those relationships have requirements too.

Families have reasonable expectations of each other.  But sometimes, as I’m sure many of you know from experience, what family members, or friends, expect of each other is not clear – there are requirements, but there secret – or unclear – or they shift and change every time you feel you might be getting near to fulfilling them.

Which can be very painful, and hurtful, and damaging too us.

And if that’s our experience – or if we feel that we already have so many requirements on our lives, then we may have looked at tonight’s sermon title with a sense of dread.

What does God require of You.  More requirements, more obligations, more impossible and shifting responsibilities.

And after all this is Hosea.  For the last couple of weeks we’ve been seeing that God has some strong words to say to his people.  That they have a whole host of faults and problems that they need to sort out.

They are hopeless, useless, and can’t be what God wants them to be.

Why should we be any different?

But God doesn’t lay unbearable burdens on us.  Let’s look together at Hosea 6 – it’s on page 904 of the bibles in the chairs – as we see what God requires of us.

And the first thing we see is that God desires Repentance – not Ignorance.

1. Repentance, not Ignorance (v1-5)

Look at the first part of verse 1:

NIV Hosea 6:1 "Come, let us return to the LORD.


And again, in verse 3:


3 Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him.


The prophet Hosea, after all that has been said in chapters 4 and 5 in particular has a very simple message for the people of Israel.  Repent.  Turn to the Lord – turn back to the LORD.


And then he gives some reasons:


a. God can restore us (v1-2)


One of the hard things that we have been learning from Hosea is that it is God who has been taking action against Israel – discipling and judging her.  And we see that again here in verses 1 and 2:


1 He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.

 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.


God like a lion, has torn at Israel – but God also will restore Israel.  He will bind up wounds – he will bring the nation back to life – even better than that, he will bring the people into his presence.


For Israel, this meant that, if she repented, God would restore the nation.  And after she was destroyed, Israel did repent – those who were taken off from the southern kingdom, from Judah, turned back to God, and after 70 years in Babylon, they were restored to the land.  God revived them – he brought the nation back again.


God disciplined Israel - and some repented and were restored.


It sounds a bit of a paradox – that when God acts to discipline us, we should turn to him, but that is what this passage tells us.


Perhaps some of us have experienced this in our lives.  For example, some times it takes a personal problem for us to reassess our priorities – loss of a job, or even of a loved one – to realise that the most important thing in our lives in knowing our Lord.


When we come to faith in Christ – when we come to know Jesus as saviour and Lord, we come in repentance – Jesus calls us to himself, and we respond – we repent, and we believe. 


God uses situations in our lives to call us to himself – whether for the first time, or to call us back to himself.  I can remember a time at university when I was not following Jesus closely – and God used events at the time, as well as some encouragements from others, such as Hosea gives here, to draw me back to himself – to make me realise what my priorities should be.


So when we face challenges in our lives, when perhaps we feel that we have been disciplined by the Lord, then our response should always be to turn back to the Lord, to repent and believe.


b. God will come (v3)


God will come.  Look at verse 3:


3 As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."


Turn to the Lord – for he is coming.  It’s a sure as day follows night.


It may not be tomorrow – but it is as certain as tomorrow. 


For Israel this meant the LORD came – and judged them – but he also came and restored then from captivity.


For us, we can look backward and forward to the Lord’s coming.


We look back to when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to the baby born in the manger who grew up, sharing our humanity, who taught and challenged his people, and who died on the cross in the place of his people.


And we look forward to when Jesus returns.  To the day when Jesus will come to take his people to be with him forever, and to judge those who do not know Jesus as Lord and saviour – to those, who, as our reading from John reminded us, have not repented, have not recognised Jesus as Lord.


We’ve talked about this before – as followers of Christ we live lives founded on the past, as we look forward to the future – on what Christ has done for us and in us, and on what Christ will do for us and in us. 


We should therefore remind ourselves that Christ is coming.  We should not become so focussed on this world that we forget about the next – so that, like the Israelites, we don’t take God seriously. 


c. Listen to God’s word (v4-5)


And we should listen to God’s word.


 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; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.


Verse 4 shows God’s love for his people – a love which despairs of his people because their love is so fickle – it dries out so quickly, like the morning dew.


And so God sent prophets – people to warn Israel, prophets to warn the people – and the words cut the people – they killed the people – because they showed the people what God required, and what they were not doing.


God wants people to repent and believe.  The Israelites were to return to the Lord – to recognise their sins, and to turn away from them.   From other gods, from foreign alliances. 


For us, as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, we too need to turn away from those things, which, like false gods, distract us from our devotion to God.  We need to avoid relying on other things for contentment and security.


And God’s word will highlight to us other areas of our lives where we need to repent and turn to God.  One of the purposes of God’s word is to highlight for us our wrongdoing, so that we can repent of it, so that we can turn from it, so that we can live different lives, resolved not to follow those sinful patterns.


God’s word highlights to us those areas that we might not think are sinful or wrong.  In some areas it will be easy, but there will be some areas of our lives where we will struggle to recognise right from wrong – and we need God’s word to show us what is right and wrong.


For example – have you ever lied on a schools admissions form?  Apparently, lots of people have.


A survey of 1000 parents found that 70% admitted lying on application forms and more than a quarter said they’d be dishonest if it meant getting a place.  1 in 5 would exaggerate religious beliefs, 1 in 7 would use a false address, and 1 in 10 would pretend to be divorced.


Surprising?  Perhaps not.  Wrong?  Yes.  I think one of the ten commandments should cover this one:


Exodus 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.


But reflect for a moment.  How wrong do we think this kind of thing is?  Is it a bit like speeding?  Is there perhaps always a good reason? 

To avoid being swayed by our own weaknesses, we need to follow God’s word.


God desires repentance – a heart flet turning to him – he does not desire ignorance of his word, or stubborn and hard hearts.  So let us repent and turn to God.


2. Followers not Formalities (v6-10)


God desires repentance, and God desires followers, not formalities.  Look at verse 6:


 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.


The Israelites were good at sacrifices – they were good at the liturgy, good at doing and saying the right things – they kept all the festivals – but they did not care for one another – they did not care for the poor – they showed no love or mercy to one another.


They burnt the correct offerings – but they might as well have been in a pagan temple, because they didn’t acknowledge God – they went through the formalities, but there was no reality.


We can see what Israel was like from the following verses.


Look at verse 7:


7 Like Adam, they have broken the covenant-- they were unfaithful to me there.


Again, we’re reminded that Israel has been unfaithful.  Like Adam, who preferred to trust the word of the serpent over the word of God, they have been unfaithful.


They have gone after other gods, rather than trusting in their LORD.


And then verses 8 and 9 pick out two particular places for special mention:


8 Gilead is a city of wicked men, stained with footprints of blood.  9 As marauders lie in ambush for a man, so do bands of priests; they murder on the road to Shechem, committing shameful crimes.


Gilead and Shechem – two examples of places where God was not being honoured.  Instead, Gilead is a place of bloodshed, and the road to Shechem a place of murder.


No doubt there were other places across Israel in a similar state, but Hosea just points to these two – places where murder and bloodshed take place.  Places of wicked men – of marauders, groups of wicked men.


The picture here is of law and order beginning to break down.  Israel has been unfaithful, and it has led her into a downward spiral, away from God.


The religious forms are being observed, but as God says in verse 10:


10 I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel. There Ephraim is given to prostitution and Israel is defiled.


The sin of the people has defiled the whole nation. 


One of the tragedies of the book of Hosea is that Israel just couldn’t see the problem.  Again and again the prophet warns them – he even got married to a prostitute to illustrate his point – and yet the people didn’t listen.


Because they were hardened to God’s word.  Because they thought they were alright.  They were after all, God’s people.  They did the right things – they made the correct sacrifices, had all the correct festivals, and so everything seemed to be alright, on the surface.


But as Hosea makes clear, everything was not alright.


Look again at verse 6:


6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.


What is it that God desires?  Mercy, and acknowledgement of God.


We are to be merciful to other people.  We are to acknowledge and follow God.


This verse challenges us.  It challenges us not to become formal.  To think that by coming to church week by week, we are automatically in a right relationship with God.   We should come to church – but not to do the right thing, but to meet with God and his people. 


Let me ask you – why do you come to church? 


In 1517 when Martin Luther pinned his 95 thesis on the church door in Wittenberg, one of the things he was protesting about was formalism - the idea that the way of doing things is more important that the heart.  The idea that a set of exercises will put you right with God, or that taking mass once a week would keep you in heaven.


We need to avoid formalism.  Of course, this does not mean that we shouldn’t have ordered services – but that we should care most of all about meeting with God, meeting with our Lord and saviour.


But this verse also comforts us.  We don’t have a complicated set of rituals to learn to get to God.  There is no secret knowledge, no special categories of people, no secret set of rules that no-one tells you.


In relationship with God, in relationship with the LORD Jesus Christ, there are no hidden agendas.  God gives us his word – and says – follow me.


And, brothers and sisters, God’s word is clear.  It does not contradict itself.  It does not offer many ways to salvation but one way – through grace, through the Lord Jesus Christ, as we can see from our 1 John reading:


1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.


We need to acknowledge God – we need to believe, to trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, and to follow him as our saviour and Lord.


In Hosea’s day, as in ours the message is simple – repent, and believe – repent and follow the Lord.


So let us make this our goal in the days, weeks and months ahead, as we respond to what God desires of us.

James Hughes

13th June 2004